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The Guide to Successful Healthcare Marketing Strategy

An Interview with Justin Knott

Welcome to E-Coffee with Experts, an interview series where we discuss all things online marketing with the best minds in the business.

In this first episode, Dawood catches up with Justin Knott, CEO of Intrepy Healthcare Marketing.
Healthcare marketing is gaining importance, especially as we navigate through the COVID 19 crisis. Justin explains the SEO process for successful marketing campaign designs for the healthcare sector. He also talks about the client onboarding process and the way external factors like healthcare insurance impact the strategy.

He also talks about how telemedicine will change the game in the future.

Watch this insightful conversation and stay tuned for the next steaming cup of E-Coffee.

If you want to have a really solid SEO strategy – Write really killer content, get your content out there, drive people to your website, listen to what search intent is saying and build authority backlinks so you have a higher level of trust score with Google. That’s what it really does take!!

Justin Knott, CEO
Intrepy Healthcare Marketing
Hello everyone, how are you doing? Today we have with us Justin Knott, CEO of Intrepy Healthcare Marketing. Hey, Justin, how are you?

I’m doing great. Thanks for having me on today.

Before we start discussing marketing in healthcare, it would be great if you could introduce yourself and your company to our viewers.

We are a full-service marketing agency. I’m the president and CEO, as you mentioned. We’re closing in on 10 years of business. Since day one, our bread and butter has been helping medical and healthcare organizations develop their online voice, improve their art of storytelling, and develop what we call patient-centric marketing programs. So that’s been really our niche. We’ve worked with almost 50 different specialties at this point. And we have two sides of the business that I think make us unique. The digital side, which is really my focus – SEO, SEM, website development. And then my business partner, who’s my wife is one of the leaders in the physician liaison development space, which involves going out and building new referrals.

So we address both sides of the coin — online and offline marketing for physicians and their healthcare practices to help them grow.

Why health care? Was it because your wife was also in that sector and you thought of combining it?

I didn’t know I was gonna start an agency almost 10 years ago, although we always had a strong interest. But the focus truly came from her side. She actually worked out of college with one of the largest Ear, Nose, and Throat practices as their director of marketing in the southeastern United States. And her family just got a slew of people in the healthcare industry.

Her grandfather went through the first orthopedic fellowship offered in the United States after World War II. So they’ve got a long background in healthcare.

It’s just kind of a natural progression. We sat down and we looked at where we should take the agency. She already had a network developed. We felt like healthcare as we even see now, with all the COVID stuff is very stable; there’s obviously a good bit of money from a marketing standpoint. But we started very early. Now, there are hundreds, if not 10s of thousands of healthcare marketing-focused agencies across the world. We’ve seen a lot of agencies and sectors get hit really hard during the COVID, but we are thankful that we started early and there were only a couple dozen of us in the US, back then.

It definitely was a personal decision. And then as we began to scale, we learned the riches are in the niches and makes it a lot easier to scale and replicate when you’re really just focused on one thing and one thing only.

I totally agree. Having a niche to focus on has a lot of benefits agency-wise. You're focused, it’s easier when you scale, and to maintain the costs as well. How did you go about choosing the niche?

Healthcare is really unique. Every vertical is unique.

We focus on healthcare, getting into auto dealerships, and driving leads that way because it’s all about figuring out the end-user and what that workflow needs to look like. Healthcare has a lot of nuances because of the requirements of HIPAA and EMRs, and PHI information and all of that kind of stuff. Also, doctors have a different type of lifestyle.

Lawyers are probably the closest that I’ve run into. So it’s just balancing what their lifestyles are like and getting in front of them. And once we learned it, we felt like it gave us a huge expertise leg up. Because I can have a conversation with a doctor that’s 10 times more sophisticated than most other marketing agencies can. The same thing goes for them if they focus on e-commerce. That’s not my area of focus, and it hasn’t been historically.

How have you seen SEO for health care change? What do you see as the latest trends?

There’s been a lot of shifts. Again, what makes healthcare very unique is that you have two layers, and the SEO landscape is very hyper-local focused. You will have some regional and some national. But 99% of the time, even if you’re dealing in the hospital sector or the private practice sector, unless you’re MD Anderson or something that’s nationally renowned and people are willing to travel, nobody really cares about outside of the 25-mile radius around their practice. It’s really the threshold of patients who are willing to travel. So you’re really hyper-focused on how to beat my competitors in a very local market.

