The prescription for getting healthcare SEO right

By Siobhán Roberton, Director and Global Head of SEO @ performance-io. / March 10, 2023

The basic principles of search engine optimisation (SEO) can be applied to any vertical and still achieve incremental growth. Well, not exactly and it depends. Better still vertical SEO is important if you want to understand the sector and online playing field.

What is vertical SEO?

Wikipedia states that “A vertical search engine is distinct from a general web search engine, in that it focuses on a specific segment of online content…The vertical content area may be based on topicality, media type, or genre of content. Common verticals include shopping, the automotive industry, legal information, medical information, scholarly literature, job search and travel.”

In theory, Google and other search engines acknowledge that an E-commerce site and a travel booking platform will look very different, have very different roles and therefore attract very different audiences and so a general rule of thumb and ‘SEO best practice’ isn’t guaranteed to drive results. This is why viewing metrics and data in isolation of their vertical or competitor sets doesn’t give a realistic bearing of the impact on SEO performance. For example, your E-commerce platform is giving you 50/100 in Google Page Speed Insights, defining it as ‘slow’ but the average across the competitor set and sites ranking on page 1 is 40/100.

So what does this mean for healthcare SEO?

What do we mean when we say Healthcare SEO?

In a nutshell, compliance obstacles, content written by credited experts, the frequency at which content is reviewed, the list goes on. When we say Healthcare SEO, we’re looking at challenges and opportunities that are specific to the websites within healthcare and pharma such as websites for healthcare providers, promotional drug sites or disease awareness sites. This then identifies areas and tactics where the performance within healthcare is more important than the industry benchmark.

You don’t even need to be in the online healthcare industry to remember when the medic update hit back in 2018 and took with it the organic traffic of many sites in healthcare. This brought with it many articles speculating on what went wrong and how to regain existing performance amongst those who suffered badly.

What we do know is that 2018 and the ‘medic update’ brought E-A-T to the forefront of most SEOs’ minds. E-A-T, being expertise, authority and trust. In short, this saw a huge shift in Google acknowledging its role in sites. It was no longer OK for Google to match the most relevant website for a query ‘how many aspirins should I take when pregnant?’ it needed to be the correct information and approved by medical professionals and this showed Google actively understanding its role for those in need when searching online. In 2022, Google went further and changed E-A-T to E-E-A-T to incorporate ‘experience’ referenced in Google’s Quality Raters Guidelines.

What are some of the core challenges?

With every sector there are always nuances and challenges unique to that industry. For E-commerce it’s often clunky sales platforms that aren’t agile to rapid growth, with Travel it’s the rising competition of churn and burn over the head airlines (OTAs e.g. Dialaflight) and in Healthcare undoubtedly it’s compliance.

Compliance within healthcare marketing is a critical consideration but not one that should be met with defeatism. With preparation and the right solutions in place there are ways to target healthcare professionals and patients online compliantly. In most sectors including healthcare, it’s about taking people on a journey with SEO. Why are we doing it, what’s the benefit and where’s the appetite? All of which can easily be addressed by clear communication, training and showcasing relevant data and precedence. All of which is necessary to preempt the difficult but inevitable false objections such as “it’s too risky” or “we can’t do that in pharma.”

As a closing note, there are core considerations inherent to healthcare SEO and marketing. In order to drive competitive results, there’s a requirement to combine a deep understanding of the core disciplines: understanding healthcare, its infrastructure, regulations, and the important role — perhaps now more than ever — of providing trusted, relevant information where most people go for it first.

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