Optimize your practice’s Web site so that patients can find you. An expert explains how

A widespread epidemic is affecting plastic surgeons. It’s not new, but it has only recently been detected. In a recent nationwide study examining 10 markers for this disease, 70% of plastic surgeons were found to be in peril.

The disease is poor practice Web sites.

The symptoms are:

• static or declining practice revenues;

• fewer new-patient consultations; and

• obscurity in your local market.

With seven out of 10 Web sites afflicted, not only are you at risk, but the chances are that you’re infected and don’t even know it.

How Can You Find Out?

How do you know if you’re infected? Use this simple test.

Go to your favorite search engine (Google, Yahoo, MSN, or AOL will give the best results), and do a search for your most popular procedure in combination with the city where you practice (such as “breast augmentation Dallas”). Do not search using your name, the name of your practice, or any other information a stranger looking for your services would not know. Now, find your Web site in the top 10 results.

Don’t see your Web site? Then something is seriously wrong with your online marketing efforts. Take some aspirin for your looming headache, and finish reading. This article contains antidotes that can cure your online malady.

A Closer Look

This pandemic was examined in detail by the same researchers who discovered it. Etna Interactive, a California-based Web-design firm specializing in online medical marketing, conducted a nationwide survey of more than 300 board-certified plastic surgeons’ Web sites. Using 10 objective, observable criteria for search-engine optimization (SEO), Etna scored each Web site’s online viability. The average score was 3.22 out of a possible 10 points. 

That is a failing grade—and a metric that equates to online obscurity.

“The shame is that the 10 criteria we examined [see page 94] were just a few simple ways to search-optimize a Web site—the tip of the SEO iceberg,” explains Ryan Miller, president of Etna Interactive. “For example, without location keywords on a page, search engines aren’t likely to list a site among their search results for local searches. Half of the sites we examined failed to feature their office location in page titles or body text.”

Obscurity Hurts Your Business

According to some studies, 80% of computer owners use the Internet to find physicians and research medical procedures. With Internet access in nearly three out of four homes in the United States, that is a lot of prospective patients. In most cities and towns, that means the Internet has the potential to help your practice reach more potential patients than virtually any other medium.

Most plastic surgeons already recognize the value of a Web site for educating current patients and attracting new ones. A Web site is a platform to showcase your work, a crucial opportunity to differentiate your practice from your local competitors, and an affordable way to make a lasting connection with patients. “But it’s none of these things if nobody sees it,” Miller decries.

Once your Web site has been created, the primary focus of your online efforts needs to be getting all of those potential patients to see it.

This means you must take an active approach to attracting the search engines and use thoughtful techniques to earn high rankings. “When it comes to search-engine marketing, there is no such thing as a passive approach,” Miller explains. “Either you’re doing it or you aren’t.”

Miller reminds plastic surgeons and other elective health care providers that the search engines are in the business of organizing online information to make it accessible and useful to searchers—your potential patients. “Top search-engine rankings are earned, not deserved. It’s not the search engine’s responsibility to help your practice grow,” Miller elaborates. “The onus is on the Web-site owner to fill their site with well-written content that explains what you do, where you are, and who you serve.”

The trend toward locating and consulting competent professionals found via the Internet is only going to accelerate. Many physicians are already dropping their Yellow Pages ads and redirecting the funds into active SEO programs.

Underperformers

Miller found himself puzzled by the low grades reported in his own study. “Given that surgeons are among the highest-achieving professionals in our society, with reputations for performing at peak levels in many areas, we had to ask ourselves, ‘Why did the majority of plastic surgeons receive failing grades?’ Clearly, a practice’s Web site and how it performs in search engines is important. So why are so many surgeons so ill-prepared?”

