January 18th, 2013 Mike Wilton
According to a study released earlier this week by the Pew Research Center, of the 81 percent of U.S. adults who use the Internet, 72 percent say they have looked online for health information in the past year. But more importantly, 8 in 10 online health inquiries start on a search engine.
The report released on Tuesday titled, “Health Online 2013 ,“looked at a number of aspects related to online behavior as it relates to health care. Some of the topics explored include how people are using the Internet to research health, the increasing trend of “online diagnosers,” the role of social interaction in healthcare, and the adoption of reviews among general consumers.
SEO and Content Is More Important
One of the more impressive numbers from the study stems from the growing trend of “self-diagnosers.” Of those who have looked online for health information, 59 percent say they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. Of those questioned 46 percent of online diagnosers said that the condition needed the attention of a doctor, and 53 percent of online diagnosers say they spoke with a medical professional regarding what they found online.
This, along with the statistic that 8 in 10 online health inquiries start on a search engine, create a unique opportunity for medical professionals when it comes to content. Now, knowing that more patients are looking to the Internet before they look to a doctor, doctors should be seizing this opportunity to create helpful content that can help patients to determine whether or not they should be seeking a doctor for their condition or concern in the first place. Well- optimized content can not only help a potential patient make better decisions about his or her health, but also drive prospective patients to your practice in the event that they do want to further investigate their findings.
While many feel that online diagnoses and research is dominated by specialty sites, such as WebMD and the like, it’s important to note that only 13 percent of online health seekers start their search on this type of website.
While past Pew studies explored usage of specific social networks when it came to health care, this study focused on how patients were using social interaction as a means of researching their health. Interestingly enough, of the 72 percent of Internet users who said they looked online for health information within the past year, a mere 1 percent actually said they started at a social network site like Facebook.
But while the search may not start with social networks, the study uncovered that more and more people are looking to connect with people dealing with similar health matters online. One in four Internet users have read or watched someone else’s experience about health or medical issues in the last 12 months, and 16 percent of Internet users have gone online to find others who may have shared the same health concerns in the last year.
Eight percent of Internet users say they have, in the past 12 months, posted a health-related question online or shared their own personal health experience online in some way. Of those:
- 40 percent say they posted comments or stories about personal health experiences
- 19 percent say they posted specific health questions
- 38 percent say they posted both
In addition, 78 percent of those who posted a comment, story, or question about their health say that they did so to reach a general audience of friends or other Internet users. Eleven percent say they posted somewhere specifically to get feedback from a health professional. Four percent replied that they posted for both a general and a professional audience and 5 percent said neither of those choices fit.
This growing trend of social need and the desire to be a part of a community of supporters also opens a door of opportunity. As more patients look for a sense of community, doctors and hospitals can be at the forefront of community creation and provide a means for connecting patients both in their practice and on their websites.
Some examples that quickly come to mind are the DREAMERS Support Group started by Houston breast reconstruction surgeon Dr. Aldona J. Spiegel, which was designed to provide information and support to breast cancer patients who desire restoration, in order to enhance their physical and mental vitality and allow them to live a fulfilling life after surgery. Another example is the vaginismus forum run by Dr. Peter Pacik to help patients suffering from vaginismus. The form is used for education and support for patients suffering from this unfortunate condition.
The Slow Adoption of Doctor Reviews
Just days before the Pew study was released, the Journal of Urology released a study that suggested patients should be wary of online doctor reviews. Dr. Bryan Vartabedian, of the Texas Children’s Hospital, spoke on the topic during “CBS This Morning.” His discussion echoed the study’s concerns stating that the polarity of positive and negative reviews combined with the low volume of doctor reviews make review sites less-than-reliable or constructive when it comes to making a decision about a health provider.
The findings from the Pew study shine some light on the topic, and perhaps the biggest issue with doctor reviews is the low adoption rate from general consumers. When it comes to writing reviews of general interest items, 37 percent of Internet users say they have rated a product, service, or person online, and 32 percent have posted a comment or review online about a product they bought or service they received. In contrast, three to four percent of Internet users have posted a review of a treatment, hospital, or clinician. If those numbers weren’t shocking enough, the growth from 2010 to 2012 is almost at a standstill.
