Earlier this year, the Health Management Academy published a white paper, outlining the importance of physicians cultivating their online profiles more carefully and effectively.  This is particularly important now, when consumers are increasingly evaluating physicians in a more critical and well informed fashion (thanks partly to the prevalence of patient ratings and reviews).

In fact, a healthcare system’s physician pages constitute an important digital entrée to a healthcare provider. Healthcare systems have an incredible opportunity to boost the effectiveness of their physician pages through performance media tactics such as paid search and display advertising.

At SIM Partners we’ve commented often on the importance of using paid and organic content strategies to improve patient access for healthcare systems. I’ve often worked with clients to help them use paid media to drive traffic and increase conversions on their physician pages – because, as my colleague Phil Rapisardo blogged recently, traffic and conversions are the name in the game when measuring the effectiveness of physician pages.  

But paid media can seem intimidating and overly complex to many healthcare systems. The reality is that you can apply paid media effectively by focusing on two key principles:

1. Think Search Intent

Many healthcare systems use organic and paid media to generate brand awareness when they could and should be creating more patient access, too.

Using YouTube to boost awareness for your physicians and services with videos is great – we advocate for physicians to do so all the time. But healthcare systems should balance awareness with intent.

Intent-driven media focuses on creating traffic and conversions based intent-driven searches, such as “find a cardiologist near me.” People making those kinds of searches on Google are more intent driven than someone searching YouTube for general information on cardiology.

If you focus a majority of your media spend on brand awareness to fill the top of the funnel and don’t place enough emphasis on capturing patients that are actively searching for your services you are likely not getting the best return on your investment. Also, if you are building awareness for your services, but competitors are doing a better job capturing searches you could be filling your competitors funnel for them.

2. Shorten the Conversion Path without limiting Options

Focusing on search intent allows you to better understand what stage that searcher is in the patient journey. Understanding where that potential patient is in their journey can help you cut multiple steps out of their path to becoming a patient. Reducing the number of steps that a patient has to take significantly increases their chance of converting.

In retail this is a very common practice of matching the searcher’s intent with the type of landing page served up. For example, when a person searches “nike running shoes” a retailer can serve up a page with all of the nike running shoes they have in stock. This is a more ideal user experience for the customer than pushing them to the home page.

This strategy can be applied to the healthcare vertical, but we know thanks to Google that 71 percent of healthcare searchers don’t take further action if a website lacks information. So health systems need to be careful of sending the potential patients too far down the funnel and eliminating valuable information and options.

The above graphic depicts results for a hypothetical search for a cardiologist near me — a very qualified lead. Few hospital systems are truly doing a good job capitalizing on similar types of searches, giving sites like WebMD and HealthGrades an opportunity to apply SEO to siphon searches away from hospitals.

In the above example, there were a number of different health systems bidding on this search using pay per click, so even though none of the healthcare systems showing ads show up in the local snack pack search results or in the organic listings on the first page, they are able to capture highly qualified traffic with PPC and possibly take patients from hospital systems that are focusing a majority of their paid media efforts on brand awareness.

There are two different strategies being utilized in PPC for healthcare systems in this example. The more popular of the two is to direct the searcher to a general cardiology page, which gives lots of generic information about their cardiology services. There was only one healthcare system that was pushing searchers directly to a physician directory.

One of the better examples of the cardiologist pages a patient would see if they click on one of the ads  is Northshore’s cardiology page which gives lots of generic information and has a navigation bar that directs people to doctors or locations as well as other information sources.

This is not a bad user experience to learn about their brand and services, as we stated before  71 percent of healthcare searchers don’t take further action if a website lacks information. The issue comes when a potential patient decides they want to find a NorthShore cardiologist (and if they are searching cardiologists near me, they have shown more intent and are a lot more likely to start that process than those that came through a brand awareness medium like display).

If I click on “physicians” in the navigation bar, the site pushes me to a less desirable page with just a list of doctors and no information about them, making it very difficult to conduct research and compare essentially increasing the number of steps in the conversion path and making it a more difficult patient experience.

In comparison, we will examine Presence Health’s strategy of directing traffic for these searches to their physician directory. Here at SIM we specialize in building out directories like the page Presence Health is directing their PPC traffic to and understand that patients engage very well with a properly made directory.  If Presence Health wanted to improve their strategy they would populate a directory page with only doctors specializing in cardiology to more accurately answer the initial search query “cardiologists near me.” Presence Health could have further improved their strategy by showing me a directory that has pre-populated all cardiologists in the Chicagoland area.

If SIM Partners were to handle any of the hospital system’s PPC that we examined above, we would be capitalizing on these high intent searches by building out campaigns for multiple specialties like cardiology and oncology. The search results would reveal specialty pages similar to the NorthShore’s landing page — but specific to both that specialty and location that actually shows information on the doctors. With 63 percent of searchers choosing healthcare based on proximity to home/office, it goes to shows how important it is to use geo-specific copy as well as good geo-targeting for PPC campaigns.

If your healthcare system publishes a robust group page of cardiology specialists, consider a paid search campaign that captures interest from people doing the “cardiologists near me” search as I’ve noted. When you bid on terms that people are using to seek care and push them to your group pages and directories, you stand a greater chance to create patient access, not just awareness.

By balancing brand awareness with converting traffic, your healthcare system is in a better position to maximize the value of paid media as a complement to organic. Contact us. We’ll show you how.


J.D. Blue

Author J.D. Blue

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