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Healthcare digital marketing explained

Learn how 42group can power your online growth

Healthcare digital marketing uses online channels – including your website, social media, paid-for adverts and search engine optimisation (SEO) – to connect with your audiences. Healthcare organisations that effectively use digital tools and strategies in their marketing can improve their connections with patients, meaningful relationships with clinicians and key stakeholders, and superior health outcomes. 

From social media to SEO, digital marketing is a massive topic, but we’re going to break it down into its core elements to help you understand its power and potential. 

This is a basic guide to healthcare digital marketing. If you want more information on all things healthcare marketing, check out our Answers section. (And if you want to connect with a healthcare digital marketing agency, get in touch.)

Who is 42group?

42group is one of the UK’s leading healthcare content marketing agencies. We work with leaders in healthcare, science, and tech, helping them create human connections with their clients, customers, and core audience sectors.

What is healthcare digital marketing?

Digital marketing involves using online tools, technologies and channels to create connections with your core audiences. Some of the key elements of digital marketing in healthcare include:

  • Search engine optimisation (SEO) 
  • Search engine marketing (SEM)
  • Content marketing
  • Social media marketing 
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Email marketing
  • Influencer marketing
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
  • Social media advertising

Individually, these elements are powerful – but together, they can be transformative for organisations in all sectors, including healthcare. 

Digital marketing differs significantly from traditional marketing approaches. Traditional marketing often seeks immediate results through direct advertising, which encourages direct actions (like making a purchase). In contrast, digital marketing in healthcare is about creating and nurturing long-term relationships with patients and stakeholders through ongoing engagement.

Digital marketing focuses on brand building, establishing what the brand stands for and its intrinsic value.  We can see a good example with Airbnb’s strategy of shifting focus from direct selling to brand building. By prioritising promoting relationships over transactions, Airbnb saw a 24% increase in revenue, highlighting the potential of similar strategies in healthcare marketing.

The power of content in healthcare marketing

At the heart of digital marketing in healthcare is content marketing. (We would say this as a content agency, but it’s true). Effective content that addresses the specific needs and concerns of patients can establish the provider as a trustworthy authority in the field. 

Organisations need to create a broad range of content that directly answers audience questions. Educational blog posts, informative videos,and insightful whitepapers are all content pieces that can be used to educate and engage patients and other key stakeholders.

As well as directly engaging your audience, digital content marketing supports SEO strategy by delivering high-quality and relevant content which can improve page and site rankings.

Healthcare content must be patient-centric, providing value and supporting patients throughout their healthcare journeys. This might include detailed guides on managing chronic conditions, tips for a healthy lifestyle, or updates on new medical technologies or treatments, for example.

Organisations investing in content marketing must do so strategically. This means developing a deep understanding of audiences, keywords, paint points and problems – and then using this to create a comprehensive content strategy involving multiple channels over a set period of time to drive engagement and establish authority.

Multi-channel digital marketing strategies

To fully deliver the impact expected, healthcare organisations must deploy a multi-channel digital marketing strategy, incorporating a range of intelligenelty chosen digital channels to communicate with patients and key audiences wherever they are. 

In addition to content marketing, key components of a multi-channel digital marketing strategy could include:

  • Social media – Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn enable healthcare providers to share updates, health tips and advice – all while engaging directly with patients and key stakeholders. These platforms are crucial for building community and brand loyalty for any business.
  • SEO – A well-optimised and easy-to-navigate website enables patients to find the services they need quickly and easily. SEO strategies involve using targeted keywords, optimising website content and improving site structure to rank higher in search engine results.
  • Digital advertising – Pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and digital ads can target specific demographics with precision. When designed, implemented and analysed by experts, they can be cost-effective ways to create connections. 
  • Email marketing – Email marketing is a powerful force in engaging your community, keeping them up-to-date with the latest developments in your organisation or brand and building stronger relationships. 

Combining marketing across these channels not only maximises the reach of your healthcare marketing efforts but also enables organisations to tailor their messages according to the specific preferences and behaviours of different audience segments.

