Understanding which is more beneficial – SEO or PPC, is a common challenge for healthcare marketers. Each offers their own advantages and both play critical roles in allowing medical professionals and healthcare organizations to be discovered by, connect with and engage prospective patients, while growing market share in an increasingly competitive environment. The keys are understanding the differences between the two; considering which are most appropriate given your specific objectives; and applying them strategically while testing, monitoring and measuring results which will ultimately allow you to adjust your resources most effectively.
SEM, SEO, PPC... What’s the Difference?
SEM or “Search Engine Marketing” is a broad term. It’s everything that can be done to utilize the technology of search engines with the goal of promoting a web site and increasing its traffic. SEM includes both unpaid (organic) methods like SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and paid tactics like PPC (Pay-Per-Click Advertising).
No SEM campaign is complete without SEO. The purpose of SEO is to make websites better for both search engines and users. It includes things like utilizing proper code; user-friendly site design and navigation; meta-tags and site maps that contain key words and phrases relevant to your business and site content; providing relevant educational content and keeping it updated; and nourishing inbound links to your website from social media, blogs and other relevant, authoritative sources. If any business is going to spend money on advertising and paid placement, then SEO must be the first step in promoting their site.
“Promoting” is a word that makes many medical professionals uncomfortable. But as all healthcare providers understand, achieving good health isn’t always comfortable. The fact is that in this day and age, being able to be found online should be considered a responsibility for healthcare service providers.
Being “discoverable” online benefits medical professionals and patients. It builds trust and comfort between patients and providers. It provides patients confidence in an individual or organization’s ability to help them. SEO, SEM and PPC all work to help ensure that providers are visible online, while allowing them to communicate high-value information to patients who are searching actively for it. Providing helpful information allows individuals and organizations to become authorities in their fields, building credibility and top-of-mind awareness. When it comes to their personal health, consumers are naturally selective, and understanding who the leaders are is critically important to them.
While it can be difficult to identify the perfect balance of time and resources to dedicate to SEO and PPC, I do believe that effective online marketing strategies should include both paid and organic campaigns. Putting all of your marketing budget into one basket is risky. If your strategy focuses entirely on organic results, you’ll likely miss out on the estimated 25% – 40% (depending upon which study you deem most credible) of searchers who are more apt to click on paid listings, even when your organic listing sits in the #1 organic spot, just below the ads on the search engine results pages (SERPS).
If you focus entirely on PPC, you may fail to attract the other (60% – 75%) of searchers. Additionally, if your organic rankings suddenly take a dive due to unforeseen search engine algorithm changes, and you don’t have a PPC campaign, your business might quietly disappear from your targeted SERPS.
The Advantages of SEO
SEO is a cost-effective strategy for the long term. Due to the fact that search results can remain in place for long periods of time, your initial investment can potentially provide great results far into the future. Organic rankings can also provide a more significant boost to your business’ credibility, because most people tend to trust organic search results over paid ones.
That said, it is important to note that over the years, search engines like Google, Bing and Yahoo have redesigned their paid search results to look more and more like organic ones. This, coupled with continuing efforts to reward advertisers for quality content and ad relevance in paid search, have resulted in generally higher quality ads, which are continuing to whittle away at the “trust” gap.
Perhaps one of the most important benefits of SEO is the ability to rank for certain “long tail” key words and phrases that you may not even be focusing on, but that are associated with specific content on any of your pages. Organic search has a way of delivering these kinds of. “pleasant surprises” and you can build your content out to the degree you choose, over time. Remember that you will want to keep your content fresh, as this is one of the attributes that contributes to “winning” the SEO game.
The Advantages of PPC
By contrast, PPC is more precise- great for attracting targeted traffic when you want or need it, and pulling in those who are further down the purchase funnel (i.e. those who are closer to making a purchase decision, as opposed to those who may still be researching). PPC enjoys higher conversation rates and higher net revenue per visit than organic search clicks, and you only pay when someone actually clicks on your ad.
You can also target your ads to be served to very specific geographic locales and are allowed to bid how much you would like to pay per click (thus the name). You have the ability to drive traffic to your website on the same day you open a PPC account and it’s easy to measure the exact cost of acquiring a new customer, and overall return on investment.
PPC is great for vying for select, highly competitive keywords, and for focused campaigns. If there are service lines that you have identified as highest margin or most valuable to your practice for any reason, then a good strategy may be dedicating your PPC spend to these particular areas, while trying to capture the rest with SEO to the degree that you are able. If you are trying to establish brand awareness in a specific new location, again, PPC is a way to achieve this quickly.
The Bottom Line
The bottom line is that both SEO and PPC should play roles in your online marketing. Making sure that your website is fundamentally optimized for organic search is the most basic component of good SEO, but it is ultimately an ongoing process that is broad-reaching and constantly evolving. The more time you dedicate to it, the more you’ll likely benefit from it. And while you may have difficulty understanding exactly what works and what doesn’t, and trouble quantifying ROI, your gains will generally be long lasting and benefit you in ways you may not have even anticipated.
PPC on the other hand, is one of the quickest, easiest ways to generate targeted traffic to websites and is particularly useful for focused efforts. It allows businesses to control expenses by setting maximums for ads, providing exceptional analytics tracking and straightforward means for calculating ROI. While it can be a short- or long-term strategy, once you cease paying, the associated traffic to your website ends. But the tracking mechanism and ability to quickly turn it on or off, diffuses most risks.
Both methods involve fairly steep learning curves and a great deal of time to master. There is always something that can be done to improve results and the rules of the game are constantly changing requiring continual monitoring of industry trends; testing; analysis and learning. Like so many disciplines, it is best left in the hands of trusted professionals who have invested the time in the proper education and training, and whose experience helps set them apart.
If you’d like to learn more about practical, cost-effective options for healthcare website development and online marketing for healthcare professionals including SEM, SEO and PPC, call Steven Emsley, Senior Leads Specialist at Web.com (Nasdaq: WWWW) Web.com is a Google Premiere Partner and one of the world’s online marketing leaders for small and medium businesses. Steven can be reached at 904.347.3724 or email@example.com
Tim is Director of Social Media at Web.com. A deeply experienced integrated marketing professional, former creative director and writer who operated his own full-service marketing, branding, public relations and design firm for 15 years, Tim provides a wealth of experience in nearly every area of marketing communications encompassing both new and traditional media.