backlinks for doctors

How to avoid the biggest pitfall in medical marketing?

This post will save you tens of thousands of dollars this year, simply because you will avoid the big medical SEO pitfalls that cause many doctors to make…let’s call it ‘less than ideal’ decisions about their private practice marketing.
backlinks for doctors

How to avoid the biggest pitfall in medical marketing?

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

January 22, 2022

The grey area around SEO

hiring an seo

There is a chance that the word ‘SEO’ makes your neck hair stand up because you associate it with repetitive cold calls to sell you SEO packages. The first thing I want to do is shine a light on a few conflicting definitions.

SEO can relate to the following concepts:

  • Search Engine Optimisation: the process to optimise an existing website by doing your SEO on a monthly basis, with a range of hard-to-understand services in the back-end, creating backlinks and promising you to rank higher on Google.
  • Search Engine Optimiser: as in the sentence “I hired an SEO” or “I fired my SEO”. This adds to the confusion because now SEO stands for the person who does the actions described above. I don’t use this term for our team members for various reasons, mainly because it makes a complex thing even more complex, as if we would call the pilot ‘aeroplane’ as well, and only have the one word for the person and the engine.
  • On-page SEO: the process to strategically investigate what patients search for, creating a content plan to produce the pages in line with the applicable keywords for your practice, and then writing optimised copy, paragraph per paragraph. At Digital Practice we like this definition and may I add, we are really good at it.
  • Ongoing optimisation: the process of monitoring your visibility in organic search, comparing your competitive ranking for the targeted keywords, and planning additional content such as blog articles to boost your visibility in your local market as a doctor. At Digital Practice, we also like this one and – you guessed it – we are really good at it.

If you have felt confused when the topic “SEO for doctors” came up, you are not alone. So let’s dig a little deeper, unpack some of these elements and give you a clear framework so you can avoid the pitfalls and make sure your medical marketing campaign generates a positive ROI year after year.

Why SEO and content marketing are not the same

seo backlinks

Let’s make sure we get really clear on the difference between SEO and content marketing for doctors.

SEO is often sold as a standalone service after your website was built. This is a potential pitfall because you can not rely on the creation of links alone. Backlinks, or links from external websites to your website, used to be a really powerful method to increase your Google ranking in the early days of the internet. Google’s artificial intelligence now focuses more on the quality of your content. Having said that, there are three types of backlinks to be aware of when someone promotes a monthly SEO package to grow your medical practice:

  • Toxic backlinks or black hat links: They wouldn’t be promoted as such and you might never find out, but some links are toxic in that they sit on unhealthy, irrelevant and random websites. Even though technically someone can tell you that they created a number of links, upon further investigation the links actually tell Google that you have been cheating and that will damage your Google ranking.
  • Random and useless backlinks: They wouldn’t be promoted as such and typically they would be snippets posted on someone else’s blog as a comment, linking back to your website. The job is done, you get the monthly SEO bill but there is no clear explanation as to what it does. In reality, it will do very little.
  • Quality backlinks: They would be placed on websites with very high authority in Google’s eyes. The authority can be earned because the website is the nation’s most popular website about the topic you write about (a Medical College website for example), or because it is the most popular website in your catchment area (the local newspaper’s site for example). These backlinks are mostly the result of a real human connection and are not the type that is sold in SEO packages. To be interviewed in the local paper and to get a link to your website is a different process than entering your credit card and ordering a backlink package, as you will understand.

It’s good to be aware of Google’s guidelines, and they are very clear: links intended to manipulate PageRank may be violating their guidelines.

Content Marketing is bigger. It’s the entire process to generate visibility and traffic, to hook the visitor and inspire trust and rapport, to guide them so they spend more time going over your content (not over your competitor’s) and to eventually present a call-to-action to them so you generate conversions. Yes, more patients. Let’s go over the essence of content marketing for the private practice now.

The only way to get a nr 1 ranking in Google

google marketing for doctors

Google has a habit of continuously improving the performance of its search engine and it is worth inspecting what that means for you as a doctor, operating a private practice.

The primary goal of a search engine is to stay in business, and not to be replaced by a better engine, right? And the best way to do that is to make the user happy. When someone searches for an obstetrician in Melbourne, who would want to find a 10-year-old web page on number one, of an obstetrician who has retired? It is in Google’s best interest to display results that keep the consumer happy.

The way it does that is getting better at intercepting content that is produced to trick Google into believing that it deserves this top position in the search results. In earlier times, backlinks from almost any domain did just that.

