Struggling to stand out in the competitive healthcare industry? Learn how to ace healthcare search engine marketing in this guide.

Here, you’ll find: 

  • What elements make up an effective healthcare PPC & SEO strategy 
  • The importance of E-A-T in healthcare search engine marketing
  • How Google’s algorithms treat medical SEO and PPC content
  • Tips to navigate expensive healthcare keywords

When your business is healthcare — a clinic, SaaS business, hospital, private medical practice, or something in between — you can face difficult marketing terrain from Google (and your audience). 

The healthcare industry is notoriously competitive. As a result, it demands serious marketing dollars.

The good news? A solid healthcare search engine marketing strategy can help you overcome these challenges and help you better connect with your audience.

After all, accessible patient care and healthcare practice efficiency are pillars of why it’s important to market your health services to the masses. They’re also why the healthcare SaaS market in particular is expected to climb to $50 billion by 2028.

Come off too sales-y, and you might spook patients. Come off too dry, and a healthcare administrator bounces off your website, searching for a more engaging competitor. 

The happy medium is tough to find, but it’s accessible with intentional audience research, relentless SEO efforts, and close adherence to Google’s healthcare advertising guidelines. 

Keep reading as we share the 411 on healthcare search engine marketing (SEM).

What is healthcare search engine marketing?

Healthcare search engine marketing combines search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns to generate leads, revenue, and credibility for your healthcare business

The healthcare sector includes tons of organizations and SaaS businesses, from patient booking apps and record-keeping platforms to hospitals and private clinics. For example, Mayo Clinic has a robust search engine marketing strategy that includes Google Ads…

Google Ads for Mayo Clinic

…and SEO content:

Mayo Clinic website

The clinic’s lifestyle page features helpful articles with health information separated by life stage categories. All of these consider keywords, audience search intent (the reason customers are searching those keywords), and Google’s algorithms

You can apply these techniques to mold a comprehensive healthcare search engine marketing strategy. But, where to begin? Can you even compete with the likes of Mayo Clinic?

One of HawkSEM’s marketing team leads, Matt Smith, thinks so, provided you narrow your focus and fill the competition’s gaps.

“For example, if a healthcare company is particularly knowledgeable in infant care, build content and backlinks around that area,” says Matt. “The more topical authority they have in a specific area, the more they’ll be able to rank and build a user base for that area.”

He also points out that even the top dogs lack some content. 

“Mayo Clinic might have topical authority on influenza prevention and treatment, but almost nothing on symptoms. Create content to fill that gap if it’s relevant to your business.”

Speaking of content…

Healthcare SEO

Ever stressed out over symptoms you inspected with Dr. Google? You’re not the only one. Tons of people seek health information online — it’s the first place they go, and this isn’t new. 

Now, are your clients included there? You might look for an audience of healthcare administrators or new parents scouring the best monitoring apps for their newborns. Whoever is in your healthcare audience, they’re likely some of the 84% of people who use Google

You might consider local SEO in your efforts, but Matt advises you only do so if you have a brick-and-mortar storefront or clinic, or another local presence. But if you’re a healthcare SaaS business, local SEO is rarely worth the investment since your service is accessible online. 

Let’s reach your audience with a solid healthcare SEO strategy

1. Prioritize the right SEO services for your business

Depending on whether you have a brick-and-mortar location, online store, or hybrid model, you’ll want to focus on three key areas of SEO:

  • Content marketing: Creating valuable content tailored to your target audience is the best way to attract organic traffic, build brand awareness, and customer loyalty. Content involves visual and written content mediums, including blog posts, infographics, branded imagery, videos, ebooks, white papers, and more. Your content should demonstrate your industry expertise and help to solve your audience’s main pain points.
  • On-page SEO: This involves optimizing all of your website elements, including internal links, headings, subheadings, alt-text, and metadata, to increase web rankings on the SERPs. The result is more traffic and visibility to your site. 
  • Local search: For location-dependent businesses with physical stores or local services, local search is vital to making a slash in your region. Use local SEO to optimize your web page and business listing so that when people search for your business (e.g. “primary care doctor near me”) your listing shows up front row center, primed and ready for new clientele.

We talked about the importance of content marketing, but what makes content, well, valuable and worthy of being seen?

2. Maintain E-A-T in all your content

Your first challenge is getting past Google’s algorithms to reach your audience. See, Google considers healthcare a YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) industry, which means your healthcare content has a bigger impact on a person’s life than, let’s say, a kids’ ecommerce clothing store. 

Google holds you to a higher standard, so you’ll need to bring more E-A-T to the table to achieve organic rankings. 

Expertise, Authoritativeness, and Trustworthiness make up E-A-T, a key qualifier for organic rankings in the healthcare content world. Anything you produce must be credible

Maybe you’re a reproductive health SaaS business like Flo or Clue. You might have more of a software engineering background than health. To build credibility and audience trust, your articles should be carefully reviewed by reputable healthcare professionals

For example, see how Clue certifies the article below:

Clue article about hormonal birth control

Source: Clue

They likely did keyword research and discovered that audiences were searching for information about hormonal birth control effects.

