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An Introduction to SEO for Life Sciences

Before I start anything else, let me introduce the concept of search engine marketing, commonly referred to as SEM.

SEM is the general term used for any internet marketing activity that involves the promotion of a website. This encompasses two aspects, SEO (search engine optimisation) and PPC (pay-per-click) marketing.

When you use a search engine to make a search, you are usually presented with a search engine results page (SERP) which shows two kind of broad results; organic and paid.

An example of this is below:

paid vs organic search results Blog Post Image
paid vs organic search results for “buy pipettes tips online”

 

Paid results will appear at the top of the page. Each time a search is made, and a user clicks on a paid listing, the advertiser pays the search engine a fee, which can range from a few pence all the way up to hundreds of pounds.

The rest of the listings on the page are referred to as organic search results.

These results are presented and listed in the way that the search engine thinks they best represent the needs of the user matching the search intent..

Whilst search engine algorithms are in charge of the way these results are presented, SEO is the process of optimising content on (and off) your brand’s website so that you appear more often, and higher-up in these search results.

Taking steps to improve your website SEO will generally improve the quantity and quality of traffic to your website from organic search visitors.

When comparing the two SEM methods, SEO can generally be viewed as a continuous process that will see sustained search traffic over time, whereas PPC will generate website traffic only for the months you are willing to pay for it.

When it comes to doing SEO for life sciences brands, a wider strategy can usually be split into four main categories:

  • On-page SEO
  • Off-page SEO
  • Technical SEO
  • Content Creation

Technical SEO

Technical SEO can be best described as the ‘behind the scenes’ activities that help keep your site in order.

The success (or failure) of your website can usually be attributed to the technology being used and how it was originally set up.

Let me explain some of the most common technical SEO issues, how they impact other sites and how to ensure best practice for your own site.

Crawling and Indexing

One aspect of technical SEO is dedicated to crawling and indexing. This means that search engines such as Google and Bing can ‘find’ your content and make it available to anybody else that searches for it.

In other words, you need to ensure that all the URLs of your website that you want to be found, can be. You also want anybody looking for these pages to be able to find them.

A simple test you can do for yourself to understand if this is a problem or not, is to do a search for your own site.

Head over to Google and type in:

“site:[your URL here]”

For example, a search of my own site returns the following:

site_patrickwareing.com Blog Post Image
Google search results for “site:https://patrickwareing.com”

 

Have a quick browse of them. Are your key pages shown here and do they look like you would want them to?

Some of the common issues with the results that appear for your site, include your main pages missing, duplication of pages, or pages you don’t want to be seen, such as the page to get a free ebook without submitting an email.

Make sure to do a quick audit every so often – or after you make lots of changes – and review if the pages you want to been shown appear!

Speed

Site speed is very important for SEO, enough so that Google confirmed that is actually a ranking factor.

Websites that are quick tend to have better engagement and a low bounce rate from visitors who aren’t wasting time waiting for your site to load.

In fact, trinity.one claim that 37% of visitors bounce from your website when it takes over five seconds to load and that 70% of customers claim site speed impacts their purchasing decision.

There are many things that can affect website speed. These include, but are not limited to:

Graphics and media – elements on your site such as images or videos are generally the largest fie sizes on a website. Before you host them on a page, you should make every attempt to reduce the file sizes and optimise them for different devices.

Themes & Plugins – Website themes and plugins are what are responsible for what your website looks like and the functionality on your site. The most common CMS (content management system) – WordPress – accounts for 51% market share of all websites on the internet. Having poor or outdated themes or plugins, can significantly impact your web speed,

Server Speed – For any website to be hosted on the internet, they need to be hosted on a server. A server, is a physical or cloud-based, computing service that responds to requests across your network. Most websites are hosted on servers provide by a hosting company. This means that the speed and reliability of your server is out of your immediate control, meaning you usually get the service you pay for. This isn’t to say that all hosting and server services are bad, but they can have a significant impact on your overall website speed.

To check your website speed, there are a few free tools that can help you.

Google PageSpeed Insights Screenshot
Screenshot of Google PageSpeed Insights Page

 

Go over to Google PageSpeed Insights and enter your website URL to complete your website audit which scores you between 0-100 and gives action points to improve.

