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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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:
- Patients finding you
- Patients choosing you
- 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:
- Local online listings for healthcare businesses (your organization’s most-seen real estate across the web)
- Online reviews for healthcare: how to manage them, and how to win more, better reviews from patients
- Content marketing and why it’s very important not to surrender to the Mayo Clinics, Cleveland Clinics and WebMDs of the healthcare universe
- The benefits of using social media for healthcare businesses and deciding on the right healthcare social channels
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:
- Claiming your listings
- Completing the forms required with the relevant information for your business/organization, including correcting all false/outdated information you find there
- Uploading on-brand photos
- Properly organizing and updating listings for your sub-locations – proper parent/child page organization for smaller campuses or affiliated clinics/urgent care centers
- 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)
- Identifying and suppressing duplicate listings
- 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?
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:
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.
- 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:
- 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.
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.
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?
How Physicians and Facilities Should Set Up Their GMB
There’s a difference in how individual physicians and facilities should set up their GMB listings. If you’re new to online business listing management, it might not make sense to you, but Google wants information to be concise and useful, so make sure your GMB looks how it should.
If you’re a single practitioner practice, you’ll only need one GMB listing, so your work is easy from there. If, however, you’re a multi-practitioner practice, an individual should have their own listing if:
- They operate in a public capacity, or
- They can be directly contacted during regular business hours.
If, however, you’re a multi-practitioner and multi-location facility, you can create a listing for each location, to start. From there, you should make sure each doctor is only searchable at one location. While you can have a doctor at multiple listings, it can dilute the search power. Do your best to choose the location that makes the most sense for a doctor’s listing.
Optimizing Your Listing
Hopefully, your GMB listing is in good shape from the start, since you’ve just created it or claimed it. But, recognizing that some practices might be well-known enough to already have had a listing, it’s time to look at the best way to optimize the content being generated on that GMB listing. All of this is part of what a local listing management service would handle in conjunction with your practice.
The best way to make sure your GMB is shining is to fill out as many of the fields as possible. Unique photos and even a video of your practice go a long way in maintaining the professional and personal atmosphere a doctor’s office needs.
You know how bartenders start each shift with money in the jar, so they are more likely to earn tips from paying customers? Asking for reviews from former patients or encouraging staff members to leave reviews from their personal account is a great way to get your reviews and ratings up.
You can also ask and answer your own questions. It might feel silly, but someone might have the same question and just don’t want to post it publicly. It’s important to check back often to make sure these questions are getting answered correctly, if the answers aren’t coming from yourself.
Optimization doesn’t just mean the content but continually updating and managing the local listing.
Maintain, Maintain, Maintain
Did you know any searcher can make a change to your GMB listing? They can “Suggest an edit” and the change could go live, without you knowing about it. This is just one of the reasons why it’s critical that you regularly check in on your GMB listing to make sure it looks the way you want.
You can also perform a regular audit on your business. Did you paint the exterior of your building and now you need a new photo? You should be uploading that photo to your GMB. You can also create posts to interact with users. Poking around the GMB manager will lead to some creative ways you can take advantage of the local listing tool.
These days, a GMB listing can seem like its own social media site. It’s important for it to look alive, not only because you want your customer base to find you, but also because Google knows when you’ve taken the time to optimize and maintain your listing. You know what they say about an apple a day….
Sometimes, the best way to make sure your local listing is accurately managed and optimized is to just pass it off to someone else.
Beyond Google – Local Listings Management
No doubt, Google is the king when it comes to search. But that doesn’t mean the other search engines should be ignored. In fact, 1/3 of all PC searches in the United States are done through Bing, and the typical user is between 55-64 years old. Does that sound like some of your patients, or the kind of people who might be looking for your medical practice?
Here are just a few of the sites, aside from Google, you’ll need to manage your local listing on:
- Yelp – arguably the most influential review platform on the internet.
- Yahoo – another popular search engine.
- Apple Maps – more people than ever use iPhones and aren’t bothering to download Google Maps.
Some websites more specific to healthcare marketing and local listings management are:
- Vitals.com – physician rating and review system.
- Healthgrades – another 5-star rating system that can include more than just doctor information.
- Angie’s List – a service industry-oriented review site.
It might be easy enough to optimize your GMB listing, but local listing management as a whole is no easy task. There are third-party services out there designed to make it less nightmarish. Here are a few of our recommendations for local listings management services:
- Moz Local – it’s the most affordable to get your local business listing up to speed, but the speed part is a major factor. They use aggregators which means the data takes a while to populate and isn’t always 100 percent accurate.