In health care, you have two sides, people searching for the provider or people searching for the condition treatment level. So you have to focus on both.

From a provider standpoint, you’ve got providers that have Google my businesses, health grades, and vital. They have this whole ecosystem of listings you really need to be worried about that you typically don’t have to, for founders of companies and other stuff that you’re dealing with.

On the other side, you’re also wanting to rank for, say, a women’s health facility like OB-GYN, you’re wanting to rank for all of those treatment or condition line services that they offer too. So there’s a very dynamic flow that happens. And since Google has become more and more localized, we have seen reviews taking prominence to the bane of a lot of physicians.

The fact remains, patients on the patient side have become very consumerized. They search for providers similar to like they search Amazon. It’s kind of a natural progression, they go find somebody who has expertise in this area, which is why you want to run the search. But once you’re presented there, and you win the search, you’ve got to have a solid reputation. Because almost 85% of patients read reviews before they book an appointment. So you’re now having to worry about how do I rank in local and then, once I do start ranking, how do I make sure that my reputation is pristine. So I think that’s been the biggest shift; the consumerization of healthcare. Which is dangerous on the provider side because you’re really presenting providers based on reputation, and not on skill set or patient outcomes and that’s the reality of the situation. So it’s really become localization, position listings, and reputation is what we’ve seen as the biggest trends.

When you get a new client on board, what does your process look like? How do you plan budgets across platforms, like SEO versus paid?

I’m a big believer in data, so I let the data speak for itself. When we engage with a client, we always start with very in-depth analysis, keyword analysis, patient search, intent analysis, obviously historical data from working inside of that industry. What matters the most is competitive analysis. I’m a big believer in, why go out and reinvent the wheel if you’ve got competitors that are already doing this well, whether in your market or another market? Go look at what that ob-gyn is ranking for, what is driving their most traffic, what are patients finding them for and put a strategy together. A strategy that’s better to find than theirs, that’s got better content, better structure, contains more LSI keywords and more siloed content around it. So we always start there. That’s where our planning occurs. And then as we move into it, depending on what they have historically, and what’s been performing well; we usually wait to advertise more in the front end while we’re developing their SEO foundational components in the back end, with an ultimate goal to shift the scales as our organic growth begins to show. And when we’re getting more and more traffic ranking from more and more keywords, that’s when we start to shift more and more of the focus over there.

But as you know, paid ads are definitely not overnight. You can start showing up tomorrow for paid ads, but it usually takes months to gather the proper data and get the proper funnel optimization to know what to crank up and what to crank down. But you can get to lead generation faster than you can start ranking number one for all of these various treatments or service lines that your practice is offering. So that’s how we like to approach it — starting with baseline audits, getting the strategy, put in place the future content development, focus on SEM, while we’re developing SEO in the background.

Your point is absolutely valid; just see what's out there. So if I have to, let's say, analyze the content of my client, I would go and see what the competition is using and what's ranking for them. How do you plan the content outline? Because like you said, for a person ranking in Atlanta, you would see something that is working well in LA and use it in Atlanta. Does it actually work that way? Since it's a localized business, the culture or the way the content is in another location might vary.

It can definitely vary. But when we do audits, and it’s a picture that I like to paint, every time that we have a potential client that’s walking into a situation, it doesn’t take a lot of searching, no matter what vertical you’re in, pulling down a SEMrush or Ahref report of your competitor and prove the value that content creates for your site. A healthy website with a healthy content strategy, 40 to 50, even 60% of their organic site traffic visibility can be generated from their blog. And I think it’s hard for people to understand that. They ask, “Why do I need a blog? Why do I need to be creating content consistently,” and then they see those numbers. Well, your competitor is ranking for 10 times the number of keywords and driving 10 times the amount of traffic and it’s because of these 10 blog posts that are right here. And that’s a good visual, but again going back from a healthcare standpoint, most of the time there are two sides — localized ranking and national ranking. Both can be very up for grabs. I think the great thing is that in today’s search environment, you can take on the Goliath in your space and rank really well for national keyword terms if you know what you’re doing. Like we have a women’s health facility that offers a specific type of laser rejuvenation. And in a matter of weeks, we’re now ranking in the number two slot only being beaten out by the manufacturer of that laser for generalized searches regarding it, which drives a ton of traffic. But if we append the title tag and some of the content with localization like Marietta or Atlanta, their city focuses, not only can it help them rank nationally, but it can really narrow in the focus on a localized level search too, which is ultimately what matters the most.