Alternatively, try out GTmetrix which is a similar tool giving you varying insights from a site audit

Website speed is something that should be considered even before you start building a website. Although this is easier said than done, if you already have a live website, the chances are that anybody with no web developer knowledge can at least audit a site and action some simple tasks. If you have a web developer on your team, asking them to look into the website, suggest recommendations and action them should be well within their remit!

Responsive

A responsive website is one that looks good any any device, whether thats desktop, mobile or tablet, and has the same content and functionality regardless of what is being used to view your website.

At the time of writing, the market share between mobile and desktop devices showed a market share of 45.77% and 47.03% market share respectively, with the remainder being made up by tablet devices.

desktop versus mobile website users

Source: StatCounter Global Stats – Platform Comparison Market Share

Unfortunately, I see too many life science websites that use outdated or poorly implemented website designs that impact the responsiveness of a website. With more and more website visits coming from mobile devices – even from scientists – you are already losing potential customers before they’ve even had a chance to check out your website.

Updating to a responsive website design is not particularly difficult or expensive. So if you serious about generating more website visitors, you need to take action ASAP.

Technology

The technology you use to build your website will be the predominant factor that determines whether how your website works with different device sizes.

CMSs (content management system) such as WordPress are generally built with this is mind. A responsive design is automatically built, but make sure to test how your designs work on different devices, rather than just assuming things will be fine!

Site Architecture

Website architecture refers to the layout of a website; how pages are structured and connected together.

A good website architecture is good for two main reasons.

Firstly, a website that is well structured is easy to crawl by search engines and makes it easier for them to understand the logic of the content within the site.

Secondly, site architecture impacts how customers enter and move through your website, ensuring they can find the content they are looking for and interact with it. A good structure will also assist with any conversion funnels you have set up to convert visitors into potential leads or paying customers.

On Page SEO

On-page SEO refers to optimisations that can be made on your individual URLs to impact SEO of your site.

By optimising on-page SEO factors such as content or URLs, you have total control over how you want your website to be seen by search engines. This is in contrast to off-page SEO (which I’ll come to later) where you can only influence – not control – such factors.

Meta Data Optimisation

Meta data is the information that appears in the SERPs (search engine result pages), both the meta title and the meta description.

The meta title is what describes to search engine visitors what is on your page. It must be descriptive enough that it convinces visitors to click on it, but it must also use keywords to help describe to both users and search engines what the content is about. Meta titles should be less than 60 characters to ensure it isn’t truncated.

Meta descriptions are the descriptive text directly underneath the meta title. Meta titles have no direct SEO ranking effect, but alongside the meta title should convince users to click through to your content. Meta descriptions should be up to 160 characters in length for best practice. It is important to note, meta descriptions can sometimes be replaced by search engines, if they think they can determine a better alternative.

Here’s an example of a real example of where a meta title and description could be improved from Sigma Aldrich:

sigma aldrich example of meta title and description

Proper URLs

Every web page URL should be as short and descriptive as possible, also avoiding the use of special characters, capitalisation and unnecessary numbers where possible.

A good URL is usually related to the site architecture mentioned earlier in this article. A URL should show a clear hierarchy of the folders and subfolders of your site.

A good structure to following is something like:

“https://domain.com/category/keyword(s)/”

Keywords should be included in the URL, not only to signal to search engines what each page is about, but users should also be able to understand what each page is about by looking at it themselves.

Keyword Research

Each URL on your website should target a main keyword or group of similar keywords.

If you have already performed basic life science keyword research, then you should know what pages you need to create to target search engine traffic. Ensure that keywords are included within your page titles, headings and main content.

If you already have existing pages, but have not performed any keyword research, check through your Google Search Console to see what keywords and URLs generate traffic, and ensure there are no keyword conflicts which could be negatively impacting your rankings.

Make sure that you are generating traffic for keywords you want to be associated for; this is a good time to review and adapt your strategy as necessary.

Headings

Headings are important for two things.

They help break up your content, making it easy for the reader to scan and read the content that are looking for.

Secondly, headings can help with on-page SEO. Using tags such as H1, H2, H3s etc., should include relevant keywords, including long tail keywords such as questions.

There should only be one H1 tag at the beginning of the article, using multiple H2s, and H3s as you add more headings and subheading respectively.

Good UX

Although not necessary an SEO ranking factor, good UX (user experience) ensures that visitors stay on your website and navigate to additional pages and resources as required.

Simple examples of good UX include making sure text can be read, images and media are visible across all devices and colour is used, but sparingly.