- Yext – it’s the most expensive option but it has direct relationships, which means changes to your information are guaranteed by the publisher and are live within 24 – 48 hours. Yext can be sales-oriented but they manage local listings well.
- Brandify – uses a combination of direct relationships and aggregators. They do the heavy lifting getting everything up and running, as well as supporting you afterward. They’re more expensive than Moz and less than Yext, but they can take longer than Moz to get your listings live.
- Other options include Whitespark or Synup.
There are many local listings management services; you’ll have to decide your budget and move forward.
Learn about our agency discount with Yext
Reviews – The Window to the Internet’s Soul
Chances are your organization already has Google reviews and additional reviews across crowd-sourced review forums like Yelp, Healthgrades, Vitals.com, Facebook (automatically a part of any business’s Facebook page) and myriad additional doctor review sites, all available for your prospective patients to read.
Over the years, coming and going across the pages of the local newspaper will be news about your executive turnover, union negotiations, large donations, personnel scandals, expansions, closures, medical firsts and industry recognitions – but online reviews affect your reputation every single day. Traditional marketing matters, but in healthcare, digital marketing is more relevant than ever to keep your practice’s good name.
Here, we look at why online reviews are so important, and we consider the best practices for healthcare organizations for how to manage them in order to maximize their potential for creating business and minimize their potential damage.
Just How Important Are Patient Reviews?
How do patients use online reviews?
To find a new doctor or specialist, 77 percent of patients read online reviews as their first step…Why? Well, according to a survey conducted by Wainscot Media, 80 percent of consumers say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.
According to Wainscot Media, 60 percent of consumers say they need to read four or more reviews before forming an opinion about a business. However, when shopping around for medical appointments, consumers form an opinion on physicians and hospitals after reading only 2.4 reviews.
Good online doctor reviews also have the power to encourage reluctant patients to get off the sideline and finally say “yes” to elective procedures and appointments they’re nervous about.
And finally, good reviews earn you out-of-network patients you would never get otherwise. A whopping 48 percent of survey respondents were willing to pay out of pocket to see a doctor with more favorable online reviews than the next-best in-network doctor.
Clearly, when it comes to your online reputation, you can’t sit by passively any longer.
How Do You Get More Online Reviews?
The best way to get good reviews – and this is going to sound simplistic – is to be good at what you do.
Be the best you can, from reception to medical care to checkout, billing and post-visit follow-up.
That’s right, it’s not all about outcomes.
We can see some general trends for medical organizations across the country. Typically, on medical review sites about half of complaints were about:
- Bad medical outcomes
- Bad medical care/advice they received
- Misdiagnoses they received
The other half of the complaints were about customer service issues like:
- General rudeness/evident lack of caring
- Taking too long to get an appointment
- Lack of responsiveness of the front office
- Waiting room/emergency room delays
- Billing mistakes and insurance issues
Again, this should be obvious, but if this information on how patients use online reviews inspires even one practitioner or healthcare facility to overhaul their customer service or front desk procedures, we’ll count that as a win.
Aside from that, the best way to get more online reviews is to just ask.
Send an email. There are countless email marketing services that will automate this for you. After the appointment, send patients an email asking them to review their experience at your office. Be genuine and make it as easy as possible for people. Instead of just asking for a general review, link them directly to Google or Yelp or Facebook review box, not just your Google My Business page.
Give them a print-out. Before patients leave the office, hand them a print-out that includes your sincere thanks, your absolute commitment to their well-being, and a soft call-to-action that encourages them to leave a review.
Include a prominent section in your online portal. They’re logging in anyway, so why not encourage them to take a minute to offer their feedback?
Use a link shortener. Whether you’re asking by email, patient portal, or other form of digital communication (such as your website), use a link shortener, like Bitly, to avoid sending patients a very long and unnecessary URL. To link patients directly to our Google My Business review, here is the true URL:
How ugly is that? Versus:
You can send a follow-up email after an appointment or hand a slip of paper out in person at checkout.
According to Review Trackers, 65 percent of patients consider online doctor reviews important when searching for a new local physician.
