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Paid Search: The Linchpin to Lead Generation for Hospitals

As Healthcare Organizations Focus On Recovering From The Financial Impact Of Covid-19, Their Marketing Leaders Are Shifting Resources To Paid Search Advertising—Proven To Be One Of The Most Effective Strategies To Drive Lead Generation For Hospitals.

Paid search works most effectively as part of a comprehensive digital marketing plan that could include search engine optimization, social media strategies, email marketing and traditional print marketing channels, depending on the type of service being promoted and target audience.

It’s also an important way to meet the needs of today’s savvier consumers who are increasingly:

  • Bearing more of the cost of care through higher insurance premiums, deductibles and copays
  • Searching online for medical providers and services and in many cases, making decisions based on convenience and ease of access

“There’s no question that modern consumers, especially millennials, are increasingly shopping online for healthcare services—and they‘re doing so because they’re more cost-conscious and demand more convenience,” says Jason Skinner, chief marketing officer for True North Custom.

Recent trends have certainly not been lost on healthcare marketers, who have increased their investment in paid search, or pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, in recent years. The Society for Health Care Strategy & Market Development’s latest By the Numbers 2020 Special Edition found that 23% of hospital and health system marketers surveyed increased spending on paid search in 2020.

Likewise, a 2020 Healthcare Digital Marketing Trends survey of 150 provider organizations found patient acquisition was the number one goal for healthcare digital marketing activities. To achieve this goal, respondents plan to increase digital marketing spending by 39% and boost non-staff investment in digital advertising (including paid, social and search) by 15%—the most among all categories.

“There’s been a huge focus across the industry on patient acquisition during the early days of 2021, particularly for services such as primary care, emergency care, diagnostic testing and elective surgeries that saw sharp declines in patient volumes and revenue in 2020 due to the pandemic,” observes Jane Crosby, vice president of strategy for True North Custom. “Many healthcare organizations were concerned about tighter bottom lines due to market forces well before the pandemic. The impact of COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation and aligned marketing and the C-suite more than ever on direct-to-consumer marketing as a key driver of elective volumes, consumer choice and associated revenue.”

These factors considered, it’s likely that lead generation for hospitals will remain a priority, and consequently, paid search will become increasingly critical—and competitive—in the coming months. To inspire your digital healthcare marketing plan, here’s a framework we’ve designed to build a strong foundation of paid search performance.

6 Steps to Paid Search Success

According to google, paid search is quite simply paid ads that show up at the top of the search engine results page (serp), identifiable by the word “ad” before the listing. this is done by targeting specific keywords and phrases that your consumers are searching for that align with your business offerings. sounds simple, right?

Step 1: Clearly Define What You Hope To Accomplish Through Paid Search

As a channel focused on helping consumers find information they’re actively searching for, it’s important to set the right expectations with leadership: paid search is about capturing existing demand in the market, not creating it. It’s certainly not a one-and-done channel when it comes to driving service line volume, particularly now as many consumers are still hesitant to pursue care in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Success in paid search means crafting your entire strategy around the concept that the channel is all about meeting consumer demand and creating a frictionless path towards conversion.

Further, consider which services you plan to devote your paid media budget to, and what the call to action will be. We recommend focusing on revenue-generating calls to action—request a consult, find a provider, schedule a screening—and focusing your resources on high-value service lines.

Step 2: Define Your Targeting Strategy

Based on the service lines and calls to action that you’re promoting with your paid search strategy, you can begin to think about the ideal audience and how they search for information. Identifying the right keywords and phrases that match user intent is critical at this stage because you’ll need to hone in on what consumers are looking for in order to meet their demand as a health resource. Further, specifically defining those key words and phrases will allow you to maximize efficiency by mastering the terms that add the most value, rather than taking a broad approach to keyword bidding.

Consider this advice as you think about joint replacement campaigns, as an example: While your focus might be to drive joint replacement consult appointments, you’re likely not going to see a high search volume for the keyword “joint replacement consults.”

Alternatively, consumers might be looking for things like “orthopedic surgeon near me” or “joint replacement near me.” This is common across service lines and one way to think about it is to focus primarily on the problem someone is trying to solve or question for which they’re seeking answers.

Speak Directly To Consumers Seeking Specific Care

Search intent is an important consideration when planning campaigns, so think about building a pipeline through keywords associated with awareness and learning stage consumers.

With service lines like orthopedics, where consumers spend a lot of time researching and considering their surgical options, there may be top of the funnel keywords to be mindful of, like “is joint replacement right for me” or “relief for joint pain.” If budget allows, consider bidding on these terms as well, and utilize HRAs or downloadable guides with a nurturing email strategy as part of your conversion funnel.

It’s Important To Consider What Not To Bid On.

Many firms and individuals in digital marketing still utilize broad match targeting. In healthcare specifically, broad match targeting can drive up impressions and cost, drive down click-through rate (CTR) and conversion rate (CVR), and add little value to your campaign. Continuing with orthopedics as the example, broad match targeting would take your “joint surgeon” keyword target and extend that to bid on “joint replacement for my cat.” Even if that search volume clicks on your ad, they’re not likely to convert on your landing page once they realize you’re actually offering human joint replacements.

To avoid this scenario, smart search marketers use phrase match or exact match keywords along with negative keyword matching (e.g. “cats” in the example above) to ensure ads aren’t served in response to irrelevant search queries.

Bid strategies should be adjusted constantly throughout your campaign, but be sure to audit performance extensively monthly, quarterly, or, minimally, annually to ensure you’re maximizing your budget through intentional keyword bidding. Effectively identifying these terms requires a data-driven approach rather than intuition, as consumers use conversational language instead of industry jargon when seeking health information. We recommend using Google Ads keyword planning tool, Google Search Console or an SEO tool like SEMRush to identify relevant keywords and incorporate them into paid campaigns.

