What will it take to get your ASC or Hospital to #1 with SEO?



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SEO is tantamount to a performance enhancement drug that you use on your website as a treatment.

Maria Todd

Maria Todd

Maria Todd is frequently hired by medical groups, hospitals, ASCs and other healthcare providers in the USA and 117 countries to assist with marketing, advertising and branding strategies. 

Maria does not personally provide or offer SEO enhancement services, but directs the works of SEO firms who execute as part of the clients' marketing and business development activities. Learn what it takes to rise to the top of Google SERPS as a healthcare facility from one of the rare Google-certified healthcare digital marketing experts in the world.

Every CEO in the world wants to know why a competitor with an inferior product and less innovation and technology gets more Google visibility (outside of China…). They worry about this result because at the end of the day, no matter how on target or innovative your service, technology or pricing, if your website isn’t highly visible in search engines used by your ideal customer(s), you might as well close up shop.

When you get SEO right, you find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – and then some!

So where’s the road map for healthcare provider SEO? Read on!

The road to success with SEO starts with a process to determine the route.

Every website must first be designed, tested, audited, and launched. The audit is only a component of the process. It must be accompanied by an analysis of competitors and after launch, tracking of the website’s Search Engine Results Position (SERP) which is done through automated software. Someone must accept the responsibility to review website rankings in Google for certain keywords on a daily basis. The data gathered must be transformed into a graphic representation so that all may witness how the site performs over time on each keyword.

You cannot view SEO as an expense – unless you approach it incorrectly. It is an investment.

Did you invest properly? Did you attempt a one-time quick fix? Were you expecting an overnight transformation? Did you underestimate the complexity of SEO and the long term commitment and technical acumen required? People hate not understanding and feeling helpless to improve their SEO and SERP ranking.

If you get your healthcare website to the top of Google in your community, you’ll experience growth faster than you thought possible.

What if that’s too fast and overwhelms your staff, capacity and operating theater or PACU schedule? Oh gosh. What a problem! Actually, doing this repeatedly can damage your brand, place your accreditation status at risk and really anger off your surgeons and repel nurses who work for you.

SEO is tantamount to a performance enhancement drug that you use on your website as a treatment.

It can maximize the natural limitations of your ability, product, service, reputation, differentiation, and price. It can also do that for your competitor! Consumer reliance on search engines to find authoritative, trustworthy expertise to solve their problem or pain point or find affordable health care is continues to proliferate. And this is tied to a demographic that online marketing – especially in healthcare – finds most daunting: Millennials. But with healthcare marketing for surgery, often, Millennials are not the ideal target client. They are mostly in the prime of their life health and fitness. Their bodies have yet to betray them, with parts getting clogged, worn out over time, or suffering human design flaws. They don’t usually lead the ideal persona lists for cardiac, joint replacements, vision corrective surgery, anti-aging restorative cosmetic surgery, prostate surgery, hysterectomies, and the like.

Millennials are the first generation born almost genetically predisposed to purchasing online. So all the online SEO books you’ll read that start with the premise that you and your SEO must attract millenials are not speaking to most healthcare facilities not centered on maternity and/or sports medicine.

When is SEO not your answer for healthcare marketing websites?

When the market doesn’t use online search engines for purchase intent and to make final decisions about medical authority, trustworthiness and expertise.

Is all healthcare marketing similar?

No. While someone may seek a primary care physician or a specialist visit online (at a cost of $200 out of pocket or thereabouts), they won’t go searching for an ambulatory surgery center or hospital for a much larger ticket purchase in that way – at least not in the USA.

The hospital and ASC are wholesalers. Most people don’t shop wholesalers for purchases in increments of thousands of dollars the same way they shop for physician consultations and services. SEO and SERP may not be the answer you need.

Is Google AdWords (now GoogleAds) the same as SEO?

No. When consumers want the quickest and most prominent search result, the most prominent returns will be the Google Ads at the top of the page. But that’s true only of the subset of population searching online for a solution. What if your target ideal client doesn’t use the internet that way? Or what if they want to verify reputation of a known or recognized brand? For speed, they might trust the Ads. But for confidence in quality and safety, for something like a surgery, they opt for organic returns shown below the paid ads – if they use the internet. But what about the population that’s older than Millennials. The ones that need treatment for atrial fib, joint replacement, prostatectomies, hysterectomies, and vision correction or repair?

