You’ve published your practice Web site for the world to see and (maybe) added your Web site name and Web address to the simple, old-school search engines, such as Google and Yahoo!.

Now, you wait for the hits and click-throughs—potential customers visiting your practice’s Web site and who may be considering your products and services.

In these days of “‘net overload” and with every aesthetic practice and fly-by-night boutique pushing their Internet presence, how can potential customers even find your Web site?

Enter search engine optimization, or SEO. The term describes a process of improving the volume and quality of online traffic to a Web site from Google, Yahoo!, and other search engines. If successful, your site’s link will appear at or near the top of the search results page the Web surfer sees. The higher your site “ranks,” the more searchers will visit your practice’s Web site.

Converting Web Surfers
to New Patients


Quantifying the conversion number from unique Web site visitors to patients is not easy.

Tracking has always been a challenge, although some Internet companies offer improvements for tracking Web site traffic. For example, they may be able to generate e-mail reports that will let you analyze the conversion of e-mails sent by online visitors to your practice from your Internet directory firm’s portal.

The results of this analysis can be remarkable. You cannot quantify the results of visitors who contact you via your Web site; however, if you know that 10 breast augmentation inquires per quarter convert to “x” number of patients via e-mail reporting, then the justification for an Internet expenditure may be worthwhile.

“Even though the conversion number from Web site visitor to e-mail communication may be comparatively small, the conversion from e-mail to patient can be as much as 50%,” explains Munish K. Batra, MD, FACS, of Costal Plastic Surgeons in San Diego.

According to Batra, achieving success in this manner assumes that the consumer has made a buying decision based on information provided by your Web site, and that your practice (or third-party firm charged with processing e-mail for your practice) can convert quality e-mails into patients.

Some Internet developers offer every available online strategy to enhance the Web visitor’s experience via video presentations, discussion forums or chat rooms, blogs, or news feeds to offer timely and topical patient information, and/or social networking to further extend the word-of-mouth referral source. Some companies may use traditional public relations campaigns to promote brand recognition as well.

According to Stephen A. Brown, MD, PC, of Advanced Concepts in Cosmetic Surgery in Hartford, Conn, “The strategies that have worked the best for me include my listing with [the Breast Augmentation & Breast Implants Information Web by Nicole Web site], as well as social networking, linking, and the Google pay-per-click strategy provided by my local techno geek.”

—LR

For instance, SEO techniques have advanced to where they can be applied to more than standard Web pages. SEO might be applied to rate the legitimacy (or accuracy) of site content, track updates to content, or link exchange strategies.

In addition, interactive patient forums, blogs, social networks, videos, pay-per-click advertising campaigns, and more can be “SEO-treated” to help lead new patients to your site.

When a consumer types “breast augmentation” in their Internet browser, do they find your Web site listed on the first page of search results—and at the very top part of the screen? Or, do they find your site via local business searches using search terms such as “San Diego liposuction”? Probably not.

Every day, a gazillion Web pages are indexed, in part, via complex SEO technology that may or may not result in placing your practice’s Web site at the top of search results pages. Success depends on a coherent use of the technology.

HIGH VISIBILITY

According to the 15th Annual Healthcare Information and Manage¬≠ment Systems Society survey, the top three business issues facing health care are reducing medical errors, dealing with cost pressures, and increasing patient satisfaction. Today’s SEO strategies can potentially alleviate such strains.

Finding the right Internet firm to produce quality online educational content, precise search keyword selection, easy Web site navigation, and quality link exchanges is highly desirable.

In addition, the end result of high-ranking search engine visibility can significantly heighten a practice’s office efficiency.

There are alternatives to SEO, too. Some finance companies and independent distributors have developed qualified Internet lead programs—a pay-for-lead strategy versus pay-per-click.

When considering pay-per-lead programs, “It is important to evaluate the company’s track record and the level of support they will provide to you for tracking both quality of leads and the results of the campaign,” says Tom Arthur, CEO of Calliope Media, a San Diego-based Internet firm.

It is important to evaluate any campaigns that your chosen Internet firm uses.

Ask your company rep whether or not it participates in the use of hidden links that can cause “red flags”; cloaking or redirects that are manipulative to the Web user; or the use of irreverent keywords, domains with supplicate content, and the use of doorway pages with little or no content.

If hired, the Internet site-development firm, freelance Web designer, or Internet directory company will try their hardest to put your practice in earned top-ranking positions on the Web.

More than 100 million people have gone online to look for health care options, so the issue becomes how to more effectively connect those people with your practice’s Web site.

As usual, the answer lies in the promise of improved Web technology.

In fact, an evolving extension of the Web is the idea of a “semantic Web”—soon, Web content can be expressed not only in natural language but also in a format that will allow automated software agents to find, share, and integrate information more easily.

Should You Use a
Third-Party SEO Firm?


Going with an Internet directory firm (or an SEO-centric company) may reduce in-house practice time. For example, the time saved can equal the amount of time needed for the physician and administrator to keep up with changes in SEO technology.

As New York City-based surgeon John E. Sherman, MD, FACS, explains, “The average plastic surgeon cannot be kept abreast of the many changes and practices for search engine optimization. A week doesn’t go by without a call from a firm that may charge an exorbitant fee associated with it. The justification of the fee cannot be warranted because there is no way for physicians to verify accuracy of info or validate performance.”

Although SEO techniques are usually limited to creating topical search-engine-friendly content and the placement of hyperlinks on relevant Web sites and news feeds, practices also can use newer online applications, such as blogs, in innovative ways.

