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Practice Development | Jan/Feb '21

Quarterly Health Care SEO Roundup: Q4 2020

When it comes to search engine optimization (SEO) and health care, only two statistics matter:

1. More than eight out of 10 patients use Google as their first step in researching a medical condition or selecting a physician; and

2. Fewer than one in 100 patients will ever click through to page 2 (or beyond) of Google search results.

A practice’s ability to appear high in organic search engine results pages is crucial for patient acquisition and growth. If your practice website does not appear on page 1, you’re missing out on patients and revenue.

To help physicians and their marketing managers stay on top of the biggest developments in SEO, this article summarizes the major changes that occurred this quarter. Included are actionable tips and insights that practices can take to respond to market changes, stay on top of their online presence, and keep acquiring patients from organic search.


What Happened

In November, Google quietly launched subtopics ranking, a neural net that helps the search engine understand the subtopics around an interest. This helps Google deliver a variety of results when a particular query is broad. Google clarified that subtopics “don’t change the look of search results, only broaden the diversity of content, when useful.”

Why It Matters for Health Care

Almost universally, practices that rank well on Google have one thing in common: They produce great content. Google’s recent addition of subtopics ranking should help those practices continue to rank well by surfacing results from their websites in additional searches.

What Practices Should Do

If your practice isn’t regularly creating content that is useful to potential patients, this represents a great opportunity to start! Google prioritizes relevant, engaging, and informative content, so providing patients with resources that answer their questions, provide education, and address concerns is now more likely than ever to rank well, and better search engine rankings mean more patient volume.


What Happened

In mid-December, Google pruned the number of websites eligible to show FAQ-rich and how-to–rich results in Google Search. The last time Google pruned FAQ-rich results was in July 2020.

Why It Matters for Health Care

SEO is not only about ranking high in Google Search but also about providing valuable and engaging search engine results. The most valuable search engine results are those that occupy the most real estate possible on a screen; these often contain additional enhancements (such as star ratings) that increase click-through rates and lead to more website visitors and thus more potential patients. FAQ-rich results are a coveted enhancement that make a practice’s website stand out more in Google Search and often lead to higher website traffic.

What Practices Should Do

Look at your website analytics and Google Search Console to see if your website traffic has dropped or if Google has made pages on your website ineligible for FAQ-rich results. If pages have been disqualified from these results, Google Search Console will provide a reason why. Making your pages compliant will at least make them eligible for these engaging enhancements, which are a great way to drive local patient demand.


What Happened

In October, Google removed the Request Indexing tool within Google Search Console, which disabled website owners’ ability to request that Google crawl new pages on their websites and add them to Google’s index. The feature, which was disabled for 69 days, has since been readded.

Why It Matters For Health Care

If you’re creating new content for your practice website, you want Google to index that content and begin showing it to potential patients as fast as possible. Without the ability to expedite this process and manually request indexing for new pieces of content, physicians and their marketing teams were at the mercy of Google to crawl their websites in its own time.

What Practices Should Do

If you have added any new content to your website since October, consider using the Request Indexing tool to expedite its discovery. There is no guarantee that Google will surface it in search engine results, but you no longer have to wait for Google to discover new content now that you can now manually request indexing again.


Change is the only constant in the SEO world, and these changes can be difficult to navigate. As Google seeks to improve the experience and results it surfaces for its 1.7 billion daily active users, health care professionals must stay on top of these changes and adapt to continue serving their patients and growing their practices. Hopefully this quarterly SEO roundup will help.

Crawford Ifland