Medical Keyword Targeting: The 4 Phases of the Patient Search Process

Since the advent of the internet, many web users have taken it upon themselves to diagnose their own symptoms and seek available treatments using online search. People suffering from back pain, neck pain, stiff neck, leg pain or similar ailments will often type these keywords into Google to determine what might be causing their condition and how to treat it. In our experience, each of these web users follows a similar patient search process when deciding if they need professional help. Understanding the four phases of their search process can be vital to your online medical marketing success, as budgets can easily be exceeded and conversion rates will suffer if your ad campaigns are too focused on the wrong phase of search. 


Medical Keyword TargetingThis is the initial phase of the patient search process focusing on generic keywords regarding the patient's symptoms. Keywords such as: back pain, neck pain, stiff neck, leg pain, swollen legs, dizziness, bulging veins, can't get pregnant, heart palpitations, etc. Since this is just the beginning of the search process, patients typically are on an information gathering mission. The monthly keyword search volumes are highest in the first phase, but the costs-per-click and conversion rates (the number of website visitors that actually contact a practice) on these searches are usually lower, as well as the ROI.

Diagnoses (Dx)

The second phase of the patient search process consists of patients self-diagnosing their symptoms. Keyword examples for this phase include: herniated disc, pinched nerve, congestive heart failure, varicose veins, spider veins, osteoarthritis, infertility, diabetes, obesity, excess fat, etc. The monthly keyword search volumes on these types of keywords are typically consistent with the Symptoms phase (which is to say, quite high). Nonetheless, searchers in this phase are still largely in learning and information gathering mode, so while costs-per-click will be reasonably low, so will conversion rates and thus ROI.

Therapies (Rx)

In the third phase of the patient search process, patients begin to look for ways to remedy the pain they are experiencing by seeking a specific treatment or therapy. Keyword searches usually involve generic descriptions of treatments or specific medical and surgical procedures or drugs that may be required to alleviate the pain or accomplish the patient's goals. Examples of keywords include: spine surgery, discectomy, vein treatment, total knee replacement, back surgery, IVF, infertility drugs, liposuction, body sculpting, etc. The monthly keyword search volumes will generally be lower as compared to the previous two phases while the conversion rates and cost-per-click increase. Patients in this phase are typically closer to the point of contacting a practice and making and appointment, so when utilized in your campaign they should drive a stronger ROI.


This is often the final phase of a patient search process as patients begin researching the options available in their area and identifying clinics, specialists or surgeons where they can get their desired treatment. Keyword examples include: spine surgeon, spine center, neurosurgeon, knee surgeon, vein clinic, vein doctor, fertility clinics, infertility specialists, cosmetic surgeon, lipo specialist, liposuction center, etc. The monthly keyword search volumes may be the lowest of the four phases, but these are very good, targeted terms and thus the conversion rate is usually the highest. The potential patients conducting these searches are very serious about making an appointment and it is extremely important that your practice is visible on these searches (whether paid or organic). The cost-per-click will also be the highest, but the ROI will be the strongest of the four phases.

It is extremely important for medical marketers who are managing online medical ad campaigns to have a strong understanding of their potential patient's search process. Too many agencies simply look at keywords search volumes, which alone does not always produce the best keyword targets. Having visibility throughout all four phases of that process is vital for your medical practice's online presence (paid/organic), but for optimal results, grasping what keywords convert within that process will produce the best results, making your online ad campaign a greater success.



Medical Practice Online Visibility