Nothing has changed the face of commerce like the World Wide Web. Google processes a mind boggling 40,000+ search queries every second, more than 3.5 billion per day and 1.2 trillion per year!
With so many people searching for everything under the sun including expert physicians, how can you stand out in the Googlesphere?
“Physicians really need to take a 360-degree view of their online presence,” Cyndi Miller advised. She is the founder and chief executive officer of Miller Public Relations. “While a website is still the cornerstone of your online presence, it isn’t enough to drive patient volume on its own. Today, there are so many more channels that potential patients are actively using to educate themselves and make decisions about their healthcare providers. If you’re not taking an active role in creating and managing content about you and your practice, you’ll forfeit market share to competitors.”
Creating and maintaining a robust online presence requires diligence, time, attention and a certain amount of expertise. Whether you decide to take a hands-on role or entrust it to professionals, here are some important considerations to keep in mind about the most critical components of your online presence.
It wasn’t that long ago that a website simply needed to include a few basic pages of content. An “about us” section, physician bios, list of services, patient testimonials, forms and a “contact us” page pretty much covered the basis. Once the site was created, it usually remained static and unchanged for a long period of time.
“Websites now need to meet a lot more criteria in order to be effective,” Miller said. “Your site needs to be structured properly so it will be indexed quickly by Google and optimized for search engines. And now there is a much stronger focus on the quality of content offered.”
In the battle for the rankings, Google now rewards sites that offer visitors substantive content. The days of keyword stuffing are over. Although Google has always been mum about the specific parameters of its search algorithms, the company has made it clear that sites fare better when they feature content that reflects expertise readers will find genuinely informative or helpful.
Businesses that want to be noticed must now produce original content—knowledge-based material that showcases their expertise or a particular point of view. This emphasis has placed increased importance on blogs, but not the easy, breezy 300 to 500 word blogs that were the standard not too long ago.
Blogs that attract Google’s attention and move the dial are much meatier. They are actually more like a well-researched and composed feature article that runs between 1,000 to 1,200 words.
“The ideal blog is now what content experts call a “seven-minute read” that provides important and detailed information about a particular topic.” Miller said.
If you doubt that people really want to read a 1000+ word blog about a topic related to your medical specialty, consider a recent survey byThe New York Times that revealed their most- popular, most-read online articles were about science and medicine.
“There is definitely an interest in medical topics,” Miller confirmed. “Blogs give you the opportunity to tap into that interest while demonstrating your deep knowledge about a particular area of medicine or health issue. You can either author the article yourself or be quoted in the story if you choose to work with a content provider.”
Blogs are important for two other reasons. First, they allow your website to grow. Today, Google rewards websites with growing page counts. Regular, on-going blogs posted once or twice a week allow your site to grow in an organic way that will improve its ranking.
Secondly, blogs help build relationships. “Blogs give you the opportunity to establish a meaningful rapport with your patients while also generating awareness among potential new patients,” Miller confirmed.
This rapport is enhanced when blogs work in tandem with other online vehicles such as Facebook and Twitter.
Social Media & Mobile Savvy
A recent study by Demi & Cooper Advertising and DC Interactive Group shows that one-third of U.S. consumers use social media forums such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to find information about health matters. One in two adults use their smart device to look up health information. Nearly half of those surveyed between the ages of 45 and 64, share health information via social media while 56-percent are likely to engage with a health organization’s social media site.
And here’s an important stat you may find either reassuring or a little frightening: 44 percent of the respondents between 45 and 64 said they would share positive or negative experiences about a hospital or medical facility. Social media has become word-of-mouth 2.0 with nearly 42-percent confirming that they wouldn’t hesitate to post comments about a doctor, nurse or healthcare provider on social media.
These figures will only continue to grow making it imperative that you carefully consider and control the content of your posts.
It’s not uncommon for a medical practice to have a Facebook, Twitter or YouTube account. Unfortunately, many of them are not leveraged to their fullest potential. While it’s tempting to “just get something posted” using someone on your staff, there really should be a focused strategy for every post, one that complements or enhances the purpose of your website and practice. Create an editorial calendar and plan content topics in advance.
“Many Facebook and Twitter posts share links to content generated by other companies or people. With so much competition for people’s attention, once you’ve managed to attract patients and potential new patients to your site, you need to keep them there for as long as possible. You don’t want to drive them to someone else’s site,” Miller said. “Your Facebook and Twitter posts should provide links to your website in a blog post or page about your services, physicians or some other relevant aspect of your practice.”
At least one or two posts per day is a good rule of thumb in terms of frequency. You will also need to decide if you are going to reply to comments that visitors may leave. If so, you will need a dedicated person who can monitor your social posts throughout the day.
Even if you decide that you will not reply, you still need to check your comments regularly to make sure someone hasn’t posted inappropriate remarks or added a link to sites promoting or selling third-party products or services not sanctioned by you.
Physician Rating Sites
Like social media, physician rating and review sites are part of the “word-of-mouth evolution” in the digital age. Since it came on the scene in 1998, Healthgrades has gathered information on more than three million healthcare providers from about 500 million claims from federal and private sources along with five million patient experience surveys rating everything from a physician’s communication skills to availability and office experience. Today, nearly one million people use the company’s site (Healthgrades.com) to search, compare and connect with physicians and hospitals.
In early October 2014, the company unveiled a revamped site powered by a new algorithm that allows consumers to search for a physician based on factors that physicians consider the most important—experience, the quality of the hospitals they are affiliated with (based on clinical outcomes) and patient satisfaction.
It is important to be aware of where you fall in the ratings. Healthgrades.com and other ranking sites are projected to become more influential in the coming years. A recent study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System published in the Journal of the American Medical Association revealed that two-thirds of the general public is aware of online physician rating sites—higher than just a couple of years ago.
Thirty-five percent of those who consulted rating sites in the past year said they chose a doctor based on good ratings, while 37-percent avoided a doctor because of poor ratings. These figures skewed even higher in the National Poll on Children’s Health, which showed 44-percent of parents younger than 30 are more likely to think physician-rating websites are very important—suggesting that the use of these websites will keep growing.
“The exponential growth of the digital and mobile worlds means staying on top of your online presence, across all the popular vehicles, is absolutely critical. Guiding, controlling and contributing to that presence with thoughtful and strategically-focused content is even more critical,” Miller said.