When most people think about SEO (search engine optimization), they only think about getting their business to the top of the list of search results. In fact, it’s common for providers to focus entirely on being the first name to pop up.
This, however, would be a strategic misstep. SEO has grown much more sophisticated as digital marketers have become more savvy and platforms like Google have taken their search tools to the next level. To shed light on how SEO has evolved and why these misunderstandings persist, we must delve into the seismic shift it has undergone recently.
SEO Then vs. SEO Now
In the earliest days of SEO, it would be fair to say that the main objective was to be the top-ranked result for a set of keywords. It meant there were several “best practices” that marketers used that nowadays would be considered spammy at best, misleading at worst. If a page listed the words “ice cream cones” 500 times, there was a good chance that page would rank highly for a search about “ice cream cones,” even though the page itself was not useful and neither sold ice cream cones nor listed an address of where to get one.
In today’s SEO landscape, a new set of rules and expectations has emerged. The era of keyword stuffing has largely faded into the past. Instead, search engines like Google have evolved, placing bigger emphasis on multifaceted factors. These include not only the content of a page but also the quality of backlinks, user feedback, and other items undisclosed by Google — but most important, user intent.
This intricate blend of factors gauges whether a webpage is likely to satisfy your needs. Google has transformed into a tool dedicated to delivering the most fitting solution for your specific requirements, while considering user intent — that’s much different than just finding items that answer your basic question.
Think about when someone asks Siri to find information for them — this is often likened to what Google aims to achieve. Imagine you’re at home in Houston, asking Siri for “the best barbecue in Texas”; would you prefer a response that gives you an article about the best barbecue restaurants in several cities around Texas? Or would you find greater value in a response that lists not only the best barbecue restaurants in Texas but the ones that are the most highly rated and nearest to the city from which you’re searching? The search results can also tell you how to get there and if they’re open right now. Undoubtedly, the latter response is more valuable. Its’s no coincidence that the more useful response more closely mirrors how you would expect a human to respond to your inquiry.
Defining Search Intent
Nowadays, SEO transcends the notion of merely “ranking first.” With millions of people conducting billions of searches annually, a one-size-fits-all solution is impractical. Consider searching for “best shoes” — your quest might differ from someone seeking soccer cleats, cowboy boots, or ballet shoes. Every searcher requires a personalized and unique response tailored to their specific needs.
This concept is known as search intent or user intent, signifying that when a potential patient initiates a search, there’s a clear purpose in mind. As contemporary digital marketers, understanding this intent is paramount when shaping marketing strategies. If, for instance, someone searches for “hearing aids,” discerning whether they seek information about how hearing aids function or where to make a purchase is crucial. While a person’s search intent may be evident to them, it’s often ambiguous to others due to the limited context.
Applying This to Your Marketing Strategy
The goal is to tailor content, advertisements, or any other digital assets to be the most valuable and relevant answer to a specific query. This approach becomes particularly challenging when dealing with generic search queries such as “hearing aids,” “tinnitus,” or “audiologist.” These terms are inherently vague and open to diverse interpretations. Are searchers just seeking knowledge about these terms, or are they actively seeking services or products related to them?
The answer lies in targeting searches with a more explicit user intent. Queries like “Where can I buy hearing aids?” or “Where can I get treatment for my ringing ears?” or “I’m looking for the best audiologist near me” provide far more information about the searcher’s intent. These inquiries reveal an interest in services, a need for assistance with specific symptoms, and a desire to find a service provider in close proximity. The richness of information embedded in these user searches underscores the importance of tailoring content to match highly specific search intents.
To illustrate this concept: Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, which often works alongside SEO, can serve as a valuable analogy. In a PPC campaign, you might create an advertisement highlighting your practice’s excellent hearing aids. To optimize the ad’s performance, you would target specific keywords related to “hearing aids,” excluding terms like “free” to ensure your ad reaches potential patients rather than people looking for complimentary products. Additionally, you could also target a specific ZIP code to make sure that you aren’t advertising your sales outside of your normal range of business. This approach aligns with the idea of providing highly specific content that resonates with a particular search intent.
See the similarity? It’s about providing highly specific content that matches a highly specific search intent.
Determine Which Searchers you Want to Reach
Clearly, you’d like to reach potential patients and bring them to your practice — so ask yourself what kinds of questions those people would have.
Marketers sometimes talk about “funnels” when they talk about a consumer’s path to purchase. Imagine a funnel, wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. It’s good imagery to think about because there are always a lot more people that are interested in a topic in general terms (the top of the funnel) than there are those who are ready to convert but just have a few final questions (the bottom of the funnel).
In audiology, a classic top-of-the-funnel search query might be “hearing aids.” If you reach those folks, it will be a long journey to a purchase, if they ever get serious at all.
Additionally, most of the results for a search as simple as “hearing aids” are going to be for websites with which most practices can’t compete. The results that show up are for huge, well-established brands and domains, medical journals, news sites, and the like. Not one of them is for an actual place to buy a hearing aid, much less one that’s nearby. To be clear, Google decided that the search intent of the query “hearing aids” was to find general, topical information on hearing aids, and not that the searcher was looking to buy.
This is why it’s best to focus on bottom-of-the-funnel search intent — the people further along in their search, who already know that they have a need. They have some idea of what product they want, and they’re now looking for where to get it. Search intent at the bottom of the funnel has much more useful information in it, because the searcher is providing information about their more specific needs.
Take a look at these two potential searches. Can you determine which one is at the bottom of the funnel?
1) “Cheap hearing aids Costco anywhere USA”
2) “Hearing aids for sale near me”
Option #2 is clearly your best bet for a bottom-of-the-funnel search. Can you see why?
- While “cheap hearing aids costco anywhere usa” definitely shows an intent to buy, there are red flags here, one being that they’re already interested in a competitor (Costco).
- A search for “hearing aids for sale near me” clearly shows that the search intent is making a purchase. This is simply the most likely of these searches to be coming from a potential patient.
Dont Forget Your CRO!
Conversion rate optimization, usually called CRO, has firmly established itself as a crucial aspect of SEO success. While technically a separate field, the two work together very well. In general, you can think of CRO as testing, observing, and tweaking content based on data you collect, in order to improve user experience and, ultimately, conversions. Think of it as the science of making your content even more useful.
As you’ll recall, Google wants to provide the most relevant, useful answer to a searcher’s query, so performing CRO helps by identifying how potential patients want to use your content. The details of how this is done are for another conversation; but for now, just remember that you’re not done once you publish your excellent new blog piece. You’ll want to continually monitor, test, and update that content to make sure it continues to be useful — that’s stage two. That’s CRO. (And Audigy has a CRO program specifically dedicated to these tasks!)
Focus on identifying your potential patients. Know what they need and cater your content to them. This is a win-win for you and searchers. After all, what good is getting tons of traffic if it’s not coming from potential patients?
By identifying your potential patients’ needs and wants, and testing ways that they might be searching for solutions to those needs, you can develop a great SEO campaign for your practice. If you’re still focused on just ranking for keywords, you’re missing the big picture for your marketing. You’re also missing out on providing service to potential patients who are interested in converting.
Looking for guidance with your content and SEO strategy? Learn more here, call on our digital marketing team, or contact an Audigy marketing manager with your questions. We’d love to help you with your strategy!
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