If you ask for reviews from your patients/customers, avoid gimmicks…
…but avoid incentives
Some businesses will offer a 10 percent discount on a purchase or free shipping if a customer leaves a review. But the truth is that healthcare-related businesses should resist the temptation. For one, it defeats the intention behind Google reviews, which is to provide unbiased feedback and information. Plus, it’s simply not classy. Healthcare is supposed to be a serious service and private practices, clinics and healthcare systems should not cheapen their image by adopting a maneuver commonly used by coffee shops, vape shops and used car lots. Most importantly, Google specifically tells us not to do this to get more online reviews.
What Should Doctors Be Doing About Negative Reviews Online?
No one likes a bad online review. We know that. And no matter how careful you are or how good of a doctor you are, you’re bound to get some negative online reviews. Knowing this you might ask, what are other doctors doing about bad reviews online?
It’s one of Google’s best practices that you respond to each and every review you receive online. This includes the negative reviews. Responding to online doctor reviews shows Google that you care, and that you’re engaged with the platform and the audience it attracts.
How Should Doctors Respond to Negative Reviews?
We’ve established it is important to respond to negative reviews, but how do you fight the urge to, well, fight? First, you’ll want to keep it short. Getting into an argument online is never a good idea, especially with a patient. Patients use online reviews like every other consumer, which is to get an idea of the business they’re about to support. And, people tend to trust a stranger online because they see that reviewer as someone they have something in common with: wanting to find the best doctor.
Ideally, you’ll want to acknowledge the complaint first. You should provide the reviewer with a way to contact someone at your office. A name, phone number or email go a long way in making it a personal connection. This way, you acknowledge the complaint in a public forum and then take it private to resolve the situation. If anyone questions why you want to take it private, remind them that as a healthcare professional, patient privacy is of the utmost importance. Throughout this process, it’s important to always remain calm. A dissatisfied customer usually just wants to have their voice heard. Once you’ve resolved the situation, ask the customer to amend their review, or follow-up with a post saying the issue was resolved.
Want to finish this later?
How to Manage Online Medical Reviews
With so many review sites out there, managing and responding to your online reviews could easily become a full-time job, on top of your already important healthcare position. Reviews are no longer limited to review sites, either. Chances are you’ve seen a frustrated customer Tweet to a company or reply to a post they’ve shared on social media platforms.
Reviews are everywhere and social media is no longer a family-and-friends means of connection. There’s the expectation that posting a review to social media means the customer will get a response immediately – within 60 minutes. The same principles for reviews exist for social media. Respond to everything quickly and remember to take complaints private when needed.
As online customer service and interactions grow, services are cropping up meant to make all this digital media more manageable. Our former client Digital Roots offers a program that can organize and prioritize customer-based interactions for you, so you respond to reviews in real-time. If you have the resources, consider using a platform like Digital Roots to make the online doctor review maze a little more navigable.
The Medical Review Sites You Need to Know
When customers search your name online, you don’t know which doctor review site might get pulled up. You have optimized your GMB and manage your Facebook, so hopefully they’ll end up there, but chances are they might land somewhere else. Here are some of the most popular medical review sites:
- Angie’s List
- Dr. Oogle
By now, hopefully you’re vastly more aware of how patients use online reviews, the importance of patient reviews and how doctors should respond to negative online reviews. With so many resources for patients to find out about you or your practice, you’ll want to get ahead of the game in managing the first point of contact you have with your patients – online reviews.
An Achievable Healthcare Content Marketing Strategy
Content marketing for healthcare is no different from content marketing in any other vertical. Hospitals and health organizations need to attract, engage and delight their audiences so that they keep coming back and refer other people they know. Doctors and dentists need to be seen as a trusted resource, because that trust can easily tip the scales when all other factors are relatively equal.
The main difference is that out of all the major industries, healthcare – aside from the digital giants like WebMD – has been one of the last adopters of content marketing. The organizations and offices that are winning customers and dominating the digital landscape are those with solid content strategies in place.
Why Should We Bother with Healthcare Content Marketing?
In a world where Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, the CDC, WebMD, Everyday Health and a half-dozen other dedicated medical advice hubs/content farms have long-ago flooded the web and cornered the market on healthcare content, why are healthcare organizations bothering with content marketing, and what’s their approach?
In a nutshell: brand awareness and trust.
Does Kia pay several million dollars for a 30-second Super Bowl spot because they expect you to run out and buy a car at halftime? Of course not. But they’re banking on you remembering the Kia brand name the next time you do start shopping for a vehicle. The same is true in healthcare: a user who comes across a well-written, informative and entertaining piece of content about in-office teeth whitening vs. at-home teeth whitening will remember that dentist’s office the next time they’re thinking about that (or another) service. Billboards can have their place as builders of brand awareness, but how much value are consumers getting from them?
