International SEO – Standing Broad Jump or Flying Leap?

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I find a major gap in healthcare professionals’ understanding of the nuances of international marketing and SEO. They have no clue about the nuances of international SEO and how it can impact a medical practitioner’s global digital strategy to attract patients from foreign countries.

International SEO considerations go much further than website domain structures, such as country code Top Level Domains, subdomains and subdirectories. Most haven’t any original content, and their website is merely an online brochure that describes them as the “best”, “world class”, “Center of excellence” a “leader” or some other unsubstantiated claim. And when writing to attract global customers, they’ve done nothing but add the word international or global to their existing localized sites. Then, out of ignorance, they wonder why they aren’t getting leads. Many doctors, dentists and hospitals and private clinics unrealistically expect their localized websites to rank highly from day one. Below I’ve listed five key reasons why they don’t perform at the scale that their clinic or hospital or private medical or dental pracitce may anticipate.

1. Weak Domain Authority

A doctor’s or dentist’s professional brand might be a leader in their flagship market, but they are often unknown in their new target market(s). Spelling, grammar and idiomatic errors exacerbate the problem when the practitioner claiming such prowess presents content on a topic for the first time in a different language and makes preventable errors. The public interprets this as lack of attention to detail, and suspicion rises and the brand is damaged and dismissed.  Tie ups with facilitators, spending small fortunes to attend and exhibit at medical tourism events are all a waste when the terminus is a website that isn’t “ready for prime time.”

When you leave your home domain, you are suddenly the new kid fresh our to residency again. Leveraging branded keywords can help you achieve your objectives in your local market, but internationally, that strategy rarely works. At the same time, I get SEO people from India, Eastern Europe and elsewhere mistaking me for a practitioner and pitching me their services that I know won’t work. So I can only imagine what doctors, dentists and hospitals and private clinics must get each day in emails about their websites, etc.

As a healthcare practitioner or facility attempting to attract an international customer, you must build professional domain authority in different ways for the different languages and cultures.

2. Lack of Guidance for Search Engines

If your website lacks instructions for machines to read, your articles will never be discovered. They will languish at the bottom of a long list of hundreds if not thousands of competitors vying for international patients. And if you’ve hired 20 medical tourism facilitators, they all now compete with you rather than compliment your efforts. Why? Because they want the prospect to stay on their website; not jump to yours.

One SEO best practice is to provide search engines with helpful information to ensure that users enjoy the best possible online experience. This applies to international SEO, too. Without that information, customers may not receive the proper localized website in their search results.

One indication to Google and Yandex that you are marketing outside of your is the “hreflang” attribute. Google and Yandex use this to understand the languages your website is published in, and the markets you usually serve. That’s a big deal, but I’ve never seen it mentioned in any of the pitches I receive unsolicited from SEO “experts” attempting to sell their services to medical tourism providers. True experts use “hreflang” to direct global customers to websites they can understand and learn more about a doctor, dentist or healthcare facility.

Healthcare providers attempting to penetrate the global marketplace can accomplish this by using resources like Google’s search console, or Bing, Yandex and Baidu webmaster tools when marketing to places where Google is blocked or not the leading search engine as it is in the USA.

3. Ineffective Use of Keywords

Most healthcare practitioners have no clue about how keywords and meta descriptions affect their search engine rankings and effectiveness. As of December, each article now has as many as 300 character spaces for a meta-description to entice the reader to click your page.  That’s almost double what it was for many years. Have you updated your meta descriptions? Do you even know what a meta description is and why you need one?

For as long as I’ve worked in international medical tourism (as opposed to my early years dealing strictly with domestic medical tourism and a handful of referrals to Mexico) I’ve noticed a reluctance to pay for quality translation. That’s a huge mistake! If you want to build new-market domain and page authority it is imperative that you use locally preferred keywords and terminology. If you don’t know what they are and are culturally and linguistically retarded or insensitive, you’re doomed before you take the site live. If you can’t afford quality translation, you aren’t ready to expand!  Three times today, I was approached on LinkedIn by providers and facilitators asking for my help. When I quoted them a price, they say they have no budget for assistance. How could they ask for help of a business consultant with no budget? They aren’t ready to launch. They are undercapitalized and are unlikely to survive and meet their international marketing objectives without adequate preparation and knowledge. That’s a fact. It isn’t an opinion!

The depth of your website’s content is also an important consideration. Lifting content from public sources is not the same as writing your own. But if you don’t have the resources or funds to translate content-heavy site sections such as blogs and FAQs, don’t expect much in the way of results. The cost of translating your specialized content to the target language and at a level of comprehension of your targeted visitor can be high, but localizing its SEO-rich assets will certainly help build domain authority and steal “share of voice” from your competitors who haven’t done so.

4. Local Signal Shortfall

For doctors, dentists and healthcare facilities, local marketing teams should be assigned the creation and maintenance of an attractive local website presence. However, when it comes to international audiences and building international backlinks and domain authority, different skills all categorized under marketing may require help from experts in those target markets. Often, inbound linking strategies are an afterthought or totally overlooked in their importance with international marketing efforts.  Again, because of financial constraints, most doctors, dentists and private healthcare facilities try to consolidate or make do and pay the local experts to deliver results on things for which they have no control, competency or experience. A huge mistake. The lack of results should be your first indication that you need to consider assigning additional resources, hiring outside help, or standing down until that’s possible.

5. Fishing in the wrong ponds

International SEO is a different beast because your medical or dental practice or health facility must deal with different languages, different customer behaviors and different search engines. After all, if you are successful, won’t you also need that to take proper care of patients who speak those languages? But what about those who focus on Google as the only search engine but want to attract Chinese medical tourism consumers or people from Europe and the CIS or Middle East?

Formatting your website the wrong way might actually get you banned or fined; not just ignored or undiscovered. This is also true if your target audience is a smartphone user and your site is tuned for tablets and desktop page rendering. Button size, colors, user interface and other web elements all matter when the landscape is tiny or they use smartphones almost exclusively or have slow connection speed or high use of QR codes.

Suffice it to say that doctors, dentists, and health facilities that want to penetrate markets and attract patients within a driveable distance or international markets that speak other languages, can no longer ignore the astonishing growth happening online in health and wellness travel and tourism. Start by improving your SEO treatments so that your global websites rank prominently in local search, and deliver the user experience you want to offer to international customers.


About Maria Todd

Maria Todd is an expert in health tourism marketing and operations and business development. She works with doctors, dentists, health facilities, and government authorities to achieve their economic development objectives through medical travel and health and wellness tourism programs. She is an author 6 books on medical tourism business topics, and a prominent professional keynote speaker and workshop leader in popular demand. She brings clinical, health administration, revenue cycle and insurance contracting experience to projects at a level that differentiates her from other consultants in the industry. She consults to governments, health facilities, hotels and resorts, and individual practitioners on matters of health tourism marketing and operations and business development.  Contact her by email on this website or by telephone at +1.800.727.4160

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I am eager to learn about your project. Call me to discuss your medical tourism and health travel program initiative or current challenges. My team of experts and I are here to help you achieve your objectives and succeed with this lucrative economic development project for your city, state, region, our country. +1.800.727.4160 (Call anytime day or night for fastest response. Our phones are live-answered around the clock. If you call outside of operating hours, we’ll return your call at our first opportunity.)


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