So, like you mentioned If we have somebody in LA, that’s got a really solid piece of content that’s performing well, we can take a lot of that strategy and produce it in the Atlanta market, and make sure that we’re really focused on the things that matter to the specific market when it comes to geographical search, and rank really well in the Atlanta market for what they’re doing really well in the LA market.

It’s really powerful and we’ve seen it work really well over the years.

We follow something similar when we compare content. So, it's the same things that we have learned a long time back, the LSI, the content, but now we have tools that show it to us, and that we are actually following it. So I totally agree. It does work.

As Google’s algorithm has shifted, what’s really happening in the shift is they’re focused on purity of search. So there’s very little you can do to scheme the system. You can’t go link farm; the link building has to be real and authentic — from real websites with high domain authority that are on topic. And the more you do it the old fashioned way, you write really solid content that’s really focused, you do proper interlinking, you go out and build backlinks, the more successful you are. It’s a long process. But ultimately, it gives you elbow room and a space that should be a long time there to stay. No matter what Google’s algorithm does, it’s your landscape that you’ve carved out and then all you have to do is protect it.

All right, talking about updates. What are your thoughts on the latest ones that just came?

I got an email. Actually, I subscribed to Neil Patel’s list. I haven’t even gotten a chance to explore it yet so I would need to know from you.

We're still following to see what actually it is about. But it looks like it's more about links this time.

That’s been a clear pathway to success. For a while, it was a shotgun approach, but people are realizing that it’s very tactical. Now if you’ve got a good piece of content, go out and find a couple of really strong backlinks; that’s the authority route that Google is really wanting to go because it’s really kind of like reviews. It’s having other people do the verification work for them. When you’re building backlinks, you’re kind of getting that verification just like reviews do. So I’m not surprised by that at all. I’ve heard word on the street that they’re starting to loosen up and re-release all of the review stuff that they shut down in COVID. So that’ll be interesting to see. I think in May, that’ll come back around.

Yeah, that would be interesting. And, you are the best person to answer this after the EAT and the medic update. I mean, the focus has been the quality of content, the authority, the authenticity of the links, the trustworthiness of the site. And I totally agree with what you said about building backlinks the traditional way. Last month, we came across a new client who came on board, we were just doing their backlink analysis, and we realized that 95% of the links which were there were link farms. So, I called him personally, and asked him, “Who did this?” He said, “Hey, I have somebody in my team.” And you know what? He got hit in this update.

It’s just a matter of time If you don’t do it the right way.

We lay it out all the time in our videos, really good search strategy. There are nuances to it, I liken it a lot to a credit score. There are three to five things that you can do to really get your credit score to like a 750. And then there are those incremental technical components that get you to that 800 level. But if you want to have a really solid SEO strategy, it’s pretty simple overall. Write really killer content, get your content out there, drive people to your website, listen to what search intent is saying and build authority backlinks so you have a higher level of trust score with Google. There’s not a lot of components to it overall, but it just trips so many people up because they don’t want to go the long term approach route. That’s what it really does take.

We put our money where our mouth is, with our website and the process that we go through. I see that we’re really in tune with our process and notice 2,3,4 or 5 x multiples of growth on our website from a traffic standpoint. And then once you have that, all you gotta do is focus on how do I convert these users on my website? How do I keep them in there? How do I keep on-page time up? How do I keep bounce rates low? And how do I convert the traffic that we’ve got?

It's not rocket science. You just have to follow the approach and analyze the data. It's as simple as that.

Exactly. And, if you look, historically, even overall, the algorithm updates over the last couple years, you go back to the pure beauty of what SEO is. It just becomes more and more and more refined. But if you look over the last two to three years, there hasn’t been really a huge shift. It’s just been focusing on wanting more legitimate, trusted content. And we’re going to do that is by letting you build authority backlinks that are not spammy, and are very relevant. And continue to write better content, not necessarily longer content, but really on-point content that answers the users’ query. Because that’s what Google is in the search experience game. They want to make sure that they get it right every single time. So they want really tight, well structured, and focused content.

