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How Inbound Marketing Works for Physicians

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Do you remember the last time you googled your name? Did it leave you seeing stars, wondering how you can be on the web so patients and colleagues can find you while retaining your reputation and integrity?

Until very recently, search engine queries about health care providers and their practice yielded a cacophony of results: Ratings, rankings, and all sorts of dubious resources crowding out the first page of search results and making it difficult for internet users to gain meaningful information about the health care options available to them. Adorned but insubstantial, the rating sites that search engines kept serving up simply lacked professional integrity, and put off, doctors stayed away.

There’s good news for physicians (and other professionals whose business is based on their expertise). Search engines have changed. They recognized the quality issues of their old algorithms and tuned them to make the web, via search result, a much more harmonious space.

At their core, search engines are businesses that balance the information and entertainment needs of users with the advertising revenues from businesses competing for users’ attention. They exchange access for information. In the past, their algorithms favored sites with lots of traffic – like those physician ratings sites that are engineered not to provide anything substantive but rather to compel people to click, click, click – with distasteful results.

Today, relevance matters, and health care providers control how search engines display information about their practice. This is accomplished through inbound marketing, a hybrid advertising and communications strategy based on search engine algorithms that scour web-based resources for specific programmed and interconnected data that demonstrate pertinence to the user. For the medical industry, search engine users are patients (and referring colleagues), and health care providers are the advertisers.

Advertising, via inbound marketing, establishes cachet among experts in the information economy. This value is generated when people query search engines and you respond with professionally-crafted blogs, videos, checklists, or whitepapers. The most effective advertising of our era emphasizes content placed within established media outlets, including online magazines, newspapers, and social media. The more targeted your approach and the more synergy you establish – i.e. doctors posting to a medical information site instead of a home and garden site – the more highly ranked you are on search engines. Advertising, via inbound marketing, yields greater relevance and trust.

Because of high average lifetime customer value, health care providers can benefit greatly from professionally-executed inbound marketing whenever an improvement is made in clinical care or the overall operations of the practice (new procedure, new hire, new location, new coverage benefit). I will focus on cases for inbound marketing in my next column, but let’s use the following example to see how it all works together.

Let’s say your cardiology practice has invested in a new procedure that can significantly reduce post-operative pain and recovery time. There’s some buzz about it – someone told you they heard about it on the morning talk shows – and you want to make sure people in your community know you provide that same service locally. A marketer trained in inbound marketing will write a short article about the procedure and post it on your website in the form of a beautiful practice brochure. Next, she will contact highly-relevant media properties to have the article placed in their content marketing platforms. If the story is newsworthy, she will pitch for coverage in regional newspapers.

Once the story is published, your marketer works to distribute it to your targeted readers. She emails all of your (opted-in) patients about the coverage including a link to the brochure version you posted on your website, and she emails the physician community through your local medical media and medical society eNewsletter. The readers are captivated and convinced, so they click to share with their social media connections.

Then, a local resident having just heard that he will be getting a referral for a cardiologist, googles his condition and…Voila. There you are, page one of the search results. That’s how inbound marketing works for physicians.


Megan Campbell Smith is the digital publisher of MD-UPDATE. Contact her at