Step 3: Create A Landing Page Based On Your Business Objective And Target Keywords

Paid search is a perfect example of the adage, “Start with the end in mind.” Once your goal conversion and target keywords are identified, develop a conversion-focused landing page designed to move consumers from awareness to action.

The page your PPC ads link to must be responsive (for mobile users) and provide prospective patients with the content they need to research whether your organization’s service meets their needs. This is a critical element of digital healthcare marketing that often gets overlooked. Linking to your home page is typically ineffective for healthcare marketers and frustrating for consumers, who will quickly leave your site and search elsewhere if they don’t find what they’re looking for.

“I can’t emphasize enough how critical it is to make it easy for consumers,” says Crosby. “Simply connect leads directly to a highly relevant, dedicated landing page that addresses their search intent and guides them towards an appropriate next step.”

This can be achieved by highlighting your clinician expertise, access, convenience, quality of care, cost, patient experience and other factors that differentiate your organization from the competition. In short, provide them with everything they need to evaluate your service and make a decision in as few clicks as possible.

The landing page should align with both consumer need and your core value proposition, and include:

  • A compelling headline
  • Concise body copy focused on patient benefits that differentiate your service from the competition
  • An emphasis on your keywords to maximize results and quality scores
  • A prominent call to action with links to more information, forms or online scheduling options if available, who to contact with questions and how to schedule an appointment

It’s also important to repeat and provide additional details about any patient reviews, statistics or special offers referenced in the ad.

The landing page is the one component of paid search where design matters, too. Omit any links and navigation that will detract from the objective you want visitors to accomplish on the page and reinforce the call to action from the original search ad. The page should be structured in a way that’s easy to navigate with easy-to-read copy and images that align with the target audience. Consumers are more likely to choose your brand if they feel the people in your imagery look like them, so creating alignment between your brand and the target consumer is key.

Step 4: Maximize Your Ad Copy

Once the landing page is optimized for the search intent, it’s time to start crafting the ads. Given space constraints, it’s imperative to make every word count. Here’s a checklist of must-haves for effective digital ads:

  • Start with a strong, targeted headlines (up to three with google text ads).
  • Write concise copy that captures the gist of how the service you’re advertising meets consumer needs.
  • Incorporate priority keywords.
  • Use a strong call to action.

Depending on what your healthcare organization is promoting, there are several additional elements that can enhance effectiveness, such as including favorable ratings and statistics, or perhaps an offer, when appropriate, for a medical service (e.g., a reduced-priced health screening).

To maximize quality scores and conversion rates, the most critical piece to ad copy development is that it’s closely aligned to the messages you include on your landing page. If consumers get to your page and feel that there’s a disconnect from search query to ad copy to landing page, they’re not likely to convert.

Step 5: Conduct A Thorough Quality Control Check

Before going live, be sure to check for issues that can impact the user experience and campaign effectiveness. This includes:

  • Test all landing page functionality to make sure it’s working properly and renders correctly on various devices.
  • Make sure confirmation emails are being sent.
  • Confirm that leads are being funneled to the right recipients.
  • Train your intake team on what to expect and how to respond to leads generated by the campaign.

These action steps may sound basic, but executing them effectively can mean the difference between a successful PPC ad and one that fails to meet expectations.

Step 6: Track Performance And Optimize

Using industry benchmarks, previous campaign performance and your goals for a particular initiative, you should be tracking towards specific KPIs for your paid search effort. These should include spending, click-through rate, cost-per-click, conversion rate, cost per lead and other key performance indicators.

If your digital agency takes a “set it and forget it” approach, now is the time to revisit the relationship and maximize return on investment. We recommend tracking performance of paid search campaigns each month at a minimum, and strategically selecting elements to optimize (headlines, offers, calls to action) for ongoing improvement.

Remember to focus your energy on what you can control when looking at data. We recommend being particularly mindful of a couple of key data points that you’re in control of as you analyze performance and make changes to your campaign:

  • Click through rate—a clear measure of whether or
    not you’re targeting the right searches with messages that align with what consumers are looking for. You can also look at CTR by keyword to see if there are underperforming queries that you might adjust your bids for.
  • Conversion rate—defined as the number of consumers who fill out a form or otherwise convert relative to the total number of landing page visits, or total leads divided by ad clicks, your CVR can tell you if your landing
    page is effectively “selling” consumers on your services. Optimizing imagery, messaging, how you word calls to action, and more can all boost conversion rates, but remember, a strong CVR is also dependent on getting the right consumers to your landing page in the first place.

“Measurement is definitely one of the areas in which paid search shines,” says Crosby. “The metrics you’re able to capture paint a clear picture of how successful your PPC strategy is, and one that’s easy to articulate to non-marketing leaders.”

Final Thoughts On Lead Generation For Hospitals

As the pressure to drive revenue mounts, marketing budgets tighten and competition stiffens due to changing market forces and the impact of COVID-19, healthcare marketers are increasingly challenged to add demonstrable value for their organizations. In this environment where lead generation for hospitals is paramount, PPC advertising can be an effective digital marketing tool that meets the needs of today’s consumers and achieves targeted, measurable and profitable results for healthcare organizations.

“When someone is searching online for a medical service, chances are they or a family member need that particular service and are ready to take action, making them a highly qualified lead,” notes Skinner. “That’s the ideal point to reach them with your advertising message. Whether it’s a millennial trying to schedule an appointment with a primary care doctor or a mom hunting for an immediate care center for a sick child, you want to make it as simple as possible for them to find your provider. That’s the ultimate goal of any health system and, ideally, their digital agency.”

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