Also, in healthcare, sometimes a third party factor might influence convergence, like, health care insurance, right? How do you plan those situations in your strategy?

It can be difficult. They do have a lot of weight, what we’ve seen over the years, whether it’s building physician referrals, we’ve seen it a lot in that space. The monopolization of a lot of large metropolitan and geographical areas by hospital systems where they’re really closing off their referral networks. Essentially, if you’re not owned by the hospital or on staff at the hospital, you’re not going to get any referrals from anybody at the hospital. So it can be a difficult game to play, and the same goes for health insurers. But that’s even more of a reason why you need to be building your own area of engagement. Because what if this health insurer closes with an event like COVID? Or what if these hospital systems go through some type of deregulation or change up in what they’re allowed to do or not do? You just don’t want to rely on that. We had John Wall who hosts the podcast marketing over coffee, and the one big thing that he believes in is whether you’re in healthcare or not, you need to build out your own forums and engagement area, email list, all that kind of stuff because then it’s yours forever. Like all those businesses, when Facebook’s IPO occurred and they shut down your organic reach that closed overnight. So it’s really important to not rely on health insurance because there are so many what-ifs. A lot of internal medicine or specialty physicians get with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Georgia, they open their doors and they just have an influx of in-network patients that come in. But what if that goes away? What do you do then? And it’s the same thing with COVID, like when everybody had to close their doors, switch to telemedicine and start serving patients online. Everyone that hadn’t built an engaged audience, it was crickets. I mean, they were like, “What are we going to do?” We don’t have people referring to us. We don’t have our doors open. Now, how do we reach an audience that we’ve never bothered building, engaging, acquiring their information, providing value, doing anything for them, and all of a sudden we want them to listen.”

I understand right now telemedicine is hot, but how do you see its future after COVID?

To a lot of us in the healthcare marketing space, it was an “I told you so moment.” Like we’ve been telling you to get adept with technology and leverage it because you can use mid-levels, you can do post-operative visits, you can do encounter visits. There are so many ways.

For years, people have been able to leverage telemedicine and now that they’re forced to, they’re like, “Oh, this is kind of nice.” We can limit the number of people in our office, do more high revenue stuff in the office, and do all of our encounters and post-op follow-ups telemedicine. So we’ve been preaching it for years, and now that it’s happened, I think it’s definitely here to stay. It’s going to become a normal part of the workflow.

As you said, there are components of healthcare that inherently can never be done anywhere but in person, especially on the surgical side. But I think leveraging technology to your benefit for initial E-valves, encounter visits, post-operative follow-ups will make practices more agile, more adept, more profitable in the long term.

It’s going to be interesting to see who does it better, who can onboard patients quicker, who can triage patients faster, who can get them into workflows better, who can make the patient experience through the telemedicine side of things as seamless as possible. Because it’s a kind of consumer experience. Can I download something really quick? Can I see them really quick? Can I get my follow-ups really quick? So, it’s not going to go anywhere. But it’s going to separate the good from the great of who is going to offer and leverage the technology the best.

You also co-host a podcast with your wife Kelly. How has that experience been?

It’s been really good. We started it in October, and we got really serious in 2020, but it’s been a lot of fun. Especially in recent months, we’ve gotten a lot of larger names, both in and out of the healthcare space, which has really helped open doors. So that’s been a really fun opportunity to interview industry thought leaders that really carry a lot of weight in space. And because we’re healthcare-focused, we get a perception that you don’t hear them talk a lot about specifically in the healthcare space. So I’ve really enjoyed it.

It’s made me a better marketer. It’s gotten me more adept at different types of content because we were really video focused. Now, we have to take something nonvisual, like an audio-based podcast, slice it up and take advantage of video, audio and blog post form. We’ve really enjoyed it and continued to grow every single month. The good thing is we have a captive audience right now because we have more health practitioners than ever sitting at home that need something to do.

Hopefully, we can continue on that path and trajectory in the coming months too.

Aggregators normally rank higher versus individual players. So how do you go about choosing the topics for your podcast?

I think it’s really listening. It’s the same thing that we tell our providers who are gonna go into a content strategy and they struggle coming up with new content. It’s like when you see 30 patients a day, times that by five days a week over a month, you probably get asked like 1000 questions a month. So just jot those down. The same thing happens to us. As our reach has grown, engagement has grown on social media, it’s made it honestly easier for us to come up with topics. Because we can look into search data. Where are the holes, what are people looking for and not finding us about? Or on LinkedIn, when we do video topic-based stuff, we get a lot of comment engagement, and we just listen. Usually, the topics that we pick are what our providers, guests that come on our podcast and people on LinkedIn are asking us. And that’s been really the big driver.

