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Especially in an age of high-tech websites, mobile apps, and rapidly advancing social media strategies, most marketers, be it in healthcare or any industry, are surprised to hear that the digital marketing medium with the highest return on investment (ROI) isn’t any of those; it’s (still) paid search advertising, and by most measures, it’s not even close.

Paid search, which includes pay-per-click advertising—the text ads you see at the top of a Google page—or display advertising, where designed banner ads appear on websites that are viewed by people who may be part of your target audience, generate 300% more leads and website traffic than social media, a stunning figure that helps explain why US companies alone will spend over $32 billion—or half of all digital marketing dollars—on SEO and paid search advertising in 2016 alone. (Source: CMO.com)

Paid search, however, has evolved into something of a digital science where a marketer’s success and ROI depends on how effectively they perform functions like keyword research, targeting and back-end execution, and testing, optimization, and day-to-day campaign management. Here’s how to master those functions and get the highest possible return from your paid search advertising dollars.

Carefully Target the Most Relevant Keywords

Particularly in pay-per click (PPC) advertising, your ROI is heavily dependent upon how efficiently you target your ads using search terms so that they only appear before interested, qualified prospects.

Loosely targeted keywords like “Cardiology” or “Cosmetic Dentistry” will cast too large a net, making it easy to burn through cash since thousands of users will search these terms, but only some will be in the market for services, and fewer yet will be in your geographic region. You might get tons of clicks, but you likely won’t convert many of those into new patients, and the result will be high cost and sub-standard ROI. The problem, however, isn’t in the ad itself; it’s all about mistargeted keywords.

Here are ways to ensure you choose the best and most relevant keywords in your paid search campaigns:

  • Identify prominent, long-tailed keywords using data you already ownBegin by considering what organic search terms are currently leading the most visitors to your website. Also, comb your website’s data cache to find what search terms are most popular there, and which content and site sections are being most heavily viewed. And don’t forget to consider the questions, treatments, and health concerns you’re hearing about most from patients. All of these can provide invaluable insights when matching paid search keywords to your exact target audience.
  • Conduct keyword research to discover popular search terms: All the major search engines provide in-depth reporting that shows top-performing keywords. Look carefully and find a niche where you can avoid some of the heaviest competition for clicks seen among the top terms, but still hit the mark in terms of who you are and the patients and medical conditions you treat.
  • Use negative search to your advantage: Control paid search spending and avoid unwanted keyword matches by specifying not just the keywords for which you want to appear, but also the ones you don’t. Negative keyword functionality is designed to help ensure your paid search ads are only served to best-fit users, so if you’re a podiatrist, for example, you might exclude exact-match keywords like “Doctor” or “Physician” from your campaign so you avoid paying for search ads targeting patients who are clearly looking for general practitioners instead.

Focus on Copy & User Experience

Surely it’s evident that campaign set-up, optimization, and management is crucial to getting your paid search ads served to the right users, but it takes engaging, impactful copy and a seamless user experience to drive actual conversions and maximize ROI. You have a small window for meaningfully appealing to prospective patients, so your offer needs to be compelling and benefit driven, and it has to be presented (really) fast.

How fast, you wonder? Well, consider this stat:

Search engine users spend, on average, just 1.17 seconds analyzing each search result, so even if your paid search ad occupies a top spot, a strong headline and description is vital, too.  [MarketingProfs]

In addition to strong and upfront copy, paid search ads should also direct users to customized landing pages specifically designed to promote an appropriate action, whether it’s downloading a free report or brochure, contacting your office, subscribing to a newsletter, or creating a profile. Doing so will directly and favorably impact conversions and ROI, so whatever you do, do not simply link paid search ads to your website’s home page and require the user to navigate from there. You’ll sacrifice results if you do.

But an improved user experience and better ROI aren’t the only reasons to do the additional back-end work and opt for dedicated landing pages. Stats show that having video on a landing page makes it 53% more likely to appear on page one of Google search results, so investing a bit of time and resources behind the scenes can also help paid search ads to get noticed.

Relentlessly Monitor and Refine Paid Search Campaigns

Quite simply, don’t buy into the misconception that once you build your paid search campaign(s) and the back-end functions needed to execute them, you’re free to just “set and forget.” Especially at the onset of a paid search campaign, make a point to monitor the latest keyword reporting and performance results at least once daily to confirm proper function and cost effectiveness, and make informed edits and additions with user targeting and budget in mind.

To achieve optimization, you must continually test new and different keywords, and might even consider working with an agency partner for paid search to ensure sufficient time and expertise is going into the design, implementation, and ongoing management of each campaign.

Also, be aware that Google’s search algorithms, and those of its industry counterparts, are forever adapting and changing to better fit the market and user preferences, and those programming tweaks can directly impact your campaigns.

Right now, more than 200 unique signals, or “clues” are weighed by the Google algorithm in order to generate search results, which is a true testament to the level of sophistication that today comes standard with paid search advertising.

Stay informed about these trends and be responsive as part of your paid search strategy and you can not only all but ensure you’ll get noticed and drive traffic to your website, but do so with a much lower relative cost per lead, or even cost per new patient, than you’d likely achieve using any other digital marketing platform available, even in this modern era of healthcare marketing.