As a professional marketer in the medical, pharmaceutical, insurance or healthcare industry, you know how important it is to make search engine optimization (SEO) a top priority for the success of your website and landing pages. However, there are likely a variety of obstacles standing in your way, and this post aims to help you overcome them in 3 ways.

  1. Proof that health consumers and patients rely on organic search to guide their research and decisions.
  2. 3 top optimization tactics that can make a measurable difference.
  3. A starting point to build a case for making SEO a top priority contender.

Health consumers and patients rely on organic search to guide their research and decisions.

Have a nagging cough? Achy knee? Whether you’re looking for the best orthopedic surgeon in town or for potential side effects of a prescription your doctor is recommending, your first step is likely to be firing up your favorite search engine on your computer or mobile device and doing some research.

There are an estimated 273 million healthcare searches a day. In fact, 80% of Internet users, or about 93 million Americans, have searched for a health-related topic online. This not-surprising stat comes from a just-released Pew study.¹

Here are the stats for the most popular health topics US adults look for online¹:

A specific disease or medical problem
A particular medical treatment or procedure
Diet, nutrition and vitamins
Exercise or fitness
Prescription or over-the-counter drugs
Alternative treatments
Health insurance
Depression, anxiety or stress
A particular doctor or hospital

What This Means for Health Industry Marketers

The trend toward search engine reliance has drastically changed the health care experience for both patients and providers alike. This fundamental change in the individual’s experience with health care gives way to a great opportunity for providers to capture the attention of their target audience from initial inquiry to the moment of truth, where they decide which doctor to see or the best insurance plan to select.

The challenge here is that many hospitals and health systems, insurers, medical device manufacturers and pharmaceutical companies don’t choose to make SEO a top marketing priority. This neglect becomes detrimental to consumers seeking information, to the sales and marketing teams trying to attract qualified website traffic, and of course to the organization’s bottom line. This misstep can cost a website hundreds, even thousands, of qualified visits each day.

What does that kind of online traffic from health information seekers look like? For the Top 10 Medical Sites according to Alexa, it equates to an average of over 3 minutes of time on site, nearly 3 pageviews per visitor and 52% of traffic coming from search.

Although SEO is an important success factor for all digital marketing, advertising and social media activities, it is unfortunately the investment that is put on the backburner when time, resources or budgets are tight. That’s because many marketers believe SEO is an all or nothing proposition. It’s not.

A focused approach, even on a couple of optimization tactics, can make a measurable difference.

Google’s search algorithm uses more than 200 factors to rank websites. Indeed, that’s a lot of factors, but don’t let that dissuade you. Start with an SEO audit of your healthcare, medical, insurance or pharmaceutical website (see next section for more on that). It will reveal and prioritize a dozen or more areas of opportunity for SEO improvement that are specific to YOUR site.

Here are 3 common areas of top concern:


High-quality content

High-quality content is among the top two most important signals used by Google to rank your website for search. Most marketing executives (57%) say on-page content development is the most effective SEO tactic. You don’t want to skimp on that content either. The average content length of the top position Google article contains 2,416 words and the average word count of a voice search result page is 2,312 words.²

A blog can be a highly efficient vehicle for publishing relevant information that addresses the hot button issues and frequently asked questions on your target audiences’ minds. Here’s a hot blog tip: Updating and republishing old blog posts with new content and images can increase organic traffic by as much as 106%.²

2020 Shift: According to the top health-related questions asked on Google, people in 2019 were most curious about lowering blood pressure, learning about the keto diet, and getting rid of the hiccups.³ Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, 2020’s search trends will shift dramatically toward the outbreak and consumers’ need to understand its impact on their personal health.
Read more Tracking Coronavirus Search Trends, June 2020

Your content should consider the conversational nature of searches. This is thanks in part to technologies that make it faster and easier to query our favorite search engines on any device and with increasing ease…like voice search, voice match and virtual assistants. It becomes natural to search more specifically for “life insurance for divorced woman” or “dentist near me that takes Medicare” or “orthopedic surgeon specializing in hip replacement who accepts Blue Cross.” As a result, we expect to see a continued uptick in long-tail searches. See #3 for more on that.


Link building

Link building is the other top most important signal used by Google to rank for search. This activity is often the least understood and among the most ignored. Yet, increasing the number of quality inbound links on your site is one of the most effective ways to increase the organic search ranking of your pages.

Inbound links are also known as backlinks — a link created when one website links to another. Shockingly, 91% of all pages never get any organic traffic from Google, mostly due to the fact they don’t have backlinks. And, sadly, 55.24% of pages don’t have a single backlink.² The bottom line: the more quality backlinks your key webpages have, the more search traffic it will earn from Google.


Keyword choices

There are a number of tools you can use to research keyword phrases as you write new website copy or review and revise existing copy. They include: general search data from sources like Google, your website’s search analytics, competitive research using a tool like SEO Review Tools, and free keyword search volume tools like Yoast Suggest and

Keep in mind that consumers’ search queries are becoming more complex and specific. These are called “long-tail searches” and are becoming the new norm. Long-tail keyword searches have a click-through rate 3% to 5% higher than generic searches.² One aspect to long-tail keyword selection is related to “intent.” According to Yext, as patients and consumers continue to ask conversational questions in search, they are sharing their intentions with search engines and with marketers. When you conduct your keyword research, having this mindset provides a different lens…those multi-word, conversational search queries give the gift of an intent signal.4 This gesture is invaluable to your effort to select and prioritize keywords.

As more and more health industry marketers accept this reality, they’ll begin to layer answers to intent-based long-tail search phrases on top of existing demographic, psychographic, and behavioral marketing personas. This will drive organizations to make even more careful on-page keyword choices so that they effectively position themselves as the authority on that specific topic.
Read more → Turn anonymous website visitors into named leads you can profile and model.

How to start making SEO a top priority contender.

The opportunity available to reach your target audience via search engine optimization is greater than ever before. From the moment a patient engages “Dr. Google” in their quest for information through their click journey to a decided course of action, a myriad of opportunities exist for healthcare providers to convey their message and value proposition to qualified audiences when they’re in the most ideal frame of mind to engage.

Where to start?

A great starting point is an SEO audit. You can test the waters with a Do-It-Yourself audit of one or more key landing pages. There are many “try it for free” tools that will provide a sneak peek at your site’s top issues. Some of our favorites: and Woorank. Another tactic might be to grade your current key pages against SEO best practices. This Ultimate SEO Copywriting Cheat Sheet could come in handy.

Once you get a good look at the ample opportunities to improve your website and landing pages, your next move will be to identify a partner with a record of producing SEO-savvy content for health industry clients. Avoid search vendors who throw around a lot of jargon and promise first page rankings. You’re seeking a methodical approach that aims for sustainable and continuous improvement and high quality results for very specific goals. Also, because of the ever changing nature of the health, medical and pharma environments the ideal partner would place a high priority on strategy and research, while having a thorough understanding of the history and complexities of the industry.