Why not hospitals and ASCs?

Hospitals and ASCS are the type of business that may not suit SEO because they compete with vast swathes of non-retail online content. You can be an excellent provider of health services with innovative products, pricing, and ways to pay. You can differentiate, have great quality, safety, and accreditation. But when search engines pick apart your marketing, the very things that make SEO so lucrative can be your downfall. That’s because keywords you choose to compete with are only as good as the people typing them into their computer or saying them into a device AI.

Google does not “bring” an innovative wholesaler’s product or service to people’s attention. Instead, Google returns r-e-l-e-v-a-n-c-e. It targets exactly what people already know to type into it, which can only ever be based on their pre-existing knowledge and exposure to your healthcare brand. If your targeted ideal client has no clue you exist, they aren’t going to be “offered” your brand if they don’t type in the search terms for which your facility competes.

People who need knee surgery because they have pain or instability ask other “people” for recommendations. Doctors, nurses, friends, family, coworkers, Quora, etc. If they ask a doctor, the doctor may recommend a preferred surgeon they know and trust. That recommendation delivers huge advantage points over what the same patient may or may not choose to investigate further online. In reality, while SEO should not be ignored or dismissed by the hospital or ASC, it may not be the primary route to invest for visibility on Google.

To succeed with SEO, if you believe your product comes before marketing – think again!

Are you frustrated that a less worthy competitor of mediocre reputation and skill or service has created immense wealth and online Google search return positioning? And why your phenomenal product or service that speaks for itself doesn’t rank?

Is it poorly developed SEO or is it that nobody is searching for your website using the terms you believed they would? Healthcare professionals are notoriously cheap when it comes to marketing and website development. The allocate a sliver of budget to SEO and on occasion, they allocate more budget to magazine advertising, service line event marketing, logo, billboard, videos, cable TV commercials, email newsletters, direct mail campaigns and PR firms.

To market a hospital or ASC, think product, not services.

Bundle your services and those of your surgeons and anesthesiologist, radiologists, pathologists, and even your ER docs into a transparently priced product. How does the product benefit your targeted patient prospects?

💡 Marketing is about starting at the bottom and layering the right channels in a stack. Start with the lowest risk and lowest return on investments and then work your way up to higher risks and rewards. ALWAYS LAYERING, not substituting or replacing.

Realize there are things you must consider about consumer intent and their buying process.

You’ll encounter two groups:

an image of high and low intention and conversion process

To select an ASC that has just purchased a robotic surgical system to enhance knee replacement surgery and garner organic SEO intention, people must first have the problem of knee pain and know that the solution is knee replacement surgery. Google is not going to teach them to search for robotic surgical system operated by a surgeon they can trust at a facility that has a robot. They must first learn (somehow) that this option is available for their consideration at the point in time that they have entered high consumer intention to convert to become a patient.

Which marketing channels should a healthcare facility use?

The website isn’t going to be the only channel – after all that’s not a stack, is it?

A brand blitz to create awareness and place the option into the realm of prospective patient consideration goes between the left and right hemisphere of the diagram above. Start your brand blitz with:

  • Social media advertising
  • Paid Publicity
  • Print Ads
  • Digital Ads
  • Billboards
  • Videos
  • Direct postal mail, and
  • Content marketing

Once you have claimed your position in your local or regional market, you can be one of the finalists for consumer option consideration. It is at this point, you deploy Google Ads, SEO treatments, more content marketing and other options.

It is at this juncture that most medical tourism marketing experiences epic failure because they start with the right hemisphere and are shouting into the megaphone in space. Nobody hears them. Nobody sees them and if they do, knowing nothing about them, the providers are not queued as finalists for option consideration and selection. They can deploy all the SEO treatment possible and still end up with disappointment and no market share capture.

How a hospital or ASC should layer marketing channels

Layering marketing channels is a daunting concept for healthcare marketing folks. Marketing channels don’t compete or conflict with one another. Get that notion out of your head once and for all or stop reading!

