- Posted by Nigel Edelshain
- On April 20, 2015
Does search matter for your hospital marketing? Almost certainly. Does local search matter for your local hospital? Almost certainly.
This post is an overview of why I think local search matters for your hospital. I don’t present all the answers here as it turns out giving this a thorough treatment is enough to fill at least one ebook.
The search journey to your hospital
Patients go down a search “path” on their way to finding a hospital and if all goes well booking an appointment (note: once they find your hospital whether they book will be influenced by your hospital’s reputation.)
As Google’s slide below shows patients typically start their search with “non-branded” searches, i.e. searches that do not include your hospital’s name. At this early stage in their research patients are typically trying to understand their condition and symptoms.
Typical symptom searches here might be something like “irregular heartbeat” or “sore knee”. Typical condition searches might be “arrhythmia” or “bursitis”. Patients also search for departments, so for example “pediatrics”. These categories of terms make up 84% of the early stage patient searches.
Was that done with intent?
Many of those early stage search terms (with the exception of departments) seem to be interpreted by Google as non-local.
These days when you type a search into Google’s search engine it tries to figure out if you had “local intent”. Google is always trying to make your search experience better and a lot of searches these days are for local businesses. Data from Chikita shows that 24% of all Google searches have “local intent”, meaning that people are searching for local businesses. This number is much higher when you consider just mobile searchers (those using their smartphones and tablets), Google says this number is closer to 50%.
Should we compete with WebMD?
The problem for marketing teams at local hospitals is that these early stage terms are treated as “global” by Google meaning you end up competing with WebMD for a spot on page one of the search results. Not a strong strategy unless your hospital has a world-class specialty in a particular condition. In this situation you could succeed by building a strong online reputation for your hospital in this niche. You would need to achieve goals such as getting lots of inbound links to your page(s) covering this topic.
So how do you show up in search results if you cannot beat WebMD and Mayo Clinic for search terms related to more common conditions and symptoms?
One solution you can see in the screen shot below is to buy an ad. (Valley Health System and Holy Name Medical Center are local hospitals in my area.) This is a sensible strategy to siphon off some of the patients conducting early stage searchers. The ROI on these ads may be quite good but of course you will need a reasonable budget.
Spot the local search
In addition to buying there’s an interesting opportunity for hospitals in organic SEO (i.e. free) in the “department” and “treatments/procedures” searches documented by Google in their research.
The chart below shows how patients search in the middle of their path to finding a hospital. If we assume “department” and “symptom” searches are evenly split below, we find that “department” searches are 20% of all searches.
In our testing when we type in a department search such as “cardiology” we see local results, i.e. we are not competing with WebMD and Mayo any more only with local hospitals and physicians. A very winnable battle!
In addition to these “implicit” local search results any search with a “geographic modifier” will show local results, terms such as “bursitis Bergen County NJ”.
We don’ have an exact percentage then for local search results but it’s probably around a third of all searches (adding the 20% to an assumed 13% for “geo modified” searches.)
Shall we compete at all?
Should your hospital try to show up in search results? I definitely think so. With 77% of patients using a search engine before booking an appointment this seems like a marketing channel you cannot ignore.
Can you win for early stage generic terms like “irregular heartbeat”? Maybe not. But by using some careful search strategies like carving out niche keywords, buying some PPC ads and securing a top ranking in searches Google deems local you almost certainly will get additional patient volume.