But you’ll see that they didn’t hit “publish” without the input of Sarah Toler, Clue’s Science Lead, nursing doctorate holder, and a certified nurse midwife. 

Still, Google’s quality rating guidelines (QRG) mention that content based on experience is acceptable as well. If Clue were to interview women about their personal experiences with birth control and post it, that’s perfectly fine for EAT in that context.

Clue dots all their “i”s in their high-quality content checklist. They merge both personal experience and a science review/fact check in their “Living with HIV” article:

 “Living with HIV” article from Clue

Source: Clue

The T in E-A-T: Trustworthiness 

Think about your clients. What kind of attention could jeopardize their trust in your brand?

Reviews are serious ranking factors and can tip your organic search results either way. Here, bad reviews arguably cause even more damage than for other businesses. 

Imagine a prospective client reading a horrible review on social media about your service. They’ll lose trust and seek a competitor to take care of the most important thing in their world: their health. 

We recommend you address and attempt to rectify any bad reviews immediately. Here’s a strong example from BetterHelp: 

Negatove BetterHelp review and their reply

Source: Trustpilot

BetterHelp’s representative responded to the bad review the same day they received it. Plus, they weren’t defensive. They not only apologized for the bad experience, but also committed to finding a solution that worked for the client. 

How else can you build E-A-T for your healthcare SEO strategy? Get other people talking about you. 

3. Build quality backlinks to boost your healthcare sector credibility

Backlinks are links to your website content found on other professional sites, ideally reputable medical websites if we’re talking about healthcare SEM. For example, healthcare payment SaaS company Waystar has a fabulous backlink in this Forbes review of their business. 

Forbes is a quality publisher for a healthcare SaaS backlink. They’re independent and reputable, with a large audience. But reputable content publishers with a history of specialized expertise in the field are even better. Harvard Health or HealthTech Magazines would be rockstar backlinks

Waystar has a mention in this HealthTech Magazines article, but no backlink. Still, the mention is valuable. Google’s QRGs say you can measure a YMYL website’s page quality by what other experts in the field say about it. 

Waystar made big enough waves to catch HealthTech Magazine’s eye. Either that, or Waystar has a solid link-building strategy, actively building connections and sending pitches to score quality backlinks and mentions. 

But poor, irrelevant, or non-reputable backlinks can hurt your healthcare business if you’re not careful, resulting in lowered rankings and tarnished credibility. 

Here are some backlink best practices for your healthcare SEO strategy

  • Update your profile on search engines and directories: Directories are your friend here, especially if you have a brick-and-mortar medical office. Update your search engine profiles on Google and Yahoo, and reach out to any healthcare directories relevant to your business. 
  • Set aside time for link-building outreach: Focus your pitches on relevant bloggers, healthcare organizations, and professional networks. Research each prospect thoroughly and highlight your reputation, results, and relevance to their publication in your request for a backlink
  • Get backlink support: You might use a tool like Semrush to analyze a site’s backlink profile — they have a library of over 43 trillion sites! Or, you could entrust your entire SEO strategy to a marketing agency, saving your team hours of pitching, sourcing, and analyzing potential links, so they can focus on other important business initiatives.

4. Create a phenomenal user experience

Search Engine Journal recommends a simple experiment for measuring your website’s user experience: Comb through your web pages and ask yourself if you feel like continuing. If you feel fatigued, your user experience is off. 

Now, healthcare UX can cover many items, from how engaging your online content is to how intuitive your app is. Here’s how Dr. Ismail Sayeed, director of telehealth service, The Vios Clinic, describes healthcare UX:

“A good healthcare UX should take into account the needs of all users, from patients to doctors to administrators. It should be easy for patients to find the information they need and navigate through the system, while also being visually pleasing and intuitive.”

Notice your site lacking?

Improve your user experience with a refresh on these items:

  • Page speed: Long load times interrupt your audience’s browsing sessions and skyrocket your bounce rate. Check out Google’s PageSpeed tools to see where you’re at and speed things up. 
  • Navigation: Your content should be easily skimmable, with headings (H1, H2, H3), summaries, and an intuitive drop-down navigation menu. A nice bonus is high-quality visuals. Imagine scrolling through a long article and having images appear along with your journey — A+ for user experience
  • Site architecture: Strong site architecture makes your most important web components and content easily accessible to both your audience and Google’s crawlers. 
  • Colors: Your color scheme should feel engaging but not overwhelming. Most importantly, background colors should never compromise your audience’s ease of reading. 

Look to competitors for UX inspiration. What comes up on the first page of Google’s SERPs (search engine results pages) when you type in a keyword? Look at their content and brainstorm ways to deliver the same value to your audience in an even more user-friendly way, with more compelling visuals, comprehensive explanations, or interactive web features. 

Once you’ve solidified your healthcare SEO strategy, you can move on to Google search ads. 