Value is at the core of content marketing. Plus, there’s this:
Content marketing generates over three times as many leads as outbound marketing and costs 62% less.Source
Also at the heart of content – especially healthcare content – is trust. Providers’ websites can say an awful lot about them in the first two seconds someone sees it; if you’re having a complicated procedure, would you rather be operated on by the doctor whose blog looks like it was thrown together by the office assistant, or the one that offers compelling, authoritative demonstrations of their expertise? Which website seems more sophisticated? What if their brand video looks like it was produced in the early 2000s? Does that mean their knowledge is equally out of date? What if their website used Comic Sans?
Obviously, no one should choose a doctor based on their blog or the font on their website. But as one of many areas where patients encounter physicians, the healthcare digital marketing and content creation space should not be ignored.
Get advice from our expert content marketers.
Some Examples of Content Marketing We Find Particularly Compelling
There is no shortage of examples of successful B2C healthcare marketing. Personalized content marketing is one way to effectively reach your audience in a way that resonates. If you’re searching for ideas, one of the easiest ways to get started with your own content creation is to study what others have done, so start with these or keep exploring – happy creating!
CDC – Tips from Terrie
This video is part of the CDC’s “Tips from Former Smokers” campaign, which persuaded 1.6 million people to try to quit. Out of those 1.6 million, more than 100,000 successfully gave up tobacco. The reason this ad works so well is that it took what was previously abstract and de-personalized (smoking causes lung cancer, etc.) and made it incredibly, shockingly tangible. Watch, too, as Terrie’s face quivers just before the video ends – if that doesn’t haunt you, we don’t know what will.
Johnson & Johnson – Happy Father’s Day
Giving the heartstrings a good ole tug is usually a sure thing. Here Johnson & Johnson captures an emotionally powerful moment between father and son while also subtly advertising – with the use of suds – one of their own products.
MD Anderson – Christmas Wreaths
This Facebook video from MD Anderson uses photography and animation to simply yet beautifully showcase Christmas wreaths designed by employees of the cancer treatment center. Every year MD Anderson holds an auction of these wreaths, and the proceeds go to patients to help with their care. In just three days, the video was viewed 13,000 times and generated 576 reactions and 169 shares. The quality production, along with the right messaging and call-to-action, make this a truly successful piece of content marketing.
Borgess – Coconut Oil vs. Olive Oil
This infographic has performed extremely well for Borgess, one of our long-standing healthcare clients. Not only is it informative and nicely designed, but it is extremely easy to understand and highly shareable. Accompanying text also elaborates on the image and provides additional value. Since it was published three years ago (in January 2016), the infographic has been viewed more than 11,200 times, and users stay on the page for almost four-and-a-half minutes. Check out the full olive oil vs. coconut oil infographic.
Memorial Sloan Kettering – You
The bright colors immediately catch the viewer’s attention, and the copy is intriguing enough to make them want to read further. And whereas you might expect the supporting copy to talk about the importance of the patient’s mental and emotional strength, it in fact discusses Memorial Sloan Kettering’s breakthroughs in immunotherapy. The organization is using patients’ own immune systems to develop cancer-fighting drugs. You = more science, less fear.
Content Marketing Can Drive Appointments
Most of your prospective patients live within driving distance of your brick-and-mortar location, and many search for local terms, like “near me,” “Ann Arbor,” “Emmett County” (users in rural areas often use county-wide searches), or “southeastern Michigan” if they’re willing to travel farther for uncommon expertise.
Moreover, while primary care physicians still have their network of trusted referrals, patients are increasingly taking ownership of their visit to a specialist. Some insurance plans even give their members pre-paid gift cards just for shopping around for procedures. When it comes to their healthcare, individuals are enjoying more freedom of choice than they ever have.
That’s where healthcare content marketing comes in.
Let’s say a user searches for “pediatrician Ann Arbor.” Here are the results for that query:
How did these pediatricians get into the local pack? And how many clinics, practices, medical centers or solo practitioners in Ann Arbor were NOT listed in this local pack? Where are they? Why aren’t they there?
One of the best ways to get into the local pack – and drive appointments – is with high-quality, localized content. Here’s how to do it:
Create content about your area. Imagine you are a pediatrician in Traverse City, MI (240 miles northwest of Ann Arbor). These are some examples of healthcare content marketing you could create:
- A blog post about the best beaches in the area that have shade available, which can then be tied into the importance of using sunscreen and managing kids’ exposure to the sun.
