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Medical Marketing for Healthcare Leaders: SEO vs. SEM

I’m sure by now you’ve heard the term ‘SEO’ and perhaps ‘SEM.’ If you don’t know what one or either of those terms means, you’re not alone. The marketing industry is chock-full of acronyms, and keeping up with all the terminology can be challenging. But don’t worry—we’re here to help.

Two key strategies that dominate the medical digital marketing space are Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and Search Engine Marketing (SEM). SEO focuses on improving your website to drive search traffic, while SEM leverages paid methods to boost visibility in search results.

In this article, we’ll explore these practices in more detail so you don’t get lost in meetings with your marketing expert(s).

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

You know how when you search something on Google, a list of results related to your search pop up? The process of how results are ranked—what appears in the first spot, second spot, etc.—is SEO.

Improving SEO means optimizing your website to increase its ranking for relevant search queries. Some factors Google takes into consideration:

  • Content: Google prioritizes detailed, up-to-date content with relevant keywords. Identifying and incorporating your keywords into website content, meta tags, headings, and URLs will improve your rankings.
  • Navigation and Structure: The navigation of a website is important in helping visitors find the content they want hassle-free, and well-structured content helps search engines understand what content you deem most important. Since a significant portion of website traffic originated from mobile device (60.9 on average as of June 2023), your site should be mobile-friendly.
  • Technical: To ensure that Google can effectively index your site, your medical marketing team must create and submit a sitemap. A sitemap is a file that provides a list of the pages, content, and URLs within a website. This helps Google understand the hierarchy of your content.

SEO is a long-term investment that requires patience and consistent effort. But like most good investments, you’ll see impactful and lasting results.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM)

SEM encompasses various paid marketing methods, the most common being pay-per-click (PPC) advertising via Google. Healthcare providers bid on specific keywords to show their ads in search results and pay when a user clicks on their ad.

Components of Google paid search include:

  • Search Ads: Text ads that show when potential patients use your keywords in Google search.
  • Display Advertising: Visual ads displayed to potential patients while they browse the internet.
  • Remarketing: Users who previously visited your site but didn’t convert are targeted with display ads.
  • Video Ads: Your medical marketers can create video ads with various formats for Google’s video partner sites like YouTube.

For paid social advertising, your team creates ads for a targeted audience on platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

SEM provides immediate visibility in search results and allows you to build a target audience based on location, demographics, and search behavior. See here for best practices for social media and search engine marketing.

Which strategy is best for your organization?

As a trusted medical marketing agency for over ten years, we recommend investing in both. Even the most optimized SEO is unlikely to compete effectively without some SEM investment. On the other hand, even the greatest SEM campaigns can’t cover up a faulty, non-user-friendly website that turns off potential patients.

If you need leads ASAP, then it makes sense for SEM to take precedence. Regardless, building your SEO will be necessary to build long-term lead generation.

If you haven’t already, we recommend hiring a trustworthy and experienced medical digital marketing agency to assist you in both strategies. Ready to get started?

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