Should #1 Rankings Be Your Medical Practice's Main SEO Goal?

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A number one search ranking doesn’t hold the value that it used to. Read about the five forces responsible for changing the game.

On the most basic level, search engine optimization (SEO) is a battle for visibility. Companies vy for the highest rankings so they can grab the attention of search engine users and hopefully convert that attention into new business.

However, a new era of SEO might be challenging these assumptions. Is the top spot on a search engine results page (SERP) all that it’s cracked up to be? And will it help your medical practice turn visitors into patients?

The Evolution of Search Rankings

Five years ago, achieving a #1 SERP ranking was every company’s priority, since statistics guaranteed its effectiveness. The first position of any given SERP received 32.5% of traffic, while the second and third garnered 17.6% and 11.4%, respectively. After the third ranking, traffic drops to insignificant numbers.

Today, the top three search results still get the vast majority of the traffic. If you already rank at
#2 or #3 for a given query, it’s worth your time to get to #1, even if it might cost you rankings elsewhere. But it’s not worth fixating on search rankings as the sole metric of success, whether you’re #2 or #20.

Why #1 Isn’t Necessarily #1 Anymore

A number of factors are increasingly diminishing the importance of the top spot in search:

1. The first search result is no longer the first thing you see.

Think about the last time you used a search engine. Did an organic search result pop up first on the page, or did you see something else?

As Google tailors its search results to the intent of the user, it’s built new features to answer those questions more quickly and efficiently. Often, a user finds the right response to their query in an AdWords™ ad, the Knowledge Graph, local results in Google Maps, or a rich answer set apart from the organic search results. Together, these features slightly weaken organic #1 rankings.

2. Keyword optimization is no longer straightforward.

It used to be that keyword optimization made the biggest impact on SEO success. If you could find keywords with high traffic and low competition, you could put all your eggs in one basket and then rest at a #1 ranking. Keywords still matter, but how they matter has changed.

Thanks to semantic search, the relationships between keywords, phrases, and search rankings are now less clear. Google tries to match queries with the most relevant content — not the closest text match. This means that medical marketers need to think about how the keywords they want to rank for are used by potential patients, both in type and as spoken queries.

3. Good content typically wins out.

In addition to keywords, Google’s semantic search algorithm cares about the quality of your content, how reputable it is, and how well it responds to a given query. This development may make things seem more complicated, but in fact, it makes things easier for marketers in many ways.

Instead of trying to frantically rank for a given keyword or keywords, you can now produce quality content about your products or services and encourage other websites to backlink to that content. Backlinking increases your authority, while a rich repository of content aligns well with the questioning nature of semantic search. By creating high-quality content, you’ll inadvertently rank for a bunch of keywords and phrases without necessarily targeting them specificially.

4. CTR can affect the value of your rankings.

Ranking first for a given search term is a great way to make potential patients aware of your practice, but there’s no guarantee that they’ll click through to your site. It’s true that a higher ranking can lead to a higher click-through rate (CTR) — and vice versa — but it’ll take more than that to gain a measurable increase in clicks.

To ensure that you have the most appealing offer on a search results page, optimize your site for a seamless user experience. Additionally, make sure that you’ve used metadata and schema markup to appropriately categorize your site. If your practice shows up for the right user query, potential patients will be more likely to click through and make an appointment.

5. Not all traffic is created equal.

Don't be fooled by vanity metrics. If you increase your traffic through search rankings, but all that traffic ends up bouncing, you’re back at square one. By optimizing for conversions, maintaining consistent branding across platforms, and prioritizing the user experience on your site, you can achieve a better balance between the quality and quantity of your visitors.

Does the decline of the #1 SERP ranking mean that it’s dead in the water? Hardly. There’s no one strategy that will guarantee success. Instead, you have to zoom out and look at your marketing strategy as a whole, using SEO as a tool to amplify your other efforts and turn visitors into patients.

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