A surgeon in operating room benefitting from search engine optimization.

SEO for Surgeons: General Surgeon Case Study No. 1


Many general surgeons hear the term SEO (search engine optimization) and think, “I’m not a plastic surgeon or an elective surgeon, so this doesn’t matter.” That would be a huge mistake. 

Why? Because in this day and age, patients are empowered to have a larger role in making medical decisions. Gone are the days when a general physician refers a patient to a surgeon, and that patient does little to no corollary research online. And many patients now directly seek a surgeon or specialist to help them with a medical issue. Prospective patients will use the internet to research a surgeon to determine their credibility and experience. And with desktop and mobile devices putting vast amounts of information in hands in a matter of seconds, online and offline visibility now matters more than ever. Will your medical practice appear for them to consider?

SEO for surgeons works to gain patients. We present the medical SEO case study below as evidence that a general surgeon can benefit from a robust SEO campaign. 

Case Study

Client:  A general surgeon who focuses on hernia surgery. Unlike many, he prefers very complex hernia cases. There is a much smaller volume of complex hernia surgeries than general hernia surgeries, there are also fewer surgeons who make it a priority. This makes him part of a highly focused niche. This surgeon is known to be an expert in his field. 

Measures of success:  

Success 1: Surgeries and Consultations Booked 

We like to measure as close to a surgeon or surgery center’s pocketbook as possible. If SEO and digital marketing aren’t increasing practice revenue, then they are a waste of time and money. Our primary success metric is surgeries and/or patient consults booked that can be attributed to organic search as the source. (We also track the same metric tied to paid search, aka PPC, if we are running paid advertising online. For this client, we are.)

A challenge with this client is that the patient must schedule an appointment with the hospital in which he works rather than on the actual surgeon’s site. To overcome this loss of data, we attached both a GTM tag and a shortened Short.io link to the scheduling button on the client’s site. When they click that button, they are taken to the hospital’s website, but we can track that visitor as a positive website conversion. Why the additional shortened link? Short.io makes it easy for us to see:

 1) if the button is clicked is by a human or a bot. We only count humans.

2)  what city and country did the click occur from (to see if it’s a city he knows he got a patient from.)

3)  to make sure it isn’t a duplicate click from the same IP address as that would imply it’s the same visitor attempting to schedule more than once. 

The map of where patients sourced to organic traffic have come from for a complex procedure over time.

The surgeon has experienced a geographical breadth of growth in surgeries across the US and has had international patients travel in to see him. 

The number of patients scheduling consultations this last month. Again, this a highly complex and niche procedure, with drastically fewer being done than general hernia surgeries. This represents a substantial number of surgeries coming from organic traffic. 

Because we can track leads and surgeries, we can provide the surgeon with a clear return on investment for both his organic spend and Adwords spend. For PPC, this is called ROAS (return on ad spend). For organic, this is called ROES (return on effort spend). 

Success 2: Organic Traffic Visitors, Paid Traffic Visitors, and Map Pack Visitors

We look at three distinct sources of website traffic. 

Organic Traffic

How many unique, organic visitors did we have in the month compared to last month(s)? 

We also compare this number of site visitors to the same month in the previous year. (Ex. Nov. 2022 vs. Nov. 2021)

For this client, you can see a clear rise in organic traffic since the launch. This is impressive, considering the highest term complex hernia only gets 90 searches a month globally. He is highly niched. His practice has only been open for eight months. Each bar represents a month. You can see we did some pre-launch work.

You can also see consistent growth in the number of impressions from the content we created in partnership with the surgeon. An impression is when someone sees this surgeon’s website in the search results when they perform a search. Growth in impressions is a leading indicator of potential traffic. The more you show up in impressions, the more potential clicks to your site you can receive. 

He received 91,346 searches this last month and has grown in visibility online every month.

