The Healthcare Marketing Manual: A Ridiculously Comprehensive Guide to Digital Strategies, Trends and Ideas

Healthcare is a very special business. Walking or rolling a wheelchair into an ER, dentist’s office or surgery center is certainly much more profound than walking into a Starbucks or interior design showroom.

Healthcare is extremely personal and often high stakes to the person in need of it. It’s often complicated and always highly regulated.

Underneath everything that makes healthcare so exceptional, however, exists an enterprise – where services are provided in exchange for money, just like any other business. You can’t ignore healthcare marketing as a route to lead generation and overall patient happiness.

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healthcare marketing manual

So Why Is Marketing Important in Healthcare?

“Your hospital, clinic, office or practice exists first on your potential patients’ phones, tablets and desktops before it exists as a brick-and-mortar location.”

Even in a possible future with a single-payer landscape, healthcare revenue remains squarely dependent on:

  1. Patients finding you
  2. Patients choosing you
  3. Patients returning to you the next time they need care.

Today, each of those three steps is helped or hindered by your healthcare organization’s online presence, or lack thereof.

And more than ever, your potential customers judge that online presence with a new level of sophistication.

Why? For the same reason Americans don’t go to the mall these days. The smooth and convenient shopping experience offered online and our instant access to vast information has changed the habits and upped the expectations of consumers, no matter what they’re looking for.

We now shop for medical care the way we shop for anything else. Your hospital, clinic, office or practice exists first on your potential patients’ phones, tablets and desktops before it exists as a brick-and-mortar location. Some insurance carriers even provide patients with gift card incentives just for shopping around for services.

The modern online shopper is your new customer and your new potential customer, and when they shop for healthcare services on their phones, tablets, laptops and desktops – they judge you. It’s time you used healthcare digital marketing to your advantage, to get in front of the consumer.

What We’ll Cover

In the pages below, we detail the digital tools at your disposal and how each facet – from local listings like Google My Business to online reviews and social media – improves your online exposure, builds your reputation and brings people who need your help in the door. All this is done with strategic medical marketing techniques aimed to help medical professionals with their digital marketing efforts.

Specifically, we discuss:

This lengthy resource, in short, has the healthcare marketing insights you need to give your healthcare organization a modern, cutting-edge online presence and give you an advantage over your competition.

Ready to dig in? We promise, this won’t hurt a bit. (OK, you might feel just a little poke…)

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Local Listings Management: Claiming, Optimizing and Maintaining Your Online Profiles for Physicians and Facilities

A local online listing is the expanded real estate your healthcare business or organization receives for free at the top of search engine results pages like Google, Yahoo or Bing or on directory sites like Yelp or Vitals.com. Healthcare listings can also appear on maps, apps, voice searches, social media channels and elsewhere. 

Each local listing looks a little different depending on the website or app used, but consists of content like pictures of your building, a map showing your location, your online reviews (on platforms like Google reviews, Yelp, WebMD, Vitals.com, Healthgrades, etc.), your street address, hours of operation and phone number.

These so-called “local listings” are chunks of real estate that are sizable, high profile and influential when it comes to marketing your healthcare practice. And they’re also extremely helpful to users, whose eyes are immediately drawn to them.

But these local listings – which also go by other names like “local SEO,” “business listings” and “location pages” – aren’t impressive or helpful when they’re generated for you automatically by bots using whatever information about you they glean from across the web.

Only when local listings are created, owned, optimized and managed by you or your hired vendor, are they professional-looking, on-brand, factually correct and able to provide your organization with instant credibility. They’re also a great way to automatically generate leads for your healthcare practice.

Local business listing management is crucial for all healthcare organizations, and depending on your structure and resources, there may be no single better investment of your time than local SEO for healthcare.

Local Listings Management: What It Is and Why It’s Important

When we say “local listings management” we mean:

  1. Claiming your listings
  2. Completing the forms required with the relevant information for your business/organization, including correcting all false/outdated information you find there
  3. Uploading on-brand photos
  4. Properly organizing and updating listings for your sub-locations – proper parent/child page organization for smaller campuses or affiliated clinics/urgent care centers
  5. Pushing your organization’s correct vital information to the entire Internet “ecosystem” (i.e. other listing publishers beyond the three major search engines, including IYPs, directories, social media networks and aggregators)
  6. Identifying and suppressing duplicate listings
  7. Monitoring and reporting location-level problems

Local listings management is important when it comes to local SEO (search engine optimization) because the search engines value this information from the perspective of their users. If Google users routinely find incomplete and inaccurate business listings, they might make Bing their default search engine instead. The information contained in your listings should also match and complement your on-site SEO – proper title tags for each of your pages, enticing and keyword-rich meta descriptions, strategic internal linking and proper H1-H2-H3 hierarchy for headlines and subheads. 

The quality of your presence on Google, Bing, Alexa, Yelp, Yellow Pages, etc. for local keywords will be determined by the quality of your local listings.

And conversely, NOT having good local business listing management hurts your website rankings.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the fact that your prospects’ first impression of you will, most likely, be your local listing, whether they perform a branded search for a physician or facility or use service keywords combined with local terms, like “foot doctor near me,” “acupuncture, Denver,” “slipped disc, Bay Area,” “highly rated dentist office, New Bedford County,” “primary care physicians in Wicker Park,” etc.

