Keywords are the foundation of search engine optimization (SEO) in healthcare. They're the language that people use to look online for queries related to their health. They're embedded on website pages, blog posts, and social media. They're the fundamental "stuff" that search engines connect patients with what they need online.
This makes keyword strategy a foundational part of any medical practice's SEO program. Unfortunately, too many healthcare marketers never complete this step in any formal sense of the word.
Step 1: Determine Keyword Strategy Goals
Any keyword strategy needs to align with broader organizational objectives. Are you establishing a new place? A new service line? Is patient volume down at one of your locations? Trying to increase your ranking? Focus on keywords that will support these objectives and drive revenue.
Step 2: Learn How Prospective Patients Search Online
The tie to a broader organizational objective naturally leads to audience research. What's the patient persona, and, subsequently, what are those prospects looking for? What questions do they have?
You'd be amazed at how much you can get down on paper when you ask a group of colleagues these questions. This is a great start, but not enough. You want the actual language your prospects are using. For that, you can turn to one or more of the following keyword research tools:
- Google Keyword Planner: This tool provides keyword suggestions, search volume, and estimated costs. This is useful for Google Ads campaigns, but they also give you a better understanding of the keywords people use.
- Google Trends: See how people search, what for, and their level of interest in particular keyword phrases or topics. "Related Topics" and "Related Queries" are beneficial for keyword research. A free keyword research tool helps you dive deep and explore the questions patients are asking.
- SERP Features: You can glean a lot of keyword research from search engines. On search engine results pages (SERPS), Google often includes features such as "Suggested based on your recent activity," "People also ask," and "Searches related to."
- Online Communities and Forums: How are people—real people—talking about particular topics online? Dig into online communities and forums for target keyword candidates related to your topic area. For your next Google search, add the word "Reddit" to your search phrase—it's like a whole new world.
- Contact Form Submissions, and Patient Feedback Forms: The forms customers engage with are another opportunity to capture language directly from customers. Review your contact form and survey submissions for common questions, topics, or themes.
- Conversational Analysis: An emerging technology that can automatically gather insights from phone lines. CallRail, for example, uses CallScribe to transcribe calls and identify keywords automatically. This can help you uncover new keywords and phrases that patients use to describe their problems and the type of solution they need.
Step 3: Align Keyword Strategy with the Patient Journey
While each patient's journey is different, they all generally share the same core phases:
As people move through these phases and conduct searches, they'll exhibit OTHER four types of search intent:
Any journey phase and search intent will help focus on a particular grouping of target keywords.
Between these and related keyword phrases, healthcare marketers will have a good idea of the type of content to create for these particular points in the patient journey (and which keyword phrases to include).
About the Different Types of Healthcare Keywords:
As you continue mapping different patient journeys and tying search intent and keyword phrases to other phases, you'll come across a few different categories of keywords:
Broad Healthcare Keywords
This one- to two-word phrase tends to be quite general. These broad search terms usually get a tremendous monthly search volume, creating nearly unrealistic competition for the top spots.
Long-tail keywords are three words or longer, and they often consist of broader keyword terms couched in additional language that narrow the focus and signal intent.
Here are a few other examples of long-tail keywords specific to healthcare:
- Best orthopedic surgeon for knee replacement
- Addiction treatment center with outpatient programs
- Therapy for depressed teenage son
- Exercises to relieve back pain
Long-tail keywords help you gain more visibility in competitive healthcare markets. To uncover these keywords, explore your unique selling proposition. What do you do best? What niche do you hold in the market?
Typically longer tail keyword phrases include location identifiers, such as postal codes, area codes, city names, or states. For example:
- "24/7 urgent care Bangalore south".
- "sports physical therapist 5600**."
Targeting location-based keywords allow you to reach an audience near one of your locations. Location keywords are beneficial for healthcare organizations, as most people are searching for a provider that is located near them.
If you have multiple locations, you have an added layer of complexity and need to develop a multi-location SEO strategy. This comes down to selecting the right local keywords for that location and developing location-based site pages and digital listings (Google My Business).
How to Target Keywords Based on Search Volume
You'll want to strike the right balance between search volume and competition throughout your keyword strategy. While high volume, high competition keywords have the potential for lots of traffic, they might be challenging to rank for, especially for newer practices or practices with poor digital authority.
On the other hand, low volume, low competition keywords are easier to rank for. This might be the place to look for keywords that are likely to:
- Drive patient acquisition
- Indicate high intent to purchase
- Book an appointment
Finally, there are high volume, low competition keywords out there. But they're rare. With keyword research technology now in the hands of so many healthcare marketers and SEO, any high volume, low competition, viable keywords won't stay that way for long.
Step 4: Create Content Using Target Keywords
With your target keywords in hand, backed by a documented keyword strategy, it's time to go after those top rankings. We recommend focusing your energy on three core areas:
- Build Robust Web Pages
- Implement On-page Keyword Best Practices
- Create Content Marketing Strategies Around Target Keywords
Implement On-page Keyword Best Practices
There are lots of ways to enrich site content with target keywords. This helps in on-page SEO best practices send strong signals that help you rank better in SERPs. Look for opportunities to incorporate target keywords into:
- Page titles
- Meta descriptions
- Image alt text and captions
- Internal links
- Content headers (H1 to H6)
Create Content Marketing Strategies Around Target Keywords
Content and SEO go hand in hand. Beyond website pages, it's essential to develop tailored content that supports specific keyword strategies. This might be a series of blog posts aimed at patients in the consideration/informational phase or video testimonials for solution-aware patients.
WHAT NOT TO DO: This is not the time to begin auto-generating crap content or keyword stuffing your existing stuff. There is never a good time for blackhat keyword tactics. Google won't like it, nor will your patients. They're looking for a provider they can trust.
In Closing: Know Where You Want to Go
Any medical practice or healthcare marketing group can cobble together a group of keywords they think their company should rank. What separates competitive SEO programs in the healthcare field is a more formal, organized, and data-driven approach to keyword strategy.
It all hearkens to aligning your target keyword list with specific organizational objectives.
The team will have a great starting point to conduct thorough keyword research.
Build a patient-journey-aligned keyword strategy
Develop keyword-rich content to support this strategy
In our experience, this kind of comprehensive approach is the only way to improve search visibility and drive patient acquisition in the long term.