Maximizing ROI on Your Hospital’s Digital Marketing

Why Read This Paper

Since 2006, Parallel Path has been crafting and deploying highly-effective marketing solutions for clients that include some of the country’s top hospitals and insurance companies. This article draws from insights we have gleaned from our work to help our client partners achieve unprecedented marketing growth and performance. This paper offers the following five-point framework to help hospital marketers make the most out of digital marketing investments and communicate successes to others across the organization.

  1. Establish data benchmarks
  2. Segment audiences
  3. Utilize analytics event logs
  4. Segment goals
  5. Segment geographies

Moving Beyond Blended Traffic Data

Chances are, a hospital’s digital marketing efforts are performing much better than it may seem to many across the organization. The good news is that most hospital websites already possess Domain Authority, a search ranking score that helps predict how well a website will rank on search engine results pages, aka “on Google.” Very simply, hospital websites tend to have a strong domain authority because they attract high-quality external links back to their website, which in turn generate traffic. This external backlinking and resulting traffic influences the Domain Authority. When other sites or blogs decide to cite or share your content, it can act like rocket fuel for your search engine rankings. From Google’s point of view, these types of backlinks act like votes that say your content is valuable, informative, and relevant. Most businesses and organizations don’t have the natural backlinking attraction of a hospital. 

However, if the traffic that comes to the hospital website from these external links is not segmented, there can be the perception that the website is underperforming, and a more acute anxiety within the clinical team that the website is not working for them. 

Hospitals attract a lot of different types of traffic, including:

  1. Local intent traffic of people looking for a medical provider
  2. Traffic from people looking for a job
  3. Folks researching medical conditions
  4. People looking for specific information such as phone numbers, insurance information, and hours of operation

Not all traffic is the same, and traffic types perform differently from each other. Therefore looking at blended traffic data will not convey the real story of digital performance. The key is learning to segment and evaluate each type of traffic to be able to communicate to stakeholders (such as the clinical team) exactly how well the hospital’s digital marketing efforts are working to accomplish their goals. 


The Five-Part Framework


1. Establish a Benchmark

When it comes to analytics, the question “Is that good?” is the question many client stakeholders frequently ask. Without context, performance metrics can be difficult to digest. A 5% conversion rate for two separate hospital websites may be received differently from stakeholders, depending on their belief of what is “good”. 

There are two ways to help determine how well a website is performing. The first way is to track down an industry benchmark, if one is available. But, a word of caution: every hospital is so unique in terms of its mix of services, geography, and priorities that someone else’s benchmark isn’t necessarily the one to measure against. 

A more accurate way to establish a benchmark is to simply use historical data, and seek continuous improvement over prior performance. There is almost always room for improvement, and a hospital’s own historical data is the most reliable benchmark its marketing team could find. What is more, one’s own historical data by default accounts for a hospital’s own unique characteristics: market, competition, services, and reputation.

2. Segment Audiences

A hospital website serves many different audiences, each with its own needs and user behavior. A sample of these unique audiences include:

Prospective patients: The obvious audience and the one that is typically of most interest to hospital marketers. While their information needs may be diverse, their motivation is clear: gather healthcare information and determine whether it makes sense to make an appointment.

Existing patients: Existing patients are far more likely to look for information to assist them in the latter stages of their patient journey: patient forms, phone numbers, addresses and suite numbers to name a few.

Job seekers: Because most large hospitals have significant employment needs, hospital websites attract a lot of job seekers, which can really skew a website’s data.

Referring providers: Be it physicians, nurses, referral professionals, this audience is a high-value segment for hospitals.

Researchers: While this may comprise the smallest segment of your web audience, it represents a highly coveted user for many hospitals.

With such a diverse audience, it makes less sense to evaluate a website using a single, aggregated set of data points. Take, for example, an aggregate bounce rate (the number of visitors who come to a site and only view one page before leaving): this does not paint an accurate picture of website performance, because for some audiences a high bounce rate makes sense and for others, a low bounce rate does. 

For example, an existing patient looking for the phone number of a specific department opens Google and types of a very specific search phrase: “contact information radiology department XYZ hospital” and, hopefully, they are presented them to a result that takes them directly to a page where they can obtain the phone number and move on. This visit results in a ‘bounce’ in Analytics because the patient does not click into deeper pages of the hospital’s website. But, this could be considered a good bounce; the user had a specific need and it was met on the first page. That’s a great user experience.

