Healthcare Marketers: Develop a Digital Content Strategy to Enhance Your Online Presence

This week in our Healthcare Branding Series, let’s focus on the importance of digital content strategies.ProTips-#2

The meteoric rise of the internet, social networks and mobile browsing has changed how healthcare consumers seek out information. For healthcare marketers to reach audiences with meaningful, helpful information when and where people are looking for it, it’s critical to have a content strategy. Besides providing information consumers want and need, your online content should aim to boost search engine optimization (SEO) and enhance the user experience by providing answers to questions people are asking.

The good news: online health information is in high demand. According to the Pew Research Internet Project, 72 percent of internet users say they’ve searched for medical information online. Among them, 77 percent started with a search engine as opposed to a specific website. To boost your search rankings, make sure your website provides helpful, patient-centric information, and integrate your online content across multiple channels. While practice details and information about your services are valuable, content that answers patient questions will attract higher search engine traffic. To further enhance your online presence, create pay-per-click and other digital ad campaigns that link to topic-specific (and keyword-driven) web pages, or to campaign landing pages with clear calls to action like schedule an appointment, sign up for a class or newsletter, take a tour, or attend an event.

Online videos are also very popular in the healthcare space, so they’ve become a must-have for many successful web and social content strategies. Videos are so popular and highly regarded among consumers seeking information that YouTube is the second largest online search engine. In fact, according to Google, YouTube traffic to hospital websites increases 119 percent year over year. Simply put, videos offer a great opportunity to improve SEO and expand your reach.

In short, your content should fulfill your customers’ needs. If you’re not sure what information your customers want, check back next week when we discuss how to learn about your audience by listening and engaging with them on social media.

We encourage you to check out our other topics in this series:

Healthcare Websites: Giving Patients What They Want

Healthcare Marketing: WebsitesSo…what do you think of our new website? We hope you like it as much as we do, because if we don’t provide a helpful, informative and visually appealing experience while you’re here, then we’re just wasting space, plain and simple.

This is especially true for hospital and physician practice websites. These sites should be current, easily accessible resources for the eight in 10 internet users who seek health information online, but generally speaking, they’re not. Studies show many of today’s provider websites are mediocre at best. Why? Because these patient-facing sites don’t offer much when it comes to patient-friendly, patient-focused information.

What they do tend to offer in abundance is hospital- or practice-centric ‘About Us’ content. While it’s okay to provide an overview of the organization as a local patient care provider, that’s really not why people visit the site, especially when it comes at the expense of information patients really need, like whether their insurance will be accepted, what forms they’ll need for a first-time visit, which floor the lab is on, whether they can get a certain procedure at your facility, how to reach their specialist by phone, and so on.

Bottom line: the most successful healthcare websites put patients first. Why disappoint when you can ‘wow’ people instead? Making your site patient-friendly involves varying levels of complexity and expertise, but here are some things to consider that won’t require a complete overhaul:

  • Be accessible to everyone. Offer concise content at a high school reading level – no long, jargon-heavy paragraphs. Make sure it’s a mobile-friendly site, because one in five cell phone owners in the U.S. today have used their phones to look up health-related information. Offer bilingual content if English is a second language for many of your patients, and accommodate people with disabilities like visual impairments that limit web accessibility if you can. Thanks to a wide variety of plugins, extensions and widgets available for today’s most commonly used content management systems, these tasks are often not as difficult as you might think.
  • Make sure search engines can – and do – find you. Plugins for search engine optimization (SEO) are a dime a dozen these days. It helps to have key words and phrases in your content, but that alone is rarely enough to make you a top match in searches. Deploy SEO strategies to ensure people find you when your content answers the questions they’re asking.
  • Keep it fresh. Stale, outdated content engages no one. Be sure to update your site with new developments relevant to patients, like upcoming health promotions, new doctors and services, extended appointment hours and so on. And if one or more of your physicians is willing to blog in layman’s terms on key medical topics and news, we say go for it!

By the way, online videos are also a great way to provide truly engaging content that users can access and absorb with ease. But that’s a whole other blog topic – read more here.

And finally, in terms of design, here’s your new mantra: No Clutter Allowed. Apply the same levels of neatness, logic and organization to your site as you do at your facility. Remember, your website is often your first chance to make a good impression, so use it wisely. Put the needs and interests of patients first.

