It’s hard not to notice the buzz of healthcare best practices. Nearly every social media platform is constantly sharing, retweeting, and liking blog posts about Mayo Clinic’s patient engagement efforts and Cleveland Clinic’s email campaigns. Evolve does it too. These brands are leaders in care; each organization’s online presence reflects its outstanding reputation that precedes the digital age.
Successful online initiatives don’t simply happen, though. They are the result of a well-thought out digital strategy. All of the pieces work together to build a powerful, innovative, patient-centric brand. Let’s explore the reasons healthcare organizations are able to work toward their online goals.
They’ve identified (and fixed) their website’s flaws
It can be tempting to ignore your organization’s struggling website and instead brainstorm colorful ideas, like a social media campaign or a video series. While there is certainly a time for that kind of content, the time is not now. Too many on-site issues hold back a website from ranking well in search results and providing visitors with a satisfactory user experience. Did you know, for example, that many healthcare websites are suffering from duplicate content issues? The example below shows two versions of the home page. Ideally, the URL ending in “/index.html” would redirect permanently to the URL ending in “.org,” thus preventing the page from ranking in results (and ultimately competing with the other).
Other common issues we find in websites include:
- Too many domains: Often lacking in strategic motive, different domains end up competing with each other to rank.
- Lack of text on pages: This is particularly an issue if the page hosts a video. Search bots can’t understand the context of video, so it’s important to provide it in the form of text.
- Non-existent, duplicate, or incorrect title tags and meta descriptions: This is SEO 101. Even hospital websites using SharePoint can update this information.
- Poor URL structure: Yes, even URL structure matters!)
- Lack of keyword focus: This is typically a result of organizations not knowing which keywords to concentrate on. Keyword research can fix that.
They have invested in their marketing team’s digital IQ
One indication of a trustworthy or informative website is one whose pages are routinely updated. This is why content marketing has become such a big deal, and rightly so. But without investing in your marketing team’s knowledge and educating them on the purpose of SEO, there will be no reason for habits to change. For example, I found an infographic via Twitter that contains great content, but it unfortunately had several glaring issues:
- The infographic was a flat jpeg
- Text wasn’t crawlable, meaning there were NO keywords
- The page had no title tag or meta description
Essentially, the page was invisible to search engines, with the exception of a few outbound links. Here is what the Spider Simulator tool shows:
It’s important for team members to understand how search engines work so as new content is generated, it will be created in an SEO-friendly way. So when a new page is added to the website, it will be fortified with a unique title tag and meta description, and images will have alt tags attached to them. When teams aren’t educated according to SEO best practices, they won’t know to do these things. (By the way, I told the brand about its "uncrawlable" infographic and linked to our SEO Guide for Beginners.)
They’ve invested in scalable, measurable marketing efforts
Despite the inability to effectively track leads, many health care providers spend a significant portion of their marketing budgets on billboards, newspaper advertising, radio spots, and television commercials. Perhaps it’s because the larger-than-life exposure seemingly validates the colossal price of those mediums. Healthcare marketers are wired to advertise with a public relations spin, but the feel-good messages aren’t necessarily what your targeted audience is looking for. Furthermore, impressions aren’t the metric your brand should be interested in. You should be focused on leads. People are looking for treatment options and symptoms online. In fact, Pew Internet research from earlier this year reported that 77% of online health seekers began their last search at a search engine like Google or Yahoo. This presents an exciting opportunity for health care organizations. Ranking organically doesn’t cost – but the effort involved in fixing on-site errors can be costly and span a lengthy timeline. Even without organic visibility, health care brands can invest in Search Engine Marketing (SEM), which enables brands to bid on terms or phrases potential patients are searching, and then display ads in prominent positions. Although you have to pay for this traffic, there are several benefits that completely validate SEM as an advertising medium:
- Ability to target: Paid search ads are only displayed to those who type in terms you’ve bid on. And you only pay if someone clicks.
- Tailor messaging easily: It doesn’t take long to realize if an ad is performing well or not. Data is delivered in a snap.
- Use data toward website improvement: Google Analytics no longer shows which terms people searched to land on your site organically – but paid search still reveals which terms yielded clicks.
They’ve improved internal communication
Wildly successful healthcare organizations understand how important internal communication is. Only when the folks on the inside are aligned in terms of goals and expectations, will success start to happen. We know each service line has its own motivations and objectives, but the singular brand goal needs to drive success for everyone.
- Sharing successes among service lines: Whether a paid search campaign, a piece of content, or reputation management initiatives, service lines should be willing to share their successes so other departments can follow suit.
- Familiarizing physicians with other doctors for internal referrals: Physicians want to refer their patients to doctors they know and trust.
- Using an electronic medical records (EMR) system to improve workflow and finances: Hospitals are more efficiently able to review patient history and understand what treatment is necessary.
- Solidifying the brand identity: When every individual recognizes the organization’s purpose, culture and goals, the brand will be better represented online and offline.
They facilitate the accomplishment of tasks online
Patient expectations are not what they used to be, particularly online. While health care providers once treated their websites as digital brochures, there is now a demand to enable patients to accomplish tasks from the comfort of their own homes.
- Scheduling appointments:While this doesn't apply to everyone, many patients appreciate the ability to schedule or request appointments online. It is a more convenient alternative, especially for those who don't want to deal with the hassle of being put on hold over the phone. If we can order meals online without getting up from our office chairs, we should be able to schedule a doctor appointment.
- Overviews of treatment options:The most successful hospitals online are providing thorough content regarding treatment options to their readers. I still see organizations linking to Wikipedia articles instead of explaining processes in their own words; it's critical to transform your website into a one-stop shop for health information.
- Online bill pay:Once again, patients want convenience. The best hospitals are doing more than just providing care; they are making the entire process simpler for patients. That includes online bill pay.
- Provide aftercare and recovery information online:The same documents your physician hands over following an operation, diet plan, or consultation can be housed online, thus saving paper and making it much simpler to access the aftercare information. Ultimately, email reminders, digital instructions, and app notifications can result in fewer readmission rates.
As patients also turn to search engines for answers to health-related queries, hospital websites need to function as resource hubs. It's important to deliver information in a variety of formats, if necessary. For example, Diabetes could be explained on a page featuring several paragraphs of information, an FAQ section, and visually-engaging videos or images. Blausen produces 3-D videos that uniquely inform visitors of the causes, risks, and treatments of various health concerns.
Last week I was talking to a college friend about her husband's new residency at a prestigious hospital. She explained that his initial top hospital choice changed as he learned of doctors' arrogance; the physicians felt they could ride on the organization's reputation. And perhaps they can, for a little while longer. But as more patients turn to search engines to find a health care provider, and as more physician review sites surface, it will be exceedingly difficult for health care organizations to hide behind their reputations. The wildly successful brands are continuing to innovate the way they provide health care, and they are committing to facilitating the entire process for patients.