“The results of my blog allows for a free-thinking sentiment about plastic surgery,” says Vasdev Rai, MD, FACS, of Dallas. “Visitors to my Web site are serious visitors, open-minded, and come across as enlightened. Today, it’s best to think outside of the box.”

Choosing the right vendor is a multipronged approach. Technology companies are happy to demonstrate their wares, and some software firms trek to meetings and trade shows to try to interest physicians in online solutions.

With so many vendors at your disposal, compare the costs and weigh the benefits of each application.

Don’t underestimate the importance of customer references, which you can get from the vendors. When discussing your needs with vendors, be specific about certain aspects of your practice, including the size, current level of SEO integration, current technology specifications, and the focus of the practice-reimbursed medicine and/or cash pay.

After any vendor demonstration, collect important feedback from your staff—some or all of them may be asked to use whatever technologies you choose.

—LR

“Add this to the introduction of Universal Search, offering results for videos, social bookmarking, topical news results, blogs, forums, and news feeds,” says Lorne Ray, CEO of Cosmepedia, an Internet directory firm.

WHY PURCHASE SEO NOW?

There are numerous reasons why medical practices would want to use SEO services on the Internet. First and foremost is the need to have credibility for your practice on the Internet, to disseminate information about your practice, and to better serve the needs of your customers—the goal of any practice is to always raise patient-satisfaction levels.

For many practices, traditional SEO costs have been prohibitive in a highly competitive marketplace.

New SEO strategies are intended to improve efficiency, produce results, and provide better tracking and reporting—thereby providing a higher return on investment.

In the offices of board-certified aesthetic surgeon Zoran Potparic, MD, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla, office manager Doreen Christopher reports that a local Internet company has used SEO to turn the practice’s Web site “into a streamlined machine.

Add this to our sponsored ad campaign and the updates to Web content that I make myself, [and] we now have first-page visibility within the organic listings of the primary search engines.”

How many of Potparic’s new patients come from the Internet? “As much as 70%,” Christopher claims. “In fact, our Internet-savvy patients often refer at least one friend for a procedure.”

“Of all modalities I have incorporated into my practice over the past several years, including TV and the Yellow Pages, the Internet has consistently been my most efficient modality,” says Joseph F. Serota, MD, FACS, a board-certified surgeon in Denver.

Quantifying this percentage can be a daunting task for any practice. Consumers go to the Internet to find information about procedures they often hear about in the media and probably from a few friends.

They may visit many Web sites, view a wealth of before-and-after photos, and elect to contact a few surgeons when they believe they have received enough information and support to go with a procedure.

Currently, patients participate in other online activities that prompt calls to action, such as blogs, discussion forums, chat rooms, social networks, videos, and news feeds delivered to consumers via e-mail.

After this type of research, consumers may recall only that they saw your Web site and will not necessarily realize that an Internet firm helped bring them to your practice.

An exception to this rule is the occasional firm that has made a significant impact on the patient through traditional public relations strategies and advanced methods for call to action.

CONCLUSION

See also “No More Hide & Seek” by Siobhan Cannon in the April 2006 issue of PSP.

An Internet strategy cannot be ignored. The simplest solutions with firms you trust are the best solutions of all. However, as David Evans, PhD, MBA, CEO of Ceatus Media Group, warns, “The tried-and-true strategies can remain very effective for practices today. There might be a gap between the time that forward-thinking campaigns are available and the time that they produce results.”

The Internet is often the last step that patients take before proceeding with aesthetic procedures. It makes sense that the offer of a greater Internet experience through interactive solutions strengthens the call to action opportunity, provided the price is right.

Make a List, Check It Twice


A priority-based features list, long-term online plan, and budget are equally important in making the best buy in online and SEO technology. Based on an analysis of these issues, you can address other concerns, such as the following:

  1. In how many paid directories and free directories do you want to participate?
  2. Do the directories offer the most advanced strategies for the latest trends—such as patient forums, blogs, social networks, video, and traditional public relations—to complete your online campaigns?
  3. With what kind of firms or social networks do you want to associate? Choose carefully, as your credibility has to remain intact via your partnerships and alliances.
  4. Is it necessary for you to replace your current Internet provider or replace certain applications they now provide?
  5. What are the associated fees for changing pro­viders and maintaining adequate service levels?
  6. What is the conversion process and time commitment for all parties? For example, blogs require ongoing maintenance and a time commitment on the part of a practice staff member.
  7. What are typical stumbling blocks that can be encountered during a provider change? While fees may seem high for SEO services, keep in mind the work required to revamp an unsatisfactory SEO strategy can be very time-consuming for a provider.
  8. Does your Web site meet the search-engine protocols recommended by Google or Yahoo! in their tips for Webmasters?
  9. Do you own your content and have the right to review your content before posting to the Internet? “The laws regarding marketing, content, publishing, and copyrighting vary among states. Your medical license may be on the line should your marketing strategies not be appropriate. In the end, you are responsible for the information you provide in your Web site,” says Ryan Miller, CEO of Etna Interactive, a Web-promotion firm in San Luis Obispo, Calif.
  10. Is there an indemnity clause to protect your practice from possible litigation?
  11. Are there costs associate with software/technology updates? Can you do them yourself, and is a discount available for DIY-type customers?
  12. Is your Web site easy to navigate?
  13. Based on your practice’s focus, how expansive does SEO need to be on your Web site?
  14. How can each Internet or SEO firm you are considering improve your practice’s search engine results or increase the number of online visitors to your Web site?
  15. Does your Internet vendor participate in “red flag strategies” that may result in blacklisting your Web site from search engines?


Lesley Ranft is a contributing writer for PSP. For additional information, please contact [email protected]