A thriving medical practice is one that attracts new patients. In almost every profession, word-of-mouth has always contributed to success, particularly amongst medical professionals. Today, physician marketing is all about Google.
Greater than 80% of patients will look up a physician online before deciding whether or not they want to trust them with their health. If you are a healthcare marketing strategist, you can help your practice reach its full potential by optimizing your web pages and online reputation as well as utilizing targeted advertising.
Complacency is all too common when appointment calendars are overflowing. However, change is rapid. Demographics shift. New competition appears. Watch out for savvy competitors using advanced physician marketing strategies. They might capture a key part of your market before you know it.
Therefore, an intelligent, in-depth strategy is a must, and fortunately for you, there are plenty of physician marketing ideas to explore. You don’t want to create a physician marketing strategy just to say you have one. Instead, develop a marketing strategy grounded in facts. One that is both dynamic and effective.
Need to remind you why? Online physician marketing is an essential, cost-effective way to attract new patients. A website without quality content will not work. A scattershot approach to online advertising will not work either. Instead, you want to laser-focus on ideas that will produce the best return on investment (ROI).
1. Search Engine Optimization
First, it’s important to understand some key terms. Health care professionals are no strangers to industry-specific language. Similarly, the world of online marketing has its own share of terms that are foreign to the uninitiated. One is “search engine optimization” (SEO).
What is “SEO”?
SEO is the process of combining high-quality content and relevant keywords to improve a website’s rankings by search engines like Google. This increases the number of people who come to your site. As SEO expert Neil Patel notes, it’s not crucial that you rank first or second on page one of the results. It is necessary that you rank somewhere on page one for your relevant keywords.
Successful SEO yields increase organic traffic that is essentially free. Search engines are busier than ever. Internet Live Stats provides a running count of the day’s total Google searches. Of the billions per day, about five percent are health-related. The trick is to get lots of high-quality traffic. This means prospective patients living in proximity to your location. It also means patients with needs that align with your medical services.
In the featured video below, Patel further explains some great SEO tools to begin with. You may find them useful if you are all new to the SEO-universe.
What is Keyword Research?
What exactly do we mean by “keyword research”? It is the process of identifying the words and phrases individuals use when seeking information online.
Use of the right keywords can improve your page ranking. Keyword research also helps you identify topics to 1) highlight on your website and to 2) write about on your blog.
Ultimately, quality keyword research drives more relevant traffic to your site. This is not a one-time task. Rather, ongoing keyword research is vital to tracking changing search terms and online search habits. For example, a company launching an ad campaign to promote a new medication might alter patients’ search habits.
Keyword research begins with a “seed” that’s entered into a keyword research platform. Google’s Keyword Planner is one example. Once you identify keywords, you’ll want to prioritize them. Then, include effective keywords in high-quality content of sufficient length.
Give careful consideration to geo-targeted keywords as well. For example, “Denver family physician” or “Boston cardiologist.” Keep in mind that achieving high rankings for key search terms can take time. When it comes to SEO, it’s vital to commit to a long-term strategy.
Add or Expand a Blog
A blog is a great place to publish high-quality content containing carefully selected keywords. If you don’t yet have a blog on your practice’s website, seriously consider starting one. Search engines tend to value sites with lots of relevant content. Also, search engines value frequent postings published at regular intervals.
Of course, a blog is about more than search rankings. It’s a place where you can further establish yourself as a thought leader in your field. It’s also a place where you can address common patient questions and concerns.
So, what should you specifically write about? There are many possibilities. Write posts that establish your professional credentials. Consider posts that highlight your patient care philosophy. Write about new developments in your specialty. Watch for trending topics in relevant medical journals.
You can also consider writing about local medical news you think will be of interest to your patients. When appropriate, write about wellness, nutritional and fitness topics.
What does a great physician blog look like? Here are a couple of examples.
Kevin Pho, MD, founded KevinMD.com in 2004. Today, it is one of the leading physician websites attracting dozens of guest blogs every month. KevinMD has more than a quarter-million followers on Twitter. It receives more than 3 million page views per month. The New York Times describes KevinMD as “A highly coveted publishing place for doctors and patients.”
The Sleep Doctor
Dr. Michael Breus is a Clinical Psychologist who founded TheSleepDoctor.com in 2006. Dr. Breus has more than 25,000 followers on both Facebook and Twitter. His blog features about 1-2 new posts per week. Posts almost always focus on how to cope with sleep issues.
Another awesome physician marketing idea is guest blogging. It is most effective as part of a multi-pronged strategy. Assuming careful selection of sites on which to post, it offers two key advantages. First, it solidifies your reputation as a thought leader in your area of expertise. Second, it provides backlinks to your own website. These links often attract more traffic.
