SEO Basics for SEO-challenged health professionals – Part 1

I asked a doctor friend what she thought SEO meant. She quickly responded, “I’m a physician, not a financial advisor.”  (I think she got it confused with ROI!).

If you’re in the health profession and have recently started ‘doing’ content marketing, then SEO might be a new term that you’ve come across as well.

SEO means search engine optimization and the idea is to make sure that when someone searches for “sore throat doctor” (or whatever key words that describe what you do) on Google or Bing, your website appears at the top of the search engine results page (SERP).

SEO may seem too technical to health professionals and can easily get written off. But the important thing to remember is that search engines reward content that is clear and user-friendly and optimization is about making your content do exactly that.

Here are some basic SEO principles to help you get started:

Optimizing the Page Header

The page header is the title that states what the page is about and is viewable to users in search engine results, on social networks and at the top of the browser when you are viewing the page. It’s purpose is to identify the page’s content and should be optimized as follows:

  • Use 10-15 words (no more than 70 characters), put the most important keywords first followed by a compelling description e.g.’5 easy ways to stay hydrated during hot summer months.”
  • Be sure that you assign a ‘H1′ tag to your title – each page should have only one h1 tag (If you need to have other headings in the page, they should be subheadings and for those you should assign h2 or h3 tags).
  • For your readers’ sake as well as for the search engine, make sure that the title of the page matches the content of the page.

Optimizing the Body Copy

If you’re targeting a keyword phrase (e.g. sore throat doctor) then your content should relate to that keyword phrase. Keep in mind that people search for keywords because they want information that is related to those keywords. Searchers have little tolerance for a page that optimizes a keyword but then delivers unrelated content.

  • Be sure to use the exact match target keyword phrase three to five times per 500 words or so. Variations and synonyms can also be helpful for better copywriting.
  • Avoid keyword stuffing i.e. overloading a page with keywords to the point that the text of the page is unnatural or even unreadable.
  • Try to work your target keyword phrase into the first sentence of your copy and then maybe two or three more times in the rest of the article.

Links in your Content

The content of your page should also have links in it. The most important thing to remember is to make it clear where a link will take your visitor. Also keep in mind that search engines are designed to look for the same clarity that humans want in a link.

  • Be sure to use internal links in your content. An internal link is one that links to another page on your own site (not someone else’s site). Internal links encourage visitors to engage with other content on your site.
  • A link’s color should be different from the main text. Most people expect links to be blue and underlined so be sure to have your web designer include that in your site’s style sheet.
  • The actual text that is linked i.e. the text that is blue and underlined is called “anchor text”. Because it is highlighted and draws attention to itself, make sure that the highlighted words give a good clue to the content you are linking to. E.g. If the anchor text reads “sore throat remedies’ then it should link to a page that talks about sore throat remedies not something else.
  • Avoid as much as possible using generic anchor text such as “click here” or “more”. Remember that relevance is a priority to both human readers and search engines.

Key Takeaway

The heart of SEO is to make web content search-engine friendly. Remember that your goal is to make it easy for search engines to ‘crawl’ the pages of your site so that they can produce search results that are relevant and useful to users. In the next section we will continue to discuss some more SEO basic principles that help your content to be easily found by users searching on the Internet.

Over to you: How familiar are you with SEO? Please share some of the practices that you use to optimize your content.

6 Ways Doctors Can Influence their Site’s Listing in Search

Google search is the most common way for current and potential patients to find information about your practice.

Research shows that less than 10 percent of searchers look beyond the first page of SERP (Search Engine Results Page). That’s why it is important that the most valuable content on your website feature on the first page of Google or Bing search results.

Content that should appear on the first page of SERP

  • Your Website – This should be the first thing a patient sees because it has everything they need to know about what you practice. Plus you have control over the content you want them to see so that’s an added advantage.
  • Your Bio Pages – Every organization, association, hospital or medical practice that you have an affiliation with should have a biography of your background, experience and current specialties. If they do not, consider submitting a unique bio to each one for them to post on their sites.
  • Your Blog Content – Blogging can help reinforce your expertise and authority in a given field. Any content that you have written for other websites (guest posts), should also be listed high up in the first page of search results.
  • Social Media Profiles – Social profiles establish ‘social proof’ or social influence – the idea that if you have a large social following then that is proof that you are doing something right (of course there are problems with this assumption, but that is a discussion for another day). For doctors, LinkedIn, Twitter and Doctors Hangout, are good places to start.