- An article about how Traverse City gets almost no sun in the winter, and when it’s appropriate for children to start taking vitamin D supplements.
- A quick video about ice fishing (a very popular sport in the area), and the dangers of young children getting frostbite, as well as how to prevent it from happening.
The point is, Google wants to see healthcare organizations as the most relevant for their area, and they’ll reward businesses that are. The content created should also be highly authoritative; Google has human readers that regularly evaluate websites for their expertise, authority and trustworthiness (we call this E-A-T), and they want to see those that have taken care to provide their readers with a professional experience. Optimizing web pages for local keywords and publishing helpful, informative content about the medical conditions people see you for, is where you’ll find a lot of prospects. Creating local and authoritative content is just one way to secure your spot in the local pack. See the sections on local listings and Google My Business for more information.
How to Create Amazing Local Content
Too often, hospitals and practitioners and those that write for them fall back on generalized topics about the broad strokes of healthcare. How many times have you seen content like this?
- Tips for Eating Healthy During the Holidays
- 5 Easy, Balanced Dinner Recipes
- 3 Ways to Get in 20 Minutes of Exercise a Day
These are…not very good. They’ve been written about to death, but more importantly, they’re not specific to a local area. Creating amazing B2C healthcare marketing content – one of the cornerstones of local SEO – is easily doable for organizations large and small. Here are some strategies you can follow:
Combine the professional with the personal. By day you’re a healthcare marketer, but by night you’re a…what? Foodie? Participant in your local kickball league? Birder? Combine what you love to do outside of work with something healthcare related, for a fun, informative topic no one else is writing about. For instance:
- The Best Heart-Healthy Breakfasts in Cambridge, Ranked
- Calories Burned Playing in Adult Rec Leagues: 4 Sports
- Birding Is Great for Your Mind and Your Body
This type of healthcare content can also help make your practice seem more approachable. As you’re writing, make sure to link to other local businesses and organizations (for instance, each breakfast spot in the list above), as this will send local relevance signals to search engines.
Embrace Your Area. Do you have a thriving local food scene? Create medical-focused content that talks about some of the fantastic farms in your area, such as the benefits of eating organic. Some of those farms might even recognize your appreciation and be inclined to link back to your site, which would be a nice bonus for local SEO.
Does the landscape in your area offer unique opportunities for fitness training? Create an infographic that highlights the best spots for working out in an outdoor gym.
Does your city get a lot of snow in the winter? Write an informative blog about the dangers of snow shoveling and heart attacks, and direct your readers to a list of professional snow clearing services, or even to the neighborhood kid trying to earn a few extra bucks.
Are you a psychologist in Seattle? Write content about why the lack of sunshine can cause people to feel down. What is it about the mechanisms in the brain that cause this to happen?
Create Unique Landing Pages for Each Location. Whether you have 3 locations or 300, each hospital, emergency room, cardiologist, OB/GYN, etc. should have its own unique landing page. But don’t stop at just uploading a picture of the facility and adding hours and contact information. Include content such as how to find the facility if it’s a nested location or particularly hard to find; events specific to that location; maps; reviews of that location; several unique photos that are properly optimized; and other elements essential for ranking locally.
What types of content can you create? This list is by no means exhaustive, but it’s a great place to start:
- How-to articles
- Q & A articles
- Basic graphics
- Compare and contrast posts
- Guides / whitepapers
See what content marketing could look like for you.
Tips for Brainstorming Content
Creating content doesn’t need to be a chore. Whether you’re a doctor trying to do it all or are part of the marketing team at a large healthcare organization, topic ideation begins with brainstorming. But first, let’s begin with some strategies to avoid.
How NOT to Brainstorm
Don’t use one marker. We’ve all been in meetings where one person is holding the marker and writing on the dry erase board, soliciting ideas from the room and writing everything down. But the problem is that not everything gets written down. Whether consciously or subconsciously, this person acts as a gatekeeper, filtering the ideas through his or her own lens of what should be included.
Don’t just start throwing out ideas. This creates an environment where the most dominant individuals will monopolize the conversation, leaving the quieter individuals or newer employees feeling like they can’t get a word in – and leaving potentially brilliant ideas unsaid.
Don’t go it alone. Even if you’re the only person responsible for marketing in your organization, ideating in a silo is never a good idea. Take some ideas home to your significant other or ask for some reactions on your social networks. Get input from a variety of different individuals, even if they don’t work in healthcare or they’re not content creators or marketing professionals.
