For Clinicians

SEO or PPC: Which is better for my private practice?

SEO (Search Engine Optimisation) and PPC (Pay Per Click) are two great ways of marketing your private practice. They can both increase your visibility online and drive more patients to your website. But which one is best for you? Or should you use both? Let’s take a look.

What is SEO?

Your website visitors (traffic) can come from many different channels. They may have typed your web address into their browser (direct traffic), clicked a link on another website (referral traffic), or clicked on an advert (paid traffic).

On the other hand, a visitor may have typed a search term into Google and found your website in the unpaid (organic) search results. SEO is the process of optimising your site so it’s more likely to appear (rank) near the top of the organic search results for your chosen keywords.

There are three aspects of successful SEO:

1. “On-site” SEO

This is about perfecting your website’s written content and HTML so Google judges it favourably and shows it higher up in the search results. This includes structuring your content well and using your keywords appropriately.

2. “Off-site” SEO

Google sees a link to your site from another site a bit like a “vote” for it. The theory is that the more and higher quality links you have, the better Google judges your website to be. Off-site SEO is what you do to increase the number of quality links back to your site, known as “backlinks”.

3. Technical SEO

This is an increasingly broad term that refers to making your website easier for search engines to “crawl” or “index”. This includes things like keyword research, site maps, meta tags and improving site (loading) speed.

What are the pros of SEO?

Credibility and trust

Many patients will view high-ranking websites in the organic results more positively than paid ads. There’s something about coming top of the “natural” search results that conveys trust and credibility. 

Cost

While it’s likely you’ll need some expert help with SEO, it’ll probably be a lot cheaper than paid ads or other ways of driving traffic to your site. Assuming your site successfully converts visitors into patients, it’ll probably give you a better Return on Investment (ROI) over the medium to longer term.

Sustainability

Unlike paid traffic, organic traffic isn’t dependent on you spending anything. The benefits of SEO will likely last long after you’ve stopped working on it, so it could sustain your practice through times when you choose to cut your marketing budget.

What are the drawbacks of SEO?

Invisible and changing goalposts

The challenge with SEO is that it is, in part, a dark art. Google has over 200 ranking factors, but they never publicise all of them because it would open their algorithm to abuse. So you never know exactly what you’re working towards, and if the goalposts change your efforts could go to waste.

Takes time

Becoming visible in the organic search results generally takes time, particularly if your medical specialty is competitive. That said, a competitive speciality can be a good thing. Why? Because if you make it to the top of the results, it’ll be harder for competitors to take your place.

Can be content-hungry

As I said earlier, backlinks are an essential part of successful SEO. In crowded sectors, that might mean you need to create a lot of content, in different forms, that’s interesting and useful enough for people to want to link to it.

What is PPC?

Most people would say “Google Ads” if I asked them what PPC is, and they wouldn’t be far off. Adverts on search engines is where PPC originally came from, but social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter also have their own ad platforms that work in the same way. 

On social media the paid ads fall somewhere in your feed and are normally labelled as “Sponsored” or “Promoted”. In search engines, the adverts are the results at the very top of a search results page. On Google they’re preceded by the word “Ad”, but otherwise they look very similar to the organic results. 

If a searcher or social media user clicks on one of those links, the advertiser pays the platform a fee. Hence the name “Pay Per Click”.

What are the pros of PPC?

Instant exposure

While it can take a long time to get to the top of the search results with SEO, you can be at the coveted “top of page 1” within minutes if you pay. Realistically it will take a few weeks to test your keywords before ramping up your campaign, but it’s still a lot quicker than climbing the results pages naturally.

Budget control

You can immediately switch PPC ads on and off, which gives you great control over your budget. You can also start small too. Want to just test the waters? You could begin with £100, decide how much you’re willing to pay per day and set fixed spending limits.

This control is a major reason behind the success of PPC advertising. Integrate the ads with “goals” you set in Google Analytics, and you’ll more easily be able to track your ROI too.

Stability

Every now and then, Google makes changes to its search algorithm which could negatively impact where your website appears in the results. In 2018, for example, a change was dubbed the “Medic update” as it appeared to disproportionately affect health, fitness and medical websites.

AdWords (Google’s PPC platform) doesn’t suffer from these unpredictable changes in the same way, meaning you’ll always be at the top of the results pages.

What are the drawbacks of PPC?

Can become expensive

PPC can be a cost-effective form of advertising. However, the nature of the pricing model – bidding for keywords – drives up prices like an auction. This isn’t great for competitive specialties.

What’s more, it takes a lot of attention to effectively manage an account. If you’re a time-poor consultant (and you probably are!), that means you’ll likely need to pay an agency or freelancer to do this for you. Of course, this adds to the expense.

Some people skip over ads 

As I alluded to earlier, many people see the organic search results as more credible and trustworthy, meaning they’ll often scroll down past the ads to find the natural results. Now you’ve read this article, you’ll know these aren’t necessarily more credible – it might just be that the site owners have great SEO managers! But the fact remains your patients could ignore your ad and scroll right past.

Ongoing management

Successful PPC needs skilled management and optimisation. You have to monitor your bids and keep an eye on the Quality Scores, click-through rates, ad positions… It’s not necessarily difficult once you’ve got the hang of it, but it isn’t for those starved of hours in the day.

So… Should I use SEO or PPC? Or both?

This is an almost impossible question to answer, because so much will depend on your specific private practice, strategy and objectives. 

Do you need leads now? Are you playing “the long game” or will you retire in a few years? Do you practice a competitive specialty in a competitive geographic area? Would you do the work yourself, or outsource it?

You have to weigh up the pros and cons of each against your answers to these questions.

But if money’s no object and you’re planning on running your practice for many years to come, you’d ideally want to look at both SEO and PPC. You may have noticed that some of the cons of one are counteracted by the pros of the other, so they can work very well together. Again, though, it depends on your exact situation and objectives.

Some final words…

In my experience, consultants looking to outsource PPC ads to an agency generally find the management fee and ad spend prohibitive. The use of software and/or freelancers is more economic and may make it possible to run competitive campaigns.

SEO is often a “harder sell” for consultants. It’s trickier to track ROI and it takes time. But if you’re looking to practice for several years, my opinion is that it’s well worth the investment.