Search Engine Results Guide
A guide to what patients see when they search Google for medical practices and physicians.
We’ve worked with hundreds of practices across the country, providing websites and online marketing services via our P3 platform.
Although every practice is different and has different needs, we often get questions like, “Why isn’t my website showing up in Google?” or “How do I get my website listed on the first page of Google?”
Often, the answer to that question isn’t so simple. There are several factors that play into Google ranking, and Google isn’t completely forthcoming on exactly how they rank websites in search results.
While we can’t give a definitive answer on what practices need to do to get their websites on the first page of Google search results, we wanted to identify common factors among top-ranking practice websites. No one can guarantee a spot on the first page of Google results (and we strongly suggest you run from any marketing company that does promise that), but by studying the top sites currently in search results, we can start to identify common patterns.
Before we dive into our findings, we want to provide some detail on how we approached this project. Search engine results are constantly changing, and this is something that we encourage you to try on your own as you devise an online marketing strategy for your practice.
To compile this information, we reviewed the search engine results pages in the top 10 U.S. markets for physicians in the following specialties: orthopedics, gastroenterology, podiatry, cardiology, urology, dermatology, dentistry, and plastic surgery.
After finding our top 10 U.S. markets, we identified our keywords. For consistency, we wanted to keep the keyword format as close as possible, so we used the format “type of specialist+city.” For example when searching for an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles, we used the keyword “orthopedic surgeon los angeles.”
Next, we conducted our searches. We used the incognito mode on our browsers to conduct these searches, because your browser does not save your browsing history while incognito mode. This is helpful for this type of search, because your prior search and browsing history can affect the search engine results you see in the normal browsing mode. With incognito mode, you essentially have a clean slate and are able to get a more accurate sense of that actually shows up in search results for a particular keyword.
Now, let’s get into the results.
1. Results were a mix of medical practice websites, hospitals/health systems, and review/directory sites.
The search results for the specialties we investigated all had a diverse mix of options. Medical practice websites were, of course, included in the results, but there were other options as well. Hospitals and large healthcare groups also showed up in search results if they offered services within a particular specialty. In most cases, the page for that particular department would be the page that showed up in search results.
Review and directory sites were also very common in search results for each specialty and market. Review sites are the sites that allow patients to review their physicians, including Healthgrades, RateMDs, Yelp, and Vitals. These sites will then compile lists of specialists within a particular location, and those lists show up in search results.
Directory sites are similar to review sites in that they provide lists of doctors within a particular specialty and location. However, they do not provide user-submitted patient reviews. Examples of these sites can include national sites like Super Doctors and U.S. News Health Care, or local websites like Washingtonian (in Washington, DC) and Boston Magazine (in Boston, MA).
To the rightBelow is what the first page of organic results look like for the search query “gastroenterologist boston”.
All of this means that practices are competing with more than just other practices to get onto the first page of search results. They also have to contend with hospitals, large healthcare groups, review sites, and local directories.
2. Hospitals and larger medical practices tend to show up in search results more frequently than smaller, independent practices.
Overall, there were more hospital and large group practices (with 5 or more physicians) in search results than small, independent practices. Perhaps these larger practices have strength in numbers, and it is more difficult for a single physician or even a few physicians to compete with several physicians at once.
It also may have to do with the fact that the healthcare industry as a whole is trending toward larger practices. In 2016, Becker’s Hospital Review reported that the majority of physicians are turning toward employment with larger practices and hospitals. It was projected that the number of physicians in private practice would drop to 33% by the end of 2016. With more and more physicians stepping away from private practice, there may simply be fewer private practices available to compete.
However, we did still see private practices show up in search results, so ranking in search results is still attainable for smaller practices.
To the rightBelow is an example of what the first page of organic results looks like for the search query “orthopedic surgeon houston”. Two independent practices showed up in search results, with one showing up twice. In smaller markets, there were higher instances of practice websites in search results.
3. On average, review sites and directories take up about half of the spots on the first page of organic search results.
Not including paid search and map listings, Google displays 10 organic search results per page. On average, we saw 4-5 review site and directory listings in search results for every specialty and market we looked at. With the prevalence of these type of sites in search results, that only leaves about 5-6 spots (and even fewer spots in some markets) for hospitals, health systems, and medical practices.
With fewer spots available on the first page of search results, practices will need to work even harder on their online marketing to obtain one of the coveted first-page spots. Simply having a website is not going to cut it in most markets--practices need to focus on content and modernizing their websites to rank in more competitive markets (more on that later).
This also means that practices need to focus their marketing efforts beyond just their websites to get noticed in search results. A practice may not be able to outrank all of the review and directory sites, but they can work toward a spot on those “best of” lists. Most review and directory sites allow physicians and practices to link their websites to their listings, so there is still an opportunity to get patients to your practice’s website even if they click on the review sites in search results.
Some practices avoid getting involved with review sites because there is little control over what patients can say in reviews. However, most practices that do encourage online reviews from patients find that the vast majority of reviews are positive. Furthermore, practices that work to claim and fill out their profiles on these review and listing sites often find that they get a boost in ranking. When other credible sites link to your website, it can help your ranking in Google. Having lots of good reviews can also help your practice stand out on these websites.
Review sites don’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. The chart below shows some of the most popular review sites. To obtain this data, we looked at a few sources First, we looked at the Alexa Score. The Alexa Score is a ranking of the most popular and highly-visited websites, based on the amount of traffic the site has. As you’ll see below, Yelp has an Alexa Score of 40, which means that it is the 40th most popular website in the country.
Next, we looked to Moz, an SEO software service, to determine the Root Domains Linking to each site. This number tells us how many outside websites are linking to each website. Finally, we turned to another SEMRush, another SEO tool, to get an estimate of the Monthly Organic Traffic to each review site. These numbers refer only to visitors who found each site organically, rather than through another avenue like paid search or a referral.
|Site||Alexa Score||Root Domains Linking (Moz)||Monthly Organic Traffic (SEMRush)|
As you can see, review sites are getting a lot of traffic. Like it or not, patients often consult review sites when searching for a physician. Practices that embrace and encourage online reviews are setting themselves up for greater success in search results.
4. The vast majority of physicians and practices listed in the Google Map results had websites linked to the listings.
When searching in every market and specialty, there were always 3 Google map listings at the top of the results page. Google map listings can list either a practice or an individual physician, and usually include the practice’s address, phone number, and star rating based on Google reviews, as well as a link to driving directions and the practice/physician’s website where available.
Of all of the specialties and markets we reviewed, we only saw about 6 instances where a map listing did not have a website available, like the example to the rightbelow.
How did these practices and physicians make it into the top 3 map results without a website? Since Google is fairly secretive about all of their ranking factors, we can’t say with 100% certainty why some map listings had no websites, especially when there were other practices with websites that could have been shown there.
However, we also noticed that nearly all of the listings without websites had Google reviews. Again, we can’t say with 100% certainty, but it appears that the reviews users leave directly on the Google map listings do affect map ranking.