The percentage of Internet users who consulted online reviews or rankings of doctors or other providers only increased by one percent, from 16 to 17 percent. The percentage of Internet users who consulted online reviews or rankings of hospitals or medical facilities declined by one percent, from 15 to 14 percent. The percentage of Internet users who posted a doctor review online remained at four percent and reviews of a hospital remained at three percent.
This trend shows that the struggle for patient reviews isn’t being felt just at the individual practice level, but in the health industry as a whole. As more doctors push for patient reviews to help with their online reputation, local rankings, and the like, fewer patients are taking notice or even getting involved.
It’s a difficult place to be in, and I believe much of what we are facing is a result of the reputation management industry and the continued desire for health issues to remain private.
As a whole, review spam along with less-than-constructive patient reviews has left the review reading process less than desirable. To correct this I think doctors, and reputation management professionals alike need to educate patients on how to effectively post reviews. It’s not about posting things such as, “Dr. X is the best in the world I always love going to see him!” It’s about patients sharing why Dr. X is the right choice, how the doctor has made a difference in their health, and what made their experience with the doctor valuable enough to review. The sooner the medical community embraces this mentality, I believe the sooner patients will begin to trust and pay attention to online reviews.
Unfortunately, while I believe consumers seek more transparency from the healthcare industry, patients will continue to be very private about their health matters, and in many instances, such as in the cosmetic surgery field, be less inclined to talk about or rate their experience with a doctor or medical facility. I believe this to be especially true in cases where they are forced to use their full name or likeness.
Other interesting statistics to note:
- Eleven percent of Internet users say they have signed up to receive email updates or alerts about health or medical issues in the past year.
- Fifty-two percent of smartphone owners have looked up health information on their phone, compared with just six percent of other cell phone owners. The likelihood to use such technology is amplified by relative youthfulness, having a higher level of education, living in a higher-income household, being Latino, being African American – and owning a smartphone.
What are your thoughts on this recent study? Are you surprised by any of the findings?
December 26th, 2012 Mike Wilton
The press release — a PR rep’s best friend. And in the early days it was the best method for businesses to get their message to the media. But in the digital age, the focus has shifted. It has become less about the message and more about the links. Although the press release has become a staple of most medical Internet marketing strategies as a means of easily earning backlinks, a recent comment from Google’s Matt Cutts suggests its time to rethink your efforts.
If you analyze the backlinks of almost any surgeon or dentist you are bound to find a handful of links to press releases in their backlink profile. While some of the releases may be meaningful, most are announcements about redesigned websites, new practice partners, or that shiny, new device they bought for their practice. While these aren’t bad press releases per se, they definitely aren’t going to earn you or your practice much attention from the press.
In most cases these low-level releases are created for one purpose: links. Admittedly, even Plastic Surgery Studios has been responsible for some of these less-than-stellar PR efforts. However a comment from Google’s Matt Cutts in a recent Google Webmaster Help thread suggests these efforts may be in vain. Amidst the discussion about the value of links in a press release, Matt wrote:
“Note: I wouldn’t expect links from press release web sites to benefit your rankings, however.”
PR With a Purpose
With that said, many would turn their backs on press releases and treat them as a dead medium for online marketing. But what they fail to recognize is that a good, newsworthy press release can earn a practice greater visibility both online and offline, as well as backlinks from outside sources who pick up the press release. But in order for this to happen you have to do something newsworthy that will not only benefit you, but the press and, ultimately, the reader.
Take a step back and think about the newspaper, your local nightly news, or any other media outlet you regularly consume. Then, think about your announcement. Would it interest you if it showed up in your newspaper or nightly newscast? If not, then it’s probably not press release-worthy.
Your website redesign? Probably not newsworthy. Your website redesigned with an exclusive breast implant database that would allow patients to get up-to-date information on breast implant warranties, recalls, and the like directly from implant makers? Now that might be a resource worth talking about.
