Jun 15, 2017 The 4 Critical Steps for Creating Effective Medical Content for Your Website
A medical content marketing approach that involves the strategic creation, distribution, and analysis of medical information is a cost effective way for physicians and hospitals to:
- Develop their brands
- Cultivate patient trust
- Educate patients
- Improve outcomes
- Understand stakeholder preferences
- Attract new business
The medical content marketing framework: characterize, plan, execute, analyze
The challenges of content marketing in medicine are finding the time and accessing the interdisciplinary expertise to create accurate, timely, and compelling content and to build an infrastructure that facilitates evidence-based modifications to the content strategy. To mitigate these challenges, I’ve created a simple framework that can help in the development of a medical content strategy. Specifically, healthcare providers can use the framework to define specific tasks that they can undertake or delegate during the content creation process.
Before implementing any new program, it’s critical to define as precisely as possible the objectives for doing so and how you will determine the extent to which your program achieves those objectives. Without an idea of what success looks like, it will be difficult to make advantageous modifications. Defining objectives up front can also help you justify ending a program that isn’t working.
The 1st step in developing an effective medical content strategy involves characterizing:
- your audiences
- your relationships with those audiences, and
- the way you want to influence those audiences
Here’s an example of potential audiences and overarching goals that may be associated with those groups.
Once you have your goals and your relevant audiences in mind, you need to characterize those audiences and your relationship with them so that you can strategically construct medical content that speaks to your readers and that meets your objectives for writing it in the first place.
Here’s a sample of questions that may be relevant during this process:
Questions for a patient audience
- What do my patients have in common?
- Which questions do I hear most frequently from patients?
- What information do I wish my patients had?
- What do I wish I could better impress upon my patients?
- Which myths or misconceptions do many of my patients have?
- Which pieces of information do my patients often misremember or forget entirely?
- What information could be useful to my patients, but time constraints have prevented me from sharing it?
- What information do I wish my patients could access on-demand?
- Where do my patients search for or receive their medical information?
- What are the defining traits of patients I don’t currently serve but would like to?
- What do my patients appreciate about my practice?
- What complaints do patients make about my practice?
- What’s the average education level of my patients?
Questions for a colleague audience
- What questions do I frequently hear from colleagues?
- What information do I have that could help my colleagues become better physicians?
- How can I demonstrate that I’m up-to-date on the latest research relevant to my practice?
- How can I demonstrate that I take an evidence-based approach to my clinical decision making?
- What do I do better than others in my specialty?
- What do others in my specialty do better than me?
- Who are my competitors?
- What reasons do other providers cite when they refer patients to me?
- What reasons do other providers cite when they refer patients to my competitors?
- How can I demonstrate my clinical skills to other physicians?
- How can I demonstrate my patients’ satisfaction to other physicians?
- What makes me refer patients to other physicians?
- What do referring physicians value in my specialty?
- How could I help to improve my colleagues’ quality of life?
- What resources could I share to facilitate my colleagues’ professional development?
Questions for a media audience
- What issues in healthcare am I particularly well-positioned to address?
- What unique perspective does my medical experience bring to the discussion?
- Who agrees with my perspective, and why?
- Who disagrees with my perspective, and why?
- What about my experience makes me better-suited than other physicians to address these issues?
- With whom could I collaborate to make more significant contributions to healthcare discussions?
- What do people value in physicians in my specialty?
Based on your identified objectives and your audience characterization, you should be able to brainstorm some topics for articles. Often, each answer to the above questions can inspire multiple article topics. In other cases, you can combine answers to create a comprehensive piece. For each article topic you identify, you should also define your objectives for those pieces – including who you hope will read them and how you hope to influence them through each piece.
At this point, you should also consider the style and tone of your articles.
It’s good practice for physicians to create content that is digestible for all audiences because patients represent a wide spectrum of intelligence and education. Providing consumable medical content will likely increase the volume of patients, potential patients, and members of the public who can benefit from your writing. The result will be more regular readers who are influenced by your ideas.
Rather than employing a more complex style to impress more sophisticated audiences, you can appeal to those groups by adding credibility to your writing through citations and references. The advantage of incorporating these elements is that they do not detract from the readability of your content.
You may be able to intuitively determine how readable your content is. On the other hand, if you want a more objective measure of readability, there are tools that can help. Many of these popular tools are based on the Flesch Reading Ease or the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level tests, which account for things like the average number of syllables in each word and the average number of words in each sentence.
- An authoritative tone will almost always be the best choice when creating medical content. You likely have some patients who prefer to collaborate with you in the clinical decision making process and others who would rather defer to your clinical expertise. In both cases, an authoritative tone conveys knowledge, confidence, and credibility. These characteristics are ones you will also want to demonstrate to colleagues and other members of the public. It’s important to remember that using an authoritative tone does not necessitate the use of jargon or a complex writing style. If you’re unsure how to establish the appropriate tone, you can mimic that of another authoritative medical website that’s targeted toward a patient (rather than a physician or scientist) audience.
- The Health Essentials site from Cleveland Clinic is authoritative but easy to read.
- You can see how specific health topics are discussed in an authoritative tone on Medline Plus.
- Health organizations that support research and training in specific specialties also often provide information for patients in an authoritative tone – The American Cancer Society and The American Heart Association are examples.