Real-Life Lessons in Social Media and Healthcare

Last week I attended a social media panel discussion moderated by Carol Dobies at the KCHCS Fall Conference. The three panelists, who represented two hospitals and a local firm that monitors, measures and analyzes digital content, shared their experiences and expertise with online patient interaction. Together they provided some important takeaways for healthcare organizations looking to expand their online presence. Highlights include:

Listening should be a key part of your social media strategy, and your efforts should go beyond the content you generate. It’s easy to know what people say directly to you online, but are you also watching what they say about you? “Sites like Facebook and Twitter are great for engagement, but that’s not where Google searches send people,” according to panelist Aaron Weber of Spiral16. “It’s critical to know where people land and what language they encounter when you come up in a search.” A valid point, considering 92% of adults online use search engines, and nearly 60% report using them daily, according to recent research by Pew Internet.

Healthcare-specialized SEO and marketing firms understand that patients search and read content from multiple sources (Yelp,, Wikipedia, etc.) in addition to the messages you’re putting out there. The key to establishing meaningful patient engagement online is an effective mix of SEO tactics, highly targeted direct marketing and social media strategies that encompass your entire digital presence. Read more about the importance of listening to patient comments from HealthLeaders.

Back up your strategy with social media policies. Social media policies govern your use of social media, from employee access to procedures for triaging patient comments (negative and positive). Front-line employees are the face of your organization, so if you’re comfortable letting them post and interact with patients online, it’s your choice to allow it. In order to protect your brand image and ensure total compliance with all patient-privacy laws, however, usage policies should be clearly articulated and enforced.

In fact, panelist Shawn Arni of Children’s Mercy Hospital advises two separate policy documents: one for page admins/hospital use and another for employee use. For example, staff members are not allowed to post or share anything during work hours. Regardless of how well-intended any given post may be, if it’s made by patient-facing staff in the middle of a shift, it can be perceived as interfering with patient care.

Needless to say, there are many factors to consider when developing social media use policies, but having the right rules in place is well worth the effort. Panelist Belinda Rehmer of Lawrence Memorial Hospital (LMH), agrees. As the hospital’s Community Relations Social Media Lead, she speaks from experience, and LMH’s social media policy has been used as a best practice example by many other hospitals in Kansas.

Studies show that people with the low levels of social interaction have high rates of mortality. With so many networking tools now available online, the obvious question for healthcare providers is how can we use social media to engage patients in ways that improve health? We welcome all input on the topic, so if you have insight to share about patient engagement and social media, let us hear from you!

Word Clouds Put the “Fun” in Functional for Marketers

You’ve seen them on blogs as handy visual aids that spotlight keywords from page content. Word clouds make it easy for web surfers to determine if any given blog or post interests them enough to keep reading. But for marketers, word clouds offer communication tools that can be used outside the blog as well.

At their most basic level, word clouds make text on a page look more exciting than, well, text on a page. You can use them to convey data and information in a way that breaks the mold of standard presentation formats like slides, spreadsheets and pie charts.

Looking for a creative way to share marketplace feedback to your executive and board leaders? Instead of a report with lengthy quotes and testimonials, consider presenting a word cloud that displays what consumers are saying in one quick, easily digestible image. Information that’s easy to absorb at a glance resonates more with readers.

Word clouds can also help you take a keen look at the content on your website, particularly if you’re not employing search engine optimization tactics. In seconds you’ll know exactly what words appear most frequently on key pages. You can use the results to assess whether or not you’re communicating what you want—and don’t want—to say. Try the same thing with key pages from your competitors’ sites to compare and contrast key messages.

And speaking of your Internet presence, do you know what’s being said about your organization online? Word clouds are a great way to determine if your online press is positive and aligns with your key messages. Google your organization or a specific topic, then enter text from the search results into a word cloud app. You’ll get an instant visual representation of your online image and what it says about you.

Your consumers and employees have suggestions for improvement – do you know what they are? Word clouds can help you figure it out. Just as they can be used to draw attention to your strengths, they can also uncover weaknesses. Without making it public, try making a word cloud to zero in on specific areas needing improvement.

There’s no shortage of word cloud generators available online. Look around on sites like Wordle, Tagxedo and Word It Out (to name just a few). Pick the app you like the most and discover what it can reveal about your marketing and communication efforts. Why not start right now? It’s easy, it’s creative, and it’s fun.