The search engines are forcing doctors and dentists to, as Wil Reynolds of SEER Interactive says, “Do real company sh*t.” Links obtained easily through tactics like press releases, article directories, and the like will be harder and harder to come by. It’s time to focus on doing things that real companies do. Build relationships, add value, and deliver what your patient base asks for.
As with any content, your press release should serve your audience and offer value. Charities, patient events, new offerings exclusive to your region, or any other announcements that will benefit the consumer is what you should aim to use press releases for. You should always ask yourself: “If I were reading this about another business, would I care?” If not, you may want to reconsider.
November 20th, 2012 Mike Wilton
First, let’s clear the air about something. The “rel” in rel=”author” is not pronounced “real.” “rel” is short for relationship, since the code itself helps identify a relationship between the document and the one it’s linking to. So let’s stop having conversations about “real authors.”
rel=”author” is not new. In fact it was in existence even before Google’s June of 2011 announcement about it’s integration into the search results. We first discussed how rel=”author” can help your blog back in February, but it seems that the rest of the medical internet marketing community has finally jumped on the wagon and decided to start pushing it more aggressively. However, a lot of confusion (i.e., what it does, where to implement it) has developed with this sudden surge in interest. With that said I want to take a moment to try and tackle it from the perspective my team and I share.
Authorship ≠ Rankings
I have heard a lot of talk from companies/individuals about this subject, correlating a sudden spike in rankings with newly implemented authorship markup. Understand that the use of authorship markup is still very much in its infancy. As Google’s Othar Hansson pointed out in Google Webmaster Help video last year, “We want to get information on credibility of authors from all kinds of sources and eventually use that in ranking. We’re only experimenting with that now. Who knows where it will go.” This statement was mirrored in an interview with Google’s Sagar Kamdar earlier this year in his interview on Search Engine Journal, “We use over 200 signals to determine search ranking, and although authorship is not currently one of those signals, we hope to experiment with using information about authorship as a signal in ranking in the future.” So to say that this is currently generating a significant boost in rankings is questionable. As with anything, Google would need signals to identify you as an authority on the content, and simply implementing rel=”author” does not make you an authority.
I believe Google is currently in the phase of collecting and understanding signals that could be used to identify the authority of the author, which is currently being referred to as “Author Rank.” You’ll notice that most content being published about Author Rank is speculation. This is due to the fact that aside from some related patents from a few years back, there isn’t a lot of data from Google on what Author Rank will be, or how it will be calculated. Until that is sorted out, I do not imagine we will see any significant ranking benefits from rel=”author” and even then it will simply become another of the 200+ factors Google looks at to rank content.
Authorship Isn’t For All of Your Content
I’ll start by saying that this is an opinion. However it is an opinion that is currently shared by a number of people in the Internet marketing realm as we saw in the responses referenced in my post on rich snippet abuse. rel=”author”, in my opinion, should not be placed on every page of your website. When Google announced the use of authorship in the search results back in June of 2011 they referred to websites that would benefit from rel=”author” as sites with “authored content.” In their examples they used names such as The New York Times, CNET, Entertainment Weekly, and the like. These are websites that are traditionally compiled of news articles and blog-type content, content that in my opinion is traditionally “authored.”
This is why we stand behind the idea that while you may be the author of your About Page, Homepage, or procedure page, these pages probably weren’t the sort of content Google intended for this sort of markup. It’s a grey area for now, and because of that we gladly implement rel=”author” on blog or article content, but shy away from sitewide implementation.
The Known Benefits of rel=”author”
Because we are sticklers about how rel=”author” is used many feel that we are against it, or simply don’t want to use it. I can assure you that this is a fallacy, and in fact we implemented it on our own blog early on. When all is said and done, rel=”author” definitely has its benefits whether you stand behind our perspective or the perspective that it’s a free-for-all for any content. Implementing rel=”author” can:
- Make your website eligible for authorship rich snippets in the search results, which feature your photo, name, a link to your Google+ profile, and a link to more posts by you
- Prepare your website for whatever uses Google has for authorship markup in the future
- Help search engines better understand your relationship to content that appears online
- Potentially increase click-through rates to your website when your authorship information appears in the search results
- Generate additional content suggestions when a user hits the back button from your website and returns to the search results
These are the knowns. So to say it is generating any benefits other than those listed above is purely speculation.
