Written By: Sarah Check
Blogging for healthcare professionals can be maddening – but it doesn’t have to be.
“I already have one,” I hear another frustrated doctor say, “But my blog isn’t getting traffic. And I don’t want to spend more time and money on something that’s not paying off.”
Have you run across this sentiment…personally, or with clients?
As a nurse waist-deep in research, I was baffled. Marketers paraded the benefits of blogs! And several famous hospitals, like Mayo Clinic, breezed to the top of search results with their content. So doctors squeezed blogging into their overloaded schedule or outsourced the writing to someone on Upwork or Fiverr.
I ate these blogs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Some blogs were great. Some were ok. Some gave me a rash of secondhand embarrassment. But almost all shared one thing in common.
The only way I found them was through intense digging.
I was looking up someone I knew. Exploring a local practice. Clicking the next “o” on the “Goooooooogle” listings.
These blogs were NOT floating to the top of Google rankings. Meaning…they weren’t in the area typical visitors hang out.
I also struggled with patients telling me about their internet “research” on their health troubles. I knew many doctors were producing accurate content. But these patients were consistently drinking in wacky home remedies, sleazy “miracle cure” products, and outdated information.
Why is there such a huge disconnect on the internet between doctors and people seeking medical advice?
They are clearly trying to find each other – patients are making mountains of search engine queries.1 All while many excellent doctors are producing mountains of content. But they somehow keep missing each other.
Then it started to click when I became a medical copywriter. After living and breathing both nursing AND copywriting, it all started to make sense.
There was a MASSIVE disconnect between most medical blogs produced and the ones popularly consumed.
Clinicians and non-clinical internet browsers are speaking completely different languages. It’s not simply that doctors are using fancy terminology. One is speaking a medical-ese, and one is speaking the language of the internet. The verbiage, structure, and strategy are WILDLY different.
One group isn’t necessarily less intelligent than the other. But both groups are working with what they know. Both groups are overestimating the overlap between the two languages.
When it comes to marketing and successfully distributing content, the disconnect is sabotaging practitioners. Here’s why healthcare-provider written medical blogs often fall flat.
Here are the three CORE discrepancies I found, and how you can address them to produce content that catapults your practice.
The STYLE Is Completely Different
The writing style physicians are trained to use in their job translates very poorly to the non-clinical internet audience.
As I waded through medical blogs aimed at patients, I came across some interesting themes in physicians’ writing styles:
- Heavy use of the passive tense.2
- Very long, descriptive sentences.
- Medical jargon.
Do you know where else I find that writing style?
Doctor’s dictations & scholarly articles.
Practitioners are taught to dictate thoroughly and in the passive tense. These notes are technically legal documents. That’s why, if you get your hands on medical records, you’ll read things like “Patient anesthetized with 2% lidocaine locally, debrided slough with a curette to the subcutaneous level.”
Fine for dictations. BORING for blogs!
Would a patient naturally say any phrase in the above example?
Nope. And if they wouldn’t say it naturally, they’re not likely to Google it.
To rank well, blogs NEED wording that matches how a visitor will actually type it into Google!
Truthfully, patients aren’t avoiding good medical writing – they just can’t find it when they type their queries into Google. Hospital giants, clickbait-y shock articles, and slickly-marketed products understand this. They slay some of the most accurate medical information because they speak their audience’s language better.
Dictations and scholarly articles may be considered more “educated” than marketing writing. But “educated” writing won’t engage all audiences. Especially audiences that don’t consume medical documentation and scholarly papers regularly. Or audiences that are made up of scared patients seeking answers.
If you aren’t clear to your audience, you’ll lose them. You can’t prioritize coming across smart or clever over being understandable. And trust me, patients are relieved when they find helpful information that they can easily understand.
Here are the two problems I see, and their fixes:
- Reading level that’s way too high. Most physician-produced material I review – and I review a lot – is over a 9th-grade reading level. I’ve even seen patient education written at a 15th-grade level. Instead, try to write at a 3rd to 6th-grade reading level, a more engaging level for internet visitors.
- Writing that’s not engaging. Again, non-clinical individuals are surrounded by writing that’s trying to grab their attention. When something’s not trying to hold their attention…it won’t. Don’t rely on your title or experience to grab and keep your internet audience’s interest. Rather, talk about the problems they’re actually Googling. Instead of giving a lecture or listicle on a topic…see what questions your audience is asking surrounding the topic.
A good tip is to read your writing aloud and ask yourself: Does this sound more like a dictation, or how my patients ask me questions and describe their symptoms?
The STRUCTURE Is Completely Different
The writing structure physicians live and breathe translates very poorly to blogging.
