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Monday, March 13, 2017

Healthcare SEO: 4 reasons to get technical

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Jeremy Dietz, Executive Digital Editor
Timothy Lee Russell, Programmer/Senior Analyst

There's a lot that goes into search engine optimization (SEO) for your healthcare website. Great content that includes the right keyword phrases is important, as are the links that point to your website.

None of those things matter though if your website isn't built on a solid technical foundation.

If your site is built using current industry best practices, it will:

  • Load quickly.
  • Work great on mobile devices.
  • Be easily crawled by search engines.

Not all healthcare marketers have a background in website development. That's OK. But understanding the basics of technical SEO will help you communicate with your website development team and give you a better understanding about how to evaluate website vendors.

4 things that technical SEO does for your healthcare website

If you're new to technical SEO, here are some of the basics that you need to know about what it does for your website:

1. It improves the user experience.

User experience is important to search engines like Google. After all, a search engine's business depends, in part, on satisfying searchers by providing them with results that meet their needs and expectations.

Two important ways technical SEO can help with user experience are:

Speed. People are impatient. If your site doesn't load fast enough, they will likely move on. That's one of the reasons Google uses page speed as one of its ranking factors. The way your site is built has a direct impact on how quickly it loads and renders.

Mobile-friendliness. More searches happen on mobile devices than on desktop computers, according to Google. In response to this, Google made mobile-friendliness a ranking factor for searches done on mobile devices. Now the search engine uses the mobile version of a web page to determine how it ranks on desktop. Not sure if your website is mobile-friendly? You can find out here.

2. It determines what search engines can and can't see.

Search engines find out about your website pages by crawling and indexing them (Google has a great video explaining this process).

There are a variety of ways that your technical SEO team can influence what a search engine sees on your website. For example, your website's robots.txt file could be set up to block access to certain pages. This can be useful if done properly. But a robots.txt file that is configured incorrectly could also keep search engines from seeing content on your site that you want found.

In addition to telling search engines what not to crawl, your technical SEO team can also create an XML site map and submit it to search engines to help make your site easier for a search engine to understand.

3. It tells search engines about the status of a URL.

Every page on your website has a status code that provides web browsers and search engines information about the page. For example, a 200 status code means that the page is loading fine. A 404 means the page isn't there any longer.

The 301 status code is particularly important for SEO. It tells browsers and search engines that a page has permanently moved and redirects them to the new URL. This helps make sure that people who try to visit the old link don't get an error page. It also helps ensure that any search value accrued by the old URL is passed to the new page.

If you have pages that move during a healthcare website redesign, your development team should keep track of them and make sure the old links all get the proper redirects.

If you move a page on your existing website and the URL changes, your content management system (CMS) should make it easy for you to create a redirect. It's a critical step—that's why Coffey's CMS creates these redirects automatically.

4. It helps search engines understand the content.

Search engines can recognize the words on a page, but there are things behind the scenes you can do to help make the context of your content clearer. For example:

  • Use a link structure that has real words—instead of a string of meaningless numbers and letters. (Your CMS should make this possible.)
  • Describe images using alt attributes. This is the only way for search engines (and screen readers) to understand what an image is about.
  • Use schema markup to offer additional context about a page. Schema is a collaboration between Google, Bing, Yandex and Yahoo!. It helps search engines understand pages better and lets them easily pull relevant content into SERP features like answer boxes. Places you might use schema on your healthcare website include provider pages, event listings, locations and blog posts.

Does your healthcare website need a technical SEO checkup?

As we said, these are just some of the basics of technical SEO—and it's an arena that changes rapidly. If you're not sure your website is optimized to current standards, we'd be happy to take a look. For more information about a no-cost website audit that checks your code, design and content, call 888.805.9101 or email us.

Related reading

How local links can help your hospital's website
8 things healthcare marketers need to know about AMP
Hospital SEO: Does mobile-friendliness matter?


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