Let’s look at each of these in more detail…

The role of social media in patient engagement

Social media is a non-negotiable for businesses in all sectors. We know that social media is a powerful tool for healthcare businesses and brands, enabling them to engage directly with patients and the public in real time. Effective use of social media can:

  • Educate and inform: Sharing valuable health information and news can help establish an organisation as a go-to resource for information and advice on specific topics.
  • Community building: Platforms like Facebook, X, Instagram and even LinkedIn enable organisations to foster a sense of community among patients (and other key audiences), providing them with support and access to advice and a network of peers.
  • Customer service: Social media can provide quick responses to patients, clinicians and other stakeholders. Of course, social media must be handled with care. Privacy concerns, the accuracy of shared information and maintaining a consistent and professional presence are all important considerations when deciding how far to go with your digital marketing.

Healthcare search engine optimisation (SEO)

SEO in healthcare is about helping patients (and other key audiences) find the right information, services, answers and solutions.

SEO is a huge topic and something we’ll deal with in a future article. But, for the purposes of this short guide, effective SEO strategies for healthcare include:

  • Keyword research: Understanding what potential patients (and other core audiences) are searching for enables organisations to tailor their content to meet those needs. We’re not talking about basic terms but digging into the details to identify the motivations of all audiences, the long-form search terms and specific pain points. This is a core part of successful SEO – and something your agency partner should be doing, as it will benefit every aspect of your business and marketing.
  • On-page SEO: Armed with your keywords and keyterms, on page SEO includes optimising headlines, meta descriptions, and images to improve rankings and user experience.
  • Off-page SEO: You’ll want to increase visibility and validation, so building quality backlinks from reputable sites in the healthcare industry can boost the authority and visibility of your healthcare site.

Successful SEI isn’t a one-off but an ongoing process that requires regular updates and adjustments as search engine algorithms change and new trends emerge in healthcare search behaviours.

Paid-for digital advertising: PPC and social media campaigns

Boosting organic reach is essential, but in 2024 (or whenever you’re reading this) paid advertising plays a crucial role in healthcare digital marketing. If done correctly, it enables precise targeting and provides rapid results. 

We can broadly split digital marketing into two categories: pay-per-click (PPC) advertising and paid social media campaigns. Here’s a (very brief) primer on what they are and how to use them:

Pay-Per-Click (PPC)

If your bid is high enough, PPC campaigns enable healthcare organisations to appear at the top of search results for relevant keywords. You’ll need to have a clear understanding of the keywords that matter most to your audience (and the negative keywords you’ll need to avoid).

PPC campaigns are especially important in healthcare, where timely access to information can be critical to your success. Typically, PPC campaigns are on Google – but you can also include other search engines like Bing. Setting up ads is simple: you’ll bid for a position and only pay when someone clicks on your advert.

Effective PPC strategies involve:

  • Keyword selection: Choosing the right keywords that potential patients and other audiences are likely to use when seeking healthcare services is essential. Your digital marketing agency should have a process to identify the keywords with the highest value and the biggest chance of driving leads and increasing engagement.
  • Landing page optimisation: Every click needs a destination. You can use your homepage, but we recommend creating specific landing pages (or microsites). Ensure the landing page is relevant, informative, and has a clear call to action.
  • Budget management: It’s easy to run up massive bills – especially if you’re competing for popular terms. Adjusting bids and monitoring spending to maximise return on investment is a core part of the job.
  • Ensuring compliance: There are strict rules about what you can and can’t say online – and these are especially strict when talking about health. Agencies – especially Google parners like 42group – will work with the platform provider to create ads that are accurate and effective, passing their internal guidelines and conforming to external regulations and controls.

Paid social media campaigns

Social media platforms provide powerful targeting options that allow healthcare marketers to reach specific demographics, interests, and behaviours. 

All platforms, including Facebook, X (formerly Twitter), LinkedIn, Instagram and more, offer paid campaign opportunities. The key to campaign success is selecting the most appropriate social channel and creating content that drives connections. (This is a job for a specialist social agency, so don’t expect your SEO provider, design agency, or “full-service” provider to do this or that of a specialist social media marketing agency.)

Paid social campaigns can be tailored to:

  • Raise awareness: Social channels are effective at introducing new services or health initiatives to the community.
  • Promote community engagement: Social media can encourage participation in health-related events or discussions and help you build an engaged online community.
  • Drive conversions: Targeted ads can encourage specific actions such as signing up for newsletters or scheduling appointments.