Now the only way to rank well is to publish good content. In simple words, effective and long-term Google marketing for doctors can best be summarised as Content Marketing. You could say that Content Marketing is all about content that reaches the audience and these are the parameters that your medical marketing agency should work with:

  • Relevant: The topics on your website are in line with the main theme of your business. Now as a specialist doctor that shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you don’t decide to publish topics that are really a bit of a stretch when it comes to relevance.
  • Palatable and readable: The Google bots are masters at judging the quality of your copy. Sentence length, the complexity of the content, and the readability of the overall story are actually measured, judged and taken into account when the decision falls about your Google ranking.
  • Easy to index: The content needs to be organised in a way that Google can understand. That is why you want to make smart choices about what goes on your website, which topics get their own content pages and how you organise the navigation menus and the internal links.
  • User-friendly: The content is presented on a website that is responsive and fast. If images are too large, or your website is not designed to render well on specific types of common smartphones, Google’s crawling bots will detect that and your content may lose some of the credit it gained in terms of relevance. This is important: The page can look great in your own mind as a doctor because you explained it really well, but Google might look at it differently.
backlinks for doctors

The strategy you need to create ongoing growth

content strategies for health

We now know that the best definition of SEO for doctors is the one that covers on-page SEO: you build and optimise content based on data, and so it makes you visible.
That is why medical SEO is best integrated into the strategic, design and development process as you build your new website.

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice
Kris Borgraeve | Co-founder Digital Practice

"Always make sure you use an integrated approach for your medical website. Strategy, market research, design, development and content creation create higher ROIs when they happen in one combined process."

The strategies that create ongoing growth for surgeons and specialists in private practice all follow the same system. The logic will make sense now that you understand how Google looks at your content, your web pages and the experience it may choose to present to its users, by ranking you or not ranking you on Page 1.

This is the logical flow of an integrated content strategy for a medical practice:

Step 1: Strategy
You want to be crystal clear about your income earners as a doctor. What are the treatment avenues, services, surgery types or procedures that keep your practice on track as a business? List a top 5 or a top 10, and order them with the absolute top service as your number one.

Step 2: Market Research
Work with a medical agency to get detailed local market data on the consumer needs in regards to information. Local keyword research or patient search behaviour data will tell you what needs a paragraph on your website to make you visible.

Step 3: Content Plan
You need a team with editorial and medical journalism skills to organise the information in a framework that is optimised for the visitor/user/patient…and for Google. When Google clearly understands the structure of your menus and your pages, it will reward that consistency with higher rankings, provided all the other best practices are followed. You don’t just need a plan, you need the actual content pages in place to create visibility for a whole range of topics so they become your lead funnels.

Step 4: Healthy back-end, user-friendly design
The actual development of a robust and reliable back-end is essential. Did you know that a website is actually a live piece of software running on a server computer in a data centre? If it’s poorly built, not responsive, sitting on a slow server, or insecure, it gets flagged as ‘unhealthy’. You rank lower or you don’t rank. You miss out on traffic and you lose patient leads. The bitterness of poor web design remains long after the sweetness of a low price is forgotten.

Step 5: Ongoing optimisation
A website is a live piece of software and your market is alive too. It takes ongoing monitoring to keep growing your visibility. The best way to do this is through specialised software that tracks the patient’s actions on your website, your competitive ranking for specific search terms that you target, and your overall website health. Ongoing optimisation also means that your medical marketing agency keeps the backend of your website up to date, simply because the web is constantly evolving and so are the devices that your patients use to visit your website.

The above can be your ideal checklist when you discuss an SEO strategy or a content marketing strategy. If the process is a diluted version of this approach, chances are that your agency is not fully specialised in content marketing for doctors and in that case, it’s good to know that our team is only a Zoom call away to explore how we can help you. 

A final word about backlinks and SEO

Quality backlinks for doctors that will not hurt your business

Now that you have a full understanding of what medical SEO can mean, and how it relates to this much bigger area of Content Marketing, one final thing.

Backlinks are not to be dismissed entirely, as an additional focus when you build a strong online presence for your private practice. Yet, the best way to build and maintain healthy external links to your website is to think about authenticity. Here are 2 types of authentic backlinks you can aim for, to get the benefit of this technique and amplify the visibility you have built with your excellent and optimised content:

  • Hospitals: the hospital(s) you are associated with have reliable, popular and trustworthy websites. Having one or several links there from your personal profile to specific pages on your website is gold. Quite often, hospital teams will only link from your profile to your homepage and that is a good starting point. But it is worth having a chat with the webmaster and exploring if you can have extra links to specific pages about a certain procedure, background information about a condition or other content that you want to highlight.
  • Local news: if there is any chance of making news in a positive way, work with the local journalists and see if you can deliver them a relevant story every now and then. Being mentioned on a local news website, with a link to a specific information page for patients that links to the story, is a great example of a useful, non-toxic backlink.
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marketing strategies for healthcare

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Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

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