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Is your copy search engine friendly?

Sarah Pooley of MSO.net gives advice about writing search engine friendly medical content and stresses the pivotal role search engine optimisation (SEO) has to play in the way a medical education website is constructed

Writing medical content that is also search engine friendly is crucial if you want to reach your target audience.  Many medical website content writers are unaware of how a change in approach can make the difference between a website reporting high levels of traffic and one which appears way down in search listings.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) should play a pivotal role in the way in which a website is built and medical websites are no exception. Search engine optimisation is one aspect of an overall search engine marketing strategy and refers to ënaturalí or ëalgorithmicí listings. 

SEO is concerned with understanding how natural search results are attained and assessing which boxes must be ticked to achieve a higher page ranking than that of the competition. Unlike paid advertising, where you pay to improve the position of a website, a resourceful SEO strategy can improve where your website appears in the search results without resorting to this short-term (and some would argue reactive rather than proactive) gains achieved with advertising. 

So how do you get that number one listing? When search engines send out their spiders (software programs that ëcrawlí websites looking for information and links which are then added to search engine databases) they favour those websites whose content mirrors human search behaviour.

Before a medical writer embarks on the actual copywriting itself, it is imperative that time is devoted to researching the subject and analysing usersí behaviour on the web. An attractive and informative site is powerless, if it does not reach its targeted audience and could mean that it loses out to the competition.

Research and discover the most popular search terms of your chosen subject: knowing what your potential visitors are searching for is vital. One word of warning however: be realistic and weigh up the chances of your achieving a good position on the results page with a vague and generic search term ó it probably will not happen. If your website is small in comparison to your rivals, the likelihood of your page appearing first on the search results page is remote, so concentrate on specific search terms instead.

Tips for success

1) Consider the subject of alcohol abuse and depression. The key phrase ëdepression caused by alcohol abuseí is currently a popular search choice; by including that term within the body of your content means that your page is going to return a well placed listing in search results.

2) It is important to consider keyword density. Once your keyword search tool has deduced those key terms and phrases which prove to be the most popular, the next stage is to include them with regularity within the pageís content. As a general rule of thumb, the percentage of words that should mirror your chosen key term or phrases is 3-10 per cent. Anything more than this is considered keyword stuffing and your website will be penalised. The term ëalcohol abuse and depressioní needs to be repeated often within the content ó at least once every couple of sentences, if not more. One tip is to look at the ëcachedí version on a web page which will highlight where the key term or phrase appears within the pageís content.

3) You must also maintain an optimum level of keyword density, as the page will be deemed by search engines to be relevant to the key term or phrase and will be ranked higher than a page whose keyword density percentage may be lower.

4) Include your key phrase in the title tags. Ensure that your chosen key term or phrase appears within a title and then give that title either H1 or H2 tags. A search engine will assign higher relevance (and thereby a higher placing) to this page than one that does not make good use of these tags.

5) Make sure that when writing the medical copy that there is a good level of internal linking to other parts of your website. By doing so, you are ensuring that search engine spiders will find all the pages on your site and improve the chance of every page being ranked, which will increase the value of your site. Keep in mind that the hyperlink itself should contain the actual key phrase and not merely ëclick hereí which, in isolation gives no indication of relevancy.

By considering all of the above, you should now have a framework on which to build page content. Well optimised copy using this basic structure could mean the difference between a page appearing in a higher relevance position, as opposed to dropping down (or right out of) a search engine results page.

Sarah Pooley is a Client Services Manager at MSO.net, a full service web design agency based near Dartford, Kent.

27th March 2007

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