3 Ways to Brainstorm Right
Start with games. Begin the brainstorming session with some games that will loosen your mind and make the room feel at ease. These can be drawing challenges, improvisation games, brain teasers or whatever makes sense for your organization.
Use post-its and organize them. Rather than having one gatekeeper who writes ideas down, distribute sticky notes to your team and have them stick their ideas onto a wall or window. Then organize the ideas by theme. As a final exercise, have each person vote for their favorite idea in each of three categories: most delightful, most likely to succeed, and most innovative.
Try the Portent title generator. We love this tool. We use it regularly for inspiration in creating delightful, unusual topic ideas.
Change your environment. Get outside. Go for a walk. Move to a café. Changing up your environment will rewire your brain, allowing you and your team to brainstorm ideas that may not have come up in the same old conference room.
Don’t Be Afraid to Get Social
Is healthcare too serious-minded for Twitter accounts and Facebook pages?
According to an article published by the US National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health, 70 percent of healthcare organizations, including hospitals, health systems and pharmaceutical companies actively use social platforms.
The three most popular social media platforms for healthcare organizations are Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. Read on to find out how to use social media most effectively for your business.
Benefits of Using Social Media in Healthcare
Organizations like MD Anderson use social media like their Facebook page for a variety of purposes. These include:
- Communicating with patients, customers and the community
- Increasing visibility of their organization
- Marketing products and services
- Providing patients with resources
- Promoting events
- Sharing public health messages
- Boosting fundraising campaigns
What is the cost-benefit analysis of going to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and maintaining a best-practices type of maintenance of those accounts?
Opening accounts on social platforms is free, but your organization needs to dedicate manpower (that’s money) to producing content that’s professional, appropriate, helpful and strategic. Then it’ll need to be regularly posted so your clinic, practice, hospital or healthcare-related business looks active and lively.
One of the biggest challenges of social media in healthcare is time. If you don’t invest in any platform you decide to adopt, then it can have a negative effect on your business.
On the plus side, surveys cited in the US National Library of Medicine reveal that:
- 57 percent of consumers said that a hospital’s social media presence would strongly influence their choice regarding where to go for services.
- A strong social media presence was interpreted by 81 percent of consumers as being an indication that a hospital offers cutting-edge technologies.
- 12.5 percent of healthcare organizations reported having successfully attracted new patients through the use of social media.
Social media platforms are not just megaphones; they are also tools that allow you to do things you could not do otherwise, like:
- Using your Facebook page Groups functionality to offer patients online patient support groups.
- Using your organization’s LinkedIn account to create an employee advocacy program.
- Using Facebook Live or Instagram Stories for community outreach and patient engagement.
Why leverage social media platforms these ways? Because these capabilities might be perfect for your organization. They might also, without undue amount of effort, help you serve your audience, win patients and promote your organization in a way that’s better or less expensive than what you are doing now. For example, online forums eliminate the need to rent a community space to host an in-person patient support group – one that is difficult for your more rural, disabled or distant patients to drive to.
Healthcare organizations also currently use their social media accounts to promote prevention or other public health campaigns (flu shots, ladder safety, antibiotic resistance awareness) that could not be effectively launched from their website alone.
A health system, clinic or LASIK practice with social media accounts that are sharp-looking, active, and helpful help the organization come across as a competent, tech-savvy office that’s interested in serving its patients and prospects.
Finally, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram accounts and YouTube channels that are well-trafficked also help your website pages rank better in Google and Bing. They lend you SEO “juice.” The benefits of using social media in healthcare are numerable.
A properly budgeted, maintained and promoted social media presence can improve your reputation and win you customers.
Want someone to manage social media for you?
Don’t Go All-In on Social – Use the Right Channels
Want to make managing your social properties as easy as possible? You can probably eliminate 50 percent of them right now.
Boom! You just cut your workload in half.
We have heard too many times statements like “We need to be everywhere on social, because our audience is everywhere” or “Twitter is huge, let’s get on Twitter.”
These are common misconceptions, ones that take precious time and resources away from more important marketing efforts and can even serve to detract from, rather than add to, the overall impression your organization is making online.