At this point, you should be ready for execution. Execution has 5 sub-phases:
- Add visuals
You may know your topics well enough that you don’t need to dedicate significant time to the research. However, doing enough research to ensure that you have the most up-to-date information can help you organize your thoughts before writing. This type of research also enables you to identify links to external pieces that you can use as evidence for your messages. Including these links also adds value for your readers by reinforcing your credibility and providing additional resources.
Once you’ve collected all the relevant data, you should outline your piece. Even for short pieces, outlines can provide roadmaps that keep your writing focused and facilitate a logical flow. Within your outline, you should note which links you’ll use and where. During the writing process, you should add external links as described above. You should also add internal links to improve your search engine ranking. Adding links is really part of the optimization process, but it’s usually more efficient to add links as you write. Because the content in external links should inform what you write, you will likely be referencing them during the writing process itself.
After writing, you should incorporate visuals into your content. There’s a lot of hype about visual content and why it’s important. Most of the claims about the reasons for the success of visual content are misguided (stay tuned for a separate blog on this issue). In reality, visual content is beneficial when it helps to get your message across. It can do so by breaking up monotonous text or by providing critical information in a more digestible format – both of which reduce the cognitive burden of processing your points.
- There are a number of options for buying and creating images. My favorite of these tools is Canva – which allows you to find images and create images from scratch without any graphic design experience.Optimize
Before you publish your medical content, you need to optimize your piece. There are three key things you need to optimize:
- the substance itself
- how the content is presented to the reader
- how the content is presented to search engines
Your research and outlining processes contribute to substance optimization. After writing, though, you need to proofread to check for accuracy logical flow.
Optimizing content for readers involves making the piece user-friendly. Behavioral science and education research provide several insights for how to make content user-friendly. Some of the most basic best practices are:
- Organizing your writing with headlines
- Chunking content into short, readable paragraphs
- Visually isolating critical information with lists, bullets, or stand-alone quotes
Ensuring that medical content is presented in a way that’s readable to search engines is the least intuitive part of optimization but important for your long-term search engine ranking. Google frequently updates its algorithm to ensure that the most valuable content on the web ranks highest. Much of search engine optimization, or SEO, therefore depends on the quality of your content. However, it’s also important that search engines understand the components of your content so that they can recognize the content’s value.
There are no perfect optimization tools, but perhaps one of the most powerful is Yoast SEO – a WordPress plugin. The information it gives you on your writing is not 100% accurate, and Google’s algorithm does not rank your page exactly in accordance with Yoast’s recommendations. However, working with Yoast can help you understand how to best name files, incorporate links, and order words to improve your search engine ranking.
If your patients are aware that you publish regular medical content on your website, or if you send them emails with links to new pieces, you may not need to target them in any other way. However, you can increase the chances that they engage with your content by presenting it to them through different media.An even bigger benefit of distributing your articles via social media is the ability to reach people who are not aware of or do not regularly visit your website. This type of outreach not only attracts new patients but establishes your voice and brand more publicly.The best platform or platforms for distributing your content depends on the type of content you create, who you hope will read it, and what action you’re hoping audience members will take. There are a lot of articles to help you understand the differences between the platforms, but the realities of these differences change over time. In addition, while newer platforms may suddenly rise dramatically in popularity (e.g. Instagram), others that have been touted as highly promising will seem to fade away (e.g. Google Hangouts).
The graph below shows the number of active users on different social media platforms, according to 2017 data. Though there are more users on Facebook than other platforms, each platform can be leveraged for different purposes.
After you’ve published and distributed any piece of content, you’ll want to measure its success in achieving its stated objective. For your analysis to provide actionable insights, your goals must be clearly defined.
The degree of difficulty in determining the success of each pieces depends on the specific goal. For instance, if your goal is to get people to visit another page of your website, you can easily track your success. However, if your goal is to improve public understanding of a disease, you’ll have a harder time measuring your impact.
It’s therefore helpful to identify a measurable goal for each piece of content. If your objective is promoting health literacy, you can track the number times your piece was viewed, which can give you some indication of your success. If the piece was only viewed by a few people, it was less likely to support health literacy than if it was viewed by thousands.
The way you evaluate success depends on your specific goals and the tools you use to achieve them. However, two basic things you will want to track if you’re publishing on your website are:
- where your readers are coming from, and
- which content on your site is driving the desired outcomes.
Google Analytics is one tool that provides free basic performance analysis.
The knowledge you gain through strategic analytics will help you optimize the substance and distribution strategies for future content. Specifically, your analysis will provide information that allows you to modify your characterizations in ways that improve your ability to create content that achieves your goals.
Getting started creating medical content
Several stakeholders in healthcare have begun to recognize that joining the content marketing revolution is critical to success. Nonetheless, they are hindered by an inability to find time to commit to a medical content marketing strategy, as well as to assemble the required combination of expertise.
In the absence of novel content, curating content is one way for healthcare providers to help their patients and nurture their relationships with them. However, while it’s valuable for patients to have their doctors guide them toward credible sources of medical information, patients benefit more from content that they perceive as being created specifically for them.
When doctors create their own content, customizing it to their specific patient population and location, patients are more likely to trust both the information and the provider. If you implement a strategic and systematic medical content approach, you will also learn more about your patients’ needs and preferences and will almost certainly gain an understanding of how best to deliver those things to them.
To help you get started creating your medical content strategy, I’ve put together a 22-page workbook for you to use. You can view it here: