Local Search for Healthcare – It is Time to Be Proactive

November 6, 2013 Gary Ritkes

local search for healthcare

It’s been well demonstrated by the US Government – healthcare and technology just don’t mix.  All kidding aside, we know that they will get it figured out eventually.  The US government can take their time getting the technology behind the healthcare exchanges figured out because they don’t have any competition.  I can’t say the same however for healthcare provider networks and local search, figuring it out eventually, will give the competition a big leg up.

The Digital Journey to Finding a Healthcare Provider 

It’s not just friends and family anymore that influence physician selection; the digital journey can consist of search, web content, reviews, mobile, and online video.  Google and independent research firm Compete found in a 2012 study that 77% of patients use online search to research providers prior to booking an appointment, Pew Research affirms that 72% of internet users searched online for health information within the last year.  The Google-Compete study also found that 48% of users took over two weeks (to research) before booking.

What did they do in that two weeks?  When researching, 50% went to health information sites, 26% viewed consumer review sites, and 83% when to hospital sites.  Some 94% of respondents indicated that “reputation of the facility” is important, in fact they deemed reputation more important than “accepts healthcare plan” and “recommended by friends and family.”  The intersection of reputation and the fact that almost 8 in 10 people research healthcare providers online is now a big opportunity for motivated healthcare providers to jump out in front of the competition, but this current opportunity will age to become the commonplace prerequisite of any healthcare provider’s digital footprint.  The question for any healthcare network is whether they want to control local search, lead, and be ready or the next change or perpetually play catch up?                

Consumers Want a Complete Picture of Healthcare Providers

Consider that 67% of patients to be want more comprehensive information about doctors online according to a Harris Interactive survey.  They feel that there is not complete information out there to allow them to comfortably traverse the stages of discovery and evaluation in the self-directed buyer’s cycle.  So if a competitor is properly set up in local directories, publishes / syndicates content, and has optimized local webpages tied to independent review sites, who will the consumer find and be swayed towards? 

Imagine this scenario, a healthcare network has 500 doctors with different credentials, which perform varying procedures at numerous locations, and have fluctuating levels of availability.  Those doctors (the network’s biggest asset) are constantly updating their credentials, growing their respective bodies of work, and entering or leaving the network.  The healthcare provider may have an enterprise solution that maintains their web presence and even has internal pages with basic doctor info, but what they could have are 500 living bio-sheet pages optimized for local search displaying up-to-date information about each physician, book online options, and tied to independent review sites for legitimacy.  The pages would be templated and automatically generated / updated from the healthcare providers existing database.  The reach-extending pages could be put up and taken down with a few clicks, and doctors would receive scheduled-automated notifications to submit any extra information needed to build out their profiles.  The result is more complete and easily attainable information for consumers to make extremely important health decisions – that more complete information does not go unappreciated.         

Upon final decision, 21% booked online or via mobile, while the other 79% booked over the phone or in-person.  And once a healthcare provider gains a new client they can expect that 50% will recommend the provider by word-of-mouth, 12% will post a review on a social network site, and 6% will post a review on a website.

Mobile Search for Healthcare Networks

I wouldn’t talk about local search without talking about mobile, especially since I just wrote Get In Front of the Mobile Web Explosion last month.  Mobile search is used to compare offerings across facilities (26%) and for pure discovery purposes (18%), while mobile sites are used to read reviews about facilities (29%) and locate facilities for treatment (27%).  Mobile searchers, although lower in numbers, are more likely to book an appointment (44%) when compared with desktop researchers (34%).  In a broader sense, Pew confirms in its study “Mobile Health” that 52% of smartphone owners have used their phones to look up medical information.

Channel Marketing Basics First

Those involved in marketing for healthcare networks must understand that local search is a game changer and it is not that expensive to implement as a module of marketing resource management software.  The decision is always the same, develop the capacity in-house or find a partner that has a proven solution, either way, the following needs to happen:

Directories and Review Properties – Google+, Bing Places, Yahoo Local, WebMD Physician Finder, Insider Pages Doctor Finder, UCompareHealthCare, Zoc Doc, CitySearch, Angie’s List, etc. whether they be healthcare specific or not, your networks individual locations need to be on them.  We have written extensively on current local search practices.

Citations – Mentions or references of Name, Address, and Phone Number (NAP) on a local chamber of commerce website, local business association, yellow pages, and other directories mentioned above increases visibility in local search for individual healthcare network locations.              

Landing Pages / Local Microsites – It might sound contradictory to what I said about directories but, consider what Ari Kaufman of StreeFight (a “hyperlocal” thought leadership publication) said when talking about local pages: “directories are not the answer to their [a company’s] local search challenge, but rather the source. Google is pressing for additional Google+ Local content to elevate their listings over the directories.” Hence, directories have commanded local search attention for some time, but the dynamic is shifting to favor smartly positioned local pages.

Accumulate Reviews – All local pages should be linked to independent review properties.  Don’t let the possibility of negative reviews scare you.  A study published in the Journal of Internal Medicine found that 88% of physician reviews are positive, six percent neutral, and only six percent negative.  Building reputation on independent review properties is too important for healthcare networks to leave unattended.  We wrote about the importance of online reviews at length last month.  

Local PPC – Although we are focusing on organic local search here, local PPC is not to be forgotten either; 29% of users begin their research process by clicking on a paid search ad according to the Google-Compete study cited earlier.

A coherent strategy to tackle local search for your healthcare network will boost identity, credibility, and revenue.  The investment in time and money is of little risk for the potential rewards it can reap.  Please leave any comments or questions below and I will be happy to address them.  Good luck with your journey into local search!   

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Alert: Overwhelming Evidence That Healthcare Networks That Make Information About Physicians Complete and Accessible Will Win More Business

About the Author

Gary Ritkes

Gary Ritkes, President of SproutLoud, oversees all Business Development and Marketing for the company. Gary, a pioneer in the emerging vertical of Distributed Marketing Technology, is an industry leader and innovator with 20+ years experience in graphic communications and marketing strategy. Gary has been involved with SproutLoud since the inception of the company. Prior to joining SproutLoud, Gary was VP of Marketing for Rex Three, Inc., SproutLoud’s first and largest vendor among its network of providers. He has served many Fortune 1000 clients and worldwide advertising agencies in providing marketing technology direction and optimization. He was an original founder of U.S. based Earth Color Group and co-founder of Advanced Digital Services (ADS), which was sold in 1996 to publicly traded Katz Digital Technologies. He has served as a board member of the local chapter of the American Advertising Federation chapter and other national industry associations, including the DMA and AGA.

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