Can you afford for your first impression to look like this?

kelly ward md google my business
An unoptimized Google My Business listing doesn’t help anyone.

Need help with your local listing?

The Local Listings Big Daddy: Google My Business

By far the single-most important local listing any business can claim and manage is Google My Business (GMB).

Google describes GMB as:

“A free and easy-to-use tool for businesses and organizations to manage their online presence across Google, including Google Search and Google Maps.”

Go here to claim and edit your GMB listing.

Your free real estate takes on a unique format in Search and Maps, drawing different information from your GMB account and organizing it differently.

GMB on Google Search

In Google Search your local listing takes the form of what’s called a “Knowledge Panel.”

For entities in the healthcare industry, it typically takes up the top two-thirds of the right-side of the page (on desktop) and looks like this:

munson healthcare google my business
You can get a lot of information from a Google My Business listing, so it is important to fill out every section possible.

Photo Tips: Google My Business listings display photos from several sources including owner-uploaded photos, user-uploaded photos, aggregated photos, Google Street View and virtual tours. Since users can submit their own photos and you can’t do anything about it, try submitting a good, on-brand photo of the business when you’re logged out of your account. If you find that there is a photo that is uploaded to your business that is incorrect or misrepresents your company, you may need to contact Google My Business support.

not pictured munson healthcare photo
Not pictured: Munson Healthcare
  • Name of organization. Use the name of the organization as it appears in the real world. And be sure to follow Google’s special rules for healthcare practitioners, which we will cover in detail in our section on setting up your GMB.
  • Link to your website. If your business has multiple locations, each link should take users to the relevant location page. If you’re managing the listings for a smaller provider or single office, it’s okay to link people to the homepage. Don’t use a link shortener like Bitly; include the full URL.
  • Link to Google Maps driving directions. If you have a separate billing office or multiple addresses, please put your main address where people will want to drive to. Of course, a practice with the same name that operates in multiple locations can have multiple listings, one for each location.
  • Google Reviews snippet. A lot more information on how to get positive reviews from your patients and customers is included in this marketing manual.
  • Business category (Example: Dentist). Tip: You can directly edit this. Be concise, local and accurate. Click on this full list of supported medical/health categories from Google, which begin in row 103. Sometimes, this renders as a Business description (Example: Dentist in Garfield Township, Michigan), which you can add and edit.
  • Business information (address, hours, phone). Tip: This information, if not managed properly, can really throw customers off. Keeping hours, address and phone updated is simply crucial.
  • Suggest an edit. Clicking this option leads to a pop-up where users are invited to edit the listing’s name, location, hours, etc. or mark the location as closed, non-existent or a duplicate. Tip: If you forget to update your address after a move to a new building, people could use this feature to suggest to Google that you no longer exist.
  • Questions & Answers. This is where the “Ask a question” button encourages visitors to ask your business a question. Tip: If users have not asked any questions, ask and answer some yourself. Start with some basic questions such as “How many doctors work here?” or “Are you a chiropractor?”
  • Reviews from the web. This offers a snippet of review ratings and number of reviews from third-party review sites, like Facebook. Clicks to, in this instance, your organization’s Facebook page. Tip: You can encourage reviews from your staff members and former patients to get the rating you want.
  • Popular Times. This feature allows users to select day of the week and see when your organization is most and least busy throughout the course of a typical day. Includes a “Plan your visit” feature that tells users how long patients/customers typically spend at an appointment. In this portion of the listing, Google collects data from user devices to detect how busy a location is. From there, they can collect daily visitor averages and provide live data to inform users as to how busy a location is.
  • Write a review & add a photo. These buttons link users to Google reviews and the Google sign-in to upload stored photos of the business or organization.
  • Reviews. This section features excerpts of actual reviews from Google reviews, including a small picture of the reviewer and a link to view all Google reviews.
  • Four competing healthcare organizations. These are auto-generated suggestions for the user with a clickable business name and small photo for each. Clicking on a local competitor opens their Knowledge Panel as a popup over a Google Map of your local area filled with business pins representing each of the relevant competing clinics, hospitals, or practices in your immediate geographical area. Snippets for all local competitors appear in the left-most column. This is for comparison shopping.

GMB on Google Maps

When your prospects search for you (or the services you offer) in Google Maps, your local listing takes the form of a scrollable entire left-hand column superimposed over a Google Map showing your business location. For entities in the healthcare industry, it typically looks like this:

munson healthcare google my business maps
Some of the information on Google My Business on Google Maps and Google is the same.
  • One picture. The picture is clickable and leads the user to more photos. Tip: Since users can submit their own photos and you can’t do anything about it, try submitting a good, on-brand photo of the business when you’re logged out of your account.
  • Name of organization (DBA)
  • Google Reviews snippet. The snippet includes your average star rating and number of reviews. The clickable link leads to a pop-up of a full Google Reviews page where all reviews can be scrolled through and read in full and where there is a button inviting users to submit their own review. Tip: As a business owner, it’s important to respond to both positive and negative reviews.
  • Business category (Example: Dentist)
  • Directions. Links to Google Maps driving directions with street address pre-programmed.
  • Save. Allows users signed in to Google to keep the location on a list for future reference.
  • Nearby. Users can click to see map location of the restaurants, hotels, bars or other type of business situated near your office, hospital or clinic.
  • Send to your phone. Users can click this to send your local Maps listing to their smartphone for easy reference on the go.
  • Share. Users click here to share your profile and location on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Street address. Allows users to “copy” your address in their clipboard with a click, to share via text, messenger, or email.
  • Plus code. Allows users to share your location if you don’t have an exact address.
  • Website. Users click this to open your homepage in a browser window.
  • Phone number. One click copies your number in the user’s clipboard.
  • Hours. This feature shows users your hours of operation for the day and expands with a click to display your hours for the week. Tip: You can add holiday hours for major holidays, like if your practice is closed on Christmas.
  • Suggest an edit. Clicking this option generates a pop-up where users are invited to edit the listing’s name, location, hours, etc. or mark the location as closed, non-existent or a duplicate listing.
  • Popular times. Shows the user how busy you might be at any given moment.
  • Photos. Two photos are shown. The first is a thumbnail that if clicked takes users to an interactive Google Street View of your clinic, hospital or practice. The second is an additional still photo that links to a gallery of other photos of your interior or exterior that have been uploaded by Google users (or you!).
  • Add a photo. This button allows users to upload their own photos to the gallery.
  • Link to Google Maps driving directions with your street address pre-programmed in.
  • Business description (Ex. Dentist in Traverse City)
  • Business information (address, hours, phone)
  • Questions & Answers. This section features a button leading users to sign into Google and ask the business a question.
  • Reviews from the web. This section features a snippet of review ratings and number of reviews from a third-party review site, like Facebook.
  • Write a review & Add a photo. Buttons link the user to Google reviews and the Google sign-in to upload stored photos of the business or organization.
  • People also search for. This section shows users four competing healthcare organizations, with clickable business names and a small photo for each. Clicking on a local competitor opens their Knowledge Panel as a pop-up over a Google Map page of the local area filled with business pins representing each of the relevant competing clinics, hospitals, or practices in the area. Snippets for all local competitors appears in the left-most column. This is for comparison shopping.
google my business map with phone
Google My Business is your real estate across the web.

How to Claim Your Google Listing(s)

For healthcare organizations with fewer than 10 locations, which represents the vast majority of private practices, claim and begin to manage your information across Google Search and Maps by going to google.com/business.

  • Click Start Now at the top right corner.
  • Sign in to your Google account (or create one).
  • Enter the name of your business (or select it if it appears as a suggested result as you type) and click Next.
  • Enter the street address of your business and click Next. If you are asked, position a marker for the location of your business on a map.
  • Use the search field to select a business category and click Next.
  • Enter a phone number or website URL for your business and click Next.

Ignore the option to create a free website based on your information.

  • To complete the sign-up, and verify your connection to the business, click Continue.

Hopefully, this is all you’ll need to get started with managing your local GMB listing. If, however, you get a notification that the listing has already been claimed, you’ll need to work a little bit harder.

google my business healthcare listing claimed
If you see this notification, you have some extra work to do before claiming your Google My Business listing.

Each location on Google can only have one owner. Don’t panic, there are a few things you can do to make sure someone else in your practice hasn’t claimed it already. Check with your staff and management before moving on to asking for help from Google via this link.

It might be that your practice has moved locations and instead of updating their address, they just created a new listing. Or, maybe a practice manager before your time claimed the listing and left. If you can’t figure it out with some internal discovery, you’ll have to get in touch with Google.

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again. You can call Google, report an already-claimed listing as a duplicate, and you may have to do both a number of times until they finally change it. But it will all be worth it when you are finally the sole manager of your local GMB listing. And with this guide, you know not to let it fall out of your hands again.

Now, for healthcare organizations with more than 10 locations, you’ll have to go about getting bulk verification for your local listings.

“Bulk verification establishes your ability to manage information for 10 or more locations of the same business across Google products, like Maps and Search,” according to this Google help article.

Google keeps certain businesses out of the bulk verification process, so you can check which ones are eligible with this link. Healthcare practices should be good to go, but keep in mind if you’re hosting a pop-up clinic you won’t be able to verify a service or meeting at a location outside of your physical address.

Before getting started with the verification process, we recommend creating a spreadsheet to keep track of your business locations. It’s a simple way you can start the process for local listings management yourself.

Once you have all your locations, and we mean all of them, you’ll do some double-checking to make sure the verified account doesn’t already exist, and your account is error-free. If you need more help with creating a bulk upload spreadsheet specifically for GMB, you can check out this resource.

Now, you’re ready to submit the locations. Sign into Google My Business and click Get Verified next to any one of your locations. Click Chain. Then, fill out the verification form completely and accurately. Google says it might take up to a week for the request to be processed.

It’s worth noting that Google says they continuously optimize local listings and that you should, too, or they might deactivate an inactive account.

Want someone else to manage your GMB?