As I was digging into 2021 healthcare SEO strategies for this article, I remembered a tweet that went viral last year. It read, “Is SEO dead?”
Dead? Yikes. Of course, I clicked on said tweet.
It linked to a recent article written by marketing influencer Neil Patel. The article outlined the many ways SEO is evolving, using data to showcase some major changes over the last few years.
The truth is that no, search engine optimization (or SEO) isn’t dead, but as Neil outlines in his article — SEO is a different beast than it was a year or two ago. Marketers everywhere — including healthcare marketers — need to shift their SEO thinking and strategy.
SEO and website strategy are still top-of-mind
Despite everything last year threw at us, healthcare marketers are still laser-focused on SEO and content strategy. When we conducted an informal poll in fall 2020, the top priority among our clients and colleagues was “strategy.”
This tracks with results we saw for our 2020 healthcare content trends survey. When we polled healthcare marketing professionals at the end of 2019, it was clear that website enhancements and SEO strategy were a top priority.
- More than half of the respondents (55%) said their website is one of their top two most important digital marketing channels.
- Roughly a third of the survey respondents said their websites will be the biggest focus for this year.
- More than a third said they have an in-house digital marketer who handles all SEO strategy.
2021 healthcare SEO strategies
When it comes to 2021 healthcare SEO strategies, your plan will have to rely on more than choosing the right keywords. Instead, it should be an artful collaboration between page experience, content quality and keyword optimization.
It’s also important to consider that the content marketing and SEO landscape is always changing. Sometimes, Google algorithm updates can cause drastic (and often, temporary) fluctuations, or they may not cause much effect. It varies from update to update and website to website.
The Google page experience update
Last spring, Google revealed that it would release a page experience update in 2021 that would affect search rankings. They described page experience as “a set of signals that measure how users perceive the experience of interacting with a web page beyond its pure informational value.”
In other words, your potential patients and customers should be able to find the information they need and access that information in a fast and intuitive way. Google also describes this as “making the web more delightful for users across all browsers and surfaces.”
So, what can healthcare marketers do about this update? Although there isn’t a set date for the release, Google has a Core Web Vitals tool that can help guide marketers as they look to improve page experience. Google says it will plan to combine these metrics with other page experience metrics, like mobile-friendliness, to determine page rank.
You can access Core Web Vitals metrics through the Core Web Vitals report in Google Search Console. They include:
- Page load time (How fast does the page load?)
- Interactivity (How responsive is your site when users interact with it?)
- Stability of content as it loads (Does the layout shift as the page loads?)
If you’re looking for ways to improve Core Web Vitals scores, Search Engine Land has a guide for optimizing page experience.
Content quality is still top dog
Yes, the SEO world has been abuzz about the page experience update. But Google said in its announcement last year that “great, relevant content” is still likely to rank higher, even if the page experience is less than ideal.
This tracks with Google’s 2019 algorithm update dubbed BERT, which, at the time, sent everyone in a frenzy. Ultimately, this update affected about 10% of queries. But what was critical about this update is that it focused on natural language processing (NLP).
Google’s emphasis on NLP means the search engine is trying to better understand what people ask when they enter a search query. NLP is a field of study that looks at ways to program computers to more accurately analyze languages.
This focus on NLP also means Google is hoping to produce search results with content that answers the user’s question with quality information. Keywords will still be essential pieces to the SEO puzzle, but the content will need to be more robust and reader-friendly.
In other words: better content = better SEO.
Writing SEO-friendly healthcare content
With Google focusing more on NLP and quality content, SEO is about more than merely featuring your keyword in the title tag and meta description. Yes, these steps are still important, but Google is looking for more.
Before hitting “publish” on that new blog post or webpage, ask yourself:
- Does my audience easily understand the information I’ve provided?
- Am I answering my reader’s questions clearly and completely?
The good news is that if you’re writing clear, patient-friendly content, you’re already on the right track. Blog posts and websites that are written in plain language are going to lend themselves well to NLP.
Here are five more tips for writing SEO-friendly healthcare content in 2021:
1. Skip the jargon
Use language and terms that an average patient would understand. For example, “hypertension” can be changed to “high blood pressure.” You can simplify “implement a plan” to “use a plan.”
The reading level you aim for will depend on your specific audience, but striving for a 7th– or 8th-grade level is a good goal. You can also use these free tools to help you write more clear, concise content.
2. Take advantage of headings
Breaking your content up with heading tags (H2 and H3) can help make a webpage easier to digest and understand. It can also boost your SEO, as these headers can help search engines crawl the page.
3. Keep paragraphs and sentences short
Avoid compound sentences and unnecessary adjectives and adverbs. More concise content is easier to digest and less overwhelming for patients.
4. Consider the order of your content
Will a patient be able to find what they’re looking for within a few seconds of landing on the page? Aim to answer the most critical questions at the top of your page and include supporting details lower down on the page.
Satisfying user’s questions clearly can also boost your click-through rates from search engine page results (SERPs), which may influence your rankings.
Also, consider the order of your content. Is it arranged in a logical way that makes sense to the patient (and Google)?
5. Check for accuracy
Trustworthy, accurate writing is more likely to keep readers interested in your website and show search engines that you provide quality content. It can also improve your reputation with potential patients. Make sure you are linking out to credible websites and sourcing reputable subject matter experts.
Good SEO content and voice search go hand-in-hand
Content that keeps NLP in mind will also lend itself well to voice search. This approach is becoming increasingly important — recent research shows that voice is gaining ground as the preferred method for mobile search.
Voice search-friendly content not only considers what your potential patients are asking but also how they are asking it. What questions are they saying (or typing) into their phones? The content should also:
- Use long-tail, conversational keywords. For example, instead of “stomach pain aspirin,” consider focusing on the question, “Does aspirin cause stomach pain?”
- Spell out questions in your content and answer them with clear, concise answers.
- Use headings (H2s and H3s) and lists to outline questions and answers.
Take a deep breath and focus on your content
We know how challenging 2020 was for marketers, and that’s without all of the Google algorithm changes. So, as we dive into 2021, remember to give yourself some grace and approach the year with a healthy dose of flexibility. As Neil says in his article, “Don’t worry about the things that aren’t in your control.”
This can be said for so many things in life, but it’s especially true for search algorithms.
Need a partner for quality content? WriterGirl is here for you. Tap our team of healthcare writers and editors to craft content that speaks to your audience and business goals. Message us anytime to learn more.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in February 2020. It was updated on February 8, 2021.