Ten Criteria for SEO Success
Criterion What To Do Screening
Home-page title Go to your home page. Look at the title text at the very top of your Web browser. Does your title include at least oneregional and one industry keyword?For example, “Jane Smith, MD—Plastic Surgeon in Chicago, Ill.”
Meta descriptions On every page:Look for the

“description”

Is every Meta description one short,concise sentence that relates directly to the content of the page? It should also restate your primary keyword focus for that page.
Meta keywords On every page:Look for the

“keywords”

Are there no more than 10 to 12 keywords listed, and are those keywords specifically relevant to this unique page?
Keywords in thebody of the page On every text page:Read the body content for keyword phrases. Do your procedure pages include regional keywords?
Substantial text For every text page: Does the page consist of at least 250 words of well-written, correctly spelled text?
Your address On every page:Look for your full address pre-s
ent on every page of your site.Determine if your address is text or an image by using your mouse to highlight just one part of your address. With text, one word at a time will be highlighted. However, an image will highlight as one large block.
Is your full address present in plain text somewhere on every page? First, find your address. Then, verifythat it is plain text and not an imageof words. Search engines cannot read images.
Site map Go back to your home page:Look for a site map. It is usually at the bottom of the page. Do you have a site map that lists all your pages as links the search engines can read?
HTML On every page:Scroll through the HTML sourcecode to see if there is any extraneous code. (If you don’t know HTML, don’t try this.) Is your HTML source code free of extra and unnecessary tables, font tags, and nonbreaking spaces?
Headings On every page:Look for H1, H2, and H3 tags. Are you using H1, H2, and H3 tags to identify keyword-rich headings on your text pages?
JavaScript and Style sheets On every page:Make sure that JavaScript and Style sheets are not kept on the page. (They should be kept in external files.) Are JavaScript and Style sheets keptin external files?

The first answer to Miller’s question might be a lack of understanding. It’s actually quite simple for Web sites to meet the 10 criteria for search-engine readiness examined in the study, once surgeons understand what the criteria are.

Then there is the time factor. “Preparing a site to succeed online takes an understanding of how search engines work and a fair amount of time—both of which are in short supply in the average plastic surgery practice,” Miller confirms.

“In many practices,” he continues, “the whole staff is short on time. And few practice employees have the commitment or motivation to take on the added respon­sibility for the success of the practice’s Web site.”

Don’t Skimp

Many plastic surgeons also make the mistake of entrusting their online activities to the lowest bidder. “Beware of novices,” Miller warns. “Just like in the operating room, experience and education play a major role in online outcomes. And bad search-engine optimization, like bad surgery, can really hurt. Choosing the best partner doesn’t have to be about finding someone in your local area, either. Face time means nothing if the firm you choose lacks the experience to make optimization work for you.”

Miller also advises against the “weekend warrior” mentality. “Those do-it-yourself software packages rarely deliver the kind of sites that rank well in search engines,” he says.

The best advice is to hire a professional. Just as your potential patients have to search to find the best plastic surgeon for the procedures they want, so too should you engage in finding an SEO vendor who will provide you with impeccable service.

Miller suggests, “Find an adviser with an understanding of medical-marketing guidelines and knowledge of search-engine-marketing strategies. Find someone who will not only help you connect with more patients, but will liberate your time to conduct both consultations and surgery.”

If hiring a professional is not possible yet, use the following 10 tips for optimizing your Web site. (See the table, “Ten Criteria for SEO Success,” on page xx.) Pass these tips along to your Web site designer. Make sure whomever you are paying to maintain your Web site is meeting these most basic criteria.

Examine Your Site

To determine your Web site’s viability, use the table interactively online. Give yourself a “1” for every yes answer and a “0” for every no answer. Where matters of coding are concerned, if you don’t understand what to look for and you have a Web-site professional, make sure he or she checks the last three coding criteria for your site.

To view the source code for your Web site, go to any page on your site, use the “View” pull-down menu on your toolbar, and click on “View Source.” A pop-up screen will show you all the source code used to create the Web page.

How does your site score on these 10 basic criteria?

Get “Vaccinated” Now!

By addressing Miller’s 10 basic criteria for optimizing your Web site for search-engine success, you are taking the first step toward harnessing the full power of the Internet to grow your practice.

As a surgeon, you know that paying attention to the important details makes the difference between an elegant surgery with beautiful results and a mediocre one. If your Web site has failed any of these 10 criteria, think of it as a patient in need of attention. Schedule the necessary procedures today. PSP

Siobhan Cannon is a contributing writer for Plastic Surgery Products.

About the Study

Search engines are text engines. They cannot see pictures, video, flash animation, or any text stored in an image. At the most basic level, search engines assess the words and phrases on a Web page looking to match the queries entered by searchers.

The 10 criteria established by Etna Interactive for the study examine search-engine readiness and not design quality, which means the study evaluates content and coding but not aesthetics.

—SC