What’s your take on rel=”author”? Is it free to use on any piece of content you’ve ever created (even that boilerplate home page copy) or should it be reserved for article-like content found on blogs and news sites?
November 16th, 2012 Mike Wilton
Microsites, specialty sites, mini sites, one page sites (whatever you call them)…They became a aesthetic surgeon’s best friend somewhere along the line. Nearly every time we take on a website for a new client we typically uncover five to 10 more websites additional websites in the wild. But why? My guess is that somewhere along the line doctors were told that if they had a bunch of websites they could funnel backlinks from those sites to their main site in order to help it rank better. They may have also been told that if they bought a bunch of keyword-rich domains they could rank for a bunch of different terms with different websites, or better yet dominate the search engine results with multiple sites showing up for the same term. In theory these are all pretty good ideas. The problem is they are inherently flawed, and here’s why:
Link Quality > Link Quantity
One of the most common stories I hear behind multiple websites is the idea that the slew of additional backlinks from the additional sites will power the main website and improve its SEO efforts. In theory, this makes sense, if you are putting forth a strong and unique SEO effort into all of the other websites the way you would your main site. The problem is, most doctors are not and alas they have a fleet of websites with no authority, no backlinks, and typically shallow content solely in place to drive visitors to another website. An even bigger problem could arise if the search engines felt that this fleet of sites is some sort of small link farm, which could ultimately not only hurt those sites, but your main website. For the same amount of time and money it takes to create even the most shallow content and a fleet of new websites you could create quality content and generate stronger more authoritative links to your main website.
Keyword-Rich Domain = Rankings
It used to be that a strong keyword-rich domain was all you needed to show up for your desired query. For instance, if you wanted to show up for “Your Town Plastic Surgery” you just had to buy yourtownplasticsurgery.com and you’d make a pretty fast leap to the top of the search results without a lot of authority behind the site simply because your domain name was so specific to the query. Over time that lost some of its value and ultimately earlier this year Google released an update to its algorithm to target lower quality websites that were ranking based on their domain name alone. In its wake, many websites with keyword-rich domains, but no substance, saw a decrease in rankings forcing them to rethink their strategy. As mentioned above, most specialty and micro sites we come across have keyword-rich domains, yet very shallow or duplicate content. Again, because the site is of poor quality and has had little effort put into it, it ultimately offers no additional value to your online presence.
1, 2, 3 Search Results…
More websites equal more positions in the search results…right? In theory, yes. If your main website is authoritative enough and your other website has enough clout to rank, you could earn the number one and number two spots in the search results. The problem with this, however, is that ultimately you confuse your potential patients. If they find your main website and then your specialty site, how do they know whichsite is really yours? Or if they find your specialty site first and it’s less user-friendly, or they trust it less than your main site, they may be turned off by it and move on to another doctor.
Interestingly enough, while writing this post I discovered that Google’s John Mueller recently gave a webmaster similar advice in a thread in Google’s Webmaster Help Forums.
“I’d recommend focusing on a single website, instead of this collection of sites that you have now. In particular, I’d make sure that your single website is of the highest quality possible, that it contains unique (not rewritten / spun / reprocessed) content, content that’s relevant to the users of your site and compelling to them. Don’t keep this collection of low-quality sites, it’s really much better overall to focus on making a single fantastic site instead.”
This is similar to a statement he made in late November about localized websites built to rank for different areas.
Mueller also says: “Focusing on a single website makes it much easier for our algorithms to understand your site, the services you’re providing, and the regions that you service. Splitting that into separate sites for each location that you ship to not only makes it harder for our algorithms, but also for users (imagine if the post office did that).”
With all that said, yes, in the past Plastic Surgery Studios was a culprit in these practices. However I stopped the company from offering these sites shortly after taking over as Internet Marketing Manager. Doctors who have merged their websites have seen positive results, thanks to proper redirection of the sites and migration of content. By investing in a single Web presence you can ensure your efforts are focused, targeted, and ultimately not diluting your overall Web presence and link equity. Why spread your efforts across multiple websites when you can earn the same number of links, social mentions, and visibility on a single website with the same or less effort?
