Organic vs. paid search for doctors

Read this before you use Google Ads as a doctor

If your online visibility depends on Google Ads, you are probably familiar with monthly invoices issued by Google. You would also know that as soon as you switch off the ads, you are no longer visible. Let’s go over the pros and cons of organic vs paid search for doctors so you can make a well-informed choice for your medical marketing campaign.
Organic vs. paid search for doctors

Read this before you use Google Ads as a doctor

Kris Borgraeve - Co-founder Digital Practice

Kris Borgraeve

January 10, 2022

It’s like renting vs buying

what is organic and paid search?

If you are new to the distinction between organic and paid search, picture this. When you buy a house, you invest in something that gains value over time.
When you rent an expensive house, you are paying to get the temporary benefit of living in it.

I like the metaphor because organic search, SEO or search engine optimisation, are like this purchased real estate. There’s an investment involved, and there is lasting and often increasing value you benefit from.

As your patients search for information via Google, they get page one of the search results. There are results placed there because the Google algorithm flagged those pages as relevant, and other results are ads, paid for by you as an advertiser, bidding for that prominent position on page one. Every time a patient clicks on the ad, you pay, pay-per-click or PPC is the name of the tactic.

Just like sometimes you will receive advice to buy a property instead of paying expensive rent, it is often wiser to invest in organic search content so you are on page one naturally, without paying ongoing rent, saving on your Google Ads budget.

How does organic search for doctors work?

organic search for doctors

We now know that each time a user types something into Google search, Google curates search results for that query. The first page typically contains widgets or maps, review sites, links to hospital web pages and links to medical practices or even a specific content page by a specialist doctor.

Organic search is about making efforts so you can be found on the first page of Google search results. Google’s artificial intelligence continuously crawls websites and sorts them by relevance and quality. That is why we talk about Google-friendly standards, which are actually user standards so the user gets a flawless experience when they click on a search result.

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

"Put yourself in Google’s shoes. Would you send someone who googles “coffee near Trafalgar square” to a book review about someone who had a coffee there in 1845…or to the top 5 coffee places that are in business now and that have a website"

Google will present and display medical practices in a variety of search situations.

  • The commodity search: “orthopaedic surgeon in Brisbane”
  • The condition search: “endometriosis Sydney”
  • The detailed-treatment search: “ACL reconstruction Melbourne”

Organic search for doctors works best when you compete for as many search term variations as possible. Patients who have landed on your pages repeatedly will have a greater awareness. Even if you show up in search results and they haven’t clicked on your pages.

Common SEO errors doctors make

organic seo tips for doctors

Google’s artificial intelligence keeps growing and it looks at the current technical health, content, relevance and strengths of your website. But here’s the thing: it also looks at the evolution. In other words, how often did users bump into an error page? Was your website offline for a while? Has it been loading slowly because of a glitch? Have you neglected your content and not updated any content for over 2 years?

Google’s focus is to rank websites that provide a great user experience. The success recipe contains relevant content presented well on various devices and with the potential to really help the user.

Search Engine Journal lists the most common mistakes and they typically also apply to SEO for doctors:

  • Keyword stuffing: A trick that consists of randomly inserted keywords and it is an absolute no-go. Quite often, cheap outsourced SEO uses this unethical method and Google notices the malpractice. As a result, it punishes your website for it.
  • Slow pages: Your entire website could be hosted on a slow server, too far away from where your users live, or it could have images that have not been optimised so they slow down your website.
  • Website health: Google does not want to send its users to broken websites. It checks the way your pages are organised if there are any coding or programming errors, and if the website is secure (it should start with HTTPS, not HTTP).
  • Responsiveness: If your medical website is not adapted to mobile phones, Google will flag it and again, this will negatively impact your Google ranking.

The experienced Google search experts at Digital Practice manage it all for you as a customer. There are many things to do at the start when your website is built, and there is daily and monthly work involved in managing your live website. The bottom line is, that organic SEO starts with an investment in your foundation, to position your medical website to show in Google search results for as many relevant medical keyword terms as possible. The maintenance of that foundation is way more cost-effective because you are not paying Google for your ongoing visibility – all you need to do is keep your website healthy and add some new content every now and then to tell Google you are still in business.

