6 SEO Considerations for Healthcare, Medical and Pharma Websites

5th September 2023

When it comes to optimising websites for organic search traffic, each industry has its own specific needs, challenges and conventions to consider. In healthcare and medicine, for example, SEO strategies need to bear in mind relevant regulations across different markets, the specific language-use and search intent of HCP audiences, and how to ensure research papers, infographics and other kinds of content abide by Google’s best-practice guidelines.

At Varn, we have many years of experience working with pharmaceutical companies on organic search projects. We have learnt that there are some key areas that particularly impact the SEO landscape around healthcare and medical websites. Here are six things to think about when optimising pharma websites for organic search, in addition to general SEO best-practices, which every website should follow.

1. Geographic Regulations for Pharmaceutical Companies

Because different countries have different laws about how pharmaceutical companies can promote their products, anyone who works on healthcare websites will be familiar with the need to abide by these regulations. This often means creating new content or even whole websites for each geographical market. But did you know that it is possible to let search engines know which version of a page is intended for which location before the visitor even lands on the website? This can be achieved through a piece of coding called hreflang, and can help to ensure that the right pages are found by searchers in the right countries. Ideal for instances when you have multiple versions of a healthcare website targeting different locations, each slightly different in order to abide by the specific regulations in each region.

2. Duplicated Content

We often see duplicate content on the websites of our pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare clients – generally when scientific papers have been published within a journal as well as elsewhere on the internet. In this instance, you might find yourself competing with your own content elsewhere on the web. SEO strategists looking after pharma websites may need to strategically determine which version of a piece of content they want to display in Search Engine Results Pages, and then help to demonstrate this intent to Google using consistent canonical tags supported by an offsite backlink strategy.

3. Keyword Research for Highly-Specialised Healthcare Language

As search engines have become more sophisticated, they have evolved an impressive understanding of how language is used, and the intent behind individual search terms. However, when it comes to niche topics with highly-specialised language, search engines may not be able to keep up. HealthCare Professionals (HCPs) may use language differently to the general public, which means that keyword strategies for pharmaceutical websites have to dive deep into user intent and understand the precise ways in which search terms are audience-specific.

Here’s a simple example: If a pharma website refers to a drug, disease, medicine or molecule by an abbreviation, this abbreviation may have one or more alternative meanings beyond the medical industry. This could lead to your pages getting lost amongst content related to entirely different topics. A clever keyword strategy would therefore need to use contextual on-page information, as well as alternative longtail versions of the relevant keyword(s), to make clear to Google which term your page actually refers to, helping you to rank for the most relevant searches.

4. YMYL Healthcare Content

When Google and other search engines decide which websites and web pages to place at the top of their listings, they are trying to determine which piece of content will be most useful for the searcher. Helpfully, Google has a set of content guidelines detailing the kinds of things that they are looking for. All web content should endeavour to follow the search engine’s E-E-A-T guidelines (demonstrating Experience, Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness) but pharmaceutical websites need to go one step further and follow Google’s YMYL guidelines as well.

YMYL stands for “Your Money or Your Life” and refers to any content which has the potential to impact people’s happiness, health, finances or safety. Google has much stricter standards for content which relates to these topics, which is why websites relating to healthcare and medicine must understand and carefully abide by their best practices, including clearly demonstrating expertise and professional accreditation. Most pharma websites will need a YMYL content strategy which incorporates everything from expert content creation to targeting backlinks from reputable professional bodies.

5. Log-In Walls for HCPs

Sometimes a pharmaceutical website may place content behind a registration wall. In order to read the content, HealthCare Professionals will need to register and log in to the website. This can be a useful way to ensure the traffic reaching your content is reflective of the most relevant audiences. However, pages which live behind a wall of this sort – sometimes called gated content – can be hard for search engines to find, read and understand. In turn, this could mean that they choose not to index and rank your pages. Luckily, there are ways of coding your website to make sure that search engines can read all hidden content, even if human visitors to your site need to log in to be able to do so. This is a key item to check when considering the SEO strategy for your healthcare website.

6. Data-heavy Medical Content

Pharmaceutical websites host a range of content, from papers detailing the results of clinical trials to easy-to-digest, condensed summaries of diseases and treatments. The way these different types of information are presented is important for Search Engine Optimisation.

Imagine you have a graph which demonstrates the seasonality of a specific disease. This could be added to your website as a simple image – but will search engines be able to understand this content? Only if you give the image a suitable name, describe it within the alt text, and add useful contextual information elsewhere on the page.

Perhaps elsewhere you are considering hosting a medical paper in pdf form. Whilst pdf pages can rank in search engines, they will likely not perform as well as html website pages. This is because they are less mobile-friendly, unlikely to use proper heading formatting, and cannot be enhanced with Schema markup or structured data.

The list goes on – there are specific considerations to bear in mind when hosting videos, detailed scientific papers, or infographics on websites. The nature of medical and healthcare websites is that they will likely contain lots of data-heavy content in many different formats, all of which need to be considered and optimised from an SEO stand-point.

Need help with a Pharma SEO Strategy?

Need help creating and/or implementing an SEO strategy for your pharmaceutical, medical or healthcare website? The experts at Varn can offer support with everything from keyword research and content planning to coding optimisations and paid media advertising, as well as developing offsite backlink strategies. We have many years experience working with healthcare and medical publishing clients including Roche, Wiley, Pfizer and more, so you can be sure we understand the nuanced intersections between the pharmaceutical industry and search marketing. Get in touch to find out more.


About Varn

Varn is an expert & specialist SEO search marketing agency. Technical SEO * AI & Data Analytics * Offsite SEO * Paid Search

Related articles

Weston College to deliver Government funded Project Management Bootcamps

Weston College to deliver Government funded Project Management Bootcamps

Tips for running a successful freelance or small business by Bristol Creative Industries members

Tips for running a successful freelance or small business by Bristol Creative Industries members

Flashback: Bristol's Burst FM

Flashback: Bristol's Burst FM