October 15th, 2012 Mike Wilton
It’s hard to believe that in 2012 I am still talking about “keyword stuffing,” but sadly it’s still a pretty common SEO practice, especially in the local search space. Google defines keyword stuffing as, “…the practice of loading a webpage with keywords or numbers in an attempt to manipulate a site’s ranking in Google search results. Often these keywords appear in a list or group, or out of context (not as natural prose). Filling pages with keywords or numbers results in a negative user experience, and can harm your site’s ranking. Focus on creating useful, information-rich content that uses keywords appropriately and in context.” But Google aims to put a stop to this practice with some recently refreshed guidelines.
We’ve all seen it before, the long list of cities a doctor “serves” in the footer of a page in hopes of gaining some additional local rankings without being too intrusive upon site visitors. This tactic has widely been used over the last few years, and Google has clearly taken notice. In an update to it’s guidelines Google calls out this practice, specifically listing “blocks of text listing cities and states a webpage is trying to rank for” as an example of keyword stuffing. You can see an example of this practice on a website below.
We’ve discussed in the past the importance of engaging blog commenters and filtering out spam, and Google just upped the ante a bit with new guidelines specific to user-generated spam. This means that as a webmaster, your site can be held accountable for having too many spam comments on your blog. In most cases Google will recognize the problem as user-generated and will notify you about the problem via Google’s Webmaster Tools, however Google goes on to explain, “…If your site has too much user-generated spam on it, that can affect our assessment of the site, which may eventually result in us taking manual action on the whole site.”
Rich Snippet Abuse
Rich snippets have become a hot topic as more doctors and their SEO teams try and find ways to manipulate the search results to show authorship markup as well as review markup. As more people become aware of these practices it has forced Google to generate guidelines specific to the use of semantic markup. In the new guidelines Google calls out two specific practices:
- Marking up content that is in no way visible to users
- Marking up irrelevant or misleading content, such as fake reviews or content unrelated to the focus of a page
Seeing both practices being utilized more frequently in the medical search space, I wrote about them in length in a recent post on the ugly state of Google SERPs. It’s important to realize that, although Google only gives two examples in the recent update, they note that other manipulative practices could be acted upon:
“While rich snippets are generated algorithmically, we do reserve the right to take manual action (e.g., disable rich snippets for a specific site) in cases where we see abuse, deception, or other actions that hurt the search experience for our users…These quality guidelines cover the most common forms of deceptive or manipulative rich snippet behavior, but Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here. It’s not safe to assume that Google approves of a specific deceptive technique just because it isn’t included on this page. We strongly advise that webmasters focus on providing a great user experience rather than on looking for loopholes.”
1. Familiarize yourself with Google’s quality guidelines.
Google’s quality guidelines are a roadmap for webmasters and business owners who don’t want to fall victim to the wrath of an algorithm update. By knowing a bit more about what the search engines allow and don’t allow; you can ensure that your search engine optimization efforts are future-proof. There have been a total of four algorithm updates at Google in the last month. If your site was impacted, chances are you’re violating some of these guidelines.
2. Get to know the man behind the curtain.
If your SEO specialist is still working his or her SEO wizardry behind a curtain and you’re not totally sure what they do, it’s time to find out. Get some insight into how they spend their time and what tactics they are implementing on their website. If you’ve familiarized yourself with SEO guidelines, and now notice that what the SEO specialist is saying raises red flags, it might be time to make a switch.
3. Aim for long-term marketing goals, not short-term gains.
It’s easy to want to hit the ground running with your Internet marketing initiatives. If you’re not already reaping the benefits of SEO, but your competitors are you probably think the quickest way to the top is the best way. However, these successes take time. Focus on the long-term goal of Internet marketing by ensuring your foundational SEO is in place and then focus your efforts on attracting and helping your targeted audience. In doing so, you’ll reap the fruit of your efforts for years to come without having to worry about the next algorithm update.