Now that you know what needs to be on the first page of SERP, the next step is how to move your results up. Software Advice, an online guide for software buyers, recently published an article about this.

Here are 6 tips to consider when developing an online reputation management strategy to help own the first page of Google:

#1. Start a Blog

If you haven’t already done so, start writing a health blog. Blog posts should be compelling and well-written. Find content that your patients would want to read and publish it regularly on your website.

As a physician your audience is made up of existing and potential patients, so the content your provide should be engaging, educational, and most importantly, easy to understand. A good start is blogging about frequently asked questions or preventative measures for illnesses that you treat.

#2. Edit Your Work

Google can penalize a site for poorly written content.

No matter how good you are at writing, have a second set of eyes look over your work to ensure your content make sense and is easy to understand. Ask a colleague who is familiar with the material to edit for clarity, and then ask another unfamiliar with the subject for a second perspective.

#3. Avoid Repetition

People do not want to keep reading the same things over and over again, so keep the topics focused but fresh. Mix up your content to cover the different areas of healthcare solutions that you offer.

Also, if you are listed on different websites, write a different bio for each one and focus on what you do for each organization.

#4. Share Your Content

Spread the word about your new blog.

When you first begin writing, be sure to promote your blog to people that will enjoy it. Also share each new article on your Facebook page, your Google+ community, Twitter profile, LinkedIn page, email list and every other social outpost you own.

The more content you publish and share, the easier it will be to improve your search listing.

#5. Ask Others to Share Your Content

When others link to your content, it’s like a high-five in the eyes of Google.

Ask your peers, medical associates, and other credible sources to link to your blog. It will further demonstrate authority to Google and build a larger following for others to read your material.

#6. Be Relevant and Avoid Spam

Share your content on websites that are relevant to your brand.

If a website seems “spammy” and you suspect its owners are participating in suspicious activity, stay clear of that website.A mention on a relevant website such as a top association in your specialty will increase your credibility in the eyes of both readers and Google.

Quick Wrap-up

Improving your website’s listing in search is an ongoing process. But if you take action with these tips, you will begin to see improvements. Monitor your progress and check your Google listing often. By taking control of what people see about you online, you are securing your success for the new year and beyond.

Over to you: Are you pleased with your brand’s listing in search? What steps have you taken to influence the results? Please share your ideas in the comment box below

Google Updates Give Doctors More Reason to Blog

Recent updates made to Google’s search algorithm have put website owners on alert for misuse of keywords and unnatural links to their websites.

Google Penguin, which made its debut in April 2012, is aimed at decreasing search engine rankings of websites that use ‘black-hat’ SEO techniques i.e. the use of shortcuts and loopholes to rank web pages higher than they deserve to be ranked. Such tactics do not benefit users since they worsen the search experience by introducing unrelated links and overused keywords that have no real context to the rest of the content.

What does this have to do with doctors?

The Blogging Doctor

These days patients naturally use search engines to ask questions about their health issues. Medical blogs and healthcare sites provide a good source of information for these questions. In fact no medical social media strategy would be complete without a blog. Doctors with high quality sites tend to update their blogs often with relevant content that benefits both patients and search engines.

A recent article published by Dr. Howard Luks explains how to evaluate your medical website for high quality content:

  • For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  • Does the article provide original content or information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?

Google’s goal with these new updates is to reward high quality content and credible sites, which is a good reason why doctors should blog. Dr. Luks also gives fair warning to medical sites that use agencies which encourage them to violate positive and constructive SEO. To learn more about how Google’s algorithm changes affect medical sites, read the full article here.

Over to you: Is your medical site publishing high quality content? Call or email if you’d like a free evaluation of your website content.

SEO Basics for SEO-challenged health professionals – Part 2

SEO is such a highly technical strategy within Internet marketing that many times healthcare marketers get easily discouraged to the point of writing it off altogether.

But that shouldn’t be the case. Healthcare marketers have the advantage of optimizing for local search, which is easier to learn and implement because there is (usually) less competition for key phrases.

In the first part of this series I outlined some SEO basics such as optimizing the header of your page, optimizing the copy (body), and using internal links in your content.

Keep in mind that these are tactics to be used every time you create fresh content on your website page. In other words for each new page of content, you should optimize the header, the copy, use internal links and so on. My hope (and assumption) is that before you embark on any kind of SEO work, you have done plenty of research about your industry, keywords, target market and competition. This cannot be skipped otherwise anything you attempt to do thereafter is worthless.

