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Why Local Search is Critical for Health and Medical Sites

Medical Map Icon The importance of website search engine optimization (SEO) is widely acknowledged, but the significance of local search still tends to be overlooked – especially for health and medical websites. Medium and large businesses can dedicate the resources for full-scale SEO while small companies typically don’t have the same means available. So how can a local business expect to compete or even level the playing field, especially given their limited resources? The answer is local search optimization.

Local search is critical for nearly every kind of small business, from pizzerias to pet shops, dentists to dance studios. Not only does local SEO have a considerable impact on your main website’s ranking, but it is also a critical factor for small business success. Placement, or lack thereof, in the local map pack can have a significant impact on the overall online visibility and foot traffic of a local business, restaurant, or medical practice.

The Importance of Local Search

Before we examine the impact of local search on medical and health sites, let’s take a quick look at the importance of local search. The primary question is how important is local search? According to Google, it’s extremely important, and looking at these statistics, Google is correct.

  • 30% of all mobile searches are related to location.
  • 76% of users who searched for something on their mobile phones visited a business within a day.
  • “Where to buy” + “near me” queries grew over 200% between 2017 and 2019.
  • Mobile searches for “store open near me” grew over 250% between 2017 and 2019.

When a potential patient is looking for a medical practice, they want local doctors, dentists, or facilities first. Medical offices whose websites have already been optimized for local search will be found first and since new patients are vital for any medical practice or facility, your site must be positioned for those queries.

So now that we know for sure how vital local search is to foot traffic, let’s look at how local search works, what influences it, and how to optimize for it.

How Does Local Search Work?

When a user performs a locally focused search, the results appear in the local map pack. For a local business, having their website appear in the local map pack results can be as important as appearing on the first page of Google. A typical map pack result includes the phone number, address or location, hours, and links to directions and the company website, all of which are critically important to users planning to visit the physical business location.

For a medical doctor or healthcare facility, a fully optimized listing can include more than the usual information that can make a world of difference to potential patients during the current health crisis.

The Map Pack and the Importance of Reviews

On desktop searches, a map pack result for a local search looks like this:
Desktop google search for cardiologists
A close examination of the map pack results provides a glimpse into the complexity of factors that influence Google’s local search results and how those results are displayed.

The first map pack result is a major medical network but has the lowest aggregate review rating. The third result has the highest rating, even though it has only one review and no website listed. The doctor has a solo practice, whereas the first two results are groups.

This is a clear visual demonstration of two arguments. One – small businesses including solo private medical practices can realistically compete with much larger entities. Two – it shows the importance of reviews on local search results.

On a mobile phone, a map pack search for the same keyword looks like this:
Google Maps Listings for Cardiologists
The mobile results are interesting as they display an ad while the desktop results didn’t display any ads. Once again, the first result was for the Northwell Health network practice. The second was for a doctor in a private practice that has a perfect 5.0 rating, albeit with only two reviews. The third result was for a doctor with the same number of reviews but a slightly higher aggregate rating than Northwell.

Incidentally, the practice whose ad showed up at the top of the pack most likely would have shown up in the top 3 based on the number of reviews and their aggregate rating.
 
Let’s look at the expanded map results for the same search to see what features show up.
Expanded map view

The expanded map pack displays an ad at the top of their results similar to the mobile results page but otherwise, the top 3 results are consistent in the expanded map view. One doctor who showed up in the mobile results, Dr. Lee, shows up in the expanded view.

The argument that the extra features help local search rankings is supported by looking at Stony Brook Cardiology’s placement. They are the only practice with the online care option while their aggregate rating is the lowest of any practice shown on the map and they have only three reviews. Practices and doctors with higher aggregate ratings are listed after Stony Brook, so one can surmise that the online care option boosted Stony Brook’s search results.

Local Search and Medical Practices

Google has helped to level the playing field for local businesses on more than one occasion in the last few years. The 2014 Pigeon update helped ensure that local businesses showed up on Google’s Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) when they previously had been pushed aside by larger businesses.

Many of the same factors that impact a non-medical website do apply to medical websites.

  • Website content should be optimized for relevant search terms and use LSI keyword phrases.
  • The site must be optimized for mobile-friendly browsing, as increasing numbers of Internet users peruse sites while using their cell phones.
  • NAP (name, address, phone number) or NAPH (name, address, phone number, hours) citations must be consistent and current.
  • The company’s Google My Business page should be optimized and regularly updated.
  • Reviews need to be curated and addressed if negative.

While reviews are critical to all sites, they are especially important for medical websites. Reviews, positive and negative, can have a significant influence on a site, so it’s important to keep an eye on them. Unhappy patients can leave negative reviews and directly affect potential new patients who read these reviews. Negative reviews need to be addressed quickly and professionally. Why? The lifetime value (LTV) of a new patient for a general practitioner can be as high as $3,000 while a dental patient’s LTV can easily be twice that, if not more.

We’ve seen how reviews can impact the map pack search results. Simply put, the more positive reviews a practice has, the higher the practice will rank in the map pack, which will bring in more patients. For medical specialties, the competition amongst them can be especially fierce. That means optimizing as many local search factors as possible. The most important review site is Google My Business. Let’s take a look at Google My Business, particularly its role in the past few months during the pandemic when updated information was needed as never before.

Google My Business During Coronavirus

Pre-pandemic, Google My Business (GMB) pages were used to promote local businesses – posting pictures, sharing promotions, and offering customers a way to keep up with their favorite local business. During the pandemic, as public needs shifted, GMB became a vital tool for businesses to communicate with the public, offering vital up-to-date information. The shift was most obvious for medical and healthcare practices as their need to keep patients updated had never been more important.

Search for a doctor or healthcare practice online and you can tell if their GMB page has been fully optimized. In response to the coronavirus pandemic, GMB rolled out supporting features dedicated to helping businesses provide customers with current, vital information.

A new post type introduced in May 2020, the COVID-19 post, has preferential placement on the GMB page. Available to all businesses, the information would be displayed on Google SERPs and maps. It allowed businesses impacted by coronavirus to provide the latest information to their customers, including updated hours, changes in services whether delays or additional options, a listing of available online services if applicable, and much more.

GMB Covid-19 Covid-19 Update POst

Google added more supporting features designed to provide users with updated business information. In May 2020, Google provided an option for medical practices to display what insurance plans they accept. In June 2020, “Online Appointments” began appearing in healthcare knowledge panels.

GMB pages offer medical pages the option to add links for services including:

  • Tele-med virtual care
  • Practice attributes including wheelchair accessibility and Internet access
  • Custom medical services including house calls, diagnostics, and procedures
  • Specific location information since physician offices and medical facilities are found in larger complexes.

All of these features are in addition to the standard features of GMB pages which include basic contact information, pictures uploaded by both the visitors and business owner, and the opportunity to openly engage with patients.

Let Us Improve Your Local Search Results

Local search is critical for success to all businesses but can be especially critical for medical practices and health facilities. The SEO specialists at Efferent Media have years of experience optimizing various medical websites for local search, increasing their overall website traffic, foot traffic, and positioning them in dominant SERP locations. If you would like to discuss how Efferent Media can leverage their experience and help grow your medical practice, contact the local SEO experts at Efferent Media today by calling (631) 867-0900.

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