SEO cannot save you money on Google Ads. The two co-exist when executed properly. they each work separately as two simultaneous referral pools with different strategies and use cases.

If people don’t trust paid advertising, they aren’t going to click them. They may be blind to them. They want to find you in the organic search lineup. According to Group M and Nielsen, 95% of people they studied only click on websites which rank organically. But their research was not limited to a pool of healthcare shoppers. But be perfectly clear on something: if you rank organically but don’t appear in Google Ads, there’s a percentage of the population with whom you will NEVER connect, and vice versa.

Instead, once you have brand and product awareness conquered, you must layer your marketing. Once you begin and commit to a layer, you cannot stop until you get positive returns on it. Then you move to the next layer, and the next, each incrementally riskier than the former in terms of higher potential returns.

💡 And here’s the magic pearl about budget for this: If your higher cost and riskier marketing is paid for by the spoils of the previous layer, it won’t matter that it is riskier, or more costly. You may not “ensure” that your efforts will all result in conversions but the ones that do will return larger profitability.

But that also means that all surgeries and products are not equal. If you spread your marketing over the entire surgical staff “to be fair” you will miss opportunities. Layer this as well. Lead with the procedures with the largest margins to fund additional marketing layers for procedures with lower profits later on when you have grown your cash.

The same goes with contracting strategy with payers. Target the payers who can deliver the best margins after their payment plus the payment from coinsurance and deductibles are collected.

How long does SEO take to produce results for a healthcare marketer?

It depends. You knew I was going to say that! In reality, maybe never. Or, if timed right and approached properly with the right product and pre-work, you may get really lucky. In any case, once everything in the prework is done and you select the right keywords, results can take 2-4 months, minimum. Expect more like 6-12 months to rank on SEO keywords.

Anyone trying to sell a healthcare provider immediate returns via SEO investment is not being honest with you. You can get it wrong and you’ll have a slow burn and no results. You can get it right and you’ll still have a slow burn but much more rewarding returns. SEO is a matter of consistent effort and patience. Unlike other marketing channels, SEO has no blaze of glory moment. And without solid analytics, you’ll never know if what you did on one page or another worked and is replicable.

Quick fixes, miracles and guaranteed results, backlinks, all appeal to healthcare facilities marketers seeking quick gratification. Save your money.

Understanding Google for what it is

Google is a business that needs to make money. It’s product is relevance. Its listed returns are not its product. That’s the benefit of its product to users. That’s the whole lesson.

To collaborate with Google means to facilitate (to make easier) the job for its web crawlers to include you in relevant returns that a search term entry delivers. As Google’s spiders and bots index the internet, by crawling the posted content online, it sorts and selects posts with expertise, authority and trustworthiness. Spammy posts are ignored – especially with the new MEDIC update. Using an algorithm that analyzes synonyms, simple words spoken or typed, context and semantic search, it sorts out the most relevant and discards the rest using hundreds of ranking factors that change frequently.

Relevance is sorted by on page SEO. Trust is sorted by off page SEO. Google’s AI “learns” stuff as well. For example if you get to rank in 3rd or fourth position after the paid Ad listings, but your drop off rate is a matter of 5 seconds, it learns that too and dings you for being particularly unhelpful and places you lower in subsequent returns. So you can be # 5 today and #25 next week. The reverse can happen as well. The only way to be sure is tracking.

How to analyze your competitor

How much traffic volume is possible where you are? What percentage of traffic do they get? If the surgeon up the road performing knee surgery ranks in 1st position on Google returns out of 13,000 possible patients, and he gets 25% of the traffic, he’s getting about 2350 visitors that land on his website for the searched keyword. Is he getting 2350 new patients a month? UNLIKELY. What orthopedic surgeon do you know adds roughly 600 new patients per week? Don’t feel jealous… not yet.

