How do new patients find your practice? There’s no question that the internet changed how patients select healthcare providers. Today 70% of patients say they trust Google reviews over a healthcare provider’s website. At least 65% of these organic Google searches result in conversion, which in this case, means booking a new patient appointment. 

Building in-person brand loyalty with patients still matters—however, the field has changed. Word-of-mouth referrals still happen, but more than 84% of consumers say they trust online reviews more than any other referral source—including their friends and family members.

If you follow the new patient’s journey to your practice, it often starts with a simple Google search. Grabbing the attention of your audience at this early stage is essential, so your practice should improve its Google SEO rankings to appear at the top of the heap. 

Once they encounter your website, they’ll be sure to check your reviews, which is why it’s essential for online reviews to be overwhelmingly positive, especially because 91% of your potential customers are paying attention them. To adapt to this new era of online transparency, practices must create and implement strategies to reach a steady stream of patients where they live online.

Here’s how independent practices can optimize their local search rankings with better SEO practices to capture new and retain existing patients.

What is Local Search and Why Does it Matter to Your Practice?

Medical professional sitting in office using laptopLocal search fits within the context of “all healthcare is local.” Patients may still travel over the river and through the woods to a specialist when they are sick. However, when they are initially choosing a doctor, they want to stay close to home. A local search on Google means that the customer is looking for a nearby service provider. Local SEO is a strategy to improve search engine visibility on Google when potential patients type in “doctor near me.” 

In the search results, potential customers see two distinct sections in the drop-down list. Top of the list are the paid ads, then the map listings (called “local pack”), a call-out box called the 3-Pack, and finally, the regular organic search results. 

Google tailors their results based on the location of the searching party. Even if they aren’t at home, the algorithms behind the search engine can use geo-location to pinpoint where they are. Searching “doctor near me”  produces a group of practice options to choose from that is in the vicinity. Where you appear in this list matters greatly, since you want to be at the top whenever possible. Why? Because 57% of patients start their doctor search by using this feature. 

Did you know that 85% of the online website traffic to the Cleveland Clinic, 83% to Johns Hopkins, and 87% to the Mayo Clinic result from this exact kind of organic search process? These healthcare behemoths have sophisticated SEO strategies that include paid advertising and go beyond just creating a website. However, even a small independent practice can apply some of the same techniques with great results and for little to no cost.

With the right approaches, you can not only appear in the local pack but also at the top. Here are five ways to pull this off.

5 Steps to Improve Local Search

1. Take Control of Your Local Business Profiles

Your Google Business Profile (formerly known as Google My Business) is the first line of visibility for any medical practice or other local business. The Google Business Profile is part of Google maps and critical to local search. You can use it to:

  • Post key information about your business, such as changes to your office hours or COVID restrictions
  • Respond to patient reviews
  • Connect to existing and new patients
  • Track analytics to see how potential customers interact with your brand
  • Set your practice apart from other local competitors

Google offers a local 3-pack listing, which is a call-out box that lists the top three practices in the region. You can’t buy your way in: this is an organic search feature that only pays off if you’ve optimized your local and website listings. Your goal should be to appear at the top of the 3-Pack with a five-star average patient review. While we’ll talk about patient reviews in a moment, how can you nail down a spot in the 3-Pack? 

Google looks at several factors when determining which business can hold this spot on their rankings:

  • Number of patient reviews
  • Quality of patient reviews
  • Overall SEO search ranking
  • Name/address/phone (NAP) consistency across pages
  • Keywords
  • Completeness of your profile
  • Photos

The 3-Pack local listing ensures you will receive the most exposure to a patient inquiry, a higher number of clicks, and ultimately, more patients.

You’ll also notice there are dozens of online business directories, from Yelp and Bing to WebMD and Vitals. Search for the name of your practice, see where it pops up, then meticulously claim and update these listings. This is an exercise that should be repeated by your office manager or marketing team at least once a quarter to optimize the reach of these free listings. One in every three patients looks at your information in multiple channels, so having consistent information across the board is vital to your brand. 

Pro-Tip: No matter what profile you’re working on, make sure you add a self-scheduling link to book an appointment. Clicking that link takes the new patient to the scheduling feature on your website (and hopefully you have one). It’s a convenient one-click feature that takes advantage of the inherent impulsive buying that happens on the web all the time. Just ask Amazon how the one-click feature impacts revenue. 

