Digital Marketing Practices to Avoid in Healthcare

What does the following riddle have to do with digital marketing?

This thing all things devours; Birds, beasts, trees, flowers; Gnaws iron, bites steel; Grinds hard stones to meal; Slays king, ruins town, And beats mountain down.

This is a riddle that the character Gollum asks Bilbo Baggins in Tolkien’s The Hobbit. The answer? Time. Time changes all things and in that respect, the world of digital marketing is no different than Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Since the inception of the Internet and the rise of digital marketing, certain practices have risen and fallen, become relevant and become obsolete. It is the purpose of this blog to highlight some of the practices that were once worthwhile endeavors, but are now either wastes of time or worse.

Testimonials, Reputation Management and Local Search

Testimonials used to be published on your own website when patients submitted them. However, everyone knew there was a bit of a conflict of interest there. No sane medical practice would ever publish a negative testimonial on their website. In recent times, especially as search engines have begun to distinguish between general searches and local searches, searchers have been able to find doctor reviews in the search results from sites like Google’s own Places and Google+ Local pages, and from 3rd party sites like vitals.com and healthgrades.com. In their early years, these sites were seen as competition and as taking up real estate on the first page of Google results, but now it has become an important part of SEO strategy to find these listings, claim them and add information to them, including a link to the main website if possible. This way, negative reviews can be monitored and disputed if they are untrue.

It should also be noted here that Google released an update, unofficially called Pigeon, in late July 2014 that specifically updated Google’s local searches. It would appear, without official word from Google, that local directory sites like vitals.com, healthgrades.com, and specifically Yelp.com, are now appearing much higher in the Google search results. Yelp.com is not thought of as a medical review site, but it does feature medical reviews. Prior to the update, Yelp.com was featured in the news complaining about Google’s local business search results, mainly that Google’s Places and Google+ listings were appearing higher than Yelp listings. It would appear that the Pigeon update has boosted the rankings of not only Yelp, but also other local directory sites.

Note: This is not to say that you should altogether abandon posting testimonials on your site. Testimonial sections on many of our client websites are amongst the most popular pages. Also, video testimonials are a powerful tool that few, if any, of the major medical directory sites support, but your testimonials page does. So, going forward, do not abandon your testimonials page, but make an effort to encourage your patients to submit reviews to 3rd party websites as well.

Ignoring Social Media

It has never been a good idea to ignore social media as part of your digital marketing strategy, but over the years, ignoring social media has become a progressively bigger mistake. According to a Shareaholic study, referral traffic from social media sites represented just shy of 25% of total traffic to the site. This mark is still significantly less than search traffic’s ~41% share, but it represents almost a quarter of total traffic.
Not only is social media merely a source of referral traffic, but it is also a place for interaction with your patients. In our experience, through interactions on Facebook in particular, we have been able to create full-fledged patient stories and video testimonials for some of our clients. None of these pieces would have come to fruition without a strong presence on Facebook.

Spammy Guest Blogging

This is a practice that still works, but early in 2014, Matt Cutts, head of the web spam team at Google said that, because it has become such a spam-riddled method for getting links, guest bloggers should proceed with caution. If you are pursuing it in a good way where guest posts on your site or your guest posts on other site fit comfortably within the theme of that site, it should not be a problem. However, if guest blogging is a cornerstone of your SEO strategy, you will get into trouble.

Article Submission and Directory Sites

If a link is really easy to get, chances are that other people know about it and have abused it to the point that search engines will either ignore it altogether or consider it spam and penalize you. This is the case with article submission sites as well as some (not all) directory sites. Article submissions sites began as a great way to get exposure and if your content was valuable enough, a number of links, but as with many old SEO practices, it was abused and Google took it away. The same goes for directory sites, except that this only refers to directory sites that were incredibly easy to get links on. There are still reputable directory sites that do not have this stigma, but seeking links on certain directory sites could blacklist you on Google.

Purchasing Backlinks

In the early days of SEO, purchasing back links was a necessity. It always had a shady feeling to it, but everyone was doing it and no one was getting penalized, which meant that in order to stay relevant, it had to be done. However, times have changed and Google has become much better at detecting this sort of scheme. Buying links can now earn your site a manual Google penalty, which means that you will no longer receive any web traffic from Google search. This can cripple a website and take months to rectify.

