Healthcare providers have been quickly learning how to improve patient access by getting smarter about digital. As more patients go online to look for care, forward-thinking providers are making important changes such as improving their find-a-doctor directories. And yet, too many healthcare systems are overlooking one fundamental tactic that would give them a huge lead over their competitors: local search engine optimization. Healthcare providers that employ strong SEO tactics for their locations and providers can enjoy an oftentimes-insurmountable head start on the industry laggards.

Among the hundreds of thousands of factors that Google uses to determine who gets the highest rankings in search results, the authority of websites looms large. And businesses build authority by employing tactics that improve SEO, such as building credibility through links to other sites and boosting their on-page signals through the presence of accurate location data and keywords optimized for search. (In fact, according to the 2017 Moz Local Ranking Search Factors, link signals and on-page signals are easily the top two localized ranking factors.)

But what many businesses don’t realize is that it takes time to build ranking authority, as in several months. If you are a brand-new healthcare practice launching a site today, it could take you a year to catch up to someone else who has been actively using SEO best practices. But here’s the good news: healthcare presents a very level playing field. Very few healthcare providers are consistently managing SEO — which means if you develop an SEO strategy today, you’ll probably jump ahead of everyone else in your local market.

If you are one of the few healthcare providers inspired to tackle a serious local SEO strategy, congratulations: you’re on your way to building authority in your market. As you do so, bear in mind a few important tips:

Optimize with Content Built for Search

Too often, healthcare landing pages look like data dumps without any particular strategy behind their content and data. It’s important that you create content with keywords that align with the non-branded terms people use to search for care, such as “back pain care,” “cardiovascular surgeons,” and so on. But you don’t optimize content by simply sprinkling your site with the right keywords. You need to scale your content across all the places people look for you, such as on social media sites. It’s also important to include the kind of content categories — not just the keywords — that people are looking for, such as ratings/reviews and how-to, educational information about wellness care.

Strengthen Your Data Foundation

Your SEO strategy should include complementing strong content with a foundation of accurate data both about your location and your providers. It’s one thing to publish location and physician data. But building a data foundation means publishing accurate data with reach.

It’s not always easy for healthcare providers to publish accurate data. Physicians keep multiple hours and locations on different days. Large healthcare systems typically offer different areas of specialty under one campus, creating the need to manage multiple sets of facility data under one location. In addition, data needs to be unleashed wherever patients seek medical care, including ratings/review sites and social media platforms. To unleash data, providers need to share it with the publishers such as Google and aggregators such as Neustar that disseminate location data across the digital world. Each publisher and aggregator requires you to submit your data in slightly different formats. You get the idea: data can be a valuable asset — but only if you manage it well. Conversely, poorly managed data will hurt your ability to be found online.

Optimize for Mobile

As we have mentioned on our blog, Google continues to reward sites that follow a mobile-first strategy. In 2015, Google launched an algorithm (known as Mobilegeddon) that rewarded mobile-friendly websites in search rankings. Now Google is upping the stakes by rolling out a mobile-first index in which Google creates and ranks its search listings based on the mobile version of content — even for listings that are shown to desktop users. SIM Partners recommends that your site be mobile responsive, with quick load times and calls to action that are easy to find on mobile devices. Google provides a tool to test the mobile-friendliness of your site, and the tool is a useful way to do a quick gut check. But optimizing a site for mobile might require you to work with an outside partner fluent in the ways of mobile behavior.

In addition, think beyond Google and consider the behaviors of consumers who are driving these Google algorithm changes. We live in an omnichannel world in which people are looking for providers using multiple devices and channels. Understanding how patients are discovering you is the first step to really having a mobile-first mentality.

Building and maintaining a lead through an SEO strategy requires an ongoing investment of your time and resources. SIM Partners can help you. Our own platform, Velocity Health, automates the process of making your presence findable no matter how often your business and consumer behavior changes. We’ve published some of the insights we’ve gained from our work in white papers such as:

Contact us. We can help you gain a head start with SEO.