By Cameron Martel, Marketing4ECPs

Independent eye care professionals (IECPs) are under threat from a growing consumer trend: buying contact lenses online. For many consumers, once they’ve got their prescription, they turn to Google and start shopping.

There is tremendous potential to engage patients when they are researching and when they’re ready to buy. This opportunity is not lost for independent practices; it just takes the right strategy.

Recent Google Changes

On Aug. 1, 2018, Google rolled out a major shift in its algorithm, called the “Medic Update” by SEO professionals. This update was primarily focused on removing nonexperts from ranking for subjects requiring professional expertise (like eye health, for example).

It fundamentally changed SEO for health care professionals, and businesses that adjusted their approach have been rewarded with an increase in rankings and traffic. Following the Medic Update, we saw a clear trend across the 50+ eye care sites we monitor: growing traffic for information-based searches. By showcasing subject matter experts, Google has created an opportunity that IECPs can capitalize on.

With search, Google wants to satisfy user intent (in other words, what people actually want to find when they search). Someone looking for “buy contact lenses online” doesn’t want to see a local practice that doesn’t offer e-commerce; that person wants to see e-commerce and make the transactions online.

If your site doesn’t utilize e-commerce, it doesn’t have much hope of ranking for buy-now centric keywords, and no amount of SEO investment will change that. Consider how your website can leverage the below formula to maximize your chances of ranking in Google.

Short-Tail Keywords

Ranking for short-tail (thing + place) keywords, such as “Contact Lenses Irvine CA”

To achieve the highest ranking, a website needs an in-depth “About Us” page that includes biographies for your optometrists and opticians, as well as a bit about the practice and a contact lens fitting exam page that covers what to expect during the exam; what happens after the exam (access to trial lenses, etc.); a listing of eye doctors with a link to their bios; contact lens-ordering processes and how your business makes getting contacts easy; all of the contact lens brands and links to manufacturers’ websites and social media pages; your participation in benefits programs; and FAQs.

In other words, answer all their questions and make it easy for them to take the next step (book an exam or purchase contact lenses) when they’re ready. To accomplish this, your business strategy should include an active social media presence and representation in local Chambers of Commerce, community associations and others. “Representation” means a link to your website from these organizations. Your business also needs a steady stream of positive Google reviews (and constructive replies for the not-so-good ones) and a strong presence in your community, such as other radio or billboard advertising, sponsoring kids’ sports teams or conducting periodic contests/raffles. In order to rank for short-tail keywords without investing in ongoing SEO, people in your community should not only know who you are, but they should also already be talking about you.

Long-Tail Keywords

Ranking for long-tail keywords (question + info) keywords, such as “Why can’t I get contact lenses without a prescription?”

To rank well, a website needs a blog, an expansive content strategy (blog strategy) that targets these types of questions, high-quality content that includes media (images + video) where appropriate, in-depth content that is not necessarily long but is effective at answering the question the searcher is asking, and an author profile and brief bio at the bottom of each post. The author should be an OD or optician (depending on the subject). Link to the “About Us” page and/or the writer’s LinkedIn profile for an extra SEO boost.

To support this, the business needs an active social media presence, access to a talented content team (a writer and graphic designer at a minimum) and a marketing plan that prioritizes creating great content and building your brand.

Value-Added Strategies

Bringing these ideas together, these strategies work — and work well. The key is to add genuine value via content that educates and directs vs. “sells.” Remember: Google decides which sites will rank in part by how users engage with that site. Create an experience that people want to consume, and your rankings in Google will climb. It really is that simple.

Cameron Martel is an experienced digital marketer, managing SEO and content campaigns at Marketing4ECPs. He can be reached at marketing4ecps.com or [email protected].