The New Healthcare Marketing Team: Your SEO Genius

This is part of a series on The New Healthcare Marketing Team. We’re highlighting the specialists that healthcare organizations need to add to their marketing teams if they want to be effective on the web.

In our first post, we explained why it’s time to stop building teams full of generalists. For part 2, we explained why having a content strategist is non-negotiable.

Now let’s talk about your next colleague—the SEO expert.

Search engine optimization (SEO) seems like one of those elements of digital marketing that many healthcare marketers are only vaguely familiar with. And understandably so—SEO is a moving target. Just when you get all your tags, headers and keywords in order, the rules change

But, SEO is not something that healthcare organizations can dismiss as a “maybe next fiscal year” thing. Patients are depending on search engines for healthcare decisions.


If SEO is not top of mind, then your healthcare organization will not be at the top of the search engine rankings. That means the patients actively looking for you will not find you. It also means that patients in your service area who are looking for say, an obstetrician, may not find the ones at your hospital.

The point: Get an SEO expert on your team. Hire someone or put an SEO agency on speed dial.

But let’s pretend your service area’s population really is not online. Here, then is the question: How much longer do you think that’ll be true?

“But We Don’t Have The Budget.”

Getting more patients would probably help your healthcare organization’s finances, right? That’s what SEO aims to do—draw in patients who are looking for you.

This objection is usually more about being oblivious than being financially strapped. It’s not that the budget isn’t there, it’s that many healthcare leaders are not sold on SEO as a tactic to increase patient volume.

“But Our Rock Star Doctors Get New Patients Through Word Of Mouth.”

Word of mouth may create the awareness, but for some prospective patients, that’s not enough. Their next step will likely be to search for Dr. Rock Star on Google. If the choice is between a recommended doctor who has a great online presence or one who doesn’t, guess who wins?

Jeff Orr’s team at Novant Health, based in North Carolina, took a bold step: They decided to bring on an in-house SEO expert. Nearly 4 years ago, Novant Health formed a digital marketing group that combined team members from the marketing and IT departments, including programmers, web strategists and videographers. In December 2013, Novant Health added a full-time SEO specialist.

Here’s why Jeff Orr, Director of Novant Health’s Web Center, invested in an SEO specialist:

What Prompted The Move To Focus On Search Engine Optimization?

We manage about 200 web properties, including mobile apps and websites for the physician practices and the hospitals.

Visitors no longer start at the websites’ home pages. They enter at the site’s most relevant landing pages. Focusing on optimizing those pages for search and connecting what we call the Google Continuum—analytics, webmaster tools, Google+, maps, YouTube and others—creates the whole picture from a search perspective.


We have an agency with SEO capabilities, but we only use them for search engine marketing (SEM). Most agencies come in, look at the website and make recommendations.

They don’t look at our analytics and understand the nuances of the organization well enough to build a strategy specifically for our digital footprint.

Also, with mobile usage and voice activation, we realized if we weren’t ahead of the curve, then we’d be playing catch up.

And Staying Ahead Of The Curve Meant Bringing SEO In-house?

Yes. We’re doing a phased approach. We needed someone to help shore us up on metadata, tags and titles. Link building is secondary. We want to make sure credible organizations are using our information.

When Writing This Job Description, What Kind Of Experience Were You Looking For?

We really wanted someone who’s worked in a challenging industry, where you have to work hard to get yourself noticed online. Our new SEO specialist comes from a motorcycle accessories company.

We also wanted to find someone with strong knowledge of Google Analytics and experience digging deep into keyword research.

Novant Health’s footprint is the Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia, so we also wanted someone who could optimize for a geographic component as well.

How Did You Decide What You Wanted In An SEO Specialist?

SEO is a self-taught skill. There’s no degree or official pipeline to become a search engine optimizer. You don’t go to school for this. There are SEO certifications through Google, but the industry changes too much for certifications to hold much meaning.

So, I asked a very specific question to all candidates: Do you know who Matt Cutts is? If not, then you don’t know this industry. The one we hired knew Matt Cutts and could explain hummingbird.

Is Elevating SEO To A Full-time, In-house Position Where Healthcare Digital Marketing Is Headed?

Yes. If you don’t, you’ll fall behind. I learned early on in this business, don’t discount the trend. That’s the mentality that we need to take as an industry.

Healthcare has always been behind on Internet activity. Hospitals have a choice. Whether they recognize it and how quickly they recognize it is the question. Lots of web properties are still behind. This has to change.

From an industry perspective, search and social are very difficult to do in healthcare, but we have to figure out ways to do it. We have regulations and rules, but we still need to think progressively about how to help patients find us.