How Hospitals Outrank Practices on Google

On a typical Google keyword search, such as “Diabetes Doctor Schaumburg IL,” you will see several directories and individual doctors – but no hospitals or health systems.

Wouldn’t you think with increasingly consolidated hospitals and health systems, Google rankings would be in their favor? So why isn’t this the case? Why is David beating Goliath?

Smaller clinics and practices have three main advantages over hospitals and health systems.

Smaller practices specialize

While a hospital may offer 50 service lines, a local cancer center or physical therapy storefront has only one topic to promote. So, Google can more easily associate what their website is talking about. For example, there’s no mistaking that knee therapy can be done at ATI, whereas nearby Alexian Brothers Health System has a website with 18 services just on its main menu. Google doesn’t know what to do with all of that information.

Smaller practices adapt faster

Imagine Google reveals a new check-point for websites to abide by to get a boost to rankings. This happened just recently with Google’s notation of “mobile friendly” sites on search results. When this happens, which organization can act faster? A smaller practice – every time!

Smaller organizations have less politics to slow them down. They have fewer layers of approval and less legal review.

“Changes take less time because there’s less work for the person managing the site,” said Laura Samuels, who has worked for both a larger health system and independent practices in the Chicago area. “A large organization that needs IT assistance has to “take a number” and wait, or even request assistance from more senior management to make the change a priority.”

Smaller practices also have simpler websites. They employ user-friendly content management systems (CMSs) such as WordPress, whereas a large hospital will use an often older and more robust system that requires help from IT to change. They also typically have “Development,” “Staging,” and “Production” environments, IT processes which take more time to launch. Hospitals and Health Systems think they need these systems for security reasons. But, the truth is, behind the scenes these systems are usually no better. And many of the website features (such as find a doctor or MyChart/EMR logins) are part of separate applications anyway.

Smaller practices don’t worry about “enterprise” technology

Larger hospitals try to find integrated solutions for IT, web, marketing, call center and more – and the result is the use of often terrible and dated technology. Or worse, it paralyzes the organization.

Smaller organizations don’t try to tie it all together. They don’t have the money for everything, so they launch e-mail marketing one month, then try Google ads the next month. These piecemeal solutions are the way to go in today’s fast-changing digital marketing world. Trying to merge IT and marketing is a recipe for disaster, and small companies don’t waste their time spinning their wheels seeking an enterprise solution.

So, like small businesses in other industries, smaller healthcare organizations benefit when it comes to digital marketing. They are not afraid to enter new technologies like mobile advertising, social media, or e-mail marketing. And if they optimize their website properly, they can dominate search in 2015.

So what is a hospital to do? How can they make headway when they have 20 service lines to promote?

Be strategic and focused

First, be strategic. Don’t try to promote all your service lines at once. Choose one at a time and work on it.

“Let your data help define your priorities,” said Theresa Komitas, Marketing Director of KishHealth System in DeKalb, Illinois. “Choose a service line that has impact on your organization, either in volume or revenue and look for ways to improve its online presence.

Don’t attempt to rework all of your website copy. Don’t try to tie in a new brand. Just work on optimization – focus on what Google wants.

You also may want to consider bringing back an older web strategy – the microsite. Simply defined, it is a separate single-topic website. These sites are often tied in with marketing campaigns and can get lots of traffic and good rankings. They can have unique lead-capturing calls to action. And, most importantly, they can sometimes skirt around the political and legal requirements of the main hospital website.

Use your clout

What are some assets a hospital or health system has over its smaller competitors? A known brand. Tons of citations on the web. A larger marketing staff. Media contacts. Multiple practice locations.

Hospitals need to think bigger and leverage the rest of the online community. Most are already on social media, but have they also worked local news with press releases? Local bloggers? Community events? Health classes? Are you utilizing the content you already have? All of these should be posted on your website – not just on social media – to make your website a traffic hub that Google sees as an important, authoritative website.

Each of these outlets can promote you online. Ask for links and mentions. “Name drop” them in your social media posts and start a good relationship.

Are you paying a reputation management company? This is an easier, more condensed task than in the past, and you can do it on your own. Work on large websites such as Yelp and Healthgrades, but don’t worry abbot lower quality directory websites. Tie this task into your public relations role. Make a checklist of websites both online and local that you need citations from. Claim them and control them.¬†These links pointing to your website have been a key factor for Google rankings for more than¬†10 years.

Push for change

While health systems have a larger marketing department than individual practices, online marketing roles are still grossly understaffed. It can often be 20-1, with 20 marketing reps serving the hospital staff and one person to “update the website.” It’s 2015, and you should push your marketing director to hire more web help. Each day the web has more to worry about – new social media sites, dead ones to leave. New Google recommendations and new ways to show Google ads. You need a leader on the team who can identify these and trust that person.

“Be sure to track your results and share them with administration and other service line leaders to help drive motivation and draw attention to the importance of an interactive, current and useful web presence.” said Komitas.

Of course it’s a tough battle. But as each day passes, more of your target audience grew up on computers and didn’t read newspapers. Reaching them should be top priority, and your marketing director will be on your side soon.

Until then, work on one service line at a time, and try to use your clout as best you can. In the long run, hospitals and health systems have the resources to “win” the digital marketing battle. And they can afford additional staff and outsourcing more than individual practices.