Much to the dismay of many, there are some technical SEO aspects to factor in.
But before you roll your eyes or open your wallets to pay for a pricey SEO expert to do the work, check out our handy guide, designed to help you manage and optimize the 6 technical website modifications that can build your rankings.
1. Avoid Cloaking
Cloaking is when your website shows one version of a web page to users, and yet a different version (usually stuffed with keywords) to search engine spiders.
Cloaking isn’t largely in use these days, as search engines have become wise to the practice, but many health professionals hire someone else to develop and maintain their websites. In other words, you can’t be 100% certain that your site is in the clear.
Luckily, it doesn’t take more than just a moment to check your site. Just use this free tool by SEO Tools.
If your site is using cloaking, you should end that practice immediately. Google and other search engines consider this to be extremely deceptive and will penalize your site when they discover that you’re guilty of this approach.
2. Embrace your 301 redirects
Anytime you move a web page to a different URL (or delete an existing page), you should use redirects, aimed to direct human and search-engine traffic to the page you want them to go to.
For example, if you decide to change your About Us page (domain.com/about-us) to Our Team (with the new URL of domain.com/team), it’s imperative you create a 301 redirect to send all “/about-us” traffic to “/team”.
If you don’t, then you run the risk of sending your users to a Page Not Found 404 error, which hurts your SEO and offers a poor user experience.
We see healthcare professionals need to change page URLs often, particularly if someone leaves their practice or if they need to adapt the terminology used for a specific service they offer.
Fortunately, setting up 301 redirects isn’t too difficult. If your website is built on the WordPress platform, for example, you can use a free or premium plugin that simplifies the process for you. With more than 600,000 installs to date, Redirection remains one of the most reliable plugins to use.
In case you’re wondering, 301 means that your redirect is permanent. More times than not this is the option you’ll want to use, as this command will transfer link equity from your old page to your new one.
A 302 redirect is a temporary redirect. This rarely used command is good for when you’re building out or updating your website/web page and want to send traffic to a new page while under maintenance. Then you’ll remove the 302 redirect when your updates are complete.
3. Create a Custom 404 Page
Even with all the redirects in the world, chances are that people headed to your site might mistype something or click on a bad link and wind up on a 404 Error Page.
What do they see when they come across a 404 page? You can check it out by typing in something like http://yourdomain.com/bogus-webpage.
In the worst possible case, you’ll come across the default HTML 404 error page – a blank white page that looks nothing like your website, and tells the user that “The page cannot be found.”
Most users give up looking for your website after this type of experience, which is why you should consider customizing your 404 page.
Here’s where a savvy designer or developer can help.
- Design/Develop your custom page – Your custom 404 page should do more than say “This page does not exist.” Your goal is to create a friendly and useful experience so that your temporarily lost visitor will be able to find his or her way through your site. Consider creating a custom error message such as: “That page you’re looking for seems to have moved; let’s see if we can help you find your way.” Then, you’d list out a few links to pages you feel most of your traffic might be interested in (main services page, home page, contact page, about page). You might also want to include a site-search box as well.
- Tell your server – You need to make sure your server knows that you’ve created a custom 404 page. How you do this all depends on the type of website server you have, and this is also where things can get a little messy, which is why unless you have intimate knowledge working directly with your web server, you should contract out a skilled developer.
4. Avoid harmful duplicate content/plagiarism the easy way
Duplicate content and plagiarized content on your website (or content stolen from your website) can result in Google filtering out your pages from its search engine results pages.
In your case, chances are that your website is at risk of having its content stolen and used elsewhere. While Google is pretty good and determining who has was the original author of the content (and ranking them accordingly) this isn’t a foolproof method to rely on.
You need to take matters into your own hands.
There are two effective methods to determining if any of the content on your site was taken from elsewhere (in the event you hired a writer to produce your content) or if your original content is being used on another site:
- Exact-match search: You can copy a long text snippet from your page and search for it (within quotation marks) right within Google. The results will show you all the web pages indexed that include that exact text.
- Copyscape: This popular plagiarism service comes in a free and premium (albeit extremely affordable) version. You can paste the URL of your original content and Copyscape will find any and all references to that content across the web (this is a great service to use if you hire writers to produce content for your website; before you pay the writers, run their work through Copyscape to ensure originality).
Once you’ve determined your content is original and unique, use the rel=canonical tag on your web page. If you are using WordPress, you can use the Yoast SEO plugin which includes this automatically.
5. Use your robots.txt the way it’s supposed to be used
There’s a very good chance that you’ve never heard of robots.txt. It’s not something you find in the day-to-day life of a healthcare practitioner.
However, when it comes to getting the biggest ROI from your website, robots.txt is actually a very big deal.
Robots.txt is the first file search engines look for when they arrive at your site. This text file – kept in the root directory of your website – tells search engine spiders which directories can and can’t be crawled.
For example, you can use simple “disallow” commands within your robots.txt file to block the indexing of:
- Private directories not intended for public consumption
- Ads you host (particularly if you run AdSense ads)
But making changes to your robots.txt file is not for the faint of heart. Even just one disallow command can stop the crawling of your entire site (which may be a good thing if, for example, your site isn’t ready to be launched).
While we strongly urge you to turn to an SEO expert to help you modify your robots.txt file to your specific needs, you can test your robots.txt file for free thanks to Google’s tester. If you run into any errors there, then you know it’s time to turn to the experts.
6. Use structured data
Structured data is an underused – yet highly effective – strategy to get your healthcare website ranking high.
Simply put, structured data markups are just additional bits of HTML code that you add to your site’s content. They’re like little notes that search engines read to know what’s what on your site.
One of the biggest SEO advantages to adding structured data markups is that these little bits of information can, at times, appear beneath your title and description on your results pages.
These rich snippets can greatly increase your click-through rates.
Structured data markup is available for many categories of content (based on Schema.org standards).
Your Google Search Console will show you any errors for structured data on your website. If you find errors, you will likely need to turn to a web developer or SEO expert to help you solve them.
Ranking high on Google means more than just creating content
Without content, you’ll struggle to rank high on search engines. That much is clear.
However, it takes more than active blogging for you to top page one. The six technical SEO-based tips we outlined above are proven, white hat strategies that, when practiced, will put you in the best possible position to be the top of your healthcare industry and easily discoverable by the folks who matter most: your potential prospects.