how to rank in google

How to rank in Google as a doctor?

If you have been following our Grow! magazine for a while, you know that we focus on building great content for your practice so you stand out as a doctor. In this article, we cover the essence of content marketing, the timelines that are involved, the place of backlinks and Google Ads and how to navigate the world of search-engine-optimisation tips out there.
how to rank in google

How to rank in Google as a doctor?

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

December 16, 2021

How long will it take to be at the top in Google?

ranking high in Google as a doctor

The short, positive answer to this burning question is: if you go full force, often only a few months. The long realistic answer does not always sound appealing: It really depends. I promise you that you will get more nuance and a detailed answer as you read this article to the end.

Our team specialises in working with specialist doctors. Part of our team’s activities in Australia and the Netherlands consists of patient behaviour analysis. We analyse what patients in various medical specialty areas google for.

From that experience, we can at least give you a clear view of the timeline.

  • Step 1: Get clear about the keywords you need visibility for.
    Spot the use of the word need here. As an orthopaedic surgeon in Brisbane you know you want to rank for orthopaedic surgeon Brisbane. Additional research will tell you that you need to map more topics and aim for high rankings across the board. Given the competition in orthopaedics, you may easily need up to 25 topics to support any visibility at all. Get clear about the surgery types that matter most to you and pick your battle before you start building pages. Timeline: This is usually done in 2 strategic Zoom meetings – 2 hrs
  • Step 2: You decide when you want that visibility.
    Early next week is not an option unless you choose to outbid anyone else in the market with higher bids on Google Ads. We mainly focus on creating organic visibility for your medical website here, and that is why it is not instant. If you want that visibility at a specific point in time because your private practice traditionally signs up more patients then, you have to back-calculate. Take off 3 months for Google to index and rank your content, and take about 3 months to upgrade your content. Timeline: Within this business or calendar year you can be radically changing your visibility depending on the volume of the new content you put in place 5-6 months
  • Step 3: Plan ahead for ongoing optimisation.
    The cycle of optimisation is a business development habit that many leading surgeons and specialists in private practice are using to keep control. It consists of an in-depth analysis of the search traffic in your local area for your specialty, your overall visibility per key treatment, your competitive position and the opportunities to reinforce it for specific topics. Timeline: Ideally, optimisation happens every 2 months.

Before we look at the actual steps involved in creating content that makes you rank well as a doctor, let’s go over the tactics that you may have explored or heard of.

And, this is the reality of creating online visibility for your medical website. It can take a while. It’s a long-term strategy.

Backlinks? Google Ads? SEO tips and tricks?

how to rank better on Google


Search engine experts have different opinions about backlinks and quite often it is smoke and mirrors. Genuine backlinks are links to your website content from a highly respected source: the website of a local hospital, a media outlet, a medical reference platform that has a long history and a quality reputation.

You will often be presented with SEO packages that do not involve replacing your website, or the content on your website. Nor do these services include any ongoing improvements to the actual quality of your website back-end (technical SEO) or the paragraphs and sections about your key treatments. So what are you paying for? Quite often, an SEO package or SEO services simply means that a number of backlinks are built for you every month.

This type of service – with a little bit of smoke – can easily be presented as work that has been produced, but it often does not survive an assessment by a qualified expert. It wouldn’t be the first time I found a customer’s backlink, provided by an SEO provider, on a German travel blog as a comment added to a photo that shows Berlin…’Dr SoAndSo is the best orthopaedic surgeon in Brisbane’… let’s agree we will just call this spam.

Spammy backlinks are links that are just posted randomly across the internet. They are not on your local hospital’s website, or on the local newspaper’s web pages. They only justify your SEO bill, not your strategic return.

Google Ads

We can be milder about Google Ads because at least, this is a transparent business model. You pay-as-you-go, bidding for clicks attached to the keywords and locations you target. Bear in mind that this would be the very shiny and expensive billboard guiding customers to your restaurant.

If the outside wall, doors and windows, the interior, the staff, the furniture and the menu are not up to standards…the best cook in the world could be sitting in your kitchen empty-handed.

Surgeons who pay a lot for Google Ads with no content on their website would typically be frustrated about the Return on Investment and give up after a while.

SEO Tips and Tricks

SEO Tips and Tricks all revolve around the same reality: Google gets better. Google’s artificial intelligence has improved its capacity to discern really valuable content from keyword-stuffed nonsense. Moreover, Google is now far more capable of detecting the search intent of your potential future patient! The one and only SEO tip we keep sharing is our biggest truth about medical websites: Focus on publishing educational content the right way, and you will win!