Segmenting analytics by audience can help establish real benchmarks for each audience.

3. Utilize Event Logs 

A typical hospital website is very large and constantly evolving. New content, ongoing development, and design refreshes can impact performance data over time, causing fluctuations that can go against the overall trends of the site. It is important to understand what has happened to a site and when it happened in order to make sense of historical data. 

Another thing that changes over time is marketing staff of a hospital. Staff turnover can cause a loss of institutional knowledge about the many changes that have happened to the site — for better or for worse. This can manifest in the form of inexplicable peaks and valleys in historical performance data that can make it very difficult to understand and analyze the evolution of the website.

Here is a classic example: A decision is made internally to stop tracking goals as they relate to engagement metrics, and focusing only on goals that relate to form fills for new patient appointments. The outcome of this will be a reduction in conversions and conversion rate. Fast forward a year or two, and new sets of eyes are looking at historical performance. What do they make of the drop in conversions? Did the site suddenly stop performing well? 

Logging changes within an analytics tool ensures the institution retains vital information regarding changes like the one in the aforementioned example. Google Analytics offers an easy way to track events, as do most analytics tools. Some things worth logging might be:

  • New content editions or refreshes
  • Redesigns or design refreshes
  • Development efforts
  • Changes in goal tracking
  • Outbound marketing initiatives like newsletters or press releases

4. Segment Goals

Tracking website goals is important. After all, the objective isn’t to just attract traffic to the website for traffic’s sake. That traffic is a means to an end. Goals should align with key performance indicators (KPI) of the website. Goals allow you to determine the effectiveness of all your website marketing efforts, as well as your website’s ability to capitalize on the incoming traffic. However, not all goals are created equally. Typically, a hospital will set up a number of different goals:

  • Engagement goals to determine content performance. Potential engagement or behavior goals could be set up to highlight traffic that meets a certain threshold for bounce rate, pages per visit or time on page. Another engagement or behavior goal could measure video plays or total watch time of video. 
  • Page visits or page paths to determine navigational behaviors. An example could be a goal that is set up to determine the rate at which users are navigating to your contact our location pages.
  • Inquiry-related goals to determine the rate at which users are requesting an appointment or requesting more information. For many hospitals, this is the goal that matters most.

A diverse set of goals is good to have but all goals should be relevant for the business and marketing objectives. While new patient acquisition is the ultimate goal for most hospitals, engagement, behavioral and navigational goals help round out an understanding of website effectiveness. 

Where hospitals can run into trouble is by looking at goal-related data in aggregate, not segmented by goal type. Aggregate conversion data can be misleading, and misinform efforts to improve site performance. Segregating goal types in analytics reports will provide a much more realistic and informative view of performance for a given initiative or channel.

5. Segment Geography

For hospitals that offer care for specialty medical conditions, reaching outside of their market and into neighboring states, regions or even nationwide, is an important objective. But applying benchmarks for local traffic to traffic from outside of a hospital’s immediate market can lead to confusing results around why a hospital might be getting less organic traffic, why bounce rates are higher, or why conversion rates are worse. It’s often much harder to recruit patients from outside an immediate geographic region. There are far more considerations to make as a prospective patient when they are coming from a different state. Segmenting out-of-market traffic allows a hospital to analyze its out-of-market initiatives in a way that provides real insights, thus avoiding overly deflated numbers when compared to local marketing initiatives. Most analytics tools provide a number of different ways to create views and filters that make geographic segmentation simple.

There You Have it: Five Smart Steps Towards Unprecedented Growth

The simple framework above can serve as a starting point for hospital marketers interested in learning more about their audiences and enable access to the data that will help inform future digital marketing strategies and tactics. At Parallel Path, we specialize in helping health, wellness, and lifestyle brands grow through the power of digital marketing. We believe in creating goal-driven strategies that emerge from the core of why a brand exists and the unique value it brings to its audience and the world. 

Download infographic

We’ve created a simple infographic to help distill some of the most important points in this post. Click on this link, download, print it out, hang it at your desk, and start to see immediate results. If you’d like us to take a look at your digital marketing efforts and how they are performing, please reach out. We can help you maximize your marketing performance. 

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