The Internet Says I Have WHAT?!

We’ve all done it:

We suffer from a sniffle that lasts a bit longer than usual and we’re off to a search engine to self-diagnose our mystery illness. Depending on the search results (and our levels of persistence and paranoia), either we are comforted that we’ve simply contracted the common cold…or we’re convinced that we’ve developed a CSF leak and the fluid that surrounds our brain is escaping through our nose!

Those of us who believe the second diagnosis are likely falling victim to cyberchondria:

“… the unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology, based on the review of search results and literature on the Web.”

And as health content on the Web continues to grow, we risk becoming cyberchondriacs with every Google or Bing search query.

To help curb cases of cyberchondria, some believe it is the responsibility of the search engines to provide results the public can trust. While I agree the search engines play a role, I believe the solution begins with healthcare marketers and Web writers. We have the responsibility to work with physicians, nurses and other medical professionals to produce complete, accurate and understandable information for the search engines to deliver to the online community. Studies show this kind of quality information is not always available for certain conditions, which leads medical experts to warn against relying too much on the Internet for education.

Ultimately, however, it falls to healthcare consumers to do their part.  While it is important to be vigilant advocates for our health and make an effort to educate ourselves, we must be prudent in our research, both online and off, and remember to balance our findings with the first-hand opinions of medical professionals.

White House Website Needs SEO Reality Check

President Obama's Healtcare Reform Web SiteI absolutely agree with the comments in iHealthBeat’s article about the sub-optimization of the White House’s new health reform website. Why go to all the work of creating a new media-rich site and not optimize it for the masses to find?

Though the meta keyword tag is not used by the major search engines, a look at the Reality Check site shows that its writers are more worried about nabbing searchers who spell Barack Obama’s name wrong than getting folks who are curious about health reform to the site. Unfortunately, it’s not clear that the staffers who threw the site together understand search engine marketing and optimization at all. They don’t even have ‘Barack Obama’ in text for the bots to find (the president’s name is only in a graphic and an alt tag).

Our SEO team’s recommendations? Write a better title. Embed in the content common search terms like  “Obamacare,”  “healthcare coverage” and “health bill,” as the authors of the article suggest.  Deploy a suite of online analytical tools including AdWords, WordTracker, Google Analytics and others to identify additional popular search terms related to health reform. Create keyword-rich anchor text and cross-link to the various .gov sites. If that sounds like too much work for our government friends, they could simply hire us to put Reality Check at the top of the search results.

Microsoft Bing Is Officially Live

Bing Home PageThough it was actually available yesterday, today is the official launch of Bing, Microsoft’s evolution of its Live Search and – perhaps – its final attempt to become a major player in the search space. If Bing fails, a marriage with Yahoo or Twitter or some similar entity would have to be the next step (and it may be anyway).

Nonetheless, Bing has been deployed – and we think it is better than the Live Search engine previously offered by Microsoft. Not everyone agrees. And that’s the purpose of this post. Let’s take a look at what Microsoft says about its new product, and what some industry experts are blogging about.

Microsoft says that their research indicated that 72% of searchers thought the SERPs (search engine results pages) were disorganized, and that half of their search queries on any engine failed to meet expectations. So Microsoft set out to create a “decision engine” that helps folks complete tasks and make decisions.

For example, Microsoft says, data told them that 43% of people do healthcare research via search engines. So Bing is designed to “provide you with faster access to meaningful health information, including content from trusted sources such as Mayo Clinic and the American Cancer Society.”  A query on “epileptic seizures” brought up results divided into three or so results under these separate categories: News, Medication, Causes, Tests, Diagnosis and Images.

Read more about Bing on the Microsoft at the Web site.

What are others saying? Search Engine guru Danny Sullivan weighs in with a long, long review at Search Engine Land and a companion piece about the State of Search. Here’s a forum discussion at Webmaster World and the Wall Street Journal weighs is with an article and a blog post from All Things Digital.

Bing: A Test

Bing Serp from June 2, 2009It’s only June 2, but Microsoft is already running a preview of Bing. So let’s continue our test, started with this query on Live Search a few days ago …

Today, we ran the same search, for the term “Children’s Hospital,” on the Bing preview. Beyond the new wrapper and some elements positioned in different places, the results are subtly different.

