Content marketing in healthcare: your big hairy problem

Allow me to ask you a question about content marketing in healthcare. What’s the difference between lame talent agencies in Hollywood and the healthcare industry? 

In both industries, people are so creative that everyone ends up with the same content ideas. It’s like when agencies pitch for projects and the clients can’t tell the difference because they’re all the same. 

The more I learn about business, the more I discover that each industry has a set of non-obvious problems to solve that makes all the difference and they are usually not what we expect.

If you ask a successful business owner in the subscription box space, they tend to argue that it’s more of a shipping business than an e-commerce box business.

The same appears to be true for Uber when Andrew Chen, in his book The Cold Start Problem, referred to the hard side of that business, not as getting us consumers onboard, but persuading people to become drivers and earn their living that way. 

In healthcare, it sometimes feels as if we are in the business of making sick people healthy when we should be preventing healthy people from getting sick in the first place since we otherwise have an incentive to keep them sick, so they’ll come back.

This problem is obvious to patients and could be a part of the reason that there’s hesitation from some people to visit physicians as marketing doesn’t hold true to reality – the entire industry competes for who can phrase “we care” and “quality, affordable care” the best.

From a product standpoint, on paper, that seems like slow business suicide if it wasn’t because of extreme natural retention, lack of knowledge to self-diagnose, and lack of interest in prevention from customers. From a marketing perspective, that can feel like an inauthentic competition we can’t win.

So how does that impact our content marketing in healthcare and what can we do?

How content marketing works in the healthcare industry

Attracting people that search for healthcare-related topics tends to be the best performing channel for content marketing in healthcare, as we can track that they are looking for help right now, and we can gauge their level of interest reasonably well.

We put out content pieces that drive targeted traffic back to our website day and night, whether it is articles, infographics, videos or something else. The challenge is that since the topic of healthcare is sensitive and hard to understand, the biggest platforms have been cracking down on industry content to ensure that it’s of reasonable accuracy and that it becomes harder to scam patients.

Realistically, that means we have to get help from physicians to write our content and promote the fact that it’s written or peer-reviewed by them to ensure validity.

The big challenge with content marketing in healthcare is because the internet contains so much information, it isn’t just as simple as putting content out there and we’ll magically be found, especially if we can only service a local area. We need to figure out how our content reaches people that we can actually serve with our paid services rather than the ~99% of the world that we can’t serve but could still stumble upon our content. 

There are a few ways to work the logistics, one is to serve the content via ads using a platform with targeting that ensures we only reach people nearby, another is sharing it on social media and a third is to make sure that the right people find it when searching on Google. 

Before we go any further, I should probably point out that even if we pay for ads we don’t fully control the logistics and whether something will go viral as we don’t know the platforms where things get shared.

Serving content via ads 

Reaching the right patients with our content via ads is often the most expensive choice and the money doesn’t guarantee results. In fact, marketing teams might run a test but realize that the money spent on ads doesn’t justify the return they are getting back through content marketing, meaning that the content doesn’t convert patients as well when paired with ads as, for example, a landing page asking them to sign up for a newsletter.

That does not mean ads are bad but simply that it can be hard to justify pairing ad spend with content marketing.

Serving content via social media

Serving content via social media is usually easy and free but in our industry, it’s challenging to get people to reshare it so it’ll reach a meaningful amount of people outside our existing network. 

I’m sure you’ve realized that healthcare topics and trips to the clinic aren’t what patients tend to share the most on social media and that referrals can be strong but they are usually hidden away in private conversations rather than broadcasted to everyone.

A less often used approach is going onto private health forums (or Facebook groups) and helping answer questions related to healthcare but the challenge again is whether we’ll help people who are in our local service area. It can be difficult to tell.

Serving content via search engines

Getting eyeballs on content via search engines tends to be the most effective solution for content marketing in healthcare simply because it fits well with patients’ behavior and there’s some level of predictability.

With social media, for example, we don’t know if it’ll reach five people, five thousand or why it isn’t the same number every time we publish something new. With search engines, there’s a whole industry around understanding how to get content to show up at the top of Google searches (called rankings, e.g. ranking as number one for a particular search term).

It doesn’t always work the same but it’s still among the better options compared to the alternatives.

