Medical SEO: 7 Steps to Improve Ranking

Medical SEO has become a necessity that should be part of every well developed medical marketing strategy. The healthcare industry is ever-changing, and at an incredibly accelerated pace in 2021.

Today, when customers start their journey for healthcare services, prescriptions, therapies, or other medical needs, the first step is normally taken on their laptop or mobile device.

According to reports from Datareportal, “81% of people search online for a product or service“. That’s a lot of potential customers taking their first steps online, so that’s where you need to be.

Users enter their query (a question) in one of the common search engines such as Google, GoDaddy, Yahoo, or Bing, and then pick from the website links that appear on the search results page – otherwise known as a SERP.


Think Like Your Target Audience

When trying to understand what a potential customer will do online, it’s a good rule of thumb to simply think back to what you would do as a prospective customer.

  • When you enter something into Google or Bing, how many pages do you scroll through to get an answer to your query?
  • Where on the screen do you tend to click most frequently?
  • What entices you to click on websites?

In answering these questions, we can begin to understand why SEO for medical practice and healthcare is critical.

Most people don’t tend to click past the first page, so that’s where your website needs to be when your customers type in a query related to your business or products.

SEO for medical products or centers of care can be more challenging than other fields, as there are additional regulations and policies in place. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t start ranking for the keywords you want. Because of the complexities, many medical companies turn to healthcare digital marketing agencies like ours.


1) Perform a Medical SEO Needs Assessment 

When beginning to plan your SEO strategy, the first thing you need to do is figure out what your goals and needs are:

  • Do you want to focus on ranking for your business name and improving your brand presence?
  • Are you focused on ranking for healthcare, pharmaceutical, life science, biotech or other synonymous keywords?
  • Or, are you focused on gaining some organic traffic for specific product keywords?
  • Looking to generate patient traffic, in order for them to have a brand-specific conversation with their doctors?
  • Are you looking to get more conversions for newsletter or email subscriptions?
  • Do you want to increase scripts from a certain segment of HCPs?
  • Would you like to attract new potential patients or HCP/business customers?


Questions to Ask Yourself

If any of the above are goals you’d like to achieve, healthcare and medical SEO experts can begin to formulate a plan and move to more specific follow up questions. Think about the following before forging ahead:

  • Who is, directly and indirectly, competing with you? What are their websites and/or company names?
  • Who is your current target audience?
  • Who else, ideally, do you want to be visiting and engaging with your website? Are there multiple groups?
  • What is remarkable about your brand, product, or service?
  • What is your company’s vision and mission? Specify the marketable features of your product/service.
  • What are the search terms that are unique to your customer or patient experience?

Done answering these? Great!

You’re ready for the next step, and if you’re working with marketing experts, they are too!


2) Set Up A Google Analytics & Google Tag Manager (GTM) Tracking Plan

Platforms and Tools required for setup:


Performance Dashboard Google Search Console Comparison of Total Clicks, Total impressions and Average CTR

Google Search Console Dashboard Showing a Performance Report


These are all great ways to set benchmarks and track your search engine optimization goals on a regular basis. If you are unable to do these in-house, turn to a medical digital marketing agency for help.


3) Run a Website Audit 

A healthcare or medical SEO audit is a fantastic way to attain an inside look at how your website is performing.

SEMRush is a multi-faceted tool that allows SEO experts to check a number of things on your website domain.


SEM Rush Dashboard

SEO Audit Domain Overview Example from SEMRush


A domain overview on SEMRush will show, amongst other things, these 3 key insights and metrics:

  1. Authority Score- the overall quality of a website. This score tends to take in the following: domain authority, page authority, total backlinks, quality backlinks and more! To run an audit on your site for free, checkout Website SEO Checker.
  2. Organic Search Traffic- the amount of traffic you receive in a set time from people searching keywords that your page organically ranks for in SERPs. To check this for free, add the Google Analytics tracking code to your website. Need help? Have your developer do this for you. Once this is done, you can see real-time information on how users interact with your site. To see individual queries, make sure to connect Google Analytics to your Google Search Console.
  3. Backlinks- the links from other websites that lead to your own site. For example, if you were covered by a news outlet and they linked to your website in the article, that would be considered a backlink. To check this for free you can use Siteliner. Siteliner will also show you the total number of links on your webpage along with the median for all other sites, page load time and more so you can set appropriate goals.

