Why are some hospitals successful online?

Why are some hospitals wildly successful online?

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 organizationas 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 homepage. 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:

  1. Too many domains: Often lacking in strategic motive, different domains end up competing with each other to rank.


  1. 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.


  1. Non-existent, duplicate, or incorrect title tags and meta descriptions: This is SEO 101. Even hospital websites using SharePoint can update this information.


  1. Poor URL structure: Yes, even URL structure matters!)


  1. 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 teamas 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
  • The 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 arenat educated according to SEO best practices, they won’t know to do these things.

Theyave invested in scalable, measurable marketing efforts

Despite the inability to effectively track leads, many healthcare 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 arenat necessarily what your targeted audience is looking for. Furthermore, impressions arenat 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 healthcare 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, healthcare 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 a but paid search still reveals which terms yielded clicks.

Theyave 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 organizationas 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 healthcare 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 healthcare 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.

Core Components of a Hospital Website

Healthcare brands frequently struggle to understand their patients’ needs a particularly online. Websites are often lacking core components that could potentially answer a patient’s questions right away. When the information is either buried deep within a website’s pages or simply nonexistent, patients grow frustrated or at the very least, feel disconnected from the brand.


A health care brand’s overarching objectives will serve as a baseline for determining the goals of a website, and content creation should shortly follow. We discussed the importance of building pages based on the keywords visitors are searching, but there are other pieces that must be included in your website to ensure the patients’ expectations are met. These necessary pages can transform your website into a patient-centric resource for maintaining health. Patient expectations include:

  • Services Information
  • Detailed Support Pages
  • Physician Information


1. Services Information

Whether for yourself or someone else, there has probably been a point during which you searched for a health care service online. Patients in this age are turning to search engines to seek medical information a from symptoms to post-surgery instructions a and websites must present answers. Health care brands are finally understanding this reality. Listing the services your hospital provides is the bare minimum. Humans are curious creatures; we are no longer satisfied with the bare minimum. In addition to discovering what services are offered, we want to know treatment details, such as:

  • What procedures may be required
  • How long recovery will take
  • Preventative care a doctor will recommend
  • Patient success stories

And as mentioned in our warning against leased content, searchers aren’t interested in generic content; they want to know what separates your hospital from the others.


2. Detailed Support Pages

Patients search for health care solutions at different stages. It’s important to provide support for each phase in a patient’s journey toward better health. Battling a medical condition is emotionally and physically draining in itself; by simplifying the patient’s to-do list, a brand can get on a patient’s good side before he or she has even stepped inside the lobby. Visitors need to be able to find basic contact information without a lot of clicks. This includes:

  • Parking information a and any costs involved
  • Address of main facility
  • Phone numbers
  • Email address for more information
  • A map of the hospital layout (internal and external)

This info should be tailored to the specific service a visitor is searching, especially if the hospital spans several buildings on its campus. From personal experience, I know how frustrating it is to find out you have parked on the opposite end of where you need to be.


In addition to the basic details listed above, health care providers should consider assembling resources that deliver even more support for current or potential patients. Dukhealth.org is full of phenomenal information for each service offered. This alleviates potential stress and concerns by fully preparing patients with what they can expect during their appointments. You should offer information regarding:

  • What to bring for checking in
  • Checking in procedures
  • Discharge procedures
  • Dining and cafeteria information
  • Nearby lodging information for family
  • FAQ page for specific service line


3. Staff Pages

While many hospitals have a core “find a physician” page, it can be difficult for a patient to find the doctor he or she is looking for. An ideal user experience leads to physicians through multiple channels. For example, each service line should link to the specific physicians who are experts in that field. It’s comforting for visitors to familiarize themselves with a doctor’s face, name, recognitions, and short bio. Not to mention, having this information can assist in directing those searching a physician’s name in Google to the hospital website instead of to doctor rating websites that may or may not portray the doctor in a positive light. Additionally, hospital websites should consider cycling their physicians throughout the website a even on the homepage. When an institution proudly displays the names and faces of their physicians, patients appreciate both the transparency from the brand and the opportunity to learn more about the capable doctors available. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, for example, shows photos of actual doctors working instead of resorting to stock photos.


Doctors aren’t the only members of health care organizations that deserve recognition. Patients spend just as much time with nurses, medical staff, and administrators, and showcasing the names, titles, and photos of these essential staff members can humanize the website, providing a sense of warmth and empathy.

Core Components Conclusion

We’ve all experienced health issues at one time or another, so we can fairly easily grasp what it is patients are seeking online. A health care website can serve as a thoughtful information hub for potential and returning patients, but accomplishing this task can be challenging as expectations continue to rise. The ultimate goal of your content is to carry patients from the computer screen to the doors of a health care facility. People appreciate convenience in finding thorough, empathetic, and straightforward website content.

How to the nation’s best hospitals perform online? Click to download our report. 

SharePoint Tips for Digital Healthcare Marketing

SharePoint Tips for Digital Healthcare Marketing

Content produced by health care organizations a such as emails, website pages, and patient resources a provides essential medical information and resources to both physicians and patients. But content does more than simply educate. It builds trust. It cultivates a relationship. In order to ensure the content you’ve generated reaches the right audience, there are specific ways your brand must communicate the value to search engines.

