May 2, 2023

Medical SEO fundamentals to get more patients and grow your practice

Don’t know how to get new patients to your website (and into your practice)? Start with search engine optimization. Learn medical SEO basics here.

As a provider, patient care is a top focus. But a thriving practice needs patients for whom to care. That’s why marketing practices like search engine optimization (SEO) are so critical to provider success and growth.

But what are the medical SEO fundamentals?

What is medical SEO?

SEO is a series of marketing tactics that improve a website’s ranking, or how high it appears, on search engine results pages (SERP). Focusing on medical SEO will help to improve your ranking for certain key healthcare-related terms.

You can use several tactics to optimize your website for better search results, including:

First, here’s why doctors should spend their medical practice’s time on SEO.

Why is SEO for doctors so important?

As an independent practitioner, it can be hard to commit to learning more complicated marketing tactics. You want to spend more time working with patients, not trying to get them in the door. 

“77% of patients search online for doctors either often or sometimes.”

4th annual Patient Perspectives report


But patients today have higher expectations of their healthcare providers. In competitive markets, you need to do what you can to attract new patients. And since nearly 90% of providers say they’re in a competitive market, invest in basic marketing tactics to keep up with and stand out from the competition. 

SEO is just the start.

Around 77% of patients search online for doctors either often or sometimes, according to Tebra’s 4th annual Patient Perspectives report. Those numbers jump even higher among Millennials and Gen Z — they search online 85% and 81%, respectively.

So when patients search online for a healthcare provider, practices that invest in medical SEO tactics will appear higher in the search rankings, get more website traffic, and attract more new patients.

Common medical SEO tactics

SEO isn’t just one thing — it’s a group of different tactics to improve your ranking in search results. Tactics range from quick fixes to long-term campaigns. Here are the top methods to focus on first.

Technical SEO

Want a quick win? Implementing technical SEO tactics can have a big impact on your SEO success. Here are some general strategies with which to start.

  • Optimize website speed: While the Google algorithm is always changing, its primary goal is to serve users exactly what they want and deliver an amazing search experience. What site visitors don’t want is a slow-loading website. Google recommends that sites load in under 2 seconds. Check with tools like PageSpeed to see how fast your site loads and what you can do to improve it.
  • Make your site mobile-friendly: More than half (60%) of web traffic comes from mobile devices. Google will serve mobile-friendly sites first in response to any searches that occur on a mobile device, so if your site isn’t easy to access on mobile, your rankings will dramatically drop. Make sure your website template or design works well for mobile users and uses responsive design.
  • Implement HTTPS: While it’s a little more complicated if you don’t already have one, adding an SSL/TLS certificate from a trusted certificate authority to your website will help ensure your website is secure. Since Google and other search engines want to know they’re sending users to trusted sites, those without HTTPS will see a boost in their SERP rankings after implementing it.
  • Improve website accessibility: Accessibility is particularly important for medical SEO since you want people of all abilities to be able to use your site with relative ease. Ensuring accessibility is by no means a quick fix since it requires choosing specific colors, text sizing, adding alt text to images, and considering many other design and content elements. But it’s certainly worth it to ensure all your patients can access your site — and good alt text can also boost your SEO.
  • Fix broken links: Fixing broken links won’t have as much impact on SEO as some of these other methods, but it’s an easy way to get a quick win. Look for broken internal, external, and image links to ensure a better user experience and a resulting rankings boost.

On-page SEO 

On-page SEO is often what is most familiar to non-marketers. This entails optimizing individual pages for relevance, usability, and search engine rankings. Here are things you can do on each page to climb the SERP rankings:

  • Build individual service pages: Filling up your website can seem daunting at first, but providing in-depth pages for each of your services serves a dual purpose. It will not only help your medical SEO by allowing you to target keywords relating to that service, but also help your prospects determine if you’re the right fit for them. When patients answered what makes a good healthcare provider website in Tebra’s Patient Perspectives survey, 39% ranked services as the top must-have. Dedicate a page to each service for more SEO opportunities.
  • Write clear meta titles: Your meta tile (or title tag) is what users see first on SERPs. It can be the same as the title that appears at the top of your web page, but you can also change it to be more engaging in search. A good rule of thumb is to keep titles under 60 characters to avoid having the text truncated on smaller screens.
  • Develop keyword-rich meta descriptions: Meta descriptions are the text that appears below the meta title on SERPs. It should quickly summarize the web page topic and include target keywords. 
  • Optimize web page content: Add relevant keywords to your web page content, including medical and local keywords. You should also organize your content using one headline (H1), and a variety of subheaders (H2s and H3s). This helps Google figure out what the page is about and rank it accordingly.
  • Add images: Adding images to your website is a great way to attract patients’ attention. In Tebra’s Patient Perspectives report, 42% of patients said that photos influence their decision when selecting a medical professional. Ensure you include images of your doctors, office staff, and practice.
  • Optimize images: Add descriptive summaries of each image (alt text) so both visitors and search engines can understand your content. Alt text is a text-based description of the image, which helps screen readers explain the image to those who use them. It also helps Google identify what’s in the image and can boost SEO for doctors and medical practices.

Local SEO

Local SEO focuses on ranking high for searches in a specific geographic area. For example, if someone searches “dermatologist + Chicago,” that would pull up all dermatologists within the Chicago area.

Since most medical practices serve specific cities and locations, local SEO is important for connecting with patients. Here are 3 local SEO strategies doctors should employ in 2023.

  • Claim your Google Business profile: Your Google Business profile (formerly Google My Business) is a listing that features your website, address, reviews, images, and other information. It makes it easy for patients and prospects to search for your practice and get quick information. (You’ve probably used this same feature to look up restaurants near you.) Claim your Google Business listing and make sure all your relevant information is there. Be sure to include keywords to give your listing an SEO boost.
  • Use geography-specific keywords: Add your location in different places around your website — not just your contact page. Include your neighborhood, city, and state wherever it makes sense. 
  • Claim your profile in other online directories: Search for your business in other online directories like Yelp, Facebook, WebMD, and Healthgrades. Patients often frequent these sites to look for reviews or leave their own, so make sure your information is correct everywhere online.
Chart of "Top 10 websites patients have posted a review of a healthcare provider / "On which websites have you posted a review of a doctor, dentist, or other provider?" Results follow: 41% Google, 31% practice's website, 21% Facebook, 18% Yelp, 15% WebMD, 12% Healthgrades, 9% not sure, 7% Rate MDs, 5% Rate MDs (sic)

Tebra, 4th annual Patient Perspectives report

Reputation management

Online reviews are critical to private healthcare practice success and medical SEO. Social proof is a key factor in patient decision-making and also impacts your site ranking.

According to Tebra’s Patient Perspectives report, 93% of patients say reviews are at least somewhat important when choosing a healthcare provider.

Your star ratings are important for your reputation, but they’re not the only thing patients consider when looking at reviews. The top 3 things that factor into their decisions are:

  1. How recently the reviews were posted (43%)
  2. Average star rating (38%)
  3. Total number of reviews (15%)

Collecting continuous reviews is important for improving your site authority and attracting new patients.

Patient review best practices

How do you get more patient reviews? You ask for them. More and more patients are willing to leave reviews, and 1 in 3 patients has posted a review of their doctor in the last year. Here are some best practices to encourage your patients to leave and share their experience at your practice:

  • Make it easy to review your practice: Send patients digital surveys after each appointment to collect feedback when it’s still fresh.
  • Use automated request tools: The best way to ensure you don’t forget to ask for feedback? Automate it. Cut out the busywork and embrace automation to request feedback from patients.
  • Offer incentives: Sometimes patients need a little nudge. Host a raffle and enter patients’ names when they complete a review, offer to donate to a charity of their choice, or discount extra services. Just make sure you comply with local laws.

Respond gracefully to bad reviews

Bad reviews happen, but they have no immediate consequences on your medical SEO. As for damage control, the best thing to do with a negative review is to respond to it.

It may seem contrary to your instinct (many people tell you to ignore negative comments), but responding can help your reputation. In fact, 64% of patients say they would go back to a medical practice if the practice responded to their concerns.

