“We aren’t WebMD.”
We’ve heard variations of this statement many times at aha! when we talk to mid-sized healthcare systems about their patient education content ecosystems. For such a short statement, there’s a lot to unpack. But, in most cases, we find that comments about not being WebMD mean two things:
First: Healthcare systems recognize that they’re fundamentally different from WebMD. They are not clearinghouses for generalized medical knowledge. Unlike WebMD, healthcare systems support the entire patient journey, including the complex business of actually providing care, scheduling appointments, insurance, and billing.
Second: Healthcare systems understand the reality of the role that WebMD and other general, non-clinical health information providers play. Without being burdened by the complexities of providing healthcare, these outlets can focus exclusively on content creation and distribution to educate patients and consumers. With a domain authority rating in the mid-90s out of 100, WebMD has an organic search footprint that helps it dominate the SERPs.
The simple truth is that healthcare systems aren't WebMD because they can’t be WebMD. The investment in content operations that larger systems like Mayo Clinic have successfully pulled off (and monetized) over the years simply doesn’t make sense for smaller systems. While providing patient education is necessary to the core mission of serving their communities, healthcare systems often struggle with content. It’s complex, time-consuming, and requires a sustained, focused effort with a well-defined governance and key performance indicators (KPIs) to measure the success of those efforts. In addition, the recent trend of hospital consolidations often brings together multiple legacy systems, and remnant content only adds to the challenge.
If You Can't Beat Them, Leverage Them?
An obvious approach to patient education for mid-sized healthcare systems is leveraging the non-clinical medical content created by the WebMDs of the world through content syndication. On the face of it, licensing the use of 3rd party content that can be provided as part of your patient education offering makes a lot of sense. Why create and manage your definition of the purpose and process for a general, ubiquitous diagnostic test like a CT scan when you can use one already reviewed and approved from a trusted source? Don’t have the budget for explainer videos, interactive quizzes, or symptom checkers on your site? You can license these items as turnkey solutions, often with multi-language options and content updates automatically and seamlessly published.
The genuine concerns of cost and ROI aside, syndicated content comes with a host of decision points that may impact brand perception, your site experience, and search performance. Here are a few things healthcare systems should be thinking about when contemplating syndicated patient education content:
Don’t Lose Your Brand Story
The true benefit of syndicated content is that it allows you to quickly and efficiently provide valuable, actionable information to serve your patient community. It is a tool best used to supplement your brand story and shore up gaps in your content offering where necessary. A good, informative piece of syndicated content on your site about CT scans can tell a potential patient everything they need to know except for why to choose your healthcare system over another option for the test.
Chances are, your healthcare system has a brand content style guide (if you don’t, you really should, and we can help) created to define your voice and tone as well as rules and guidelines to ensure continuity and clarity and instill confidence in your attention to detail. Syndicated content can introduce dissonances from the small and manageable (we use the Oxford comma) to the large and problematic (we don’t call them Bone Cancers).
Depending on the implementation, syndicated content can be its own self-contained area like a dedicated health library where content separation blunts the impact of inconsistencies or blended into native content where every spot of inconsistency might increase friction for users. In addition, some implementations support the versioning of content instances to allow for manual updates that can help head off these sorts of issues (more on this later).
The SEO Impact
The elephant in the room for content syndication is what having the same content as any number of other healthcare systems does for your organic search ranking. This concern feels even more acute when competitors in the same market might be using the exact same general patient education content. SEO lore on Google’s odious duplicate content penalty has been repeated as gospel for years. So let’s set the record straight. There is no Google search ranking penalty for non-malicious duplicate content. It makes sense when you think about it this way: if there was a penalty, why would anyone ever use syndicated content if it automatically tanked your site’s ranking?
The truth is that search engines like Google favor and reward original content, which means syndicated content may not hurt your SEO, but it doesn’t necessarily help it either. This fact is an essential factor to consider when thinking about content syndication, but it provides a valuable way to help prioritize efforts to ensure your unique brand voice is part of the content you offer.
SEO is always top of mind. However, given the limited content resources of most healthcare systems, it makes sense to focus SEO efforts on areas with the most potential impact. Take our example syndicated content about CT scans. This information is valuable for patients. It helps establish that you offer this type of test for site visitors, but is it an area of focus, unique expertise, or critical differentiation in the local market? If not, it might be a good topic to cover by using syndicated content versus the effort of creating your own content.
Syndicated Content as Segmented Content
As we’ve hinted at above, healthcare systems' implementations of syndicated content can range from entire libraries of articles, videos, quizzes, and symptom checkers down to individual articles or even smaller content segments. These segments of structured content offer what aha! feels is an innovative way forward to a more blended approach to healthcare content.
Instead of a single monolithic article that explains CT scans from a basic definition through recovery and follow-up, each article segment can be independently syndicated, updated, and aggregated with other segments of your original content. This approach can create patient education content that leverages syndicated content where it makes sense, can include your value proposition, adhere to your brand style, and be indexed by search engines like original content. It also introduces the ability to personalize and A/B or multivariate test these segments.
Making the Right Choice
So when healthcare systems say they aren’t WebMD, it’s still true. But this doesn’t mean they can’t leverage WebMD and other content syndicators of healthcare education content in intelligent and innovative ways. Equipped with the right strategies, partners, and vendors, syndicated content can help any healthcare system better serve their patient communities.