Just what is SEO – and how does it apply to life science and biotech marketing?
I continue to be amazed at the number of clients who ask me to define the term “SEO” when I use it in conversation. “What exactly is SEO?” they’ll ask. When companies like SERPninja explain that SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization, some of them will nod – they just weren’t familiar with the acronym. But many of them need more assistance understanding the basic principles.
With search engines rapidly supplanting the information dissemination function of salespeople, SEO must be a crucial part of any effective marketing campaign for life science, medical device and biotech companies. One of the reasons why SEO reselling is such a great initiative for companies is because it allows you to maintain the standard of service. If you build a rag-tag team of SEO service providers, especially ones with little to no experience, there’s a chance that your company’s goodwill shall take a hit. Visit therankway.com, they have a streamlined, well worked-out process for ranking websites across different verticals so that they can deliver results reliably and quickly specializing in link building as well as onpage and technical seo.
This newsletter is written for non-SEO-experts, whether you understand a lot about biotech and life science marketing already or you are a scientist who has reluctantly accepted a leadership position in your firm’s marketing function. You may not know what a title tag is, or even what html stands for, but you do know you need a web site that is “high performance” – that is, one that helps potential customers who are searching for answers find those answers on your company’s web site.
In this you are not alone. Search engine optimization is a relatively recent endeavor. The first real search engines were invented only two decades ago, and the idea of optimizing your content so that it shows up more prominently in the results of a search is certainly younger than that. There are many people who are unfamiliar with search engine optimization for life science, biotech and medical device marketing.
There is plenty of information on search engine optimization out there, and it is growing all the time. So, why write about SEO? The answer: while there is a great deal of mystery surrounding SEO, the fundamentals are simple (laid down by Web Chimpy) – just not necessarily obvious. My first goal is to outline these fundamentals to help you gain some basic understanding – so that when you are faced with key choices you have some knowledge about the issues and can make good choices. If you understand how search engines work and how you can raise your ranking in search results, you’ll be better able to serve your potential customers and your company.
My second goal is more specific: While SEO is a general subject applicable to all sorts of industry sectors, there are a couple of key areas where search engine optimization and life science and biotech marketing interact strongly, and it is important for you to understand these areas, so I’ll point these out as they arise.
Searching the web for life science and biotech marketing results
Most people think little about the esoteric mechanics of how search engines return the results they do. The ways by which the results show up in your web browser is “out of sight and out of mind” for most people. When you think about it, the exact factors that make the web so valuable (its ubiquity and its comprehensiveness) make returning accurate search results quickly a daunting task. Current estimates put the number of pages on the world wide web somewhere between 15 and 30 billion. And yet, when you type in a search term related to biotech marketing or life science marketing, for example, “qPCR techniques” or “Phase 1 CRO facilities,” you’ll get hundreds of thousands of results – in milliseconds.
Clearly, it is impossible to go out and search all the web pages in the world and provide hundreds or thousands of results that quickly. So we’ll begin with a brief description of how this happens, in order to provide context for determining how your life science or biotech marketing efforts can result in higher SEO rankings.
Organic search results and pay-per-click search results in life science and biotech marketing
There are two ways that information shows up in your search engine. Figure 1 below shows the different results returned by using the search term: Lead generation in biotech and life science. (All of the major search engines follow a format very similar to the one seen on this Google page.)
As you can see, there are two types of results: paid ads (which show up at the top and the right side of the page, and so-called “organic” results, which start below the ads. The ranking in the paid ads is the result of a bidding process; the more that companies are willing to pay for an ad featuring a particular keyword, the higher the ad will be placed on the page, relative to other ads bidding on the same keyword. The bidding process determines the order of the ads, but these ads don’t cost the company placing them a dime, until someone actually clicks on the ad itself. Hence the name: pay-per-click ads, also known as PPC. No clicks; no payment required.
This article will focus on the organic results available from proper SEO for life science and biotech marketing. We’ll save the topic of pay-per-click ads for another newsletter.
Spiders and indexing the web
So how do search engines return results so quickly? They obviously can’t search the entire web every time someone asks for results; that would take too long. Instead, search engines refer each query to a massive database – one that was built before the query was submitted. It is the use of this database that allows search engines to return results so unbelievably quickly.
To keep the database up to date, search engines have automatic programs that continually search through the web, looking for and indexing content. These programs are called “bots” or “spiders” and they have been programmed to search (or “crawl”) through the web, following every link on each site and reporting back on what they find. They do this independently; their goal is to accurately index all the information on your web site – and every other web site out there.