Quick Overview of SEO

To anyone who is skeptical or simply unaware of the effectiveness of SEO,  it can be summarized as a series of steps that help search engines understand your site’s content. Images, for example, are invisible to the search bots that crawl websites, so it is necessary to provide additional insight regarding the subject and context of your content. In addition to supplementing pages, it’s also important to remedy usability flaws a such as 404 errors, which result from faulty linking. Finally, SEO involves a strategic understanding of your patientsa needs so you can generate content that meets those needs. This process, keyword research, can illuminate which service lines take priority. The ultimate goal in SEO is to achieve rankings that are more favorable than competitors in a search engine’s search results page (SERP). Higher rankings generally result in more visitors to the site, and while a higher traffic volume isn’t the end-all indication of digital victory, it certainly is a good start!

Incorporating SEO into SharePoint

It is very common among healthcare brands to use SharePoint as a content management tool, but not every hospital is using the system to its full potential. The capabilities of SharePoint can improve internal systems of healthcare organizations. In addition to acting as a website platform, SharePoint also manages the following content:

  • Digital library of resources
  • Directory of physicians, patients, staff
  • Storage hub for operations forms
  • Project management solutions

Microsoft’s SharePoint is now equipped with SEO functions explicitly designed to improve the position of your site in organic search results a which is perfect for increasing the number of eyes that reach your healthcare content. When the content of your marketing message is easily accessed and understood, it will attract your targeted consumers. Fill in Metadata. SharePoint facilitates the process of adding this data so you don’t have to worry about supplementing the HTML from the frontend. To add and edit meta tags (title, meta description), visit Page tab and click “Edit Properties” then “Edit SEO Properties.” Here you can fill out the fields to better convey the context to search engines a and even specify whether the page should be indexed. According to Microsoftas instructions, you also have the opportunity to add meta keywords; however, we don’t recommend this. Googleas algorithm now disregards this information. Use Keywords Strategically While keyword phrases were traditionally plugged into existing content, they now serve as guides for content topics. Hopefully, you already have a list of keywords to reference a there is a wide range of uses for those terms. The first is general content creation; by understanding what visitors are searching, you can craft blog posts, website pages, and downloadable resources. Over time, you can track which pieces of content have received the most engagement and therefore present opportunity for deeper dives into the subject. It’s important to note that SharePoint allows for easy URL customization. We have an entire post dedicated to keeping URL structure SEO-friendly, but in short: incorporate a relevant keyword into the URL, but do so sparingly. Update Sitemap and Robots.txt As explained in Chapter three of our updated SEO Guide, a sitemap is a file that lists the pages on your site you want search bots to crawl and index. Sitemaps act as a directory of the different pages so nothing gets overlooked when a search engine is assessing your website. SharePoint updates the sitemap for you over time so it is inclusive of all pages. You can then submit the sitemap through various search enginesa webmaster tools so it can recrawl new or updated pages.

Robots.txt is a file that tells search bots what they shouldn’t crawl. For example, if patients can log in and set up a profile, the individual profiles should not appear in search engine results pages. To ensure they are not able to rank for search queries, they can be added to the robots.txt file. SharePoint generates this file as well.


When used correctly, SharePoint can transform the way a hospital communicates internally and externally. As health care brands experience stricter penalties for providing redundant care, it is critical to identify flaws in the flow of communication a and that includes the website.

How can hospitals use social media?

On Tuesday, Tabitha and I attended a half-day social media workshop. The speaker, Michael Brito, presented the concept of a Social Business Strategy, which is a communications model that relies on both internal (employees, partners) and external (customers, partners, media) to receive maximum value. Regardless of the size of a company, it can be extremely difficult to rationalize investing time and money in social media a especially when it can be equally difficult to know how to measure the efforts.


Frantically recording notes on my Macbook, I tried to see Michael’s presentation through the lens of health care. While many influential healthcare organizations (Mayo Clinic, Hopkins Medicine) are thriving online in social media networks, the reality is many smaller hospitals aren’t sure how they can contribute. Marketers have concerns about using their integrated hospital marketing communications plan and leveraging social streams without the guidance, budget, or understanding of how to effectively communicate to an audience through social media strategy.

Patients are empowered.

Though it may pain some doctors to realize it, people are trying to diagnose their symptoms online. Every year, more people turn to Google to research common symptoms, physician ratings, recovery information, and healthcare organizations. And whether or not the information gathered is completely valid, patients base next steps on their findings. The great news is social media sites can position you as an influencer if used the right way. Health care brands, physicians, and staff members can use resources available to them to educate current and future patients on social media platforms.

1. The health care brand

When hospitals are present and active on social media outlets, patients perceive them as cutting-edge. The problem is that too many organizations find a hard time identifying how to support marketing efforts with social media a there is no strategy fueling a return on the investment.

