Have you done the web search test? Think about how your target audience (consumer, family member, referral source, health plan, potential employee, etc) would search online for services like the ones you provide. For example, “child psychologist in Pittsburgh.” Put that into Google (or Bing, or Facebook or any other online search platform you use)—does your organization come up on the first page of search results? If not, your team needs to focus on search engine optimization (SEO). SEO simply means optimizing the content and design of your website to make it attractive to search engines, so that when people search for relevant keywords and phrases, your site will appear in the search results, at or near the top.
Why does coming up on top matter? For any search, 90% of Internet “searchers” click on a site listed on page one of the results, and 60% of users click on a site listed in the top three results on page one. Ensuring that your organization comes up in the top three, or at least on page one, when consumers search for the services you provide is a strategic marketing priority that needs attention at the C-Suite level. That was the message delivered by my colleague and OPEN MINDS Executive Vice President Rob Hickernell at our recent executive web forum, Can Consumers & Referral Sources Find You? Best Practices For Search Engine Optimization.
The rules of the road—and the return on investments in website functionality—are changing. In 2019, only 9% of consumers said they “do not use any websites or online platforms” when selecting a health care provider organization, according to the Healthcare Consumer Insight & Digital Engagement survey. Compare this to 48% of consumers who did not use the web in 2017—that’s an 80% increase, over two years, in Americans using some form of online search to choose a provider organization! Of those who did use the web in 2019, 53% primarily used Google while 48% went to a hospital or other health care organization’s website; 45% used Facebook, 42% used Healthgrades, and 28% turned to Instagram (See 27 Healthcare Consumer Insight & Digital Engagement Trends to Watch).
And I would argue that being able to “be found” online is only the first step. You also need to invest in managing your online reputation, on the web and on social media. The recent survey found that 75% of consumers were influenced by online rating and review sites in their provider selections and 80% of consumers find ratings and reviews reliable. In fact, 60% of consumers check the ratings and reviews of a provider, even when referred by another provider (and that’s up 44% since 2018). Consumers tend to share their own experiences with health care provider organizations on Facebook (57%), Google (49%), the health care organization’s website (40%), and Healthgrades (40%). Only 5% of consumers did not share feedback on online platforms in 2019, a stark contrast to the 69% who reported the same in 2017. From 2017 to 2019, all platforms have seen a phenomenal increased in reviews and ratings shared on their sites—Google by 319%, Instagram by 506%, and Facebook by 170%!
This data raises new strategic questions for executive teams across the country. Is our brand, and how we are perceived among key audiences, now mostly determined by our online presence? Have we arrived at a point where only having a standard website with a minimal functionality (who we are, what we do, contact us, etc.) is an impediment to success? Are the expenses around developing and managing SEO and online reputation strategy now mandatory, not optional? For organizations that have to compete for health plan contracts and consumers in the year ahead, I would argue the answer is an emphatic “yes” across the board. The question is what is the minimum investment that is needed to be competitive.
My colleague and OPEN MINDS Chief Marketing Officer, Tim Snyder, suggests managing your online presence in four separate but interconnected functions.
The Marketing Function: Who is your target audience? What are you trying to get them to do? Answering these simple yet key strategic questions will help you determine the focus of your marketing function. Whether you’re trying to contract with health plans, optimize referrals, attract top clinical talent, or connect with consumers seeking services you provide, the marketing function is responsible for reaching and attracting these audiences—as well as positioning your organization above competitors (market positioning and competitor differentiation). Marketing is the most important of the four functions. It is responsible for laying out the “blueprint” for success across all functions and channels with the strategy, the branding, the market positioning, the messaging, the value proposition, and the vehicles.
The Website Design Function: What good is perfect positioning and messaging if nobody can find it, read it, or access it? This is where the website design function comes in. Best practice design, structure, navigation, and accessibility—across all devices and browsers—allows for the marketing function “blueprint” to come to life. The website function is all about execution and optimization of the plan in place.
The Search & Reputation Management Function: Remember the “positive first impression” lesson you learned growing up? This is the same concept—but for today’s virtual world. If a search engine listing is the first place your target audience ever finds you—how important is it to be listed above your competitors in the results? It could mean everything. The same is true for third party websites (social media, health plan network websites, Vitals, Yelp…) where conversations about your organization or clinical team can be had online. Managing all these potential “first impression” touchpoints has become a critical piece of any successful conversion strategy. Optimizing your content for searchability as well as managing your ratings and reviews—by delivering a positive experience, encouraging consumers to share their feedback, and responding to any comments (positive or negative). In addition to good content and design, “being found” may require some paid advertising on search engines.
The Thought Leadership Function: Your brand matters more than ever in the digital space. And your brand is not what you say you are, it’s what your target audience thinks you are. The most difficult basic truth in branding is to accept that, from an audience perspective, professionals and service provider organizations are all the same – “same benefits, same feel, same look, same options.” So how do they choose? They choose either the organization they trust, or the organizations that the market “perceives” as the best. So differentiating yourself, offering your expertise, showcasing the accomplishments of your team members, sharing consumer testimonials, and educating online visitors about health and wellness management will give your online presence a decided advantage.
The execution of each of the above functions may not require full-time positions—they can be done by part-time staff, added on to other marketing team members’ responsibilities, or even outsourced. Depending on what your vision is for your website and your online presence, you can set your budget based on a level of effort estimate.
But the larger issue is one of executive team attention. A website (and the reviews and comments online) is now one of the most important elements in how the public—consumers, payers, legislators, regulators, donors, and other stakeholders—know your organization. And websites are increasingly evolving to include core operational functions—job applications, consumer portals, online scheduling, and more. While a website is most often managed by the marketing team (perhaps with some tech assistance), it needs to be a “top of mind” issue for executive teams. A website, as a primary communication vehicle, needs to reflect the mission, services, positioning, and relationships in the field. In our increasingly virtual health and human service system, the virtual communication with all our stakeholders has to be strategic.
So, when you have the chance, do the Google test and see how your organization fares.
For more on virtual marketing, check out these resources in The OPEN MINDS Circle Library:
And for an initial assessment your web site and virtual marketing strategies, Elite members of OPEN MINDS Circle are invited to schedule a one-on-one Quick Consult with one of our senior advisors. Just call 1-855-559-6827 or email email@example.com to schedule your no-cost consultation.