As a healthcare marketer, you know search engines are the leading way patients get their questions answered these days.
If they’re not researching symptoms, they’re looking for the best doctors in town or figuring out which local medical facility has the best reputation for surgical procedures.
And you probably already know the two leading strategies for getting patients to find your healthcare organization or medical practice in search engines:
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Pay-per-click (PPC) ads
But how do you know which strategy to invest in for your healthcare marketing plan?
To answer that question, you first need to understand how SEO and PPC work, and how each can help you achieve your goals.
Let’s start with the basics...
What’s SEO?: The Marathon
Think of SEO as the long and steady journey to the finish line (top rankings in the search results and maximum visibility in search engines)—and it’s only achieved through hard work and endurance.
SEO is the practice of optimizing your website to make it easier for search engines to find so you can improve your organic rankings (your website’s position in the unpaid search results) and generate more traffic to your web pages.
A major aspect of SEO is creating helpful content for users and giving them a seamless online experience (from their ability to find information quickly to the ease of viewing your website on mobile devices).
To improve your SEO, you should start with a list of quality keywords that align with your healthcare niche, location, and target patient audience (the type of language they use to search for the services you offer).
Taking the time to narrow this list down to the best search terms is crucial—otherwise, you’ll spread your focus too thin and won’t be able to rank for any of the terms.
Your search terms should:
- Have high search volume.
- Be relevant to the healthcare services you’re providing.
- Relate to common questions your prospective patients are asking.
Once you have established your keyword list, write high-quality, online content based on these terms. This allows you to deliver helpful answers to prospective patients’ questions, which does two things:
- Shows online users (and Google) that your healthcare organization or medical practice is an authority on the featured topic.
- Improves your organic rankings and drives more visitors to your website.
And the more you get people visiting your website, reading your content, and sharing it on social media, the more exposure you build for your healthcare brand and the better chances you have of attracting new or returning patients.
The only downside to SEO?
It doesn’t happen overnight.
It can take months, or even years, to make it to the top of the organic search results, and it requires constant work (blogging, continually refreshing existing web content, keeping up with changing keyword trends and search engine algorithm updates, etc.).
Fortunately, there’s another way to get your healthcare organization seen at the top of Page 1 in search engines like Google or Bing...
What’s PPC?: The Sprint
If SEO is the marathon, PPC is the sprint to the finish line.
While it might seem like cheating, Google and other search engines reserve their top spots for paid advertisers. If you would rather not wait weeks or months to build up your organic rankings, you can invest in paid search ads for your healthcare organization or medical practice.
With this approach, you bid on keywords for the chance to show your ads (ideally at the top of the page) to an online user who searches for those terms. You only pay when someone clicks on the ad.
PPC isn’t free, but it’s a quick and easy way to boost your exposure and drive potential patients to your website.
In addition to running PPC ads in search engines, you can also run them on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram.
Which Strategy Should My Organization Use?
The answer is both.
Every healthcare organization or medical practice should have a diversified Internet marketing strategy that incorporates both organic and paid promotion efforts, as this ensures the greatest level of exposure and covers the various paths patients take to discover healthcare providers.
However, there will be times you need to decide where to focus more of your attention for certain marketing campaigns—and this will vary on a case-by-case basis.
Start by asking yourself the following questions about your needs, goals, and circumstances...
- How fast do I want to rank?
- Is there a lot of competition for the keywords I want to rank for?
- Do I have a budget I can dedicate to this campaign? If so, how much?
- Do I want to increase conversions, or am I mainly trying to get more traffic?
Depending on your answers to these and other questions, you may find one strategy to be a better fit over the other.
To help you make that call, here are some of the benefits of each strategy...
Free Traffic: With SEO, you don’t have to pay Google to show your website listings. By producing high-quality content, optimizing your website for search engines (and more importantly, users), and working to improve your overall web presence, you can naturally improve your organic rankings. It’ll take time, but you won’t have to pay every time someone clicks through to your website.
Staying Power: High organic rankings tend to last a while, even if you stop working on your SEO for a period of time—whereas PPC ads stop appearing the moment you stop paying for them. SEO takes longer to build up, but the earned exposure has greater staying power.
Click Rate: Historically, people have been more trusting of organic listings and more likely to click on these search results over the paid listings, so you typically can’t go wrong with building up your organic rankings. However, it should be noted that this trend is starting to shift.
Scope: If your healthcare organization or medical practice needs to target a long list of keywords to cover a broad market (and to reach healthcare consumers at a different stage of the patient journey), bidding on all those keywords might get expensive. SEO allows you to target numerous keywords with minimal cost or risk.
Branding: By producing content that naturally ranks high in search engines across for certain topics, you prove your expertise on those topics and earn the trust of prospective patients who are searching for answers to their health-related questions. This helps you build brand awareness among prospective patients and also boosts your website’s authority with search engines.
ROI: The return on investment for SEO is very good, considering you’re not paying for your website listings (even if you are paying an SEO agency). By building a foundation of high-quality, SEO-optimized copy and optimizing your website for maximum visibility in search engines, you can drive more traffic to your website that turns into new patient visits for your organization or practice.
Speed: If you don’t have the time wait for your organic rankings to improve, PPC ads a simple solution. Within days, your listing can appear at the top of the results page, leading to more phone calls and appointments.
Position: Even if you make it to the #1 organic ranking, your listing won’t be the first one a prospective patient sees on the search engine results page. Google reserves the first three to four positions for PPC ads, so investing in ads gives you a considerable visibility boost over your competitors.
Customization: PPC ads can be customized beyond what search engines show for standard organic listings. Not only do you get to write your ad headline and copy, but you can also provide additional information like your facility’s address that clicks to a map, a phone number that allows mobile users to call your practice with a click of a button, links to specific pages on your website, etc.
Precision Targeting: With PPC, you can target your ads to specific audiences based on a number of factors like location (e.g. using zip codes or a radius around your location), time of day (e.g. during your office hours), device (e.g. targeting mobile users over desktop users), and the list goes on. This helps you reach the exact types of patients you want to attract.
Testing: Because you have more control over paid search ads and you can update your message at any time, PPC gives you the flexibility to experiment with your ads, and even try split testing. With split testing, you run two different versions of an ad at the same time and compare the results.
Lucrative Returns: PPC isn’t cheap—a healthcare provider may need to invest thousands or tens of thousands of dollars a month on advertising to get the kind of traffic they’re looking for. However, with the right bidding and campaign management strategy that is focused on driving more online conversions (targeting patients ready to schedule an appointment), it can lead to lucrative financial returns that more than make up the costs.
Building Synergy with a Well-Rounded Healthcare Marketing Plan
SEO and PPC are both great tools for physicians and healthcare organizations to grow their patient volumes.
What most healthcare providers discover is that deploying both strategies in tandem works best. Organic traffic is free and has incredible staying power (an organization or practice maintains exposure even after their ad budget runs out), while paid traffic is fast and flexible.
By using both SEO and PPC, you create a well-rounded healthcare marketing plan that gives your organization or practice the greatest chance of success.
To learn more about how you can improve your online visibility and attract more patients, contact a healthcare marketing specialist today!