5 Ways healthcare systems can succeed with online advertising

Sometimes healthcare systems need to help people find care online and raise awareness for their own services, which is where online advertising such as paid search, native advertising, and paid social can be especially useful.

Healthcare systems with the resources to invest into performance media such as paid search and display ads can certainly do a more effective job attracting patients to their doors. But online advertising does not deliver automatic benefits. Only healthcare systems that invest wisely into online advertising will reap a reward. Here are five tips for getting the most of online advertising:

Build Trust by Bidding on Condition and Treatment Keywords

For paid search campaigns, bid on condition and treatment terms to drive traffic to your informational pages -- which will help establish your name as a trusted source of information for when people are actively searching for answers to their needs. There are two main ways to do so:

● Bid on so-called prestige terms that answer questions such as "Where is the best orthopedic care provider in Chicago?" or "Best cardiologist in Austin."

● Bid on symptom-based terms (e.g., "bronchiectasis symptoms" or "treatment for shingles").

Bidding effectively for the right keywords should make your name appear higher in search results. People who are not aware of you will be more likely to learn about your expertise, and you will build trust for your brand in the categories of expertise for which you want to be known. People familiar with your brand already, such as current patients, will have their perceptions of you reinforced and will be more likely to return to you when they need care again.

Of course, the assumption here is that your information pages contain effective content for the categories you care about.

Leverage YouTube's Pre-roll Ads

Not only does YouTube own the video category, it's also a wildly popular search tool in its own right. Healthcare providers already share organic content on YouTube to share their expertise on topics in a more human way, with their physicians discussing answers to medical issues. In addition, healthcare providers might want to consider going beyond posting videos and gaining organic traffic. Consider also pre-roll ads, for example to highlight where your healthcare group is driving advancement in research and therapy.

YouTube can provide strong reach for your brand. Plus, YouTube offers effective targeting for pre-roll ads by variables such as radius (address), city, and state, and by audience and interest. With YouTube pre-roll ads, you pay for the ability to target an audience.

If you already create TV spots, consider repurposing them on YouTube, or consider YouTube as your exclusive channel if you lack a budget to go multi-channel. For example, a YouTube ad can be an effective way to announce news, such as a merger or change in your practice's location. Consider also:

● Q&As with your providers on topics of interest to your patients.

● An inside look at a new practice wing or technology that is improving care.

● Introductions to physicians, including their mission statements and backgrounds. Your own physician pages might contain physician introductions already -- in which case, your job becomes an easier one of re-purposing the content on to YouTube.

Effective pre-roll ads on YouTube deliver the same kind of benefits that any good video content provides, which is to give your physicians more exposure, to humanize your brand, and to build your prestige.

Use Native Ads to Build Awareness

Native ads are like paid editorial. You publish an informative article on a branded site and, hopefully, build credibility and awareness. And you pay for the ad to appear, akin to paying for a search result on Google. The best native ads share useful how-to ideas in a very relevant way. For instance, during the winter season, a healthcare provider might want to consider a paid ad in a prestige media regarding tips for cold and flu season. Being topical is also effective, such as tips on proper gluten-free dieting or content about breast cancer during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The key is to provide perspectives that are credible and deeper than someone could get for free through a Google search. Provide a perspective that truly draws upon the ideas of your own physicians rather than information you could get by researching the internet. Be timely, be useful, and be insightful.

Finally, a native ad can drive traffic to deeper levels of content on your own website -- for a low cost per click -- when you link to your own blogs and resources strategically throughout your native ad. Why not pay to build awareness and drive traffic to your own site?

Be Social

Social media is a great way to share recurring and timely content. For example, with Facebook, you can share a series of white papers on, say, proper dieting, through targeted ads. Facebook is especially effective at targeting highly granular audiences in a cost-effective way. In addition, social can be useful for sharing announcements (similar to the way YouTube is beneficial). With Facebook advertising, you can boost the signal for major news, such as a rock star physician joining your team or announcing a merger.

Of course, social also provides opportunities for sharing strong visual content in a sponsored way, akin to YouTube providing pre-roll ads. Instagram in particular continues to take off as a branded platform, and healthcare providers might want to consider Instagram for the same reasons YouTube can be rewarding: to humanize a brand.

Use Lookalikes

A lookalike is a segment of an online audience that resembles the profile of people who visit your site (be it a website or social media page) already. Publishers such as Facebook and Google provide tools that allow you to build lists of lookalikes based on data that, while not revealing a person's identity, resembles closely the characteristics of your known audience. Using lists of lookalike audiences makes it possible for you to target advertising to people who are more likely to take an interest in your areas of specialty. As Facebook points out, one of the keys to success with lookalikes is to be create smaller lookalikes so as to avoid diluting the pool of people you are trying to reach. The bigger the lookalike, the less likely you will target a desired audience.

A lookalike, while sounding technical to the uninitiated, is worth learning. Building lookalike audiences helps you attract a more highly targeted audience that is more likely to find your online ad relevant.

Getting Started

Here are some near-term steps to take in order to get started with online advertising:

● Take inventory of your content and match it to the appropriate online advertising format. If you have a great blog and publish a lot of thought leadership, a native ad may be the most natural extension of the ideas you're already creating. If you rely on video heavily, consider YouTube pre-rolls. If your site contains a strong content library with rich descriptions of symptoms and conditions, consider paid search.

● Consider seasonal issues and your calendar. Look for landmark events and milestones coming up and ask how you might want to use online advertising accordingly. The opening of a new research center will certainly lend itself to all kinds of PR and organic content, but, as noted, many online advertising options exist, too, such as videos and Facebook ads.

● Look at ways to integrate paid and organic. Consider what you are doing well with organic content already. If you are already showing up with strong organic search results for topics and categories you care about, you may not need to do paid search. But if you have published an outstanding white paper on your site and are not getting as many downloads as you had hoped, you might want to consider paying for online advertising to raise awareness, drive traffic to your site, and improve downloads.

● Understand your audience and your goal. Know who you are targeting and why. Is your goal to drive new patients, to keep them, or both? As noted, some of the tactics I describe are more appropriate for building awareness while others are best for building authority (the latter might be especially valuable for patient retention). Overlay these tactics against the entire customer journey.

By understanding your goals in context of the customer journey, assessing your content pipeline, and taking a hard look at the effectiveness of your organic content, you can create a solid foundation for launching online advertising. A word of caution: online advertising, like organic content, requires a commitment. Don't treat online advertising like a one-shot tactic. Invest in a resource who is willing to own your brand through online advertising -- and then nurture your brand.

Mike Hill is SIM Partners' Director of Enterprise Sales. In 2016, Mike joined SIM Partners bringing over 27 years of healthcare experience ranging from Fortune 100 companies to owning an emergency department coding/billing software platform. Mike prides himself on the relationships he has built in the industry around the country and has engaged with several national health organizations including ACHE. Now Mike's primary concentration is patient acquisition, access and engagement in addition to improving provider visibility in online search with a focus on mobile optimization.

The views, opinions and positions expressed within these guest posts are those of the author alone and do not represent those of Becker's Hospital Review/Becker's Healthcare. The accuracy, completeness and validity of any statements made within this article are not guaranteed. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.

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