Picking up from where we left off last time, here are some more sections of your page that need to be optimized as you continue to create your content:

Optimize Images

Since search engines cannot understand the meanings of images, they rely on the context of the page on which those images are found to give relevance to the query in question. That’s why it is important to attach metadata to the image e.g. file location and name, alt tag, title tag.

  • Alt tags are literally the ‘alternate text’ used to describe the image when the image is not available (say because there’s an error loading the page). A good alt tag is a simple phrase that is also key-word rich and sufficiently describes the image.
  • Caption is the image title and it simply helps the visitor to understand the context of the image in relation to the rest of the content. It should therefore be accurate and detailed.
  • A word about the images themselves. Because you want to give your site visitor a good user experience try to use high quality images that attract both interest and links from other sites (such as Pinterest). If you do use your own images decide if you want to give others permission to use them in exchange for a link back to your site. If you’re using other people’s images, be sure you have permission to use them so as not to get entangled with copyright violation issues.

Using meta-descriptions

Search engines are able to scan the text of your website and extract a snippet of the content based on the user’s search query. However you still need to decide if you’ll rely exclusively on those algorithms, or create your own descriptions. Keep in mind that the purpose of including a description about your page is to convince potential customers to click on your link in the SERPs. Make it convincing and use your keywords.

Optimize for Local Search

Recently search engines have began to emphasize local search results in the main results page. If a user searches for a hospital or a pediatrician’s practice, the search will return local suggestions of such providers in the area near the user. This is good news for healthcare marketers, but it also means that they have to pay special attention to optimize for local search. Here are some tips for local search optimization:

Geo-specific keywords: Basically, you will follow the same SEO basics as mentioned before (H1, H2, meta-descriptions etc.). However you will also need to target geo-specific keywords among your other keywords. For example you might use, “sports doctor Baltimore County” or ” internal medicine Baltimore City” (but do your research and see what location words you will rank well for).

Physical address: Also be sure to include your physical address on all your website pages. If you have more than one location, then dedicate at least one page on your site for each location. This is better than listing all your locations on a single page, which would be harder to return relevant results in a user’s search query. Also add other details including maps, directions, hours of business and so on.

User-generated ratings: These are reviews, comments and ratings from other customers, which include geo-specific words. These help to raise awareness of those pages (on your website) with search engines.

Key Takeaway

Sometimes SEO can feel like a lot of hard work with no idea where it is pointing to. But remember that no matter how compelling your website it, it does no good if no one sees it. SEO is about increasing the visibility of your website so that new visitors and customers can find it. Healthcare marketers in particular can focus on local search optimization, which has the potential of bringing in more paying patients through your doors.

3 Reasons To Use Long-Tail Keywords to Optimize Your Web Content

Last Friday my son turned three. We ordered Mexican.

We also received a check from his grandmother in New York, who wanted to buy a pair of lego shoes for the boy.

So I said to my husband, “They probably have a lego store at the mall in Columbia – you should go check it out.” But he wanted to go online and look around first (because that’s what people do these days before they make a purchase).

So anyway, he found the perfect pair of shoes at Arundell Mills Mall – two counties and thirteen miles away.

His search terms were, “lego shoes for kids” not “shoes”. Elementary, right?

Long-tail keyword search is not a new concept. It’s just gaining more respect as marketers (and search engines) realize that people have long been using more specific words (or phrases) to find their solution.

Think about that regarding your own web content.

Short generic keywords are less appealing to the user because they show a ton of results that aren’t always the right match. But longer, more specific descriptions are more likely to result in a perfect match. Amazon knows this. They make 57% of their sales from long-tail keyword search.

At a recent AMA Content Marketing conference, Chris Baggott of Compendium shared the following research:

“The fastest growing type of keyword search is a length of eight words. The type of search that converts at the highest rate is the four-word search.”

