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What is SEO, Anyway?

SEO: one of the most confusing topics in digital marketing today. Rumors and misconceptions abound – is SEO really important? Should I be paying for SEO, or should I try to do it myself? What is SEO in the first place? In this episode, we’ll set the record straight about the fundamentals of SEO.

Episode Transcript

Perhaps no other topic in digital marketing is as confusing as SEO, which is short for Search Engine Optimization. The desire to show up higher in search engine rankings has spurred more misconceptions, rumors, and outright lies than perhaps any other marketing practice today. When many doctors think about SEO, they get overwhelmed – should they make SEO part of their marketing strategy? And if they want to, where should they even start? It’s time to set the record straight about SEO, once and for all.

Hey, what’s up everybody, and welcome to the Medical Marketing Podcast from Messenger – it’s the show where we give you actionable tips and advice to help improve your practice marketing, grow your revenue, and take patient experience to the next level. I’m Crawford Ifland, and today we’re going to be talking about one of the most confusing topics in digital marketing: SEO.

Now, even if you don’t fully understand SEO, you’ve probably heard about it before. Everybody wants to rank higher in search engine results, and many people are willing to try whatever it takes to get to that #1 spot.

But the problem is, not everything works. We’ll get in to specific SEO strategies and techniques in future episodes, but if you want to be good at something, you have to understand the fundamentals…so today we’re going to get some background: what even is SEO?

How We Got Here

Let’s start by taking a little trip back to 1998. Two PhD students in Northern California were working on a little side project they called “Backrub.” The Internet was in its infancy, and they had the brilliant idea that when it took off someday, people would need a way to find stuff.

So the made Backrub, which was for all intents and purposes, what we’d call the world’s first “search engine.”

Sound familiar? Of course it does – we’re talking about Google here. And while a lot has changed about the Internet and the way Google works, one thing remains constant: thank goodness we don’t still call the world’s most popular search engine “Backrub” today.

In the beginning, search engines were pretty crude – it was easy to “game the system” of many search engines because their algorithms were so simple. Most early search engines ranked results based on how often a search term appeared on a given webpage, which made their results easy to manipulate.

Google was unique in that it used a technology called “PageRank,” which determined how relevant a website was based on the number of pages, along with the importance of those pages, that linked back to the original site. If more websites around the internet linked to your website, this search engine would assume that people liked your content, and so your website would appear higher in the results when someone performed a search. This approach, which was based on authority and influence rather than the number of times you could stuff a keyword into a webpage, was novel.

Where We Are Now

Google has evolved over the years, and its algorithm has become increasingly complex. Gone are the days of gaming the system with cheap tricks and hacks to get pushed higher in results. But the fundamentals are still the same: Google wants to see that you’re providing meaningful, valuable content in a manner that’s easy to understand both by humans and computers alike, that people trust you enough to link to your content. Even more than 20 years after its founding, Google is still all about reputation.

Now, if anyone today tells you they can get you to the top of Google in a month with 6 easy payments of $19.99, run far, far away – they’re lying to your face.

Today, Google makes over 250 updates and optimizations to its algorithm to surface more relevant results, provide a better experience to its users, and continue its quest to search and organize the world’s information. Think about it: that’s one tweak to its algorithm every few days.

SEO today is a much more complicated animal than it used to be. But at the end of the day, in simple terms SEO comes down to two main elements: On-Page and Off-Page SEO.

On-Page vs. Off-Page

Today, there are two main elements of ranking well on Google: On-Page SEO and Off-Page SEO.

On-Page SEO is just what it sounds like: it’s the content and infrastructure of your website itself. Google wants to know that you’re producing valuable content for real people, and that your content is well-organized, makes sense, answers peoples’ questions, and is easy to find.

Some of this has to do with the words that are on your website, but much of On-Page SEO has to do with the more technical aspects of your site: are the pages laid out well? Does your website load quickly? Are images optimized so that Google can tell what they contain? Is there a hierarchy to the text on the page so that Google (and your users) can understand the main topics? Does the content adequately answer the question or provide the information that the user was looking for?

If you’re not sure how your website stacks up against benchmarks, any decent SEO agency can provide a free SEO Audit of your website to identify opportunities for improvement.

There are also a number of online tools that will give you advice on what technical aspects of your website should change for the best chance to rank higher. Some of these can get overly technical, so if you want to head down this route, you may need the assistance of someone who can interpret the code and implement the suggested recommendations. As always, we’ll list a few resources in the show notes – and if you need more assistance, we’re always happy to help!

Off-Page SEO

The other major element of good SEO is Off-Page SEO, which has to do with how many people around the Internet find your content authoritative and link back to your website. This is the “authority and influence” part of Google.

Remember how Google used to be called “Backrub”? That’s a play on words – it came from Larry Page and Sergei Brin’s obsession with “backlinks” – how many websites linked back to yours.

There’s a ton of specific recommendations and strategies to employ to improve your Off-Page SEO, but the best practice here is to always be thinking about the your end user – how will the content you produce answer their questions? How will your patients find your content valuable? What sorts of things can you post on your website that patients, physicians, or people in the industry would want to link to?

Know Your Fundamentals

Strategies, tactics, and Google’s algorithm may change quite rapidly, but the underlying principles of SEO remain the same. Every search engine – not just Google – wants to know that you’re providing value to your users and creating content that people care about. If you are providing value, you’ll be rewarded with higher search engine rankings.

So when you think about SEO, keep patient experience in mind. Is your content easy to find and understand? Would people want to share it? Is this piece of content something that people would want to link to? Keeping these questions in mind and continuing to produce outstanding content over the long run will do wonders for your SEO…

Next Week

Well, that’s all for today’s episode of the Medical Marketing Podcast – thanks for listening. Join us again next week when we take a deeper dive into some of the most common myths and misconceptions doctors have about SEO.

As always, we’ll have a link to the show notes in the description, and be sure to check out for more resources on how to improve your practice marketing, grow revenue, and take your patient experience to the next level. For Messenger, I’m Crawford Ifland – see you next week!

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