Yes, Twitter is huge, but for reasons that may have nothing to do with your organization. Twitter is great for up-to-the-minute news, rapid conversations, celebrities and entertainment, and a handful of other topics. Unless your health system is contributing meaningfully to a current conversation or is engaged in a humorous Tweet war, you can probably safely put this channel to bed. Look what happens when companies get on Twitter and then fail to use it properly:
Would you follow this account? Not likely. And, the lack of engagement does more harm than good. There are Twitter graveyards like this all over the internet, the result of misguided priorities.
So what platforms should your social media strategy for healthcare focus on?
Which Social Media Channels Are Right for Me?
First, be honest with yourself about your organization’s resources and processes. Are you are expanding into social media marketing without hiring someone else to manage it? Will every post or video have to go through medical and/or legal review? Do you find yourself stressing over what to post to the detriment of other initiatives?
It’s also critical to firmly establish goals. If your goal is to “be on social,” that’s…not really a goal. Is your goal to build awareness of your practice? Get heads in beds? Galvanize your employees? Drive donations? Secure more applicants? Get leads for your medical software?
- Good for:
- Mostly B2C, though can also work for B2B
- Pretty much all ages
- Brand awareness
- Donation drives or other event promotions
- Employee advocacy
- Not good for:
- Many B2B organizations
- Lead/patient generation
- Examples of effective and ineffective Facebook pages in the healthcare space
- Doing Facebook well: MD Anderson
- Not doing Facebook well: Thorn Ford Dental Laboratory
- Good for:
- B2C and B2B
- Brand awareness
- Health news
- Customer service
- Current events
- Younger audiences
- Not good for:
- Lead/patient generation
- One-sided marketing (Twitter is very much about conversations)
- Examples of effective and ineffective Twitter
pages in the healthcare space
- Doing Twitter well: Doctors who responded to the NRA’s call for them to “stay in their own lane” when it comes to gun control
When the NRA took a shot at “self-important anti-gun doctors,” doctors the world over responded in kind, in a perfect example of how to use Twitter well. They weren’t marketing their own practice or selling a service, but they were contributing to a meaningful conversation from their position of expertise. And any patients or prospective patients who follow them or otherwise saw their tweets now have a better idea of the kind of doctor they are.
- Not doing Twitter well: Vital Health
The screenshot below really speaks for itself. Using images, videos, and even just the full character limit available would go such a long way to improving the experience and engagement.
- Good for:
- B2C or B2B
- Organizations with healthy budgets (enough to produce professional videos)
- Organizations with unique niches / brands
- Practices with engaging visual content
- Brand awareness
- Not good for:
- Organizations that don’t have engaging on-screen talent
- Lead/patient acquisition
- Examples of effective and ineffective YouTube pages in the healthcare space
- Doing YouTube well: Healthcare Triage
The videos on Healthcare Triage’s YouTube channel do a wonderful job of blending live-action with motion graphics to illustrate comprehensive topics in ways that are easy to understand. Plus, they make careful use of evidence and research to support their arguments, without getting overly passionate.
- Not doing YouTube well: MidMichigan Health
Most of their videos are “meet the physician” content. There is very little diversity in the type of content or style. Then, just for kicks, they include this baffling two-minute time-lapse video of the construction of a new facility, which – spoiler alert – doesn’t even show you the finished construction. Don’t do that.
- Good for:
- Healthcare organizations with highly visual products and services (cosmetic surgery, dermatology, spas, health vacations, etc.)
- Brand awareness
- Employee advocacy
- Younger audiences
- Not good for:
- Healthcare organizations without highly visual products and services (primary care physicians, medical transcription software companies, etc.)
- Lead/patient generation
- Examples of effective and ineffective Instagram pages in the healthcare space?
- Doing Instagram well: Nurse So Hard
This Instagram account is obviously not for practice promotion or patient generation. But it works for what it’s trying to do, and these tactics could be used in tandem with other marketing efforts. Imagine you have a CTA in the lobby or patient waiting room that encouraged people to follow your humorous Instagram account (obviously not this one). You could give them something entertaining to look at rather than 6-month-old People magazines, which in turn could form a connection and start developing that patient-physician rapport.
- Not doing Instagram well: Connected Home Care Framingham
This account is all over the place. There are memes, low-quality photos, lifestyle pics, and inspirational quotes that are off-brand in their design. In fairness to them, it looks like as of the writing of this manual they just got started, so maybe they’ll get better?
Don’t do this:
- Good for:
- Lead generation
- Demonstrating industry authority/thought leadership
- Brand awareness
- Promoting job openings
- Not good for:
- Employee advocacy
- Patient acquisition
- Examples of effective and ineffective LinkedIn pages in the healthcare space?