Here are three reasons why small business should use long-tail keywords to optimize their website content:

  • Small businesses cannot possibly compete with big budget businesses for short (one-word) generic keywords such as ‘shoes‘, ‘photography‘, ‘make-up‘ and so on. But they can certainly compete for longer phrases such as ‘running shoes for women‘ or ‘wedding portrait photography in Baltimore‘ and so on. True – the latter will not pull in as many results as the former. But you have a better chance of ranking first with less competitive keywords or phrases, than you do with short, highly sought-after generic words.
  • People know exactly what they’re looking for (even if they don’t always know how to express it). That’s why they use several words to describe their problem. If you’re looking to provide the perfect solution to their problem, you must put yourself in their shoes and ‘borrow’ the words or phrases that they will use to find you. Leverage your content for long-tail keywords by inserting relevant, descriptive words (size, color, location, prices, features, etc) to illustrate your product or service.
  • If your home page already contains long tail  keywords and phrases (that are accurate, personalized and relevant to your business) then why waste them? Use those same key-words in other content on your site. For example, my own home page illustrates a ‘freelance, copy writing business serving Howard County, MD’. It also describes my writing specialties as ‘web copy, case studies, white paper and business blogs.’ So a lot of times when I’m writing blog articles, I talk about the content (copy writing) needs of the business community in Howard County. Be sure to do the same.

Wrap Up: Long tail keywords are search phrases that contain more than three words.

A vast majority of websites are found when users enter a combination of descriptive keywords or phrases that provide a match for the user’s problem.

Find out what type of phrases are bringing visitors to your website. Make sure you optimize these phrases using your ALL-in-one SEO Pack (for WordPress) or whatever SEO resource your platfrom provides.

Have you been chasing the long tail? Perhaps it’s time you did.

Social Media or SEO: Where’s The Biggest Bang for Your Buck?

It’s an interesting conversation – one that’s not about to go away anytime soon. For instance, I came across a great article on Problogger.net written by guest blogger Gary Arndt in which he argues that social media yields a better return on investment than SEO. No doubt a controversial allegation.

The purpose of SEO is to drive traffic to your website, while the purpose of social media is to engage people and get them excited about your brand. Is it an “Either-Or” issue?

I think the important question to ask yourself is, “What is the outcome that I am looking for?”

In my opinion, traffic is only a means to an end. The end is to convert visitors into subscribers or paying clients. In other words, the end is the bottom line.  Having a million visitors whose conversion rate is zero is entirely a waste of time and effort.

Also, consider (as Gary points out) that there’s only so much you can do in terms of SEO – use strong key words, in-bound links, relevant plug-ins and a few other things. But while creating sharable content that is fun to read and highly engaging is a long and weary road, eventually it leads to the same destination that SEO is supposed to take you to.

Also consider how volatile search-engines are – always making changes that seriously interfere with your search rank. I’ve heard of organizations that have been severely damaged by numerous changes made by Google.

On the other hand, social media is not as unpredictable as search. Once you have a good reputation with your followers, it is not likely to be taken away from you unless you do something stupid and self-destructive. There’s stability and longevity in social media.

Long-term, on-line success depends on social interactions with like-minded people not complicated algorithms that are impossible to figure out. My advice is to focus on creating content that is enjoyable and sharable. And then if you have the time to spare, go ahead and knock yourself out with SEO.

Which do you think shows a better return on investment?

Google’s Place Search Overhaul: Small Business Is the Big Winner

Last week, Google revamped the way that they “organize the world’s information,” giving ‘place’ a new centrality in how they rank websites.  What that means, in SEO speak, is that they’ve merged place results with organic search results.

This has a number of important implications, but the long-story-short is that this is good news for small local businesses.

Most searches used to look like this:

At the top of the page, the website with the highest organic ranking would appear.  Then, further down the first page, ‘Places’ would appear.

Appearing at the top of the place list could be important, but without a tagline describing your business in your place-listing, your business had no chance to win traffic by distinguishing itself.

The website with the No. 1 ranking at the top of the page usually wound up winning the highest search-traffic.  Now that Google has merged ‘place’ and organic search results, for local searches Google’s page 1 often ends up looking like this:

As you can see, the red place-balloons with the business’s address and phone-number, now appear beneath the organic listing.  What this means is that maps optimization and organic SEO are no longer compartmentalized in terms of how businesses appear in search.

This weeds national competition that does not have a local presence out of the top slots in many cases. For example, say that your customers enter the search terms:  ‘flowers Indianapolis.’  If the national flower-delivery service that does not have a local flower shop formerly appeared in the top-slot, they are likely to fall in the rankings to the best optimized local flower shop.

On the other hand: whereas formerly, businesses that were well-optimized on Google Place without any organic SEO (or without a website), might have had an advantage over other businesses that were not well-optimized on Place, now they’ve lost that advantage.  This makes having a well-optimized website even more important for local businesses.

Location-based services are definitely starting to gain a lot of momentum. What are your thoughts on this growing trend?