After performing a domain overview, you can dive even deeper.


4) Conduct Thorough Search Engine Optimization Keyword Research

Thorough keyword research is a ranking factor that Google takes into account when scoring the quality of your website. Have you ever scrolled to the bottom of a SERP page to see the section labeled “Searches related to”? Pulling synonymous search terms from this section is just one of the many ways to do some research before deciding on the keywords you want to rank for.

You can click on these different terms at the bottom to get even more “Searches related to” keywords, and there are also audit tools as mentioned above for this.


SEM rush Medical Research

Keyword Magic Tool for SEO


SEMRush has several great sections including the “Keyword Gap” and “Keyword Magic” tools. Google Trends is another free resource that allows you to see upcoming or past keyword trends.

Every page on your site should be tailored around a single keyword.

When brainstorming medical SEO keywords, make sure to think about this in terms of specific search queries. In other words, what would someone actually be typing into a search bar to find you or your products online?


Google Trends Medical SEO

Google Trends Medical SEO Keyword Dashboard


If you are looking to rank for “development of new cancer therapies,” for instance, try focusing on something like “cancer treatment centers near x”, instead of attempting to rank for “solid tumors” or other keywords that include medical industry jargon that a patient wouldn’t use.


5) Pinpoint Search Intent 

Search intent is a critical SEO factor.

Having superior search intent technology is vital for search engines to make money and attract users. When users can find exactly what they are looking for, with the least amount of effort and time, they’ll continue to use that search engine. In turn, Google, Bing and Yahoo reward sites with better positioning in SERPs if they do a good job with their search intent strategy.

Search intent is the “why” and the context behind the actual search phrase or query.

For example, the search query “eczema cream” could have multiple intents behind it:

  • Someone is attempting to understand what eczema cream is and what it does
  • There is a website called “eczema cream” that the person is trying to locate
  • A buyer is in the market for eczema creams and wants to see which brand has the best product
  • A buyer is in the market for eczema cream and wants to purchase a specific product
  • Someone is trying to find a picture of eczema cream


Types of Intent

The first example is called Informational Intent, meaning the user is still trying to gather more information on the search query. To rank for this, it’s good to include QA formatting with words like “why”, “how”, “where” and “when”.

The second type of intent is called Navigational Intent. This is when a web visitor is attempting to locate a specific website or page on the web that they are already familiar with. To rank in this category, focus on the branding of your company and/or products. Make sure you’re including those keywords in content and meta tags throughout the whole site.

Thirdly, Transactional Intent is when a buyer knows what they want and is looking to purchase, this is different from Commercial Investigation, when a user is still looking for more information on a variety of products before deciding to purchase. Some words associated with this type of intent are “best”, “cheapest”, “recommended”, “top”, etc. Commercial Investigation also differs from Informational Intent because the user is at a different point in the consumer funnel. They already have a general idea of what they want to buy, they just don’t know what specific product is right for them.

The last one is not an official intent term but we’ll call it Resource Intent because this is a common theme among many queries. Resource intent is when a user is looking to gain a resource for a project, presentation or another piece of work. Some examples of this would be an infographic or picture for a slideshow or checklist. If you want to be a known resource for some of these materials, start to sprinkle them throughout your site and provide easily downloadable buttons.

So if you only have one product, do not try and rank for “best” or “top” because the intent behind this type of user is most likely Commercial Investigation and they’re going to want to see a variety of products.

If it is really important for you to rank for this keyword, the suggestion would be to have a specific blog post that includes competitor products so that the intent matches the information they’ve provided.

Additionally, you have to take into account more than just the keyword you want to show up. You need to look at context and user history patterns. SERPs for the keyword you want to rank for is a great place to start to glean some of this information. Start to see what articles appear for a keyword like “medical SEO”.


Google Search Engine "medical seo" first page

“Medical SEO” SERP on Google


We can see here that the top ranking websites’ intent are 1) how to improve medical SEO and 2) companies that can help you achieve better SEO. If you were writing a blog to rank for “medical SEO,” you would want it to match one or both of these intents. It’s important not to write content for a keyword that does not match the current top SERPs’ intent; if you do this, you may never even make it onto the first page, even if you follow all the other rules of SEO.