- Doing LinkedIn Well: Priority Health
There’s a nice mix of content here, and most of all Priority is focused on providing good, truly helpful content. They also – for the most part – avoid using the same stock images across different posts.
- Not doing LinkedIn well: Relentless Health Value Podcast
We get it – LinkedIn is the next best bet for promoting a podcast like this. But as with any social media channel, do not promote yourself or your services with every single post. Share what others have written or posted, contribute to relevant conversations, ask questions, provide advice, etc. And if you don’t have time to do anything other than repost from your blog or website, try focusing on other, more valuable marketing efforts.
- Good for:
- Healthcare organizations with highly visual products and services (cosmetic surgery, dermatology, spas, health vacations, etc.)
- Businesses built around aspiration
- Brand awareness
- Not good for:
- Most healthcare organizations, especially B2B
- Lead/patient acquisition
- Event promotions
- Examples of effective and ineffective Pinterest pages in the healthcare space
- Doing Pinterest Well: doTERRA
Beautiful product photography coupled with helpful tips and a variety of content make this a company worth following.
- Not Doing Pinterest Well: Viewmont Dental Centre
Their Pinterest page is linked to from the website, which is usually okay, UNLESS you post Pins that shame your patients and make fun of them, like this one. Be aware of and sensitive to your audience – this is especially important in the healthcare space.
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The Basics of Optimizing Your Social Media Profiles
Fill out your profiles completely. If there is room for your story, an about us section, and services, don’t neglect any information you can communicate. Each section affords you the opportunity to include the keywords that are relevant for your business and that you want to show up for when people are searching for you.
Choose your images carefully. Just as you would with your own personal social media profile, make sure the images you create are representative of your clinic or hospital. Ensure you have a clear, high-resolution logo of your business to use as your profile picture and take the opportunity to use social banners as marketing tools. So rather than including a group photo of your staff, use the banner to communicate events, specials, or other timely information:
- December Special! 15% Off Teeth Whitening!
- Join Us for a Special Community Event on Opioid Abuse Prevention on December 15
Include URLs when possible. Make sure to include links back to your organization in your bio section (and elsewhere, when appropriate). Google says backlinks are one of the top two ranking signals, plus this will encourage users to visit your website.
Use images and videos. We can’t stress this enough. High-quality visuals get significantly more engagement throughout the social ecosystem. Emojis can work, too, as long as you make sure they’re on-brand and appropriate to the occasion.
Get your numbers up. High numbers are usually a bad thing in healthcare, but when it comes to social, the opposite is true. So, engage in conversations, follow others, ask questions, retweet, reply, add links, share, and contribute meaningfully to your industry. Followers and likes will come naturally, and the engagement numbers on your profile will serve as evidence of your authority and trustworthiness.
Channel-Specific Optimization Tips
- Use the CTA button to drive visitors to contact you or learn more about your organization.
- Seek out and claim unofficial pages by searching for all your locations that are created when people “check in.”
- Use tools like Hashtagify to find the best hashtags that are relevant for your organization.
- Use all 280 characters available to get the most out of your messaging.
- Pin your best, most optimized tweets.
- Create transcriptions of all your videos to give search engines (and viewers) some juicy content to chew on.
- Since thumbnails will animate on hover, ensure that the preview is as dynamic as possible with some custom treatments.
- Include the date in your video title, so users know your content is current and relevant.
- Create well-organized playlists grouped by theme or topic.
- Edit, edit, edit your photos, as users expect picture-perfect images.
- Use a service like lnk.bio or Linktree to drive traffic to your site’s content.
- Again, use Hashtagify to find relevant hashtags.
- Create a showcase page for your separate products or services.
- Connect with your employees – and write them recommendations – to build employee advocacy.
- Create a careers page to show off your internal culture.
- Focus on visuals that offer color contrast and other attention-grabbing elements.
- Don’t forget to use appropriate keywords when adding descriptions to your Pins – Pinterest is a search engine, after all.
- Organize your boards in a very focused way – more boards with fewer pins is better than fewer boards with many pins.
- Take advantage of Pinterest Analytics to see how well your content is performing.
What Comes Next for Healthcare Digital Marketing?
You’ve made it this far, congrats! You’re already light years ahead of other doctors not using the internet to its full potential when it comes to healthcare marketing.
You’ve learned the importance of local listings management, you’ve mastered the art of asking patients for reviews and you’ve optimized your Google My Business listing. Your social media profiles are up to