Local search is still a relatively untapped source of new patients — here’s how medical marketers take advantage of this fact. As the internet continues to play an increasingly important role in the new path to treatment, digital marketing has emerged as the most effective means for getting new patients through the door. And yet, the vast majority of medical enterprises have failed to capitalize on this trend, and many now-highly-trafficked digital channels are being overlooked — in particular, local search has been woefully underutilized. Despite the incredible potential that local search has to offer, medical companies are still allocating a relatively meager 16% of their ad spend to these channels, according to BIA/Kelsey. Considering 156 million prospective patients are currently online and in need of treatment now, 77% of whom begin their path to treatment with a search engine, says Google, the door is clearly wide open for medical marketers to reap the benefits.
Paths Have Changed
According to Google, this underinvestment in digital advertising can be explained by the fact that the patient path to treatment only evolved quite recently. For decades, healthcare marketers have steadfastly relied on traditional media channels such as print, local TV, radio, and billboards. Back then, according to the Content Marketing Institute the path to treatment looked like the traditional Procter & Gamble, “Moment of Truth” model:
- Stimulus: you get sick
- First Moment of Truth: in seeking options for care, you perhaps remember a local ad or ask family/friends for advice
- Second Moment of Truth: you receive care and report on it
However, beginning in 2006, the rapid proliferation of the internet has fundamentally altered how consumers make decisions about their health — as such, the path to treatment now more closely resembles Google’s “Zero Moment of Truth” model:
- Stimulus: you get sick
- Zero Moment of Truth: you go online to start the search process, consulting a variety of sources to inform and educate yourself about options
- First Moment of Truth: consult family/friends for advice
- Second MoT: you receive care and report on it
How Can Medical Brands Take Advantage?
Despite the fact that, today, 1 in 20 Google searches are health-related, consumers are still having trouble finding what they’re looking for. An NCBI study found that “Almost all participants reported using the internet to gather health information… searching, filtering, and comparing results,” yet the search process was ill-adept at “accommodating diverse populations, vocabularies, and health information needs.” The translation: marketers have yet to adequately occupy a large portion of the local and niche search marketing space. As an example, Google observed that the search query “swollen ankle black and blue” — a common ailment and therefore, presumably, a common search term — results in a whopping zero paid advertisements — type it into Google and check for yourself (results may vary depending on your location). Likewise, they found that nearly 60% of search queries for the phrase “hospitals near me” turn up no ads in the results page. With such little competition for this ad space, medical marketers can easily run low-cost search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, targeting a variety of specific maladies and patient populations, the moment they become “active,” or transactional. This not only means that paid local search is cost-effective — with the proper approach to keyword targeting, it all but guarantees that your ad will rank first on the search engine results page (SERP). If you haven’t recently checked out the popularity of a number keywords in Google’s Keyword Planning Tool, now may be the time. Odds are, there are numerous niche terms specific to your “services offered” that are currently underutilized and, therefore, ripe for the taking.