Paid Traffic

We are running a very limited ad spend with less than a $500 budget in Adwords Pay-Per-Click for this client. We are mainly focusing efforts on organic search. Paid search helps as organic search increases. At his current paid online advertising budget, this is more a protection strategy to protect digital turf than it is an aggressive leads strategy, though he does get many leads from it. In the future, as his practice grows, we will increase this budget substantially.

The national average for click-through is 3.17% in November 2022. He is well above that average. The stability of impressions and clicks is because the budget is stable and not increasing for Adwords.

Google Business Profile Traffic and Ranking

Google Maps, also known as the Map Pack and formerly known as Google My Business, measure website clicks, phone calls, and direction requests from people that click on the surgery center’s map listing. We want to see these number rise in the insights panel. 

Here is how he is ranking for his main surgery term across the metroplex of Dallas-Fort Worth, even though he is located in a suburb about 30 minutes south of the major city. His website clicks and calls from his GBP Map Listing are growing each month.

Client is located in a suburb yet is still able to rank across much of DFW.

Success 3. Organic Rankings

Every search results in a Search Engine Results Page. These results are ranked. The higher on the page they occur, the more likely they are to be clicked on by the user. SERP rankings are a means to an end. Yes, increasing a site’s rank for search queries and keywords is vital to achieving conversion metrics. 

We see clients often make a mistake when they select one or two keywords to watch like a hawk in the SERPS. “What am I ranking for XYZ term today?” They begin to judge the entire success of the efforts on the rank of 1 or 2 keywords.

Why do we not recommend this? It’s short-sighted for two reasons. 

First, most of your traffic will come in through derivatives of that keyword. Long-tailed keyword search traffic will drive as many, if not more, clicks to your website as searchers don’t always use the most straightforward queries. We definitely ranked this surgeon for the top of the silo main keywords. But we don’t ignore the long-tail search opportunities. Google says that up to 15 percent of the searches completed in the search bar they have never seen before. Think about that. Google gets 8.5 billion searches per day and is disclosing that 1.27 billion per day are completely new. Humans don’t always search logically or in a straightforward manner. 

Second, searchers learn as they search. We saw a recent flow of a searcher on a medical website where they first searched headache and stomach ache pregnant. They then saw the SERP results or visited pages in that search and modified their search term to frequent headache and stomach ache pregnant after eating. This visitor did five more rounds of Google searches before arriving at her final search and the answer she really sought: symptoms of gestational diabetes. 

For this reason, we track not only individual keywords’ rankings but also topical clusters. How, as a group, did the keywords tightly related to complex hernia surgery performed? How did the cluster related to diastasis recti perform? To abdominal wall reconstruction? This is more valuable information. 

Here is the main cluster around complex hernia growth. Most of his 14 top-level complex hernia terms are in the top 3 results.

And here is the progress of that cluster of ranking over time. Steady growth.

How We Achieved SEO Success for This Surgeon

We used a science-based approach that understands the Google algorithm and the first principles of how a search knowledge graph must work by its very nature.  We then use mathematical optimization to inform our strategies. Each of our strategies used on this surgeon’s site is tested and proven to drive traffic to the site. Here are some of the things we did on this site:

The initial Site Design Was Built Around Both User Experience (UX) and SEO

Many times, we get a client who already has a site. Usually, an SEO was not involved in the development of the site, so no SEO considerations were in place when determining the site’s structure and architecture. 

We can definitely remodel an existing or previous website, just like you remodel a home. 

However, when we get to design a site from the foundation up, we always get faster results. Every detail of this client site was hyperfocused on two things:

1. Content that spoke to the reader that showed the surgeon understands their concerns and issues. (Less about what the practice does and more about how a patient benefits because the practice does things the way they do. Less us and our language, and more you and you’ll

2. Creating the optimal topical silos and organizing the site’s URL strategically around them. We applied proper interlinking and structured pages and sub-pages to reinforce the main topics we knew searchers looked for based on our keyword research and entity research. 

We buffer this focus by making sure proper schema code is in place for a crawl by Google or another search engine. This helps explain the content to the search bot, so it doesn’t make assumptions about word meanings. 