Practitioners/medical students are saturated with the “build-up” style of writing. School taught it, and it’s expected in dictations and medical literature.
Complaints, history, assessment, procedures, plan is a common structure for dictations.3 The goal of their day-to-day writing isn’t to grab a reader’s attention, or even to educate a non-clinical individual. It’s simply record-keeping for themselves and for communicating with other clinicians.
When this build-up-to-the-point style is used in blogs…it doesn’t keep a reader’s attention.
But what about doctors that don’t just write within their practice? The ones that write the stuff that’s on the internet? Even their writing is typically for studies and articles. This style STILL involves a build-up, demanding its reader to wade through the abstract, method, and findings, before presenting the conclusion.4
Build-up writing is great for people digging for details. Not so for the people on the internet looking for answers to their problems. And that’s a bunch of them.5 Those are your potential patients.
People certainly go to the internet to be educated. But a doctor’s audience is often trying to find an answer to their problems.
I see TONS of medical blogs focused on providing information, not answers. But people aren’t Googling “the benefits of diabetic shoes” as often as “why do I keep getting an ulcer on the bottom of my foot?” It’s the same topic – but one will pique interest faster, and match more search queries.
Another blogging structure I see mirrors physician peer-reviewing studies. It’s essentially an opinion fountain. A stream of words that says “here’s what I think about a subject/study/etc.” A critique, rather than a conversation. Helpful for giving feedback – not helpful for engaging an audience.
Here are two popular structural challenges I see in medical blogs:
- They don’t immediately get to the point. When this happens, visitors bounce off the page and look for something easier to understand. But you don’t have to sacrifice the complexity of what you have to say. Take your conclusion, and reword it for the title and beginning as the hook of your blog. Make a statement, then back it up.
- They’re not focusing on a patient’s problems. Potential patients are looking for answers to their problems, not a topic discussion. Meet visitors where they’re at by making your blogs related to their search queries. Instead of producing opinion pieces, or general listicles on a topic, tackle common questions surrounding the topic.
You wouldn’t speak to your patient the same way you’d speak to your colleague – instead, you provide patient-centered care and appropriate explanations. So, provide patient-centered blogs too.
The SEO Is Poor
Many physicians write with limited SEO for their medical practices. It’s not needed in their line of work, so it often doesn’t show up in their blogs.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is what gets content into the hands of people that are searching for it. The internet is no longer like a classic library. You don’t simply go to a section and browse any number of topics that haven’t been arranged by ranking.
Google is a smart library.
When you search a topic, the “librarian” guiding you doesn’t just consider what’s related to the topic. She’s pulling out the stuff that lots of other people have checked out. That people have checked out multiple times. That has been highly rated. That people have cited in other books.
If a clinician doesn’t take SEO into account when putting together content, it’s going to get buried under content that DID take SEO seriously.
Practitioners aren’t necessarily bad at keeping up. They’re having to keep up with ever-changing documentation systems. But those systems don’t reflect mainstream search engines. Good SEO techniques often aren’t on their radar.
Two problems I see?
- Posts are way too short. Many clinicians try to bump up their rankings by cranking out content, sacrificing blog length for frequent posts. Then they’ll turn around and ask “Why won’t my blog show up on Google? I have a ton of content!” This method backfires in a few ways. Google (the smart librarian) ranks material by how helpful it appears to be. It senses how long people stay on your page, and visitors ditching your page quickly is a bad sign.6 So, longer posts also tend to rank better.7 Bump up your Google visibility by increasing your posts to at least 1,000 words each.
- There are few relevant long-tail keywords. These phrases are how Google knows to put your content into a searcher’s hands! Integrate appropriate long-tail keywords, especially ones with lower competition. An easy, and critical, way is to integrate local SEO. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to use “(your practice) in (your city),” like “cardiologist in Dallas, TX.” This is keyword gold!
SEO can be tricky and confusing. But remember – at the end of the day, the librarian just wants to give the reader the highest quality content. So, focus on creating quality content for your patients and readers.
It’s Time the Right Medical Answers Get Into the Internet Searcher’s Hands!
Blogs are an excellent tool for healthcare professionals – both for increasing patient volume and helping current patients.
They’re a positive impression and sneak peek of your care for future patients. And they’re an SEO workhorse for your marketing. Don’t miss out on the audience that’s looking for you! A strategic blog is frequently how they’ll find you.8
Want to know all the things a blog can do for you, and how to build an effective one? Check out my other post on how a blog is one of the most creative ways to build your practice.
Want to jump aboard the Medical Blogging Train for all its benefits, but don’t have the time? Let’s chat! I’ve got some ideas for growing your practice and saving you time.