In the first position on Bing (or are we supposed to spell it bing?) are the local listings, while they were in the second position before. A funny note: Initially, Bing (and Live, too, for that matter) keeps trying to position me in Little Rock, Arkansas, so it shows me local results for that area. I have to go in and change my location each time to get Kansas City results to appear. Guess I need to log-in and update my info for Microsoft! (We really, really don’t know why the search engines insist on pushing their local listings on us when there have so many flaws in the results. And getting them changed is a bear … a topic for an upcoming post.)

After local results, the second listing on Bing is for Children’s Hospital Boston, which was the first overall listing on Live. The rest of the results seem to follow in the same order, so it doesn’t appear as if there is a major algorithm change. Related Searches are now on the left (they were on the right before) but again look to be the same listings in the same order. There is also a handy Search History group below the related searches entries.

Here’s a nice feature. As you mouse over a snipped from a site, a line with a circle in it appears next to that listing (I’m sure this has a name). Mousing over that listing reveals an additional excerpt from the site, with site-link-type links as well. This gives you further knowledge on whether you want to click on the site or move on to the next listing.

We still don’t see any sponsored results for our search. Perhaps a better experience with the search engine will lead to more interest from advertisers. Until then, it may be a good opportunity for inexpensive traffic for advertisers.

The changes aren’t huge, and in our small test we don’t see a new algo, but we are pleasantly surprised with B(b)ing. Let’s hope we continue to see good things from the engine.

‘Bing:’ Microsoft to Launch New Search Engine

SERP for Children's HospitalOn June 3, Microsoft plans to launch “Bing,” the latest iteration of its search engine. With Microsoft’s current engine, called Live Search, drawing less than 10% of the search market for most of our clients, Bing has an uphill battle on its hands to come close to Google, which enjoys 70-80% market share on our client sites.

Speaking to the Wall Street Journal’s Walt Mossberg at D: All Things Digital in Carlsbad, Calif., Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said the name Bing was chosen because it “is short, it’s easy to say, and it works globally.” But for searchers, will Bing’s technology be easy, and will it work? And will it help Microsoft come closer to the $20+ billion in revenue Google earned from its AdWords program in 2008?

We thought we’d try an experiment with Live Search this week and Bing when it debuts. The search results to the right represents a Live Search query on the term, “Children’s Hospital.” Next week, we’ll run the same query on Bing and let you know the results.

For the search, Live returned Children’s Hospital Boston as the No. 1 listing, with eight site links below the URL and an option to “Show more results for” The No. 2 position included three listings geared to my zip code. On the right-hand side was a listing of eight “Related searches.” Interestingly, there were no “Sponsored Results,” which is how the engines make their money.

Stay tuned for the same query on Bing ….

The Meta Description Tag Is Important

Search engine result page for health care marketng agency in kansas cityIn a previous post, we discussed the meta keyword tag. This time, we’ll tackle the meta description tag.

The meta description tag is a 200-character (perhaps 25-30 words or so, don’t obsess) explanation of what your site or a particular page is about, It’s your elevator speech. You don’t have much time or space, so be clear and concise. For the home page, tell what you do and where. For interior pages, tell one or two most important ideas covered on that page or section of your site.

Here’s where the description tag is most important: If your tag includes the term a searcher types into Google, all or part of your meta description will be shown as the snippet on the Google serp (search engine results page). Usually, the engines utilize a few words on either side of the term where it appears on the page, and the result may result in a meaningful sentence. Oftentimes, it doesn’t, so if you include the most important keyword phrases for the page in your tag, you can control the snippet. Who doesn’t want that?

Here’s an example: The meta description for this site’s home page is:

<meta name=”description” content=”Dobies Healthcare Group, a health care marketing agency in Kansas City, has provided expert advice and marketing communications and advertising services to the healthcare industry for 17 years.” />

As the nearby screen capture shows, a search on Google for, “health care marketing agency in Kansas City” returns a Google maps listing for Dobies Healthcare Group, and then the standard listings. In the No. 1 position is, with the snippet being:

“Dobies Healthcare Group, a health care marketing agency in Kansas City, has provided expert advice and marketing communications and advertising services to …”

… which is a slightly truncated version of our exact meta description … with the keywords in bold. By placing the keywords for which we want to be ranked directly in our meta description, we’ve achieved a better snippet for our services than Google would have done for us.

Our next post will cover the all-important title tag.