Be Purposefully Present: Being “present” online is an excellent start, but in order to make the effort worthwhile, the brand needs to tactfully drive leads. Hopefully, the healthcare organization already understands the importance of generating content that will resonate with patients (current and potential) searching for a health care solution. From promoting patient videos to participating in health chats, there are countless ways available to jump into a conversation and engage an audience. Social media activity should advance the efforts of a pre-existing goal of a priority service line a for example, to increase email addresses through a form on a Cardiology landing page.

Be Transparently Positive: It’s incredible to recognize the extent that some health care brands are reaching out to people who may never set foot in their facilities. I subscribe to Cleveland Clinic’s Be Well newsletter a and it’s an incredible source of health information spanning a huge array of topics. Yesterday’s newsletter featured a “supercharged oatmeal” recipe, an article about heart attack prevention, several infographics, and some advice regarding “text neck,” (which Iam probably suffering from).



My point is: I wouldn’t have subscribed if the brand hadn’t tweeted about it. Will I ever go to that specific hospital for a procedure? Maybe not, because it’s a couple states away. But imagine the effect this quality of information can have on someone who is considering Cleveland Clinic for its services. Another brand I admire for its social media engagement is Seattle Children’s Hospital. Positivity radiates from this brandas Facebook page. The timeline is packed with encouraging stories of patients, and it truly reflects the brand’s mission to Hope. Care. Cure.




2. The individual doctors

Physicians are generally hesitant to create a professional social media profile and invest time in sharing their expertise. Why is this? A few reasons:

  • My schedule does not allow for social media
  • I donat see the point in giving away information for free
  • I donat want to push doctor-patient boundaries

Those all seem like valid points a after all, doctors are paid to treat patients in person. But after a lot of research, I’m more convinced than ever that it is in doctors’ (and patients’) best interests for physicians to be actively communicating online.

“My schedule doesn’t allow it.”

Being active online doesn’t mean you have to de-evolve into a SnapChat-ing tween. For many people, social media is one giant distraction a but for you, it is a portal into the needs of patients. Start with the platforms that fit your schedule and comfort level. That might mean tweeting links to health-related articles you have read. Even if you didn’t write the content, you can at least steer patients toward medical sources you trust.



“I don’t see the point in giving away information for free.”

No one expects a physician to provide a digital diagnosis over Facebook. But general health practices? Definitely. The value of your online presence is largely graded by the quality of info you share a but value also stems from the act of listening to and engaging with patients. Caring enough about patients to share new articles (including your own, which can drive traffic to your site) is a great way to establish trust and ultimately increase patient enrollment. Discuss and share topics you’re passionate about; it will keep your patients engaged and position you as a thought leader.

“I donat want to push doctor-patient boundaries.”

Roughly 20% of physicians consider online interaction with patients to be inappropriate behavior, according to a 2011 report by Quantia. However, that perception is outdated and will not be one that carries over into the future of health care. Doctors need to make it a point to bridge medical breakthroughs or stories in the media with how patients are affected. When translating your expertise online, speak to a collective audience, not one-on-one. Itas possible to expose your personality while still acting professional; just take a tip from Dr. Neal Barnard, who is constantly sharing tweets relating to his passion for healthy eating.


As for situations involving patients who feel entitled to privately contact a physician for medical advice or a diagnosis a simply deliver a canned message that asks them to contact their own provider or 911. (Hopefully that wonat happen often.) In alignment with the new expectations outlined in the Affordable Care Act, being present and active on social media will allow your brand to provide a higher level of care to your patients. Each social media channel has a specific purpose a which you can use to advance your personal image.

3. The hospital staff

The message I most appreciated at the workshop on Tuesday was the idea of training employees to become brand ambassadors. This is critical for two main reasons:

  1. Employees need to understand the power of their reach. At Evolve Digital Labs, we have in place a social media policy. I signed one as soon as I started here two years ago, when there were only a handful of employees on board. There are very few restrictions a and honestly, the rules forbid actions I would avoid even without signing the contract (e.g., talking negatively about clients, other employees, and the Evolve brand itself). Still, people everywhere are terminated from their jobs because they underestimate the effect of their Tweets and Facebook posts.
  2. Employees should take the initiative to promote their brand. Just as staff members can negatively impact the perception of the hospital for which they work, they also have the opportunity to positively spread brand awareness. This can be as simple as following their employer on Twitter and retweeting posts. Or promoting brand events through their personal profiles. Even scanning the social channels to find inspiration for new digital marketing initiatives can play a huge role in giving your brand an edge over competitors. Michaelas point about making employees brand ambassadors was inspiring, to say the least. Itas a notion that challenges employees to see themselves as an extension of the brand voice. It’s an empowering concept: by communicating to employees that their involvement is encouraged, brands (and not just health care brands) can expect to see a higher volume of reach.


The more I research how the big hospital brands are using social media channels to transfer trust, educate patients, and build a community, it’s pretty exciting to see how local hospitals can implement similar efforts on a smaller scale. Social media allows for two-way communication online, which allows for a degree of transparency that appeals to patients. Hopefully weall see more brands investing time and effort into reaching patients online.