SEO: More than Just a Traffic Driver for Your Cancer Center

Written by: Elizabeth Whittington at St. Jude and Amy Kleger at Penn Medicine

Understanding the latest Google site core updates

When Google announced a site core update in mid-January, it sent search experts into a frenzy trying to figure out how search will change, even slightly.

For a healthcare brand that relies on search traffic from potential patients, referring physicians and media, understanding search engine optimization (SEO) is important. It’s a lesson not only for marketers, but also for content developers and those in public relations and media relations. Everyone on your communications staff should have at least a basic understanding of search, meta data and keywords to help bring their hospital or healthcare institution to the top of SERP, or search engine results pages.

The Basics of SEO

Search engine optimization is making incremental updates to your content and meta data to rank your web content as high as possible on search engines, such as Google or Bing. The ultimate goal is to have your webpage rank on page 1 for certain key words or phrases without spending advertising dollars.

Consider the following when developing your content:

  • Meta title: This is the title of your page and the title for your search result. Keep it short and to the point. Use key words in your title.
  • Meta description: The description appears in search results below your title.You’ll want to keep your description to 150 characters or Google will cut it off. You’ll also want to include a call to action, such as “Learn more” or “Read about.”
  • Keywords: Use about seven words or phrases that your user would be searching for to find your content.
  • Body Copy: Write for your reader, not the search engine. With that said, try to use keywords and phrases within the article to help Google understand your content.
  • Alt text for images: By using keywords in your images and alt text to explain what is in the image, you can help your images rank in Google Image search and be 508c compliant for those who are visually impaired.
  • Videos: Videos need the same attention as other forms of content. Use engaging headlines, keywords and descriptions.

Frequent Updates from Google

Google makes search updates on a daily basis, but a few times a year, Google makes substantial and noticeable updates to its search algorithm. The company is also somewhat secretive about its algorithm changes, but experts in the field make it their mission to understand the new updates and how to use them to improve search results.

On Jan. 13, Google announced core updates to its search algorithm via its Search Engine Liaison account on Twitter. While it referred users to its August blog post, search experts found several new updates in the following days.

What to Consider After the January 2020 Update

It’s no surprise Google is concentrating on visual search and voice search. Pay attention to your meta data for your images and video. Video search is becoming increasingly important. Knowing that YouTube is the second most popular search engine provides just one reason not to ignore the video platform. To get ahead in voice search, use long-tail phrases (key phrases that are more specific) and questions that one may ask Siri or Alexa.

Google image of pancreatic cancer information right-rail knowledge graph

Google continues to make deeper inroads as the search king. Instead of only providing a list of ranked pages, Google now offers several other features to provide users answers to their search questions quicker and easier—and sometimes without even leaving Google. You can see this in expanded uses of answer boxes, knowledge graphs and refined searches.

It’s also no surprise that mobile usage continues to rise. Making sure your site is mobile optimized and quick to load is becoming an absolute necessity.

The healthcare industry is a perfect example of how people are using these different search features. Users are looking for statistics, symptoms of diseases, treatment options, images, local hospitals and physicians. All  can be found on a quick Google search without clicking on a link.

Google has also expanded the right-rail knowledge graph with this recent core update. Search is becoming not only a traffic driver but can serve as brand authority.

When you search “pancreatic cancer,” a knowledge graph with information from the Mayo Clinic appears in the right column. Although the user may not click through to the Mayo site, it provides the healthcare system brand authority, credibility and recognition.

With this update, and future updates, don’t only focus on how it can increase traffic to your website; keep track of your key word ranking, what your search placement looks like (answer box or knowledge graph, for example), and where you are being surfaced on Google.

With incremental changes to your site and pages, you’ll find your content will creep up the page rankings to number one – and now, beyond.

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