6) Implement On-Page SEO 

What makes up on-page SEO? We briefly mentioned backlinks in the above section, which are a foundational element. With that in mind, there are different types of SEO links to pay attention to:

  • Internal Links- make sure the pages of your own website link to each other in a way that improves the user’s experience and makes it easy to find relevant information. When you have a link to your blog on your home page, this is an example of an internal link.
  • Outbound/External Links- links that take the user to other websites. These links should be synonymous or relevant to the information you have on your own website. Google likes it when there are external links because it helps search engines get a better idea of what your site is about. When Google understands the intention of a site better, they feel more comfortable sending other users there. But be careful! If you link to sites with bad domain authority (DA) scores, it could hurt the DA of your own site, so make sure to always check the DA score before creating an external link.

In order to improve your SEO, make sure you are meeting all linking benchmarks. You can find these benchmarks by using SEMRush or Siteliner. Other on-page SEO includes meta descriptions, page titles, section headers, alt tags, rich snippets, and content. Make sure you are including all these components when doing SEO for doctors or other healthcare organizations.

Google scans websites according to an algorithm. The first step is finding out what pages exist on the web. As mentioned before, you can directly tell Google not only what pages are on your website, but specifically which ones you want to be crawled using an XML sitemap.

Once Google is crawling your site, it takes a close look at the following, so make sure you’re using your selected keywords in these critical SEO locations:

  • URL
  • Page titles
  • Meta descriptions
  • Section headers
  • Alt tags
  • Rich snippets
  • On-page content

Don’t “keyword stuff” in these sections, meaning only add your keywords when it makes logical sense, follows grammatical rules, and helps explain to Google (and other search engines) what is on each webpage. Every page on your site should have all of these seven key areas filled out.

Make sure to consider section headers (like h1s, h2s & h3s) when creating a website design and keyword placement when drafting your on-page content. It’s best to have your main keyword appear in the first sentence of your content. It’s also a good rule of thumb to match your meta description with the first paragraph of content on each page.


7) Off-Page SEO for Healthcare & Medical Websites

To improve your search rankings, there are more than on-page SEO requirements to take into consideration.

Backlink/Inbound links are also important. When another website links to your website, this is an example of a backlink. High domain authority backlinks can be great for helping you move up in SERPs. If your SEO audit shows a toxic backlink, you can go to Google Search Console to submit a list of “Disavow” backlinks.

Backlinks are considered off-page SEO because it’s an improvement for which you have to do work “off the website.”

Some common ways to gain backlinks are:

  • Press releases
  • Directory listings
  • Brand mentions
  • Social media
  • Guest blogging

Lastly, as part of any off-page search engine optimization effort, every medical and healthcare brand needs to consider reputation management.  This means looking at more than adverse medical events in online reviews and digging into the SEO benefits – use these reviews to find clues as to how to improve your product or sites.


Now You’re Ready to Get Started

In summary, there are many different aspects you need to take into account when creating your SEO strategy. It’s always a good rule of thumb to start with the needs assessment, so keep this at the forefront of your mind while you continue through the next steps. Setting up tagging plans can be a bit complex, but it’s essential to get a deeper insight into your website’s performance, and it’s also necessary to track certain crucial benchmarks. Don’t skip this step!

When running a website audit, recall the free resources available and then if you need more access, checkout the paid options. Remember that keyword research is never complete without complimentary search intent research. Implementing on and off-page SEO is your last prerogative, but the work doesn’t end there. Like with any good marketing strategy, make sure to check your performance and ensure that your strategy continues to align with your initial needs assessment.

XDS is currently handling ongoing SEO efforts for health and wellness companies big and small – from biopharma start-ups, major device companies and big pharma. Want to learn more about SEO for healthcare? Or need help with any of these steps? Reach out to The Experience Design Studio today.



Sarah Polega, Engagement Strategist
Sarah is a search engine optimization marketer and strategist, with local, national and global SEO experience from working at boutique agencies, large organizations in Detroit as well as innovative start-ups. With expertise in the medical, insurance, and automotive industries, she has crafted redistribution plans for General Motors, among others. When she’s not traveling around the world, Sarah focuses her effort on individually tailored SEO, SEM and Web Analytics strategy while helping XDS clients such as Shockwave Medical and Rubius Therapeutics.