CTAs

Like UX, CTAs (call to action’s) are elements such as buttons or sign up forms that persuade your visitors to take additional action once they have interacted with your content.

CTAs should be used to convert visitors into leads. which is the whole purpose in attracting visitors to your website in the first place. Once you convert visitors into leads, you should be able to send more targeted marketing, or pass them on to your sales team.

After all, the value of your content marketing and SEO strategy will only be beneficial if it brings more sales to your business.

Structured Data/ Rich Snippets

Of all the on-page SEO elements mentioned here, structured data and rich snippets are relatively new.

Structured data isn’t visible on page, but it is additional data that assists search engines understand the context of the content on page.

Although it is truly unknown how much structured data impacts overall SEO, structured data can help impact the visibility of your website through rich snippets.

Rich snippets are search engine results that provide more information than a non-standard result.

The range of rich snippets are vast, and there are many different types available. Below, are a few examples of rich snippets that life science companies can get.

Featured snippet:

life science featured snippet
featured snippet for “what is pcr used for”

 

Event Rich Snippet:

example of event rich snippet
example of event rich snippet

 

FAQ Rich Snippet

FAQ rich snippet example
Rich snippet including FAQs

 

Implementing structured data can be tricky, and it is crucial that you implement it correctly.

Luckily, Google provides a free structured data testing tool to help you test your own website implementation as well as check out what your competitors are doing on this front.

Off Page SEO

Whilst on page SEO was all about changes you could make on your own website, off page SEO refers to everything that you can do outside your own website to impact your rankings within search engines.

Generally speaking, off-page SEO is about improving your trust and reliability to both search engines and search engine users.

Backlinks

Backlinks are the links from external websites that link to your website.

Many ‘experts’ put a high emphasis on backlinks; the idea being, that backlinks act as the digital marketing equivalent of a citation, indicating to search engines that your content is credible and trustworthy.

Like any scientific citation, it is all about quality over quantity. Having high-quality backlinks from reputable and relevant external sites should be prioritised over anything else.

Building backlinks is not necessarily easy, but there are many tactics that you can use to help building them.

There is no ‘perfect’ amount of backlink, but they should be continually built as your website grows.

Social Media

Being present and relevant on social media shouldn’t be a surprise inclusion for you.

Social media helps you to build an external audience which you can use to share you website externally with, but it also helps act as indicators to search engines that you exist elsewhere.

You should choose the right social media sites carefully; make sure you post content where your potential audience is present and relevant. You are better doing one or two social media sites well rather than doing many badly.

Content Creation

Without content, your website is almost worthless.

Content is what makes your search engines rank your website in the position it deserves. It is also crucial for engaging and converting your website visitors once they have found you.

Different pages across your website should have suitable content to match what visitors want and expect to see.

Core Pages

The likelihood is that your core pages are going to generate the most organic search traffic for branded keywords. This is particularly true for the homepage, so it is essential that you focus on this page as a landing page.

Make your content visually exciting and your content engaging. You should describe what your business is, what you do and who you are.

Don’t try to fit everything on one page, but direct users to relevant pages where they can find out what they want to find.

A good website will generally feature the same core pages, typically a services, blog, contact and about page, although this varies on a case-by-case basis.

Content Marketing

If you have a content marketing strategy, you will typically be targeting organic search visitors through blog or learning centre pages.

This is the time and opportunity to create long form content, that ranks well for search engines and is useful and relevant to visitors landing on your site for the first time.

Use the on-page and off-page SEO tactics to generate organic search visitors and visits from external sites respectively.

Sales Pages

Your sales pages are rarely the first page your potential customers will land on, and will have usually travelled through your website to get there.

Sales pages should be designed to convert; give the customers the information they need before they purchase and reassure them that their money is safe.

Although not all life science websites will have sales pages, implementing customer reviews or testimonials on these pages will help with the trust element designed on these pages.

Summary

SEO is a well-known digital marketing tactic, that when implemented properly can bring a continual stream of highly targeted search engine to you website – as long as it has been implemented correctly!

There are many parts involved with SEO; very rarely can you set it up and leave it. It will usually require constant updates and evolution, especially as search engines make algorithm updates and your competitors start to get aggressive with their own SEO tactics.

SEO strategy for each business and website is unique, there is no ‘one size fits all’ model. Although this article features many different sections, prioritising proper keyword strategy alongside a good website design will bring in visitors and hopefully keep them around long enough to convert them.

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