Episode 34

How to Hire a Healthcare SEO Agency: What to Look For

Episode Transcript: How to Hire a Healthcare SEO Agency

Many doctors understand the importance of Search Engine Optimization – or have at least been told they should consider it – but they don’t know where to begin.

SEO can be a challenge to many small practices. If a practice has a dedicated marketing department, chances are they’re spread too thin. And even if they aren’t, many practice marketing teams don’t possess the knowledge or time to do SEO successfully.

Smaller practices are even worse off, as many of them don’t have a marketing specialist on staff. How can they compete with bigger competitors in their market to get better rankings on Google? How can they build a strategic advantage to help grow their practice when resources are limited?

For many, the obvious answer is outsourcing. But how can medical practices outsource successfully and ensure SEO is a good investment?

In this post, we’ll show you how to successfully hire a healthcare SEO agency to skyrocket your practice to the top of Page 1.

How to Hire a Healthcare SEO Agency

Why do SEO at all?

Before we address how to successfully outsource your healthcare SEO, we must answer an important question: why should healthcare practices do SEO in the first place?

There are many myths and misconceptions about SEO, so we should set the record straight.

There are three primary reasons why all healthcare providers should engage in SEO in some capacity:

  • SEO is a vital driver of new patient acquisition. In 2020, eight out of 10 patients will turn to Google or another search engine as their first step in selecting a doctor or doing research on a medical condition. Page 1 of Google receives 92% of all traffic. And while Google has 92% of the search engine market share, the same applies to other search engines like Bing and DuckDuckGo: if you want to get new patients leads, your practice has to be visible online…and the best way to improve your online visibility is to get on Page 1.
  • SEO delivers a massive, long-term strategic benefit. When your practice engages in a long-term SEO campaign, it becomes incredibly hard for other competitors to knock you off your top spot. With other marketing channels, increased levels of ad spend can instantly score you that #1 spot. But with SEO, a good reputation is built over time – and it’s hard to lose that reputation to competitors. Engaging in a strategic SEO campaign ensures that a new competitor can’t open up shop across the street and begin stealing patients away from Google – your practice will still be at that top spot.
  • SEO can be most cost-effective than Pay Per Click (PPC) ad campaigns. Unlike Pay Per Click campaigns that require monthly ad spend, good SEO can deliver benefits long after you stop paying for it. With PPC campaigns, as soon as you pause or decrease ad spend, your ads stop showing – and the patients stop coming in the door. But when a top ranking is earned through SEO, it endures. SEO is the investment that just keeps on giving.

So now that you know why SEO is so important for healthcare providers, the question remains: why not do it in-house? Why hire a healthcare SEO agency in the first place?

How to Hire a Healthcare SEO Agency: Questions to Ask

Why hire a healthcare SEO agency?

There are many reasons to hire a healthcare SEO agency rather than trying to do your private practice SEO in-house:

Your staff are busy and spread too thin among other projects.

If you’re fortunate enough to have a dedicated marketing team for your practice, they have a lot of channels to pay attention to – so they may be spread too thin already. SEO is very time-consuming and requires focused effort…if you aren’t able to give it the time it requires, it may be time to outsource to a trusted team.

You don’t have a dedicated marketing staff.

For many small practices, cost prohibits them from hiring a dedicated marketing manager, so they hand off marketing tasks to their existing staff members. These tasks are often in addition to their normal day-to-day responsibilities, so marketing may get put on the back burner. But this approach doesn’t work with time-intensive initiatives like SEO. What’s more, SEO is a fast-paced, always-changing field, so chances are that regular office staff won’t be able to keep up with all of the changes. If that’s the case, an outside specialist may be necessary.

Outsourcing is cheaper.

Often times, SEO costs less than hiring someone in-house. Many doctors find that they can save money, free up valuable staff hours, and get better results by outsourcing their SEO efforts to a dedicated healthcare SEO agency who is able to handle the workload and can provide better reporting.

Healthcare SEO agencies have unique insights on the market

Another benefit of choosing a healthcare SEO agency is the experience and insights they bring to the table. Because many healthcare SEO agencies work with a variety of clients in different sub specialties and across different geographic regions, they are often able to provide insights into market and industry trends that one practice alone wouldn’t be able to see. It’s not just about what the agency is seeing with your practice website and metrics – they are able to look to other clients to identify industry trends and benchmark performance across multiple clients.   

A good healthcare SEO agency will understand the patient journey

Healthcare marketing agencies can be an invaluable partner because they understand the uniqueness of the patient journey. Patient experience in healthcare is very different than customer experience or a buyer’s journey in other industries. By having a trusted partner on board who understands the patient journey and can identify weaknesses or blind spots that a practice may have developed, practices are able to improve the patient experience and increase patient satisfaction.

A good agency can be a valuable sounding board for other marketing ideas

Over time, we all develop blind spots – and a healthcare practice is no different. Because they are “on the outside”, so to speak, a trusted marketing agency has the ability to view a practice’s marketing initiatives with fresh eyes and offer a fresh perspective. Marketing agencies can also serve as a “sounding board” for marketing ideas a practice has, offering valuable feedback and insights.   

