Thinking about Facebook as a Local Search Engine for Medical Practices

Facebook Local Search Engine

Current Facebook search capabilities give local healthcare providers a boost — especially if the potential patient is “in network.”

For much of Facebook’s existence, its search functions were limited, especially compared to major players like Google. There just wasn’t much of a way for users to find healthcare providers (HCPs), or for those businesses to be organically visible to relevant potential patients.

However, as search capabilities continue to improve, health organizations are increasingly recognizing the possibilities of Facebook’s local search feature. Currently, search parameters for businesses rely on both location and user behavior. This means HCPs can appeal to Facebook users who are conveniently nearby, while receiving a word-of-mouth boost thanks to patient engagement.

How Facebook Search Capabilities Have Changed Over Time

For much of Facebook’s history, an HCP’s Page was typically used for Google ranking, or for sending traffic to a primary website. Back in 2011, users would typically only find a healthcare Page if they searched for it by name, or scrolled through Facebook’s alphabetical directory. That worked fine for those who already knew of the organization, but capabilities were otherwise limited.

In 2013 Facebook introduced Graph Search, which allowed for natural language queries, primarily drawing on information from within a user’s network. Users could find healthcare practices like any other business, based on categorization, location-based information, and likes. Users could search for the equivalent of “businesses in Chicago that are joint specialists” and receive somewhat useful results — if those relevant HCPs had optimized their Pages.

Around 2014 Facebook first incorporated Places, which was essentially a local business search directory. This feature has evolved since then but is similar to Google’s local business search, and finally offers a more accurate way for healthcare practices to appear to those searching from a nearby location.

How Current Facebook Users Discover Local HCPs

With such a large potential patient base, a Facebook presence remains crucial for health practices. But many medical marketers may not realize that Facebook currently offers specific capabilities that allow for potentially increased visibility.

For example, consider the patient who begins to type in “urgent care” in the general Facebook search bar. (The experience may vary somewhat depending on laptop, mobile, or app use.) As the user types, Facebook offers suggestions to help guide them toward more useful results. At this point, the user may choose to specifically search “urgent care near me,” although with the localized Places feature their results are similar if simply searching “urgent care.”

In this case, general search results include specific Pages, friend posts, and public posts related to the search phrase. The user can also look specifically under the “Pages” tab or “Places” tab. Under the “Places” tab the user will see a long list of nearby urgent care clinics, with address and hours information. This is a much more robust and complete feature than in previous iterations of Facebook search, and may actually lead to users discovering a new, nearby doctor. Local results also reflect popularity within a user’s network — when a friend checks in or reviews a health practice, that preference comes through in the search results.

HCPs should also take note of Facebook Local, a 2017 app that offers some searchability for businesses based on location, including a map view. However, it requires fairly specific search terms for accurate results. Currently, it is more extensively used for entertainment and restaurants than HCPs— but that may be an opportunity for healthcare marketers looking to expand into untapped areas.

How Medical Practices Can Optimize for Facebook Success

To some extent, your Facebook search ranking depends on your proximity to the person searching — which isn’t a factor under your control. However, simply being the closest doesn’t always place you near the top, so it’s worth it to optimize other ranking signals if you hope to stand out on local search.

It’s important to keep in mind how the search algorithm currently functions for general users. Results are guided by user behavior and their network’s behavior. Results vary depending on the patient’s interests, likes, and tagged places, while places their friends have tagged or reviewed are more likely to appear. In fact, Facebook recently revealed a number of factors that determine what shows up for users when they search — and many of these factors appear at first to be beyond what an HCP can control.

But this just means that health practices on Facebook have to think differently. Showing up in Facebook search isn’t about keywords, links, or affinity. Instead, your game plan should include posting more frequently and soliciting more engagement, looking for ways to boost activity from existing patients — after all, each of them has a network that could contain potential patients. Recommendations are more prominent than ever, meaning that healthcare businesses will need to go beyond “likes” and find ways to solicit positive reviews.

That being said, there are some factors you can control. A basic first step is to ensure that your Facebook Page and Facebook Place are merged. To improve patient engagement, create a useful and attractive Facebook page. Is your profile complete? Is the location information accurate? Have you carefully chosen your Categories?

Small changes — like using your company logo as a profile picture and making sure your page is verified — can go a long way to appearing professional. You may even be able to incorporate the mobile feature Facebook Actions, to allow patients to make appointments through your Page.

Conclusion

For some healthcare marketers, Facebook can feel like an afterthought. But as its search engine capabilities improve, Facebook is becoming more important for visibility. Here, HCPs don’t have to compete with every other provider on the Internet, as the search feature is localized.

With savvy patient engagement, the odds are even higher that patients will discover your business — and the built-in word-of-mouth quality of that discovery could even make conversion more likely. If healthcare marketers take advantage of Facebook’s capabilities, this social media platform could be a major way that patients discover the healthcare solutions they need.

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