2. Verify That Your NAP Contains Correct and Consistent Information for Each Listing

Person sitting at desk with coffee and laptop looking at google analytics dashboard Once you’ve claimed your business profile, take the time to update your name, address, and phone number across every directory, website, and platform. Having NAP consistency across your listings ensures a better patient experience but also improves your page ranking. It’s a way to provide search engines with the confidence of knowing that they’re sharing accurate information with their patrons.

Since office hours and other details change over time, set a reminder to check NAP as well as your business listings at least once per quarter. Imagine how frustrating it can be for a potential new patient to see conflicting office hours between your website and your Google page. 

For regular maintenance, review your name, address, and contact information each time you look at your NAP. Additional information you should check includes:

  • The right business category 
  • Practice website address 
  • Working hours
  • Any restrictions (such as masks required)
  • Whether you are accepting new patients

Pro-Tip: Add high-quality photos to your business pages. Headshots work well as does a picture of the building you’re in. Avoid stock photos and go for authenticity, but make sure the shots you use are highly professional. You can even add videos that Google algorithms will like.

3. Use Keywords

Keywords are the words and phrases that a patient might use to find you on Google. These key terms encompass the services your medical practice provides as well as any key differentiators that a patient might be searching for in a doctor. How do you pick the right keywords? 

You can reverse engineer keywords by thinking about the common complaints patients bring to your office. Not all keywords are created equal of course, so something generic like “flu” isn’t as relevant to your Google rankings as “flu shot near me” or “flu shot in Sarasota Florida.”

Are your patients searching for a primary care provider near them in Orlando? The keywords would be “primary care provider,” “family doctor,” “Orlando,” or “near me.” 

Do new patients come to you because you offer women’s wellness exams? The keywords might be, “women’s care,” “wellness,” or “ob/gyn.” Don’t forget the city, if you’re aiming for a local search.

Think about the common kinds of questions new patients bring to your practice. Then consider the kinds of characteristics your practice offers that the competition does not:

  • Open Saturday mornings
  • Back-to-school exams
  • Open till 7:00 p.m.
  • Discounts to cash patients
  • New patients welcome
  • Serving Orlando area patients

When a new patient calls your practice, what questions do they usually ask? Have your receptionist track those questions. You may be able to group keywords from common patient queries. Start to develop a list of words that pop up frequently. Then consistently use those words in all of your online listings, including your website. 

Like the data on your online health directories, make sure you update changes regularly to stay at the top of your Google Business Profile and SEO ranking.

Pro-Tip: You can use SEO keyword tools such as Answer the Public, SEMRush, or Google Keyword Planner if you want to get a little more sophisticated. 

4. Improve Your Category Listings

hand pointing at pie chart from google analytics dashboardBe precise as possible when adding SEO keywords but also when adding categories to your Google Business Profile. Add as many categories as you can to describe your profession for each web directory. A category can be a practice specialty, which can be the same as a keyword. For example “family practice” or “orthopedics.” If you can hone in on the category and keyword from “surgeon” to “orthopedic surgeon,” even better. 

All of the categories on Google Business Profile are pre-defined. Select a primary and up to five additional categories. So, if you’re an orthopedic surgeon, select that as your main category. Your secondary categories could be doctor, surgeon, orthopedist, hip replacement (or another category that narrows it down). There are even categories like “accepts new patients.” 

Pro-Tip: There is a “menu” section on the Google Business Profile that was originally created for restaurants. Medical practices can add a link to their website services page. 

5. Increase Positive Patient Reviews

We know 74% of patients find online reviews helpful when choosing a doctor. Google’s star rating, particularly when it pops up in a local search, is incredibly useful to your business (assuming your practice is four or five stars). The star rating is a quick visual for patients choosing a practice. 

Linked to the stars are actual patient reviews from customers visiting your practice. If you provide excellent customer care and then encourage patients to review your practice, their reviews can be powerful advertisements. They are also free.

What can you do to improve your patient ratings?

  • Modernize and improve your patient experience by offering online scheduling and health record access, text appointment reminders, and more
  • Communicate consistently and well with patients
  • Ask for patient feedback
  • Address issues of staff burnout so that every patient is welcomed and appreciated
  • Ask patients actively if they will review your practice
  • Respond online to any positive or negative patient reviews

Note that patients can review your practice on several different sites these days. Your practice manager or marketing team should apply these same best practices to websites like Healthgrades, Yahoo, RateMDs, Vitals, ZocDoc, and more.

Pro Tip: Google algorithms won’t list you in the 3-Pack if you have less than four stars. Google searches automatically tie the keyword “best,” as in, “best family practice near me” to a four-star rating. Anything less and you are out of there.