A good agency understands HIPAA regulations

A knowledgeable healthcare SEO agency understands the many regulations that are unique to healthcare, especially HIPAA. Any other marketing agency may be able to provide excellent marketing services, but without an in-depth understanding of regulations surrounding patient information, doctors could be liable. Because of this, it’s best for doctors to partner with healthcare-specific marketing agencies who understand – and can respond to – regulations.

So those are a few reasons why you should outsource your SEO to a healthcare SEO agency rather than trying to do SEO in house. But if your practice has never done any SEO before, what should you be looking for?

What to look for in an agency

Choosing the right healthcare SEO agency to manage your SEO is one of the most important parts of setting up a long-term SEO campaign. Obviously many factors go into this decision. Here are some of the most important things to look for when choosing a healthcare SEO agency:

Experience in healthcare

Does the agency in question have deep experience working for clients in the healthcare space? Agencies without healthcare clients may not understand the myriad intricacies or regulations that healthcare providers face. Thus, choosing an agency with experience serving other clients like your practice is invaluable, and one of the first things you should look for.

Positive reviews and testimonials

Most people turn to online reviews when buying a product (or researching a new doctor, for that matter). Why should you be any different with your practice marketing? Look at the number, recency, and overall impression of reviews left for the marketing agency online. What do other physicians and marketing managers have to say? Be sure to look at a variety of sources to get the whole picture, and don’t be afraid to do some digging.

A list of references

Any reputable healthcare SEO agency will gladly hand over a list of references you can contact to verify results and testimonials for yourself. If a marketing agency is cagey about naming their clients or providing a list of satisfied contacts they have worked with, treat this as a warning sign.

Good SEO themselves

What good is an SEO agency is they can’t practice what they preach? An SEO agency that doesn’t show up on Page 1 may be a red flag – if they can’t rank for competitive terms to promote their own business, will their strategies be effective for your practice?

Thought leadership and contributions to the industry

The most successful marketing agencies don’t hoard their information – they freely share with others and promote education. When you’re evaluating an agency, ask yourself: are their people thought leaders in the field? Do they regularly contribute to industry publications and share knowledge with others, or are they more interested in keeping things to themselves?

Case studies

Reputable healthcare marketing agencies should have case studies available for you to see the results they have achieved for other clients. If a healthcare SEO agency doesn’t have case studies that can prove the results they have achieved for other practices like yours, be sure to ask why – and think twice about investing your hard-earned dollars with them.

Agency structure

It’s not essential for every agency to be structured the same way, but it is valuable to know how the agency you choose operates. Who will you be working with to improve your SEO? Do you get a dedicated account manager? Is the CEO easy to reach? Do they shuffle clients among various people at the agency, or do you have a dedicated point of contact to get the help you need when you need it?

Other service offerings

Finally, be sure to look at the other services that your healthcare SEO agency of choice provides. This shouldn’t be a deal-breaker, but there are two questions you should try to answer:

  1. If you need assistance with another marketing channel, will they be able to provide support?
  2. Does the agency focus in one area of marketing, or do they try to be a “jack of all trades”? If they do, this could be an indication that the agency itself is spread too thin, and is in fact a master of none.

How to Hire a Healthcare SEO Agency: The Interview

What to ask when interviewing a healthcare SEO agency

Ok, so you’ve done your research and are ready to take the next step in selecting a healthcare SEO agency to manage your practice’s SEO. Next up is the most crucial step in the process: the interview.

Below are some valuable questions you should ask a healthcare SEO agency that are aimed at establishing a clear picture of the relationship you want to have:

  • Who are your clients? Any decent healthcare SEO agency should have a client list on their website, but if not, be sure to ask for one to see who they serve.
  • What does reporting look like? Be sure to figure out how often the agency will be reporting metrics to you – and in what format. Establishing expectations up front is key to a successful engagement.
  • Do you have a list of references? Again, any decent healthcare SEO agency should be able to provide a list of current or past clients who would be happy to give a reference. If a healthcare SEO agency can’t provide references, be sure to ask why.
  • Do you do SEO work in house, or do you white-label and outsource? This question will depend on your preference. Some practices don’t mind when agencies white-label their work, but this means that the agency is acting as a middle-man – and you could be getting a better deal elsewhere. Most agencies do have SEO specialists in house, but it’s always a good idea to check.
  • How do you work with other marketing agencies? Many practices have several consultants or marketing agencies working on different marketing channels for them. If that’s you, be sure to ask how this agency works with other agencies. The goal here is to identify any potential points of conflict and seek to resolve them before they become a real problem.
  • Given our unique situation, how long can we expect to see results? Be sure to ask how long it should take to see results from your SEO campaign – and pay careful attention to the agency’s answer. Anyone who tells you that you can get on page 1 in 6 weeks is lying to you.
  • Do you offer any sort of guarantee? Asking an agency about guarantees can surface some interesting answers. In this case, you actually want the agency to say *no* – anyone who tells you they can guarantee a top spot either doesn’t know how SEO works or is trying to pull the wool over your eyes.
  • Do you have a minimum contract length? Some SEO agencies do require a minimum 6-month or 1-year contract, while others don’t. A minimum contract length may be completely fine for your practice, or you may prefer to choose an agency without such a requirement – it all depends on your marketing goals and preferences.
  • How do you price your services? Many healthcare SEO agencies will charge a flat monthly retainer for their SEO services, while others charge by the hour. Again, the way an agency bills their services may be a deal-breaker for your practice, so you’ll want to ask this question.
  • Are there any fees due upfront? Another pricing question – it’s important to know if there are any setup fees associated with your engagement. Some marketing agencies charge up-front fees, while others don’t, so it’s always good to ask.
  • Who exactly will we interface with at your agency? This is a very important question to ask, because it gives you insight into how the agency works. Some marketing agencies share work among teams, while others give your practice direct access to a dedicated account manager, or even upper management. Knowing who you will be working with is an important piece of the relationship – so understanding how the agency works with clients is a key concern.
  • What if something goes wrong with our site? Do you offer support? It’s not common, but sometimes things can go wrong with your website, which can lead to downtime and a downturn in patient leads. Many marketing agencies have a disclaimer in their contracts that limit their liability if your site goes down, but it’s good to know if they have the ability to troubleshoot and fix any issues that may arise. This probably won’t be a deal-breaker for you, but it’s good to know if they can offer support.
  • What if we’re not seeing results? How can we cancel our engagement? In the event that you want to part ways with your SEO agency, be sure to understand up-front what the cancellation process looks like: are there any cancellation fees? Is there a required 30-day notice period? Will you be able to get any sort of refund?