To give you an example from my own website, simply by following a step by step process to writing articles and guest articles on other businesses’ websites, I was able to gather loads of readers every month along with qualified leads on my email list and most importantly, sales.

Don’t mistake that for easy, though. It took a lot of writing, pitching article ideas to other websites, research and time for search engines like Google to discover my content and place it accordingly.

If you are still curious, what I did in the most simple form, was this:

  1. Pitch articles ideas and write articles for other relevant websites that would link to my articles from their website (suggesting to search engines that my content is relevant for the keywords I’m targeting)
  2. Research relevant keywords and pick some with enough traffic while not being too difficult to compete for
  3. Write one article per keyword
  4. Use the keyword in the headline of the article
  5. Use the keyword at the beginning of the article and a few times throughout, where relevant and natural
  6. Tweak the article URL to include the keyword

It has been fairly straightforward and requires lots of repetition and patience, as the results tend to be long term and it will take a few months before search engines discover our content, at first.

The big problem with content marketing in healthcare

Unlike with digital ads where we have some level of area targeting, the biggest problem with content marketing in healthcare is that it’s challenging to target city by city or specifically in the local area where we offer care.

That means our spend on content marketing often is quite ineffective as we might get traffic in-country, say via search engines or social media based on the language we write in, but we can’t control if we reach people we can actually serve.

We can’t fully fix that on the marketing side as that’s just the nature of the sport and it often doesn’t make financial sense to promote the articles with ads (speaking of sport, if you like playing badminton check out these beginner rackets). Instead, we can use it to gauge where we might expand our service area to next by diving down into the city by city data in Google Analytics.

content marketing in healthcare - city targeting

We can apply the conversion rate from our existing service area to this new city to get a feel for how many patients and sales we are leaving on the table as we’ve already attracted their interest but can’t fulfill their needs. It won’t be perfect but it’ll give us a baseline idea about where to expand to next.

It’s easy to think that content marketing in healthcare is performing badly if we look at the overall conversion rate on the site but that also wouldn’t be accurate because of the demand we can’t fulfill. It might lead us down the wrong path, thinking e.g. that the website is a bottleneck when it might not be if we are comparing countrywide traffic with citywide serviceability. 

Comparing apples to oranges obviously doesn’t make sense.

What makes good content marketing in healthcare?

As you can see in some articles, the confusing part is that the content doesn’t need to be particularly high quality to drive traffic from search engines but you might find later on that the quality of the patients or traffic it brings isn’t that great if the content isn’t amazing.

Good content marketing depends on our goal. The lightweight version that people usually like to stick to is quantifying how much more traffic they’d expect from the project but we’ll sooner or later discover that simply getting traffic is easy but getting targeted, high quality traffic is the real challenge since that’s what turns into qualified leads and revenue.

I’ve found that it’s one of the things that tends to mislead people into thinking that there is something wrong with their customer flow and they need to optimize the funnel and website. Sometimes it’s just that we’ve attracted the wrong people with the content we are creating or the keywords we are targeting.

The challenge with describing what good content marketing in healthcare is that it depends on how broad or niche we are targeting our content, the formatting, and a whole lot of other things.

I know “that depends” isn’t exactly your favorite answer, so let’s look at some general rules although the lowest common denominator that technically describes all the options isn’t always the best answer…

3 simple principles for good content marketing in healthcare

  1. Answers the user’s questions (and sometimes the questions they didn’t know they needed to ask yet) and is verified by physicians of the topic calls for it
  2. Tailors the tone and presentation to fit the target audience, not the creator (e.g. it isn’t presented in a super dry manner even if the topic is heavy and the target audience is a younger, startup demographic, for example)
  3. The content is created with the target audience and their needs in mind during each stage of the funnel (think top of funnel, middle and bottom), even if we would love for them to do something else (do they REALLY need to hear about our free newsletter with tips or pay to read our articles before they get a chance to realize how good your content is?! Probably not…)


  • Content marketing in healthcare can be a great long-term asset if we are ready to reap the rewards after years rather than months
  • Search engines can be useful to drive traffic with our content but it doesn’t always feel as if we get rewarded for amazing content but instead, meaningless backlinks and listicles (but the quality of our content is what turns traffic into leads)
  • It’s hard to describe what good content is without it sounding generic if we have to cover all the different target audiences and formats — the key is to understand who we are creating it for, and put that front and center rather than our own interest

By Aske

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