Content creation

When Google reviews a site, it considers how recently the content was posted. That’s why blogs and other forms of content are incredibly important to SEO success: they show that your site is active and up to date.

Content marketing is the act of creating helpful, relevant content for your audience, which also happens to provide fresh content for the Google algorithm.

How to create valuable content on a budget

Content marketing can cost you tens of thousands of dollars a year — but it doesn’t have to. You can create quality content and make the most of it with these tips.

  • Trade guest posts: Guest posting is a great way to get more content on your site and earn backlinks while you’re at it. (A backlink is when another website links to yours.) Backlinks build your authority, and if you have fewer than your competitors, it will impact your ranking.
  • Repurpose every piece of content: Don’t just write or commission a blog post and hide it on your website. Use different parts of your content in different ways across your marketing efforts. For example, a blog post can be turned into an infographic, a marketing email, and several social media posts.
  • Refresh content at least once a year: Updating old content is a great way to refresh your site and boost your medical SEO. Go back and flesh out answers to patient questions, update seasonal information, or add new data and tips to older articles.

How long does SEO take to work?

Once you’ve moved past the basics, e.g., a fast-loading site, metadata, and claiming your Google Business listing, SEO is a practice in patience. It takes consistent work to capture more keywords, see your business climb the ranks, and attract more visitors to your site.

Some key factors that might prevent your site from ranking quickly include:

  • Site maturity: How long a website has been active factors into your search ranking. The newer your site, the less authority Google gives you, and the lower you’ll appear in the rankings.
  • Competitors: In a competitive local market, it can be hard to create enough content to keep up with other practices at the top — especially if they’ve been at it for a while.
  • Backlinks: Sites that have been around for longer and have published more quality medical content will have more backlinks than a practice website that’s just starting to pay attention to SEO. 

So how long will it take medical SEO to work? It depends on a number of factors, such as whether you have a dedicated SEO specialist, content writers, a marketing team, etc. Here’s a loose guide as to when you can expect to see results, by tactic:

Month 1: Technical and on-page optimization

  • Fixing technical SEO issues will have fast results on your website. Repair broken links, ensure your site is optimized for mobile, improve your page load speed, and ensure you have website architecture that makes sense.
  • Work through on-page optimizations by adding relevant keywords, meta descriptions, header tags, and linking internally across pages. You should start to see upward movement on those keywords within the first month.
  • Claim your practice’s Google Business profile for a boost within a few days. 

Month 2–3: Content creation

  • Content creation is a long game, but once you’re posting regularly you should start to see results around the 3-month mark. Mix up content between blogs, infographics, videos, case studies, and more to gain traction faster.

Month 4–6: Link building and reputation management

  • Building high-quality backlinks from authoritative websites in the healthcare industry will have a big impact, but it takes time to earn that trust. Create unique, informative content that other websites want to source, guest blog, or reach out to others in the medical field to be featured on other sites.
  • Positive reviews across popular medical review sites will impact your search ranking. Make sure to ask patients for reviews and monitor review sites regularly.

Frequently asked medical SEO questions

Still wondering how to make medical SEO work for your practice? Take a look at these frequently asked questions.

Q: Does posting a lot of new content matter for SEO?

A: Posting new content impacts your success, but it’s not the only factor. Take on what your medical practice is comfortable with and commit to consistent quality content.

Q: Are there search engines other than Google I should try to rank my practice on?

A: Google is the most popular search engine, so we recommend you spend most of your time and efforts there. However, there are other search engines like Bing and Yahoo, and other places people conduct searches, like Yelp, Instagram, and TikTok. Make sure you claim your listing across search engines and directories to cover your bases.

Q: I need help! What should I look for in an SEO service?

A: Experience in SEO is critical, but an understanding of the healthcare industry is even more so. When vetting any service to support your practice growth, look for healthcare-specific experience or past clients, comprehensive data security where relevant, and strict compliance.

Q: Who can I hire for healthcare SEO expertise?

A: Tebra is a full-service healthcare operating platform that’s invested in healthcare practice growth.

Q: Is there a quick way to keep track of all my SEO checklist items?

A: Visit and download Tebra’s free and comprehensive medical SEO checklist for independent practices.

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