Search Rankings for Spine Specialists

Search engine optimization for the medical industry is complicated enough. A 2020 study suggests winning the search engine wars is even less intuitive than you may expect. Learn SEO best practices for spine specialists.

If your patient volume is not quite where you want it, a marketing strategy centered around search engine optimization (SEO) can bring new patients and get your name out across the web. But it’s easier said than done, and the way Google and other search engines rank and deliver content can be arcane and unintuitive.

SEO spine specialistsSEO is tricky, and medical SEO is even trickier. Here's what you need to know.

A recent prospective observational study has shown that Google search rankings do not always necessarily align with patient preferences when it comes to searching for spine surgeons online. In 2020, patients increasingly rely on online searches to select healthcare providers, including spine surgeons. Patients also tend to blindly trust Google search results, and believe in the way that search results are filtered, so looking into how and why Google provides the search results that they do had been tagged as an important study to conduct.

In this recent study, Google.com was used to search for the top 25 spine surgeon websites by search ranking in America’s largest 25 cities. The resulting websites were evaluated for various aggregates, and the authors concluded that Google tends to focus on variables that do not match up with what many patients are looking for.

While patient preferences obviously vary, many patients are concerned about a surgeon’s academic pedigree, bedside manner, demeanor, and online rankings – and these very things tend to be largely ignored when patients turn to Google in an attempt to find the perfect spine surgeon to suit their needs. Instead of using these patient-preferred metrics, Google tends to focus on other variables, oftentimes promoting orthopedic surgeons over neurosurgical specialists, no matter what the specific spine surgery need is.

Also, instead of focusing on academic pedigree and training environment, Google search rankings lean more to focusing on graduation from top residency programs, as well as board certification. A total of 625 surgeons were included in the study, and three categorical variables were identified as correlates of higher mean Google search ranking: 1) orthopedics as a surgical specialty (as opposed to neurosurgery), 2) graduation from a top 40 residency program, and 3) board certification.

This is not to say that spine surgeons should put zero effort into their social media presence, research, and online rankings. Patient-centered healthcare is at the future of healthcare, and spine surgery is no exception. The future of healthcare is consumer-driven and often relies on outcome metrics and patient feedback. Social media presence tends to directly correlate with patient communication in the form of number of ratings and comments.

SEO for Spine Specialists

Thomas Hofstetter, Managing Partner and CEO of Points Group, a healthcare marketing agency, says, “We’ve been aware of the discrepancy between the Google search algorithm and patient search preferences for years. We countermeasure this gap with an overall content strategy with the website at the center. The search algorithm gaps can be bridged with the correct content and content expansion on your website that is based on extensive search and keyword research.”

So, how can you bolster your Google search rankings? Here are a few actionable items that spine surgeons should take into consideration:

  • Make sure you have a thorough website, complete with a detailed contact page (not just a vague “Comments” section that goes into a mythical abyss that never actually gets answered). Once that detailed contact page is formatted to your liking, use those same contact details in the universal footer of your website.
  • Create a business page for your practice on Facebook. Use it. Google tends to use Facebook as an aggregator, and you are losing visibility if you do not have a Facebook page for your practice. This is an easy solution that can be completed in just a matter of minutes and can make a big difference when trying to reach new patients, since Facebook may have influence when it comes to Google search rankings.
  • Claim, verify, and update your business listing on Google My Business (GMB). Once you have claimed the listing, pay careful attention to the verification process, complete your business profile, and use the same detailed contact information that you have on your website. GMB is another chance for your practice to pop up on Google, and a comprehensive GMB listing can drive phone calls and even foot traffic to your practice.
  • Stay consistent. Make sure you’re practice’s name, address and phone number (NAP) is the same on your website, your GMB listing, your Facebook page, directory listings such as Healthgrades and Doximity, and anywhere else they appear on the web. Google has much higher confidence in delivering your spine surgery practice in search queries if your practice has a verified stockpile of information confirming that the details are accurate and can be cross-checked.
  • Consider setting up a relationship with a healthcare marketing agency to create a content marketing strategy. Turning your marketing efforts over to outside experts allows you to focus on what matters most to you as a spine specialist: patient outcomes.

Why Reviews Matter

Online reviews are still important, even though they didn’t necessarily figure into the search rankings for this study. Because prospective patients care about online rankings, he or she may manually look up a spine surgeon (after narrowing down their options) and use those reviews to finalize their decision. Thus, online reviews can absolutely not be ignored if spine surgeons expect to be a big player.

When establishing or bolstering your Web presence, you first need to make sure that you have reviews/testimonials (known as “social proof” in marketing) on your website. Take the time to make it a perfect blend between “first party reviews” (actual patients reviews that have been given directly to the practice) and third-party reviews, which are pulled off websites like Google, Yelp, Healthgrades, WebMD, and more. A few more helpful nuggets to improve your online reviews include:

  • Educate your customers on leaving reviews. Sometimes it’s as simple as a happy patient doesn’t even know where to go to leave a rave review. Guide them by talking openly with your customers, or by having a display on your countertop explaining how to leave a review on various sites.
  • Respond to negative online reviews. While no one enjoys receiving negative feedback, it’s imperative to let customers know that you hear them and that you’re willing to make it right. Just be mindful of HIPAA regulations.
  • Pay attention to your online presence. Using reputation management software here (or the help of a healthcare marketing agency, as previously mentioned) can help here, as there are hundreds of review sites, and this can become an arduous process.

Above all, spine surgeons must provide excellent customer service. Board certified? Great. Graduated from a top residency program? Also great. But, consumers today are looking for an excellent patient experience, and the process of choosing a spine specialist can be absolutely daunting. Take care of your customers, guide them the entire way, and make sure that they know they are the most important part of your process.

Of course you want to be able to be “seen” on Google when patients are searching for a spine specialist, but following the above tips, as well as treating you patients with respect and courtesy can help bring your practice to the forefront, both in Google search rankings and in actual, everyday life.

Updated on: 10/13/20
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