Four Reasons Healthcare Marketers Need to Stop Ignoring Google Webmaster Tools in 2014


Image of a stop watch with the words "Time for Change" on the dial

I get it. For a long time Google Webmaster Tools appeared to play second fiddle to its shiny sibling, Google Analytics. It went long stretches without updates, and a good many webmasters and hospital marketers let their attention lapse. For that reason, you might have missed the fact that Google has been making some tremendous investments in Webmaster Tools recently. In fact, it’s now to the point that you’re flirting with disaster if organic search traffic from Google contributes significantly to your goals and you aren’t paying attention to Google Webmaster Tools.

If you’re one of the few who has let their Webmaster Tools literacy lapse over the last couple years, here are four things you should start doing with it in 2014:

Check Site Messages for Problem Notifications, Manual Actions, Security Issues and Other Alerts

Screen shot of Google Webmaster Tools Site Messages page

The Site Messages page in Google Webmaster Tools displays a list of alerts and messages that Google has logged for your site. Most will be informational, and when you make big changes to your hospital website, you may see a rash of alerts that reflect the work you are doing. Sometimes, however, the alerts can indicate critical problems that need your attention. For that reason, even if you aren’t accustomed to working in Google Webmaster Tools, make sure you check for alerts weekly.

As long as I’m in Webmaster Tools, I also make it a point to review the Manual Actions and Security Issues pages. Google has made investments in both of these recently, so it’s worth keeping an eye on them. Manual Actions are indications that Google has taken manual steps to remove your site (or pages thereof) from search results…typically because they suspect you of objectionable or black hat SEO tactics.

The Security Issues page is where Google logs issues if it thinks your website might have been hacked, is serving up malware, or has otherwise been compromised. This is usually only an issue if you’re using (and not maintaining) a website based on one of the popular open source platforms for a blogging site, etc.

A little bit of attention here can ensure you become aware of and resolve important problems in a timely manner. On the flip side, not all alerts here are true problems. As with most services of this nature, there can often be a high signal to noise ratio.

See Problems with Backlinks

Screenshot of Google Webmaster Tools Links To Your Site page
We’re living in a post-Penguin world, and we know that Google is taking an increasingly severe view of artificial, purchased and over-optimized backlinks. If you saw a large drop in search volume from Google after the Penguin release (or one of the subsequent updates), you may be incurring a penalty due to your backlinks. You could even be the victim of a negative SEO campaign.

How can you tell what’s going on?

If you have a manual penalty as a result of your backlink profile, you’ll likely have a notification in the Site Messages above. Manual Penalties will also appear on the Manual Penalties page. However, if you’re site has been throttled algorithmically, there’s no notice.

What’s a hospital marketer to do?

Make backlink audits a part of your quarterly maintenance. Not only is this a helpful way for you to identify problems with your backlink profile, but it can even raise your awareness of the types of content that other websites like to link to. This may make new opportunities visible to you.

To do any of the above, you’ll need to start with a view of the backlinks to your site. Fortunately, Google provides a current list via the Links to Your Site page. When I perform a backlink audit, this is typically my first stop. From here, I download a list of backlinks to a spreadsheet and dig in.

As with some of the other work that is becoming increasingly important for a hospital website webmaster, sometimes backlink audits can be a bit much to take on yourself. If it’s not something you think you have the time or capacity for, consider engaging Geonetric’s SEO experts for assistance.

Monitor Keyword Performance

Screenshot of Google Webmaster Tools search keyword reporting
Yes, I get it. Now that we can’t see keyword performance in Google Analytics, there are no shortage of prognosticators telling us that keywords were never that important to begin with.

If you buy that, we should talk. I have some oceanfront property in Iowa to sell you too.

Healthcare marketers and webmasters loved keyword metrics because they provided actionable insight into content performance.

It’s no surprise that we miss them now that they have been taken away from us. All is not lost though. Google Webmaster Tools provides limited insight into keyword performance. It’s sampled data, and it’s far from perfect. But given my choice between this and nothing, I’ll take this.

Train Google To Recognize Your Events

Screen shot of Google Webmaster Tools Data Highlighter page
While the previous three sections provide concrete guidance on what you should be doing with Google Webmaster Tools in 2014, the last is more exploratory in nature. I’ve written a few times already about schema.org semantic markup and various tools that can help you jump in and start using it. There’s a reason why it’s important.

As you might be aware, Google is making big investments in the realm of semantic search. This means that semantic markup like schema.org is playing an increasingly important part in the work I do as a webmaster and Web marketer, and in some of the features that we’re building into VitalSite. But, it’s not always something that everyone feels comfortable adding to their pages on their own. Even if you know how to use it, some pages just don’t lend themselves to manual schema.org markup.

Google understands this.

For that reason, they’ve built out a tool called Data Highlighter that can help webmasters train Google to recognize the structure of certain types of content on your website. It’s a helpful resource to use when you can’t easily add schema.org markup yourself. Of the content types Google supports in Data Highlighter, hospital marketers may be interested in seeing if they can use it to train Google to recognize their events. Doing this can result in increased event exposure and promotion in Google search results. Even if it doesn’t enhance the appearance of your search results, an awareness of your events helps Google respond better to search queries.

If this is something you would like to explore, I’d start with the excellent Introduction to Data Highlighter video provided by Google:

Once you have a sense of how the Data Highlighter tool is intended to be used, and what it does for you, it might be worth seeing if you can use it on your own website.

Google Webmaster Tools, Your Hospital Website and Geonetric

As with Google Analytics, Geonetric sets up Google Webmaster Tools for all client hospital websites. Once set up, clients are encouraged to use Google Webmaster Tools and Google Analytics as resources that inform marketing work. If you’re already at or near capacity and aren’t sure if either of these tools can help your current marketing efforts, consider engaging Geonetric’s team for support. Just talk to your client advisor to get started.

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This entry was posted in Best Practices, Marketing by Michael O'Neill. Bookmark the permalink.
Michael O'Neill

About Michael O'Neill

It’s not often you find a communications professional who is an expert writer, understands the power of social media and has the technical capabilities to embed on and contribute to software development teams. But that’s exactly the background Michael brought with him to Geonetric as the technical communications strategist. From writing eBooks to managing Geonetric’s digital presence, Michael uses his software know how and his marketing savvy to help tell Geonetric’s story through a variety of platforms. This former adjunct professor holds a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Worcester State College in Massachusetts and completed graduate level coursework at the University of Connecticut. In addition, Michael is also a Certified ScrumMaster, a contributing writer at iBusiness Magazine and a member of the Board of Directors at Gems of Hope. This new dad is known for his high coffee standards and has quite the following around the office when he brings in his favorite craft-roasted beans.

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