Life science and biotech marketing information that can’t be accessed won’t help your SEO ranking
Some links on the web can’t be followed by the spiders. The spiders can’t enter any data into a field or form on a web site, so content that requires the entry of a name or other information to download or to access (such as a PDF whitepaper or newsletter) is off limits. Content protected in this way gives you no SEO benefits – which is a good reason to give your life science and biotech marketing content away without requiring any data entry.
There is a simple test you can perform to see if the content you have on your site is being accessed by the search engine spiders and is therefore helping your life science and biotech marketing SEO rankings. Simply grab a portion of the text in question and paste it into a search engine query. You have to grab more than a word or two – the search engines will find many possible sites with similar information if you select text that is not sufficiently long enough to be truly unique. Most sentences should be long enough for this test. If your content is searchable by the search engine spiders, your web site should come up high in the rankings when you submit the query. If, however, the content you pasted into the search query is not searchable, your website won’t be part of the search results.
The spiders will index every word they can access on your life science and biotech web site. As they do so, they will note the proximity of all the words in your content, their frequency, their position in the text (at the start vs. at the end), their size, their relative position to other words and many other factors. They will use this information to determine what topics in the search engine’s database are most relevant for your site.
The result of all this behind-the-scenes analysis is that when any search query comes in, the sites with the highest relevance will be returned first in the search results. Those with low relevance will be returned lower in the search results.
SEO for life sciences and biotech marketing should be simple, right?
So search engine optimization should be simple. All you have to do is figure out what factors the search engines use to rank your site, and use those factors to increase your search engine rankings. Not so fast. The factors (the algorithms) that search engines use to rank web sites are kept confidential, and they are being refined with some frequency. And there are many such factors. Some experts estimate that Google uses more than 200 factors in determing the final ranking of search results. Even if you could know every detail of the algorithms (and you can’t), putting all your focus on the search engines misses an important point.
That point is this: your web site has two different kinds of audiences. The first is your human audience, the second is the search engine spiders. The search engine spiders exist to help the human audience find the content that is most relevant to their query.
It is easy to get caught up in optimizing your web site for these spiders. Don’t make this mistake. Your ultimate audience is the human one, and the search engines just connect you to them.
What do humans want when they type in a search query? They want relevant answers. This word: relevant, is key to our discussion. Search engines rank for relevancy – or more accurately put: search engines rank web sites according to a score based on many factors – one that approximates “relevancy” to human audiences. Ultimately it is the human readers that are your most important audience.
On-page and off-page factors in SEO for life science, medical device, and biotech marketing
While the exact details of the “relevancy” algorithm are kept secret, the general outlines are commonly understood. The factors influencing a web page’s rank can be roughly divided into on-page and off-page factors. “On-page” refers to the contents of the page that your audience will see – this is the body copy, the headlines, the captions, the news articles, the images, etc. In contrast, “off page” factors are the many ways the web site tells your browser how to display the information to the viewer – including such arcane bits of information like page titles, H1 tags, and links to other sites.
Both on-page and off-page factors are important, but of the two, on-page content is more important for search engine optimization for life science and biotech marketing, and this is a direct reflection of the importance of your human audience.
Thus, on-page content is where any good SEO initiative must begin. In fact, Google has published extensively about search engine optimization; in one SEO publication listing many on-page and off-page factors they state, “Creating compelling and useful content will likely influence your website more than any of the other factors discussed here.”
The big opportunity in SEO for life science and biotech marketing
The big opportunity for life science and biotech marketing search engine optimization involves the creation of compelling and useful content. (We’ll define exactly what that means in a minute.) I have written many times about how few life science companies are creating this content – and taking the opportunity to distinguish themselves in the marketplace. The creation and proper promotion of this content represents a unique opportunity to stand out in a crowded, competitive field.
It is also true that the opportunity to use life science content marketing as a competitive differentiation tactic won’t last forever. If you are not implementing a life science content marketing strategy and working to become a thought leader, you should be. Your strongest competitors are, or they will be soon.
The thing about life science content marketing and thought leadership is that it is easy to grab the podium (that is, to be seen as a thought leader) when you are the first to walk into the room. Once the room gets full, however, everyone wants to get on stage. It will be a lot harder to be heard then – and a lot harder to be seen as a thought leader.
We have written several articles about content marketing for life science, biotech and medical device companies in previous issues of this newsletter and you can find that information here.
There is another reason to start creating compelling content right now, or to post the content you already have. Part of the search engine algorithm used to determine page relevance is related to the age of the content on that page. Sites with content that stretches farther back into the past are typically ranked more highly than sites with (only) newer content. So starting to develop your content now will pay dividends far into the future.