Lastly, it is important to be selective about where you guest blog. You want to guest blog on sites that rank high for Google page rank, Alexa rank, Moz rank and Ahrefs rank. KevinMD is one example of a high-ranking medical website that accepts guest blogs. You’ll also want to consider niche sites relevant to your medical specialty.
In the video below, link building expert Brian Dean provides some in-depth strategies on how to get links on high authority websites. In 2019, link building remains one of the top 3 practices when it comes to SEO.
2. Online Reputation Management
An Inc.com article says that 81 percent of patients look at a physician’s online reviews. It is now a common practice, even when one physician refers to another.
As a result, online reputation management is more important than ever. Findings from a study published in early 2019 reveal that:
- 94% of respondents evaluate physicians in part by looking at their online reviews;
- For 72% of respondents, assessing online reviews is the first step in finding a preferred physician;
- Almost half (48%) of respondents said they’d consider going out-of-network to see a physician with favorable reviews;
- Finally, 70% of respondents felt it was at least moderately important for there to be a public response to online patient reviews. Direct, HIPAA-compliant responses are often the most effective way to deal with a negative review.
Fortunately, the dissatisfied patient is not very common. About one in eight patients write “somewhat negative” reviews. However, only two percent of patients wrote “very negative” reviews. Still, it doesn’t take many such reviews to start costing your practice some new patients.
How to deal with negative reviews?
When a negative review does appear, it’s often best to connect with the patient in private. Public responses are more problematic because they can run afoul of HIPAA regulations. Timely, thoughtful responses to negative online reviews help patients. They also preserve and enhance your professional reputation.
An article in Forbes discusses reasons to encourage patient reviews. Most physicians understand how important that personal connection with the patient is. Today more than ever, physician marketing includes connecting with your patients via social media. You’ll want to respond to their critiques and their questions as well. It’s yet another way of expressing how much you care. That’s something that both patients and prospective patients will value.
For a thorough look at patient online reviews see “What Do Patients Say About Doctors Online? A Systematic Review of Studies on Patient Online Reviews.” Researchers conducted a comprehensive review of 63 sites that publish patient online reviews (PORs).
Encouraging Reviews & Testimonials
You’ll want to ask patients for reviews, but you’ll want to do it in an effective manner. There are many ways to accomplish this.
Add online review links to appropriate phrases and images on your website. After an appointment, ask for a review during a follow-up phone call. Include review links in personalized follow-up emails to patients.
It’s even possible to create a “thank you” video that includes an appropriate call-to-action (CTA). Well-placed links encourage reviews on sites most helpful to your practice.
Finally, patient testimonials counteract the deleterious impact of less-than-positive online reviews. They boost your credibility with prospective patients. They help solidify your website’s status as an online medical authority.
Important Online Review Sites for Physicians
Google My Business, Yelp, HealthGrades and Facebook are among the most important sites.
Google My Business
Medical practices originally created Google+ profiles. In 2014, that was followed by Google My Business (GMB). Today, GMB is the place where everything is combined. This includes vital business information, photos, reviews and ratings. Use GMB to effectively manage your online presence across the entire Google ecosystem.
The prominence of GMB pages in search results pays real dividends. Invest some time and effort in your GMB page(s), and you will reap the benefits. Optimizing your GMB page is vital because it is often the first thing that patients see when they search for you online.
It is easy to set up your GMB listing. Begin by verifying your business. Some businesses are allowed to verify via text, phone call or email. Alternatively, Google sends a postcard to your address that includes a verification code. Enter the code online to continue the process.
Not surprisingly, Google’s search engine emphasizes GMB reviews, and this can help your SEO. With GMB, you can get a notification every time a new review appears. Stay on top of your online reputation by responding directly to both positive and negative patient reviews.
Google Insights provides valuable GMB metrics such as:
- Track website visits;
- Determine when individuals seek directions;
- See when people call directly from your profile.
Always include up-to-date information about your hours, phone numbers and specialties.
For the best local exposure, make sure your name, address and phone number (NAP) is identical on both your Google profile and your website. For example, something as innocuous as using “suite” in one place and “ste.” on another could hurt you. A consistent NAP is crucial to your Google ranking. It also adds credibility to your practice’s online presence.
The right photos are very important. Use a professional head shot as your avatar. It should include a carefully selected attire and a warm, welcoming expression. Good professional portraits include flattering lighting and appropriate retouching.
A group photo that portrays your staff in a heartwarming, welcoming way? Yes, please. Include one such photo as well. Don’t take shortcuts. Avoid the use of stock photos. Indoor and outdoor images of your location are also valuable. Convey a competitive, professional image with the right photos. Ideally, professional ones.
