The past few years have seen major transformations in the way health care websites operate and interact with patients..
In mid-2018, a major Google algorithm change, known to the IT community as the “Medic Update,” significantly changed search criteria for most health and wellness websites. Another big update went live in late 2021. Websites that have not evolved with these changes have dropped in search rankings and provide a poorer user experience all around.
Many potential patients are searching for your services online, so your website cannot be an afterthought. Not only does it need to be designed with your target audience in mind, but it is also important to consider the metrics Google and other search engines now use when assessing the quality of your website so that patients will find it in the first place.
Here are some features that you (or your website company) need to prioritize to keep your site current and atop search results in 2023 and beyond.
Begin with an understandable URL. Search engines use URLs to determine how well your site, or a portion of it, matches search criteria. URLs also need to make sense to searchers, especially when they link specific areas of expertise (more on that in a minute). For example, a URL like “jonesdermatology.com/?p=89021” is meaningless to anyone except programmers; but “jonesdermatology.com/psoriasistreatments” obviously leads to a page about psoriasis treatments. Search engines look for not only the most relevant, but also the most helpful and user-friendly answers to a user’s query.
Incidentally, if the URL for your site is not your own name, you should register your name as a separate domain name – even if you never use it – to be sure that a trickster or troll, or someone with the same name but a bad reputation, doesn’t get it.
Continue with a good meta description. That’s the grayish text that follows the title and URL in search results. Searchers will read it to confirm that your site is what they seek, so make sure it describes exactly what you do, including any areas of special expertise.
Make your practice approachable with photos. New patients are more comfortable when they know what you look like, so real photos of you and your staff are always more effective than stock photos of models. Photos or a video tour of your office will reassure prospective patients that they will be visiting a clean, modern, professional facility.
Describe your principal services in detail. You never know which specific service a prospective patient is searching for, so describe everything you offer. Don’t try to summarize everything on a single page; relevance is determined by how deeply a topic is covered, so each principal service should have a detailed description on its own page. Not only will your skills become more visible to search engines, but you can also use the space to enumerate your qualifications and expertise in each area. Whenever possible, write your descriptions in question-and-answer form. Searchers tend to ask questions (“what is the best ... ?”), particularly in voice searches. Search engines increasingly value sites that ask and answer common questions.
Make your site interactive. “Interactivity” is a major buzzword in modern search engine parlance. Once searchers make an appointment, they stop searching. If they have to wait until the next day to call your office, they may keep looking – and might find a competitor with online scheduling. HIPAA-compliant chatbots, secure messaging, and online patient portals to access medical records, lab results, and other important information will also set your site apart.
Testimonials are essential. Amazon.com taught us that candid reviews from customers go a long way toward building the trust necessary to buy products and services, and nowhere is that truer than for medical services. According to one study, when it comes to finding a doctor, 88% of people trust online reviews as much as a personal recommendation. Loyal patients will be happy to write you glowing reviews; feature them prominently.
How does your site look on small screens? More than half of all searches are now made on smartphones, so the more mobile-friendly your site is, the higher it will be ranked. Prospective patients who are forced to scroll forever, or zoom in to tap a link, are likely to become frustrated and move on. Mobile searchers prefer sites that provide the best experience for the least amount of effort, and rankings tend to reflect that preference. You can test how easily a visitor can use your website on a mobile device with Google’s free Mobile-Friendly Test..
Dr. Eastern practices dermatology and dermatologic surgery in Belleville, N.J. He is the author of numerous articles and textbook chapters, and is a longtime monthly columnist for Dermatology News. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.