Thursday, April 21, 2022

Healthcare and SEO: How to Do It Right — and Why It Matters More Than Ever

Your members are increasingly expecting more from you. Here’s how to meet them where they are — and overdeliver every time.

By: Linkwell Health Editorial Team

“What keeps me up at night? Easy. Apple or Amazon figures out healthcare before we figure out consumerism.”

So said the chief marketing officer (CMO) of one of Linkwell’s national payor customers recently. It’s no secret that the healthcare sector is rapidly evolving, and competition is stiffer than ever. Consumer expectations are changing just as quickly. Consumers increasingly require a world-class customer experience from any brand they interact with — including their health plans — and they’re willing to shop around.

The upshot? The demand for high-quality, relevant, trustworthy content will continue to rise in 2022. That’s this year’s top content marketing trend, according to Search Engine Journal.

But the best healthcare content won’t simply rise to the top of a search engine results page unassisted. It has to be in sync with Google’s search engine optimization (SEO) rules, which are updated regularly as technology evolves and the tech behemoth works to improve its search experience.

Moreover, healthcare content has to meet the company’s strictest standards of expertise and authority to rank highly. Google algorithms place a higher burden of quality on Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) topics — any topic that could impact a person’s health, financial stability, or safety if described inaccurately.

That’s why any healthcare organization’s search strategy should start with world-class, targeted content. Most healthcare CMOs know this, but many still aren’t prioritizing a refresh of their SEO strategy. Or they’re just not sure how to proceed.

There’s a common misconception that SEO is highly technical. “It takes planning and commitment,” says Suzzy McLean, a search engine specialist with Linkwell Health, “but it’s not rocket science. It’s actually quite simple.”

It’s also rewarding: Put in the time and you’ll see results in the form of rising page rankings, more eyeballs on your content, and more conversions.

To that end, here are five ways for healthcare organizations to futureproof their search strategy, in order of importance. The focus is on organic search because free search engine traffic will deliver more stable traffic and higher click-through rates, while also helping you build brand loyalty.

Search Strategy #1: Go Deep, Not Wide

Avoid the temptation to embrace breadth over depth and to simply churn out content touching on tons of healthcare topics. Google generally prefers one strong page over a handful of weak ones.

Start by asking a crucial question: Who is your target audience and what type of content are they interested in?

“People are not necessarily thinking about content strategically,” McLean says. One mistake is to create a bunch of scattershot blog posts that check a lot of healthcare topic boxes. That’s not a great way to build authority in the eyes of Google’s algorithm.

Instead, strategize a content hub — a centralized spot offering various pieces of carefully conceived SEO-optimized content built around specific areas you know your audience cares about. Consider a hub-and-spoke content strategy: Build out clusters of linked pages covering different aspects of a topic, which together build the kind of authority Google’s algorithm is looking for.

“I’d rather go deep in three categories than shallow in 10,” McLean says.

Search Strategy #2: Take a Pragmatic Keyword Approach

Keywords have long been a big focus in the SEO world, and for good reason: They’re a major tactic for implementing a topic-focused content strategy.

But there’s a lot of competition in the health-and-wellness space, McLean notes. The reality is that most brands aren’t able to compete against behemoths like WebMD that have spent years building SEO authority tied to top keywords. Spending time and resources fighting for top keywords isn’t likely to work. Instead, McLean says, consider focusing on secondary or tertiary keywords that competitors might overlook — but which still pull substantial visitors.

“I focus more on the middle tier of keywords,” she says. “Why not try to own that middle tier instead of fighting for top-tier all the time?”

One tool she recommends for keyword research: Keywords Everywhere, a Google Chrome extension that shows you the volume and seasonality of keywords — and who your competitors are for any keyword.

Search Strategy #3: Optimize the Essential On-Page Elements

Fear not, these specific SEO steps don’t require much technical expertise.

Title tags: This HTML element is the clickable headline people see on the search results page — a crucial tag for optimizing a page. Include the most relevant keyword you’re targeting in a page title.

Meta description: While Google doesn’t use this field to help rank pages, it does display them on search results pages. A great meta description can drive up click-through rates. These should be no longer than 160 characters.

Header tags: These HTML elements (H1 to H6) are used to identify headings and subheadings, breaking up content into more scannable sections. Search engines scan headers too, so include keywords in them when it makes sense.

Alt tags: These provide search engines with a text alternative for images — remember that image searches can drive a lot of traffic. Try weaving target keywords into alt image text.

To support all of these steps, McLean says, healthcare organizations should make it easy for their writers and editors to produce SEO-optimized content. Brainstorming a series of blog posts about women’s health services? Coming with target keywords for each piece should be part of the process.

“It’s not typically part of how writers and editors see their job,” McLean says. But content management systems should require each piece of content to have SEO-oriented fields completed before publication. Optimizing content right off the bat should be standard operating procedure.

Search Strategy #4: Double Down on Quality, Recency, and UX

SEO guidelines change frequently, but McLean points to four tried-and-true practices that healthcare organizations will find valuable for years to come.

Accuracy and credibility: Healthcare companies know that this matters from a legal standpoint, but keep in mind that it’s crucial from an SEO standpoint as well. To give your content credibility, weave in studies and other citations from well-respected organizations, such as universities and nonprofit foundations. Interview people from reputable institutions and include their credentials.

“If Google thinks you’re publishing inaccurate or incomplete information, that’s a big problem,” McLean says. Remember that Google views healthcare as a YMYL topic. There’s no room for error and little tolerance for low-quality content.

Modern, responsive design: With a growing number of people accessing content via mobile phones, web pages need to load quickly across all devices. Consider using the accelerated mobile pages (AMP) HTML framework.

“If your site doesn’t have AMP pages, if it’s not loading quickly, Google will ding you,” McLean says. “AMP really helps. I’ve seen it.”

Linking strategy: Include links to other relevant articles on your site in the first paragraph of a piece of content (the same goes for keywords). More generally, aim for a 4:1 ratio of internal links to external links — “that gets people circulating on your site,” McLean says.

But you also want to balance your linking strategy with readability. Too many links can make a page look junky, reducing reader engagement.

Content audit: All those pages that have piled up over the past 10 years? Optimizing top performers can translate into more traffic and clicks. Perform an on-site content audit and take stock of what’s in the mix, and then make targeted SEO updates involving keywords, links, and HTML tags.

“I recommend optimizing, say, the top 50 or 100 articles on a site as part of an audit,” McLean says. She recommends doing it at least once a year.

Search Strategy #5: Take the Long View

Renovating old pages and creating brand-new high-quality content can take time, to be sure. But there’s really no other viable choice in today’s content-driven world of digital healthcare marketing.

As Search Engine Journal puts it, noting Google’s insatiable appetite for E-A-T (expertise, authoritativeness, and trustworthiness), “average content just won’t perform in any vertical where exceptional content is present.”

The good news is that with a smart content strategy and methodical execution, you’ll start moving up the search results relatively quickly.

“It may be as soon as one month, or it might take six months,” says McLean, “but it will happen.”