The data-driven answer to Google visibility

SEO for medical websites

This is where it gets really exciting. Google gets better and so do medical marketing experts, at least some of us. At Digital Practice, for example, we have been mapping data about patient search behaviour for years, to reverse-engineer the patient-specialist process on Google:

  • Cater for contextual search: This data gives us detailed insights per medical specialty into the different stages of online search. As patients are reading up about a health concern, their need to see a specialist often increases over time. Measuring the search volumes for online queries at various stages of the patient journey gives us invaluable and failproof data to work with when we discuss the future content strategy for your medical website.
  • Aim for conversions: The question about how to rank in Google should not be seen as a standalone exercise. This is best done in conjunction with an overall brand positioning strategy. In other words: Your end goal is not the click. It’s the patient consultation or the treatment. This is why the storytelling quality of your content matters too and why there is such a thing as specialised medical marketing, using medical journalism as its starting point, to organise your information.
  • Offer the best patient’s experience: Displaying your information on a website that has an excellent design may seem like a fancy, over-the-top investment at first sight. Many of our customers have discovered that building a profile with optimal website health is another success component to rank well in Google as a doctor. Google detects poor website health and will not reward you for it… The data we monitor clearly shows us that excellent web development and design practices also pay off when you are investigating how to rank in Google as a doctor.

Data-driven content marketing is truly exciting for you as a doctor in private practice. It gives you insight and control so you create predictable growth for your business.

All this is planned in a co-production model to produce your new online profile in a timeframe between 2 and 3 months, allowing for 2 months after launch for Google to fully index and rank your medical website accordingly.

Why specialist doctors need content marketing first

google ranking for doctors

Can you now see how a successful marketing strategy for your private practice requires a focus on content? The shift in medical marketing is happening as we speak, and it moves us away from just looking at medical websites as a technical commodity.

The medical website that represents your reputation as a surgeon or specialist is your channel. It needs vision and ongoing care to flourish.

Once you see how the knowledge about google ranking can be applied to your practice, you can take this one step further. You can define the desired visibility for any number of treatments or surgery types, strategically plan your investment in content over the months and years to come and take control of your online profile to stay ahead of the competition. And if you are starting out in private practice, having tangible data to work with and a clear understanding of google ranking will give you more peace of mind.

This is why we often come to the conclusion that social media, including social media advertising, or Google Ads, are probably not the first thing to look at.

When you want to be visible, the first job at hand is to find out exactly what your patients are currently typing into Google, so you can put an end to blindfolded hope marketing.

Pitfall warning: Occasionally, doctors, healthcare providers or medical businesses will first create a new website, and then look into SEO services to cover their search engine optimisation. I often refer to this as building a house with two bricklayers, to then discuss structural requirements with an architect and a structural engineer once you have the keys and are moving in… Does it make sense that the engineer would have been involved at the start to really guarantee the structural quality of your new home?

how to rank in google

Five quick takeaway messages about Google ranking

medical website content

  1. A bigger site makes you more visible: When we compare the size of your medical website to the ones your competitors have in place, we will assume for a moment that we are talking quality content. When two doctors have website content that is written to the same standards, on similar quality website back-ends, size matters. The more content you have on the specialty topics that relate to your private practice, the stronger your competitive position. Most leading specialists put in place a foundation of strong content and add new pages to their online presence every 6 to 12 months or produce monthly blog articles to add fresh content.
  2. Ongoing optimisation creates results: If you expect your practice to grow by 15% over a certain period of time, it makes sense to aim for traffic and conversion increases. Ongoing 24/7 monitoring of your site traffic and conversions is one step. A second pillar for ongoing improvements is defined by the time and resources you allocate to adding fresh content to your website once you know what needs improvement. Remember that Google visibility can grow over time as well as decline if you don’t pay attention to your content.
  3. Do not give up: Content marketing needs time and that is because Google’s bots and algorithms aren’t just focusing on your website as you can imagine. Other than the volume of content to scan and re-scan, it takes time to earn Google’s trust, once it has been established that your website is genuine, reliable and delivering on its promises (for example because visitors stay on your pages for a while after they land there). Give it a few months before you draw any major conclusions but keep a close eye on the progress in your Google rankings for the topics that matter.
  4. Strategise and evaluate regularly: Decide which keywords you really want to win before you start building content. An ideal content plan for a medical website doesn’t stop with page titles: it details the titles and content for every single paragraph, so you know your content is in line with the topics patients actually want to read about. Other sources are publishing content too and the Google algorithms are updated regularly; it makes sense that you would evaluate your visibility at least quarterly to adjust where necessary.
  5. Pick your battles: Google loves clarity and if your website focuses on the one sub-specialty within your niche, you have a higher chance of standing out. You can only pick your battle once you have received strategic intel about the search volumes and market demands that apply to your medical specialty and this is why it is important to work with a marketing agency that specialises in medical content.
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Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

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