How much should healthcare SEO cost?

Hopefully the list of questions above is helpful as you consider an engagement with an SEO agency, but one question comes up time and time again: how much should healthcare SEO cost?

This is a common question among doctors and their marketing managers alike, and for good reason: SEO is an ever-changing world, and many agencies choose to bill for their services in markedly different ways.

It’s important to know that when you’re budgeting for SEO, every situation is unique. Your practice, your services, and your geographic market and competition are vastly different than other practices – even practice in the same specialty! As such, pricing for SEO services can look different from practice to practice, even if they look similar in many ways.

Many agencies choose to charge a flat monthly rate for SEO services, while others prefer to bill at an hourly rate. In our experience, healthcare SEO services can range from $2,000/month for smaller practices to $10,000/month or more for larger, multi-location practices.

Regardless, it’s still less expensive for many practices to outsource their SEO rather than hiring someone to do it in house. Hiring an additional employee doesn’t just carry the cost of one additional salary – there are benefits, increased overhead, onboarding, training, and many other costs to consider. Because of this, it often makes more financial sense to outsource SEO to a healthcare SEO agency.

And while price is obviously an important consideration, it doesn’t matter as much as you think it might. The more valuable metric to focus on when doing SEO is return on investment, or ROI.

Perhaps your practice pays a healthcare SEO agency $2,500/month to manage your SEO and improve your online rankings. While $2,500/month is not a trivial sum of money, if your SEO efforts lead to one additional LASIK patient with a revenue of $3,000, the agency has more than paid for itself – your ROI is instantly positive. And the vast majority of well-executed SEO campaigns deliver far more than one additional patient per month. This makes SEO one of the most ROI-positive, practice-growing marketing initiatives you can undertake.

How long should it take to see results?

If price is the #1 question when it comes to healthcare SEO, time comes in at #2. Every practice tracks their ROI, and every practice (understandably) wants to know how long it’s going to take to see results.

This is why it’s important to ask your healthcare SEO agency how long it should take to see results – and if they offer any guarantees.

Their responses to these questions will tell you a variety of things, including:

  • If they know what they are doing when it comes to SEO; and
  • If they are trying to trick you or corner you into an expensive, long-term relationship that won’t produce results

As with pricing, every situation is unique, and your results will depend on a variety of factors:

    • Your practice size
    • Your local competition
    • Your geographic market
    • The competitiveness of your target keywords
    • Your other marketing channels
    • The health of your website
    • Your online reputation
    • Etc, etc…

In broad strokes, it generally takes 4-5 months to begin to see your rankings improve – and it can take one year or more to see the needle really move. Again, these are general numbers, and should be taken with a grain of salt – your situation is unique and will determine exactly how long it takes for your practice to improve its rank on Google.

SEO is a long-term strategy, one in which a myopic vision for success is not rewarded.

However, if you can stay the course, SEO is an incredibly valuable strategy that can deliver outsize results, help you dominate the local competition, and set your practice on a growth trajectory that will last for years to come.

Next Week…

Well, that’s all for this week’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – thanks for listening.

If you want more great resources like this podcast episode, check out our website at www.messenger.md. We’ve got a whole page of free practice marketing resources and tons of blog posts that will help you improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level.

That’s all for today’s episode. For Messenger, I’m Crawford Ifland – see you next time.

Crawford Ifland, CEO at Messenger Healthcare Marketing

Crawford Ifland is the CEO of Messenger Healthcare Marketing. Messenger is a digital marketing agency specializing in custom healthcare website design, healthcare SEO, promotional videos, and more. Messenger gives the nation’s leading physicians and healthcare organizations the tools they need to grow their organizations.

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