How can I rank well as a doctor?

seo for medical practices

It’s quite normal to have a level of impatience as a doctor: in the end, you just want the clicks, the patient leads and the successful health practice you envisioned. I believe in the value of expanding your understanding of Google search before you decide to outsource Google Ads to an agency.

Competing for visibility as a doctor is not just about the clicks. It’s about actually building your reputation along with the traffic so the right patients find exactly the help they need.

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

"I like to reverse the exercise. It’s not about you - as a doctor - finding more patients. It’s about helping more people who really need you, so they can find you easily. Many of them don’t know your name yet, so you need to know what they are googling for."

We don’t have access to how exactly the Google algorithms work. We can’t predict what the next update will bring. But we do know that Google wants to improve its ability to distinguish great content from inferior content.

That’s where we draw our best practices from, making sure our websites are:

  • Built for the patient: making sure every page loads fast, on any screen size. A content page by Digital Practice engages the visitor. Again, you are after more patients, not just more clicks. If we can engage patients more often and they stay on (y)our pages for longer, then Google keeps track of that and rewards you with more visibility in the future.
  • Indexed properly: making sure all the coding and programming in the back-end is done to the highest standards. Google uses web crawlers (an impressive global army of them) and they want to understand what your website is about. If the meta tags, sections, headers and the code are not put together to help Google, guess how it will flag your medical website: poor content that does not deserve to be ranked high in Google search results when local patients do a search.
  • Rich in content: A full focus on substantial, quality articles presented on a quality website, is the best future-proof investment you can do for your practice. Not only do you increase your traffic, but also the conversion power of your website. If you then expand your practice and recruit other health professionals, you can use the magnetic power of your online brand to convince future partners, staff or shareholders.
  • Linked: A popular website gets more credit. Any type of quality traffic we can direct to it, adds value. Local TV appearances, articles on LinkedIn, email marketing campaigns to GPs with links to specific pages, posts on Facebook or links from a patient forum: it all adds up to tell Google how reliable and integrated you are in the eyes of your local community.
Organic vs. paid search for doctors

Ranking well as a doctor with your medical website is not a quick fix. It’s not a technical IT job, even though some aspects of it are highly technical. The holistic view on organic search for doctors depends on a full understanding of the patient journey, so your site architecture, your content, the chosen keywords and your brand positioning can all work together so you show up in Google search results for local patients. 

Can I get the best of both: organic and ads?

organic search & google ads for doctors

We vividly recommend a data-driven approach to online marketing. It means that you first need a detailed report describing your monthly keyword ranking and website conversions. This tells you which content is giving you great organic ranking – if you don’t have any, check out our articles about optimal Google-friendly content or book a free strategy session.

If you are looking into Google Ads to boost your patient numbers, make sure you are not competing against yourself. If you rank number one for ‘endometriosis Sydney, it only makes sense to use Google Ads, provided that other gynaecologists are bidding for this keyword. If their ads show up for this search, it means you may need to put in place Google Ads to outcompete them.

The use of Google Ads should always be seen in its context: look at your organic progress, your overall marketing efforts, your ROI in terms of patient-lifetime value, and the capacity of your clinics to attract more patients. The most effective use of Google Ads for your medical practice is a balanced exercise because patients are not looking for a discount unless you work in certain subspecialties of plastic surgery or dental. Whatever you decide on organic vs paid search, put yourself in the shoes of your potential future patient. Crafting the ads so they are in line with the landing page the patient will reach when they click on it, requires skills and experience.

That exercise needs an in-depth approach, a strategic view on your overall online visibility and a realistic expectation in regards to the success ratio of your available Google Ads budget. If a procedure brings in $4,000, then $1,000 per month spent on Google Ads for 3 additional leads per month is an ROI-positive investment.

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Find out if you are a buyer or a renter

SEO consultation for doctors

Are you in the business of renting advertising space or investing smartly in your digital real estate? If you are unsure about organic vs paid search for your medical practice, why not book a free strategy session? Every practice is different and so is each local market for a particular medical specialty. We will look at your goals, overall competition levels for your niche in your catchment area, and discuss the most cost-effective way to build future-proof visibility.

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