Creating content to drive your SEO in life science and biotech marketing
The content you create must meet four criteria, presented here roughly in order of their increasing importance for search engine optimization for life science and biotech companies:
Fresh. Search engines give more weight to sites that have a steady stream of new content. Search engines also tend to rank sites with older content more highly than they rank sites with only newer content.
Organized. Clearly organized topics are easier for search engines to rank. As an example, putting all the information about a particular topic on one page will result in search engines ranking that page very highly for that particular topic.
Uniqueness. Search engines rank unique content higher than they rank content that is common. Unique content is highly valued by both of your audiences: humans and search engine spiders.
Relevant. This is the most important of the four factors discussed here. Focusing your content on being relevant to your audience is crucial to ranking high in search results. One of the ways that search engines determine your relevance is by your use of words and phrases – keywords. We’ll discuss keywords in greater detail in the next section.
A useful way to remember these attributes is to use the mnemonic F-O-U-R: Fresh, Organized, Unique and Relevant.
Keywords in life science and biotech marketing search engine optimization
The words that users type into the search box in a search engine (the “search string”) are commonly referred to as keywords or keyword phrases (sometimes shortened to keyphrases). Keywords and keyphrases also refer to the words in your content that the search engines associate with your web site. If you understand what keywords will be used by people searching for the type of content that your site offers, you can incorporate those keywords and phrases into your content. This will make it more likely that your site will be ranked highly in search results. For example, “life science marketing” is a keyphrase for our site: FormaLifeScienceMarketing.com. We have included that keyphrase in our content repeatedly. When someone types in “life science marketing” into a search query, our site should be highly ranked, in part because of the prevelance of this keyphrase.
Keyword demand in life science and biotech marketing search engine optimization
Some keywords are in great demand. Type “CRO services” into Google and you’ll get approximately 12,000,000 results. Search for “medical writing CRO services” and you’ll get about one eighth as many results. If you find a relevant keyword that returns only a small list of sites, then incorporating that keyword into your content will result in your site being included in that small list, increasing your chances of being found. These very specific keywords are sometimes called “long tail keywords” and incorporating them into your content can be useful in attracting a small but significant group of users.
Keyword research for search engine optimization in life science and biotech marketing
Understanding the keywords that your audience will be using to search for the information you have available is a crucial step in SEO for life science and biotech marketing. You can begin by making a list of the keywords that you imagine your various human audiences might use. This list should be fairly narrow; that is, each page should be optimized for only a few keywords or keyphrases. You can test out your keywords and keyphrases in various search engines to learn how search engines rank different content containing individual keywords.
Also, something called your server log files will retain a list of all the phrases that people have typed into search engines when they ended up on your page. This can provide some insight into how they are searching for content similar to yours.
There are many keyword research tools out there that will show you the relative search volumes for any given keyword. Two are Google’s keyword research tool and WordTracker.
With a list of keywords, you are ready to begin creating content. Here is a link to more information on creating compelling content for content marketing purposes in life sciences and biotech marketing.
Additional tactics you can use to enhance your SEO in life science and biotech marketing
In closing, here are a few specific tactics you can use to improve your SEO, beyond those I’ve already covered elsewhere in this article:
- The layout of the page can make a huge impact in how the search engine spiders index your content. The spiders will pay attention to: keywords in larger point sizes, keywords closer to the top of the page, the proximity of keywords to other words, the frequency of keywords, and the density of keywords.
- The spiders will visit your web page on a periodic basis. Spiders will visit sites more frequently when those sites’ content is updated more frequently. This will affect search engine ranking. Updating your site once a week or even once a day (with a blog post, for example) can result in more frequent visits, and higher page ranking. And conversely, adding no new content will gradually erode your SEO rank over time.
There are many resources to help you with on-page Search Engine Optimization. Here is one: A search engine optimization primer.
- SEO will enable your audience to find your web site more easily – due to a higher rank in search engine results.
- There are two kinds of results that search engines provide: paid ads and “organic” search results.
- Search engines will index every available piece of content on your site. They will consider both “on-page” and “off-page” factors in determining how to rank your web site.
- You have two audiences for your web site: humans and the search engine spiders. Of the two, your human audience is the more important.
- The big opportunity for SEO for life science, biotech and medical device companies remains the creation of unique, compelling content.
- Your content must be Fresh, Organized, Unique and Relevant: F-O-U-R.
- Optimizing your web site requires understanding how your human audiences will be searching for your content. You can begin by creating a list of relevant keywords.
- Many keyword tools exist to help you determine which keywords you should consider using in your content.
- Search engine optimization is a combination of addressing large-scale issues, like content creation, and small-scale factors. We’ll cover many of these smaller-scale factors when we discuss off-page issues in our next issue.