Conversion Optimization

How easy is it for a user to take the next step? We set up conversion goals on the site in Google Analytics. Conversion goals on this client site are scheduling an appointment and getting more information about their condition through subscribing to an email list (Yes, email marketing via educating the patient still works extremely well.) Obviously, the highest value conversion is booking an appointment at your office. 

We benchmark your conversions against industry standards to show you how you stack up in your market.

Improve Site Speed

We ensure the site performs within the parameters of acceptable site speed to Google. We perform image optimization and code optimization to speed up the load time of the site. 

Establish Clear Analytics to Measure Data

Accurately measuring what is happening on the site is vital for success. Correctly setting up Google Analytics allows us to measure multiple factors on the site, including:

Most Popular Pages (Which pages get the most traffic across the site?)
Most Popular Landing Pages (At what page do people most arrive on the site? This implies the content is answering their query’s intent.)

Data we can see. Blurred to protect client strategies.

Most Beneficial Pages (On what pages do most people convert to scheduling an appointment?)
Dwell Times (How long does the person remain on the site as a whole and on an individual page?)
Bounce Rates (Do users leave a certain page on the website quickly?)
Exit Rates (Are there certain pages on the website where visitors consistently leave the site?)
A ton of other metrics. Each of these informs on-page edits and tweaks we can make to improve the. 

We can allow you to track performance from the website into your Electronic Healthcare Records platform or your customer relationship management  (CRM) by means that meet HIPAA requirements to protect patient privacy.  This allows you a holistic view of the patient journey, from lead through follow-up, even their future referrals of friends, family, and co-workers.

Evaluate Site Health

Just like a healthcare provider cares for the human body, we ensure this client site is healthy and free of any technical errors that could cause crawling issues. Website health is foundational to success. We watch to make sure pages are indexed (found and visible to searchers.)

Complete Competitive Research

While we don’t mimic your competitor’s SEO strategies, we do want to see where their strengths and weaknesses are. What keywords, backlinks, alt tags, and other elements are they using? Competitor analysis allows us to know how aggressively the other surgery clinics are pursuing a marketing strategy through search engine optimization and/or Google ads. 

Ongoing Content Marketing

Each month we create articles and blog posts that target topics that are meaningful to potential patients. These are not automated AI-written articles that are so prevalent in SEO recently. We avoid bot-written artificial-intelligence-created articles from platforms such as Jasper, Quillbot, Charlie, Article Forge, and others like the plague. Why? Because this is a lazy approach by SEO agencies and AI/machine learning articles do two things miserably:

1. They fail to show radical empathy for the end reader’s problem they have or possibility they desire to secure. AI writing platforms use a math formula to write an article for you. Even with medical decisions, people’s emotions enter into their decision matrix. Does this surgeon feel like he or she has expertise that is unique? Does she or he sound like they will be caring and have a good bedside manner? Do I feel safe going to him or her? Even if they are a referred patient, they will be asking, “Was my primary care physician wise in this referral, or do I need to look elsewhere?”

2. They fail to be original. These articles, by nature of the fact they were automated with AI, will be nothing more than a regurgitation of existing articles. Nothing novel or contrarian will ever be written by an AI bot. Because of how the bot is trained, it is impossible for an AI article to deviate from what already exists online. In the old marketing adage of “differentiate or die,” AI content does the exact opposite of this. 

We also include frequently asked questions (FAQ) and answers in each article. These are both questions we find people asking online and questions the surgeon says they often get asked in the office. We spend hours on these articles, ensuring they are well-written to hold the reader’s attention. Many times, we include video to create a second medium for people to engage on the page. 

How do we know the content writing is working?  

The metrics tell us. We start to see search terms that we’ve written content around show up as impressions and clicks in Google Search Console. 