PPC for healthcare organizations and businesses

For quicker results than SEO alone, you’ll want to carve out a nice chunk of your digital marketing strategy for healthcare PPC efforts.

You’re dealing with higher cost-per-click (CPC), stringent guidelines, and lots of competition. But we’ll walk you through everything you need to consider for a smooth ad campaign. 

1. Watch out for unexpected Google Ads campaign disapprovals

Google sets the bar higher in healthcare, both for YMYL SEO content and PPC ads. Let’s get you up to speed on restricted terms for healthcare ads that can land you in Google’s doghouse. 

  • Restricted terms: Let’s say you connect dialysis patients with each other for support, or to healthcare providers in different states. Even if Velphoro® is a common dialysis drug, that can’t come anywhere near your ad copy because Google restricts all prescription drug terms from ad text and landing pages
  • Unapproved substances: Maybe marijuana is legal in certain U.S. states, but it isn’t in Guatemala. If you serve audiences in both countries, you can’t include marijuana in your Guatemala PPC ads. Google’s restrictions for unapproved substances get tricky if you’re dealing with multiple local campaigns with different local regulations. 
  • Remarketing and healthcare display ad restrictions: If new patients peruse your healthcare website once, they’re further down the buyer journey and more likely to convert. Here, remarketing with personalization helps us bring revenue to our clients. But for healthcare, Google won’t permit remarketing tactics. If you try it, you’ll face disapproval. 

Review Google’s guidelines for healthcare ads and take note of the limitations for speculative therapies, clinical trial recruitment, and certifications. You might need to get certified with Google before advertising content for medical certification services, or you’ll risk automatic disapproval. 

Too many ad disapprovals lead to your Google Ads account getting suspended, and we don’t want that. Unfortunately, these are common mistakes, especially for beginner healthcare marketers. How can you avoid these errors?

PPC agencies are well-versed in these rules and can limit your chances of getting suspended. That’s why our PPC management services can be so valuable to a healthcare business — we’ll help you avoid these costly mistakes and get you results much faster. 

2. Use ad extensions to capture urgent searches

Ad extensions give your search and display ads an extra kick of useful info for your audience. But in a healthcare setting? That extra step goes a long way. 

Say you have an audience seeking relief from a medical issue. Your product or service might help them, but they might not have time to sift through your website — even if you channel site architecture feng shui. 

Healthcare audiences often have extra stress and urgency propelling their search, so the immediate solution in ad extensions can be super effective. You could use ad extensions to share your healthcare practice’s phone number, address, or most popular web pages

Here’s an example from this telehealth business: 

Each ad extension offers the web searcher an easy path toward solving their problem. 

But how do you know which problems need quick action? 

This is where your audience research comes in handy. Find out which of your services are most popular. Then, sift through customer feedback to learn any inefficiencies in service delivery. These are great starting points for ad extensions. 

Remember, you can also use location-based ad extensions; just find out what works best for your audience. 

3. Create a robust keyword strategy

It’s no secret that keywords in the healthcare industry are among the most expensive. And given the other PPC challenges healthcare businesses face, marketers must carefully identify the most relevant keywords that won’t break the bank. 

Your first step is always to know your audience. Imagine what pain points you solve for them and envision what search terms they’re typing into Google. 

Still, these terms aren’t cheap.One way to mitigate expensive CPC is with targeted marketing. 

Your SEO content should capture the prospective patients and audiences seeking your expert opinion about a medical issue. But your PPC should capture the portion of your audience that’s closest to conversion

This way, each expensive click becomes more worth the cost. Sure, website traffic can’t hurt and might convert in the long run, but you’ll experience greater ROI if you convert them early on. Long-tail keywords will help you here — they’re more specific and directly address your audience’s unique challenges. 

Matt shares a few more cost-saving strategies, like: 

  • Negative keywords to refine targeting even further
  • Highly aligned landing pages with PPC keywords and topics
  • Experimenting with both manual and automated bidding strategies to determine which results in more long-term conversions
  • Bid adjustments based on performance

His final piece of advice? To take a big-picture approach overall: 

“It’s less about keeping costs low and more about improving ROI and ROAS. As long as your revenue from leads/customers is exceeding your ad expenses (and related expenses), it’s a worthwhile investment.”

The takeaway

Healthcare marketers have the tough job of: 

  • Appealing to a more urgent, discriminating audience
  • Competing amongst tons of new competitors, especially with the rise of healthcare SaaS
  • Battling Google’s ad guidelines, which threaten account suspension if you slip up on a restricted term

But it’s important to remember that a healthcare search engine marketing strategy isn’t an option. It’s a necessity for any healthcare business that wants to stand out, build credibility, and help its target audience. 

Wondering what your next steps are? Our SEM experts are here to help, backed with unparalleled data analysis capabilities from our proprietary tech, ConversionIQ. We’ll dive deep into your unique healthcare niche and metrics, get on the ground with your audience and competitors, and build you a SEM strategy that will take your conversions to new heights.

Contact HawkSEM for Free Consultation