Executing and SEO Strategy Step by Step

Assuming you can attract eyeballs to your website from keyword search by the people with purchase intention and ready to book surgery… whew that’s a mouth full! You must execute the campaign in the following order:

  1. Keyword research
  2. On page SEO treatments
  3. Off page trust indicators and reputation management
  4. Progress analysis and measurement (SERPS tracking and traffic analysis)
  5. Evidence-based tweaking and refinement

Not all Keywords Work the Same

  1. Informational – they answer a specific question. “How many inches in a foot?” “What’s the weather forecast today near me?” This is not Sleeping Beauty’s mirror on the wall that will answer “Who’s the best surgeon of them all, near me?” or “Where’s the closest hospital near me?” And if you are marketing an ASC, how many people in your town are going to type in “ASC near me?” or “same day surgery center, near me” that aren’t surgeons seeking privileges or nurses seeking a new job?
  2. Commercial Keywords – someone seeking knee surgery with serious purchase intention rarely types in “cheap knee surgery”. And if they do, they end up seeing ads from India or someplace who believes cheap healthcare sells. Wait…. does it? Not for Americans. But if they type in “best knee surgeon” they won’t get a list of hospitals or ASCs ranking up high because most doctors and surgeons market themselves independently from the hospital or ASC. So that means a surgeon would place higher. What does that mean for an ASC selling bundled price surgery? That they are really fortunate that they ranked in returns at all. They must be doing something very right to make this happen on this sort of an SEO search return.
  3. Branded Keywords – like “AskMariaTodd™” or tag lines and slogans that have been crafted and developed to become branded keywords and phrases. Like my “wheels down to wheels up™” or “Globally integrated health delivery system®” or “meet and treat™”. People must first know them to search for them.

The branding rule – like gravity – still applies

You cannot attract people to type or say keywords that they don’t know or need. YOU MUST KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER and how they would use the internet to find you. then you set your marketing, layered channels, and competitive keywords up to resonate with that ideal customer.

You can search and research keywords using various tools from an assortment of vendors. Most cost something to use. I am unbiased. If you first know how your targeted customer uses the internet, you’ll use them to confirm hunches rather than discover keywords and longtail phrases.

Assuming a 3% of visitors conversion rate, (conservative) if you had 50 visitors land on your page in a month and find exactly what they are looking for at a time they were ready to decide, how many potential customers is that? While that takes one sentence for me to write, it takes EVERYTHING I previously wrote in this article to achieve 50 visitors in the month ready to buy what you sell and who can afford to pay for the service. Okay so let’s say you land 1.5 new patients from 50 who meet the criteria.

I said it was a slow burn!

You’ll need to score on Authority, Brand Awareness, Product Awareness, Reputation, Trustworthiness, Relevance, Timing, Price Transparency, Affordability, and SEO Treatment from a targeted prospect ready to buy who uses the internet. … And that’s not my 82 year old mother in law who needs a knee replacement to put an end to her knee pain.

Now a hospital or an ASC has another issue to contend with. Focusing on too many keywords (like all your surgeries, technologies, services,) if you are not already a huge authority website will kill any potentially successful SEO campaign.

As a hospital or ASC, you CAN’T OPTIMIZE EVERYTHING YOU SELL! Choose a maximum of 10 surgical procedures or services or product as your “doorbusters”. Do all the steps that I’ve explained heretofore for at least 3-6 months before giving up.

There’s lots more to know about SEO but I’ve run out of time for today. I hope this article was helpful for you. I don’t sell SEO services, but I am Google-certified in digital marketing. I simply don’t have the time to work as a contractor to “do it for you”. As a consulting expert, I can help you devise a strategy, but you’ll need to seek other talent to deploy the strategy and stay on top of it. I also present a Master Class workshop on this topic from time to time as sponsored by associations and other event organizers.

Please put any questions or comments below or request that I answer you privately. And if you found this article useful, please “like” or “share” on your social and Linkedin channel or feel free to link to this article in your own blog or post in your focus and work groups. You’ll help more people benefit from my information and in turn, let me know which content is most helpful to you so I can create more articles like this one! Thanks in advance!

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Maria is a bestselling author and a top healthcare industry influencer and thought leader. She has excellent references and a huge project portfolio spanning 40+ years in healthcare business development and management.

She holds 25 copyrights, several trademark registrations, and shares several patent applications for software inventions.

She’s been recognized with numerous industry lifetime achievement awards for her work in contracted reimbursement, managed care, physician integration and alignment, and health tourism in the USA and 116 countries. 

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