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Kelly McCormick
March 16, 2021

The internet has changed how patients find their doctors. Just a few years ago, patients would use the old-fashioned phone book to find healthcare, and a physician referral was the main way patients would find gastroenterologists and other specialists. Today, patients just type a couple of key words and phrases into Google or other search engines to find an endless list of healthcare professionals in their area. Indeed, digital marketing has changed the way patients find health information and doctors.

In fact, Google receives more than a billion health questions every day.

Why SEM?

Simply getting your practice on the internet is not enough to draw patients to your endoscopy clinic, though – your practice has to be on the first page of search engine results to tempt potential patients into clicking on your website. Better still, your practice should be in the #1 spot: More than a quarter of searchers will click through on the first Google result, according to Search Engine Journal. The click through rate drops dramatically, with the second website listed winning only 15 percent of the clicks and third place garnering a mere 11 percent. The sites sitting in the tenth spot won a dismal 2.5 percent click through rate (CTR).

Appearing on Google search results is free and getting to the top of the first page of results requires a little planning. Marketing professionals employ several techniques, known collectively as search engine marketing (SEM), to get websites noticed. They may use search engine optimization (SEO) to get websites to the top of the free, or organic, search results. Marketing pros can also help GI practices appear on paid searches, also known Pay Per Click (PPC); these sites usually appear at the top of search engine results with the word “Ad” in bold text. Many practices use a combination of SEO and paid advertisement to attract patients to their website.

How Search Engines Work

In the simplest of terms, Google and other search engines work by “crawling” web pages. The web crawlers, known as bots or spiders, download the web page and follow the links on the page to discover newly added pages. The search engines then add the page to a data structure, known as an index. The index contains a number of important characteristics about the page, such as the type of content it contains and the date of its most recent update. The index offers insight into what users did once they landed on the page, such as how long they stayed and where visitors went when they left.

Some of the SEO strategies involve placing bits of code into the website to make it easier to crawl and faster to download; other strategies involve using great content, page titles and descriptions that crawlers can index. Snippets of information that answers specific questions are also important. Google uses these snippets to search for answer that patients may pose, such as “What is a colonoscopy?” Virtual assistants, such as Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri and Google’s Assistant, will return these snippets.

Keywords and key phrases are also important, and have been the mainstay of search engine optimization for years. Users type these keywords into search engines to find specific information, and the search engines return websites that fit those keywords. Depending on the practice, keywords might include:

  • Gastroenterologist
  • GI doctor
  • GERD
  • Colonoscopy
  • Endoscopy
  • Colon cancer

Adding keywords describing location is also important. For example, a GI practice in Los Angeles may want to use the phrase “gastroenterologist in LA.”

Hierarchy Matters

If you ever took a psychology course, you may be familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, a theory that prioritizes a handful of fundamental needs (such as food and water) over other secondary needs (such as love and self-esteem). The idea is that a strong structure needs to fulfill its basic needs before it can reach its secondary needs. Search engines also utilize a hierarchy of needs. Many SEM marketers describe the search engine hierarchy as a pyramid, with the most important steps at the bottom.

The steps differ depending on the SEM marketer you are talking to; the steps involve moving from the bottom fundamental needs to the top of the pyramid involve:

  1. Making your website accessible to web crawlers, with plenty of links that take the bots and spiders from one page to another
  2. Frequent addition of fresh content that closely matches the users’ search queries
  3. Keyword optimized to attract patients searching the internet and search engines
  4. Great user experience, which involves a website that loads quickly and is easy to navigate
  5. Compelling content that users love to share and cite
  6. Accurate titles, website names (URLs), and descriptions to draw high CTR in the rankings
  7. Snippets that stand out

Pay to Play PPC Marketing for Gastroenterologists

PPC is a marketing model in which GI clinics and other advertisers pay each time a user clicks on one of the online ads, hence the name “pay-per-click.” There are several types of PPC ads, but paid search ads are the most common. These ads appear alongside organic results when users enter keywords into a search engine. The search engine displays the PPC ads at the top of or within the list of organic search results.

Banner ads and remarketing are other types of PPC. Banner ads appear on other related web sites; a GI practice might place banner ads on the local hospital website, for example, or on a city services website. Remarketing is an approach that advertises to people who have already been on your website. Ads for your website might show up for your previous visitors when they go to Facebook, for instance.

The best SEM strategies incorporate both organic search results and pay-per-click strategies. While it is possible for everyday people to incorporate search engine marketing strategies into their businesses or gastroenterology practices, researching and developing effective keyword lists, creating a steady stream of great content, embedding snippets of crawler-friendly code, purchasing and developing PPC ads, and creating an excellent user experience takes considerable time. Many professionals turn to SEM professionals who can quickly generate keyword lists, add the necessary content and coding to websites, and create PPC ads that really work.


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