In the world of online reviews, Google Reviews are more and more important. However, don’t overlook patient reviews appearing on Yelp, Healthgrades or Facebook either.
Yelp’s creation was inspired by a search for physician information. In 2004, one of its co-founders found that it was difficult to use the web to get relevant information on nearby physicians. Now, 15 years later, more than 192 million reviews have been posted on Yelp. Eight percent of them have been health reviews, making it the sixth ranking category.
More than 1 million provider profiles and 7 million reviews are featured on Healthgrades. In fact, this online platform gets more than 19 million visitors per month. It’s easy to claim your Healthgrades profile, as well as it’s possible to promote your practice through Healthgrade’s advertising program.
Whether you like Facebook or not, it still enjoys high user engagement, so use it for your advantage. A lot of Facebook enthusiasts log in every single day to their profiles. Many physicians maintain an active Facebook presence as well.
In fact, Facebook helps physicians to connect with existing patients as well as to attract new ones. This is yet another part of an effective social media strategy. It is possible to delete negative reviews from your Facebook page. However, taking appropriate steps to deal with patient concerns should always remain one of your priorities.
3. Google Ads
Google Ads is an online advertising program. Using this platform, It’s possible to create online ads that reach prospective patients precisely when they’re looking for services such as yours.
Google Ads offers several advantages:
- You only pay when an individual clicks on your ad. This is known as “pay-per-click” advertising;
- You set a budget you’re comfortable with;
- Geo-targeting allows you to display your ad to patients in a specific area;
- The Keyword Planner gives you a glimpse at what keywords your competitors are using;
- It allows you to counter negative reviews with well-placed positive messages.
Always take advantage of AdWords tools and metrics to test and refine your results.
Thanks in part to Google’s dominance in online search, Google Ads are ubiquitous. Where do Google Ads appear? In many instances, ads prominently appear at the very top of the search rankings. They may also appear below Google search results. Look for them above, below or beside search results across other parts of the Google ecosystem. Examples include Google Maps, Google Play and Google Shopping.
Prominent ad placement helps you control your practice’s online narrative and grants you greater control over your online reputation management. However, paid advertising on Google is competitive. It’s important to have laser-focused ads that target the patients you are trying to reach.
Google Ads are most compelling when they:
- Feature strong, positive headlines that create a great first impression;
- Make good use of effective keyword research;
- Include contact information so a patient can quickly reach out when desired;
- Are created with a keen awareness of the intended audience;
- Use language carefully selected to relate to the target demographic.
Google’s keyword tool helps you identify important words and phrases to use in your ad creation. Third-party keyword tools can help you refine the selection process as well. Include keywords in strong, creative, well-written headlines. You have mere microseconds to grab your reader’s attention. Make those moments count!
Finally, Google Adwords offers the means to effectively track results. Fortunately, it’s possible to run tests to optimize your ads.
Create a separate ad campaign for each location to maximize results. Take full advantage of the emphasis placed on location by both Google Search and Google Maps. Sometimes it’s too easy to get so caught up in promoting the practice that the importance of location is overlooked. Patients usually don’t want to travel any further than necessary for quality medical care. In sprawling urban and suburban areas, location is critical. You put serious research into selecting locations for your medical practice. Put similar effort into letting people know how convenient your specific location is.
4. Physician Referral Marketing
Patients need referrals from their physicians all the time. Physician referral marketing requires a focused effort to maximize the potential for gaining new patients through referrals.
As a medical professional, you’re in the “trust business.” Many patients develop a trusting relationship that lasts for years. In most cases, any referral to or from an appropriate medical specialist will be given serious consideration. It’s important to:
- Proactively build referral relationships with other physicians
- Consider having physician liaisons attend relevant networking events to boost your professional visibility
It helps your practice to develop healthy referral networks among your fellow professionals.
Refine Your Physician Marketing Strategy Now
Do you seek a growing, thriving medical practice? If so, embrace the full universe of physician marketing ideas available to you:
- Create a consistent, professional image across the web;
- Take full advantage of Google My Business. Include a great business description and high-quality photos;
- Start or expand a blog that features carefully selected topics and keywords;
- Learn about and deploy effective SEO strategies;
- Be proactive about seeking referrals from your peers in the profession.
Written by Andrew Epprecht
As the Founder and CEO of Phase 5 Analytics, Andrew leads a team of healthcare marketers and consultants. He's been featured in publications like Forbes and Search Engine Watch. An entrepreneur at heart, Andrew started his first business in high school. While attending Duke University, he further developed his knowledge of online marketing and advertising. Today, Andrew uses these skills to help forward-thinking healthcare organizations attract new patients online.