Keyword Stuffing

A 2011 update from Matt Cutts explained how Google treats keyword mentions on a page. It used to really benefit a page’s rank to use the keyword(s) you are trying to rank for as many times as possible on a page. Now, the best practice is to try to use the keyword in relevant places (the page title, header tags, etc.), but not to exceed 4-5 mentions on a page. Otherwise, Google (and presumably other search engines) will begin to see your efforts as spammy or even computer-generated. This will cause your page to drop out of the rankings.

Meta Keywords

There is an HTML tag on a web page that used to be a way of communicating what keywords the page is about to search engines. This field is called a meta tag (an HTML field that is invisible to a user but visible to a search engine crawling the page) and it looked like this: <meta name=”keywords” content=”keyword1, keyword2, keyword3, etc.” />. The meta keyword field still exists, but it is now ignored by search engines because of how spammy it had become. People would just put every keyword they could possibly think of in this field instead of the 2-3 that were actually relevant to the page. So, since it was not supplying search engines with any trustworthy information about a page, they stopped using it. If you still use the meta keyword tag, you won’t receive any sort of penalty, but it won’t help you at all either, so it is a waste of time.

Press Release Links

Back in July of 2013, Google indicated to press release sites (PRWeb, PR Newswire, etc.) that any links in their articles should be no followed. “No following” a link is an attribute that you can add to a link that tells search engines not to count the link. This is usually done with advertised links so that people cannot buy links on your site (or you on theirs). The reason for this request/mandate was because businesses could just buy PR placements and get links from the PR sites. Not only that, but you could specify what text was linked (called anchor text). Search engines value anchor text because it tells them information about what type of page the link is pointing to. For example, if someone links to the Points Group site using “Digital Marketing for Healthcare,” that adds significantly more value than “click here.” So between the paid link and customizable anchor text, Google saw this as enough reason to ask PR sites to “no follow” these links. When Google released its Panda 4.0 update in May 2014, PR sites that did not follow Google’s message got hit with major losses of organic traffic. Since then, most PR sites except small, local ones have cleaned up their links.

Thin Content

In the early days of SEO, links were really all that mattered. Search engines would see generally what your site was about and then count how many other sites linked to it with very little focus on the content of your site. As search engines have become more sophisticated, they have come to treat content as an important element in SEO. So where several years ago, you could get by on a 1-2 page website with very little content and a lot of strong links, today that website would fail to attract traffic from search engines.

Purchasing Extra Domains

Purchasing extra domains is not something that previously worked and now does not, but it is a common misconception worth clarifying. Say your main domain is drsmith.com. You are an orthopedic surgeon who specializes in hip replacements. If you purchase hipreplacement.com, hipreconstruction.com, and hipsurgeon.com and have all of these domains redirect to drsmith.com, this will do nothing for your SEO. The only thing it will do is redirect traffic that goes directly to any of your extra domains to your main site.

Also worth mentioning here, if instead of using drsmith.com as your main domain, you decided to use hipreplacement.com, this would give you a nice boost in ranking for “hip replacement” and related search terms.

Internal Blogs versus External Blogs

As I mentioned before in the Thin Content section, content has become an increasingly important aspect of SEO. A standard practice a few years ago was to host a blog on a separate domain. It was as though the blog was seen as a way to get an extra link to your main site and hopefully get some referral traffic. It makes much more sense in today’s SEO climate to put your blog right on your main site. Not only does this enrich the content on your site, but it also demonstrates to search engines that your website is constantly updating, another good signal for SEO.

Unique versus Repurposed Content

An early SEO practice (and unfortunately one that’s still around today) is the use of repurposed content. Some SEO firms and content shops would (and some still do) repurpose content for multiple clients in what is essentially a plagiaristic practice. Sometimes they will change a few lines here and there; sometimes they won’t even bother. Clients are not usually even aware that their content is repurposed, so all they see is a new content on their website. But, in the eyes of a search engine, all they see is the same content that they already saw elsewhere.

From a user experience perspective, they will see the seemingly new content and have no idea that it is. But, as I said, the search engines will recognize it. You will not get a penalty for this practice, but neither will your site receive any credit for the new content. So, very much like the Meta Keywords practice, it is nothing but a waste of time, at least from an SEO perspective.


There are surely many other formerly useful but now obsolete digital marketing practices out there, but I believe this to be a fairly comprehensive list. Feel free to add anything that I missed in the comments. As time marches on and search engines continue to update, chances are that many of the practices that we do today will lose their efficacy. In digital marketing, you continually have to stay on top of the latest industry news, try new things, and monitor your results. In all of your digital marketing efforts, striving for two things remain unaffected by time: quality content and relevance.

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