Podcasts are unique. They do rank well, with SEO. If you’re trying to use a podcast and grow organic search, you may want to go about what you want out of your podcasts a little bit differently. So we’ve taken that approach as we’ve got blogs that really grow organically. We’ve got a video on YouTube for that type of search. And podcasts are pure, neat because you’ve got 30 to 45 minutes, which I don’t do videos that long to cover a topic really in-depth. But I didn’t go into it in the frame of mind thinking like this is going to 10x my organic search traffic. What it’s gonna allow me to do is open doors with interviewers that I would never have been able to get in front of, and reach an audience that wants to listen to the audio.

When you started off, how did you plan the frequency of the podcasts? Was there a strategy or you just?

Early on, we tried to backlog so we could get into a good cadence. We wanted to try and work to get at least one episode a week so we had a rhythmic frequency, and people knew what to expect. And then, as we started to ramp, we found that guest interviews get different feedback than when it’s just Kelly and I talking about marketing. And it’s not good or bad. Some guest interviews do better than others. And obviously, it’s topical dependent as well.

We found that we don’t want to do a run of like eight guest episodes in a row. We want to make sure that we’re giving people a variety. So we’re talking about different topics with different people, but we’re sprinkling in just the two of us talking as well. Because from our experience, if we do too many guest podcasts in a row, our list per episode downloads can taper off a little bit. That’s something we found from the data over time because we need to alternate as we move on.

We know we have limited time on our plate. But before you go, I want to ask you a question which might benefit our agency owners. So, Justin, as an agency, what has worked best for you as far as lead generation is concerned?

It has been our investment into LinkedIn. We’re reaching a market that’s typically a little bit higher. I think every agency owner would defend and say like my market’s harder to reach than anybody else’s kind of thing. But when you have doctors that historically have not been that active on social media, it’s been finding unique ways to either reach the older demographic that’s never going to adapt to social or the younger demographic that are not the decision-makers yet but they are active on social.

In August last year, we really decided to make a concerted effort to grow our LinkedIn reach. As a result, my business partner is a LinkedIn influencer, she got approved for LinkedIn Live beta, she reaches 10s of thousands of profile views every single week, she’ll be close to the 30,000 connection mark over the next month or two. With that has come a large source of lead flow, as well as thought leadership. We now have developed a whole area of our business that’s just predicated on social selling and LinkedIn consulting. People are like, “What are you guys doing? How do you do it? Can you please tell me more?” So I think that’s been the biggest thing we have. Arguably, we have one of the larger organic reaches in our space online, but I still believe it goes back to how many doctors are going out and seeking online search for their solution from a marketing standpoint. And direct engagement by securing our space as a thought leader on LinkedIn has been massively important. It makes the sales cycle a lot easier because they trust us already, they’ve listened to our podcasts, watched our videos, engaged with our posts, so they get it. And they know that we get it. So that’s been the biggest growth source, of almost 10 years in business and trying digital advertising, downloadables, all the different stuff. Over the last year, we’ve really hit our stride by focusing on LinkedIn for our end-users and ideal clients.

Even in the falling 10 years, the best way is to try to make yourself a thought leader and take it from there.

Exactly. And we’ve been fortunate enough that if you compare with 6-7 years ago when we started the agency, the doctors are a lot savvier, they know enough to know that they need help. But that was not the case before. We were trying to convince people that you should be marketing. They were like, “Why? I’m booked out for three months.” And now you’ve got younger orthopedic surgeons and ENTs that are coming out of residency, and they’re 32 or 33 or 34. They’ve grown up in this digital marketing age, and they want to do things differently in their practice. They’re taking Udemy courses; doing their own reading online, consuming their podcasts like ours and learning on how to better market their practice. Which makes it easier for us because they already know what they’re looking for, versus 7-8 years ago, when you were convincing them that they needed to start a Facebook.

Now, they already get it. They’re like, “How can I get tactically better adept at digital technology?”

Makes sense. Well, Dustin, thank you so much for your time.

Thanks for having me. Take care, buddy.

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