Like all digital marketing activities, both PPC and paid social media require ongoing optimisation, analysis and monitoring to ensure they are effective and deliver a positive return on investment. Always build this process into your plans.

Email marketing in healthcare

Direct mail is dead, right? Today, email marketing remains a highly effective tool for personalising patient interactions and maintaining ongoing relationships. 

Email marketing allows healthcare providers to send targeted messages that meet the specific needs of their audience segments. You can produce a regular newsletter for core audiences, create a structured email set to support the patient journey or create a pathway to promote a product or service to a key audience.

 Strategies for successful email marketing in healthcare include:

  • Segmentation: Divide your email list into specific groups based on demographics, patient needs and behaviours – and tailor messages accordingly.
  • Automation: Automated emails can provide timely updates, appointment reminders, and follow-ups, which enhance the patient experience. They can be configured for specific pathways, entrance points and outcomes.
  • Content relevance: Emails and content should provide value – whether that’s health tips, process details or patient education.

Analytics and optimisation

One of the biggest benefits of digital marketing is the ability to track and analyse marketing efforts and activities. Detailed analytics provide insights that can (if interpreted and acted upon) drive smarter decisions and better results. 

Here are some of the key digital marketing metrics to manage:

Campaign tracking

Tools like Google Analytics and social media analytics provide healthcare organisations with information to monitor the performance of their marketing campaigns in real-time. This includes metrics like traffic, engagement, conversion rates, and more. To learn more, read our guide on healthcare content KPIs and the metrics you should be measuring.

Data-Driven Decisions

Monitoring and measuring analytics enables marketers to identify what’s working and what isn’t – facilitating faster and better decision making. 

For example, if we can quickly see that certain content or ads are performing well, additional resources can be allocated to these areas to maximise impact. Analytics also enables sophisticated testing (A/B and A/B/C testing), where we explore how multiple creative directions and campaign treatments work. This is an ongoing process of refinement and improvement that can boost engagement and advertising success.

Optimisation

Continuous optimisation is critical. You (or your agency printer) must always look for strategies and solutions to improve campaign performance. This could involve tweaking ad copy, adjusting targeting parameters, or refining SEO practices. All changes should be data-driven, not based on hunches or assumptions. 

The impact of analytics and optimisation can be huge. We know from experience that the effective use of analytics ensures that digital marketing efforts are not just creative but also grounded in data that informs ongoing strategy, implementation, outcomes and success.

The future of digital marketing in healthcare

Digital tools and technologies continue to evolve and so too will the strategies employed in healthcare marketing. The ability to identify new opportunities – using the channels your audience is using to increase engagement – is fundamental to your success. 

Future trends likely to impact digital marketing include:

  • Increased personalisation: Personalisation should be a priority for every business or brand. Advancements in AI and data analytics will allow for even more personalised marketing. We believe that tailored content, recommendations, and ads based on individual audience data will become the norm, enhancing patient engagement and satisfaction.
  • Integration of emerging technologies: Technologies like augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming how healthcare providers interact with patients. These could provide incredible opportunities for driving awareness, engagement and education.
  • Focus on patient-centric strategies: The future of healthcare marketing is focused on creating patient-centric approaches that prioritise their needs and preferences. This includes everything from user-friendly website designs to content that addresses specific patient concerns and conditions. Every digital marketing touchpoint should be personalised wherever possible to achieve the best results.

The power of healthcare digital marketing

Digital marketing in healthcare is more than just a set of tools—it’s a crucial part of modern healthcare strategy that affects nearly every aspect of patient engagement and care. By understanding and implementing a patient-centric digital marketing strategy, healthcare providers can improve patient relationships and health outcomes. The most successful digital marketers can carve out an advantage in an increasingly competitive industry and environment.

Healthcare organisations that are looking to adopt patient-centric digital marketing strategies should partner with an experienced agency like 42group that can provide the expertise and support needed to be successful. 

Whether it’s through improving content marketing efforts, optimising multi-channel strategies, or utilising cutting-edge technologies, digital marketing is increasingly important for healthcare organisations. 

Are you doing enough to connect with your patients?

Connect with a healthcare digital marketing agency

42group is one of the UK’s leading health digital marketing agencies, taking a content-first approach to building connections.

If you’ve got a project to discuss, contact us today. We respond to every email within one hour.

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