Google Adwords vs. Organic SEO - which is better for doctors?

When it comes to online marketing for doctors, more and more practices are finally realizing that there is one source of online patient referrals which is bigger than all others - GOOGLE. Gone are the days of looking up doctors in paper directories. Nowadays, if you are a private pay patient, the first place you look for a doctor is Google. So as a doctor, it’s important your practice is easy to find on Google. In other words, it’s important your practice’s website appears TOP of Google results.

There are two ways to do this: 1. Google Adwords; and 2. Organic SEO (including Medical SEO). But which one is better? This blog post aims to inform you about the advantages and disadvantages of both, so that you - as a doctor - can make the best decision for your practice.

Google Adwords - Advantages

Immediate results

If your practice needs new patients - and needs them NOW - then Google Adwords is a great option for you. A new online marketing campaign can be approved by Google within hours (sometimes even a matter of minutes) which means your Ads will immediately start appearing at the top of relevant Google search results. Your practice will appear as one of the top three sponsored search results, as per the screenshot below:

Google Ads for Doctors SEO for Doctors and Medical Practices  %Post Title

Target LOCAL patients only

One of the best features of Google Adwords is that you can restrict your ads to patients within a certain geographical area. For example, if you are an urgent care center in Orlando, you can set your ads up to only target patients within a 20 mile radius of Orlando. The radius can be decreased or increased - it's totally up to you. The advantage of this is obvious - you are then not wasting valuable marketing dollars on someone in New York (for example) searching for "urgent care". You are only targeting patients who are close to your center, which means they are more likely to be realistic, prospective patients.

The screenshot below shows the Google Adwords targeting options. You can target patients within a defined radius of your practice. If desired, you can even exclude certain locations.

Google Ads for Doctors SEO for Doctors and Medical Practices  %Post Title

Tracking & Analytics

The tracking of Google Adwords has improved significantly over the years. Tracking the performance of your ads has never been easier. It's now possible to track key indicators, such as the number of patients who called you as a result of finding your ad online, or the number of patients who spent at least 30 seconds on your website after clicking on your ad. Many other tracking options are possible. The advantage of tracking such data is that you can use it to constantly improve and optimize your ads. For example, if you have ten ads and one of them has a 40% conversion rate, while the others only have a 10% conversion rate, then you can use such data to duplicate what is working, so that the other ads also improve their conversion rates.

Google Adwords - Disadvantages

The cost

The main disadvantage of Google Adwords is the cost. You pay for every single click on your ads. If the keywords you are targeting are competitive, then the cost of keywords can be as much as $50 per click! However, for less competitive keywords, the average cost per click is around $1 or $2. Of course, not every click will convert into a patient. So that's why it's important to track your conversion rates, so that from a business perspective you can calculate how much each new patient is costing you, and - ultimately - if it is worth it.


The thing with Google Adwords is that as soon as you stop paying for your ads, they stop appearing. As we will see later in this article, this is one way that SEO for doctors is superior, as it lasts for much longer. You have to remember that by paying for ads, you are paying to appear top of Google search results not because your website has the most relevant content, but because you are paying. Medical SEO, by contrast, allows you to appear top of search results by merit - because your website has the best, most relevant content which the patient is searching for.

Complicated to set up

Because Google Adwords has so many options, it makes it somewhat difficult to set up. If you have the option of so many keywords, different types of ads, targeting options, conversion options, and many other variables, how do you know which are the best options to choose? For doctors who are new to Adwords, this can be time consuming - and worse still - expensive in terms of wasted marketing dollars. A badly optimized campaign can cost you hundreds (or thousands) of dollars in clicks, yet yield a minimal number of new patients.

Organic SEO - Advantages


As mentioned previously, organic seo for doctors is more permanent. But what does this mean? It means that instead of paying for your website to appear at the top of Google search results, it will appear at the top of the REAL search results, because your website has the best, most relevant content for the patient. This is something to be proud of. After all, do you want your website to be there because you are paying Google? Or because it's the best website for the patient? Once you have built a website with the most relevant content - and landing pages - for patients, the great thing is that it will stay close to the top. Compare this with Google Adwords where - if you stop paying them - it immediately disappears from sight.

Content can be re-used in social media & email campaigns

Medical SEO involves the creation of great content for your site. After going to the effort of creating such great content, it would be a pity not to share it with the rest of your online audience. This content can be used in social media campaigns, as part of social media marketing for doctors. It can also be emailed to patients in the form of a newsletter (see our page email marketing for doctors for more information). By spreading such great content across the web, you are helping to position you and your practice as the authority of your specialty and area, not to mention helping to increase online traffic to your site.

Lower Bounce Rates

Google is very good at determining which sites should appear in the real search results. In other words, if your practice's website is in #1 position for a keyword (e.g. "urgent care orlando"), then it is there because it deserves to be. In other words, you have the most relevant content for the patient. This usually results in the patient staying on your website for longer and signing up to your newsletter, scheduling an appointment, or whatever your site is funneling them towards. Staying on your website for longer is referred to as a 'low bounce rate'. Bounce rates for organic traffic are typically lower than other forms of traffic. For example, take a look at the screenshot below. It shows that the bounce rate for organic traffic is lower than that of both direct traffic and paid search traffic:

Google Ads for Doctors SEO for Doctors and Medical Practices  %Post Title


The great thing about SEO for doctors is that it is more affordable than Google Adwords. For example, the cost of Red Castle's medical SEO services is about 25% of the cost of an average doctor's Adwords budget. Plus - with successful medical SEO campaigns which lead to a large increase in online traffic - you are not paying per click. Let's say a campaign goes really well and your website now has 3000 more clicks per month than before. With Adwords, these clicks would have cost you thousands of dollars. However, with Red Castle's medical SEO services, the price remains that same, so your cost per click is almost always much lower than with Adwords.


Organic SEO - Disadvantages


The main disadvantage of organic SEO is that it takes longer. You cannot expect your website to appear in the #1 position on Google overnight. However, as mentioned, once you are there, the results are more permanent than with Google Adwords.

Conclusion - Adwords or Organic SEO?

Whether you choose Adwords or Organic SEO (or a combination of both) should depend on the exact needs of your practice. If you have a large budget and want immediate results, then you should definitely consider Adwords, plus you may also want to include organic SEO to position your practice for long term organic traffic. Because medical SEO has a lower cost per click than Adwords, it is our recommendation that most practices should at the very least be doing organic SEO. Whatever you decide, you are already on the correct path, as you have recognized what some doctors still have not: That the most cost-effective way to attract online patient referrals (especially private pay patients) is via GOOGLE.

Interested in finding our more about organic SEO and online marketing for doctors? Red Castle Services specializes in medical SEO for the following specialties:

Alternatively, feel free to Contact Us for more information.

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Dr. Richard Girling
CEO & Founder
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