We also in Google Analytics that these articles are becoming landing pages (aka the first point of contact with the website.) That means someone searched a query, and an article on the client’s site was shown as the best answer for the search intent. This shows Google thinks the article answers the question the person had when they searched. Over time, the number of web pages that are the first points of contact for a visitor grows. This represents a breadth and depth of topical coverage. As this happens, all the keywords related to that topic benefit in terms of drawing increased clicks to the surgical practice’s website. 

Ongoing Inbound Links and Internal Site Links

A link to a surgery practice site from another relevant site is a strong signal to Google. These are called inbound links. They tell the search engine, “This site has value.” The more of these valuable links you receive, the more authority your site gets (Google calls the PageRank, and other third-party platforms called Domain Authority, Trust Factor, etc.). We built healthy backlinks at scale to a surgeon’s website and surrounding web properties over time. This link building increases the site’s PageRank, allowing it to rank more easily because it carries more authority. 

We also create links between pages on the site to signal to Google which pages are the most important. This also allows users to journey through the site as they click on links of topics about which they want additional information.

GBP Business Optimization and Listing Optimization

First, we select the best business category for the client. Sometimes there are several options. Our research shows us which category is most rewarded by Google for our given terms. We make sure the topical (entity) keywords are present in the about us GBP description, that the breadth of procedures and services are included, and that real reviews are coming into the practice listing consistently. In addition, we use the post feature available in Google Business Profile to make sure valuable and relevant content is always available in the business listing. We post twice per week for this particular client. 

Off-Page SEO

We create other sites or Web 2.0 properties tied to your brand. From your Facebook page and Instagram to Google products like G-sites, calendars, Slides, shared Google Drive and Google Docs to iframes and more, we build a powerful network of branded sites that powers up your main site.  The other benefit of so many properties is that it helps with reputation management. You’ll find you dominate the first page of Google with all these properties when someone does a branded search. 

Because of the Breadth of These Efforts, You are Buffered Against Algorithm Changes

This breadth of methodology buffers your site against algorithm changes in search engines. What is an algorithm change? Search engines like Google have hundreds or thousands of factors it performs in deciding what search result to rank where. To use an analogy, think of each individual factor like a fader on a mixing board in the studio. Each fader represents an instrument in the mix, trumpet, bass, voice, snare drum, etc. For our purposes, each of these instruments relates to a Google factor like the number of backlinks, amount of click-throughs at a given ranking, dwell time, topical relevance, etc. At times, Google tests what happens if it turns up the volume (importance) of the snare drum (topical relevance) and turns down the volume of the trumpet (backlinks). This is called an algorithm update. They are not changing the factors as much as they are changing the weight, volume or importance of each factor in the overall algorithm’s mix.  (Each search engine, like Google, Bing, Duck Duck Go, Yahoo, and others, has its own unique algorithm. We mention Google because it is the behemoth in terms of the volume of the search.)

Types of Surgeons Who Benefit From SEO

Any surgeon that has patients who search for the diseases or disorders he or she treats should consider organic SEO.  These include:

  • General Surgeons
  • Bariatric Surgeons
  • Colon and rectal surgeons
  • Neurosurgeons
  • Obstetricians and gynecologists
  • Ophthalmologists
  • Orthopedic surgeons
  • Otolaryngologists 
  • Pediatric surgeons
  • Surgical oncologists
  • Thoracic surgeons
  • Urologists
  • Vascular surgeons

Regardless of your medical specialty, we can guarantee you people are searching for a medical problem needing a solution. 

Search Engine Optimization – Not Just For Elective Surgeons

Patients who need a hernia repaired, cancer surgery, heart surgery, or other treatments deserve to have as much knowledge and selections at their disposal as elective surgery patients in their healthcare decision-making. By investing in SEO, your surgical practice can ensure that you get found as the best solution for their problem. After all, you wouldn’t be in practice if you felt like you couldn’t help patients. By increasing your visibility, we just make it easier for them to find you as their answer when they search online. Call us for any of your healthcare marketing needs at 817-889-1487 or complete the consultation form.