Episode Three: Life Science SEO Secrets

SEO remains ones of the most vital long-term investments that any life science company can make. In this episode, we’ll talk about the fundamentals of paid versus organic traffic, and how you can optimize your website today for better organic rankings.

This episode includes:

  • The different types of traffic
  • Life science SEO fundamentals
  • How search engine optimization has evolved over the past five years
  • Black hat SEO versus white hat SEO
  • How you can gain a competitive edge by thinking like Google
  • What you can do today to improve your rankings

Resources mentioned in this episode:

  • SEMrush

What’s coming next:

  • Life Science AdWords and SEM Secrets

Transcription:

Sheldon:

All right. Hey everyone. So, welcome to Life Science Marketing. This is episode three, and if you guys don’t know us or if you haven’t heard the first episode or the second one, we’ll just give you a quick intro. I’ll tell you who I am, and then also who Leigh is, or he can introduce himself.

So my name is Sheldon Zhai, I’m the founder and CEO of Supreme Optimization. We’re the first digital marketing agency exclusively for life sciences and pharma. And then also on here we have Leigh Wasson, and you can introduce yourself.

Leigh:

What’s up life science marketers, it’s Leigh Wasson here, so I’m the lead strategist working with Supreme Optimization here. And we’re going to dive into some interesting topics about traffic on this episode. So Sheldon, I’ll let you kick us off.

Sheldon:

Yeah, so just a recap and one of the big things that we’ve learned or how we like to structure these podcasts is, generally your digital marketing will fall within four segments. And if you have all four of these, you probably have a really strong digital marketing strategy in place. If you don’t, then it also serves to help you figure out what your best areas of opportunity are and things that you can do.

So just to recap, the four elements are traffic, conversion, list building, and the follow up sell. So you know, traffic is your paid or your organic traffic. Conversion is about improving your conversion rate on your website, so making your website into your number one sales and marketing new person. Number three, list building, so capturing emails. I call those more like your micro conversions. Capturing emails and building that email list. Once you have an email list, that’s traffic you control. So you can be, you own that traffic and stop having to pay for traffic every single time you use outreach or something. And number four is the follow up sell, and highly effective, highly underutilized by most people, especially in life sciences. A lot of people are sending emails to their list once every month or something. Your email is probably one of your most profitable channels if you’re doing it correctly. It can be a huge revenue stream.

So those are the four segments. Today what we’re going to be talking about is we’re going to do an interview of SEO. It’s personally one of the areas that I have the most expertise in. Supreme would not be the company it is today if we didn’t have a really strong SEO strategy in place. And with SEO, so specifically it’s going to be about optimizing your website for search engines, so you rank above your competitors.

Leigh:

And before we dive into kind of some of the fun secrets behind SEO, what is the difference between, you said organic and paid, what’s the difference between that?

Sheldon:

Yeah, so the main difference between organic and paid is when I’m talking about organic traffic, I’m talking about elements, ways that you can optimize your website so that you’re going to naturally rank on Google or other search engines higher. Versus paid where it’s like every single time you want to show up on google at the top, then you actually have to pay per click. So a lot of times it ranges, I know some simple keywords, and it depends on the competitiveness of those keywords. Maybe like $3 a click you can find is pretty common, maybe $5 a click for some of the more competitive keywords, like say like custom monoclonal antibody services. That’s around $20 a click. Obviously for some of the individual antibodies that people bid for, like say ad cam or someone else, sometimes those will range for around $5 a click, so the market is kind of determining what the cost per click is, because it’s like an auction-based system. Google does incentivize, you will pay less than your competitors if you have a better ad that’s more relevant, that goes to a better landing page.

So just in short, what I’m talking about today is organic traffic, so that’s your natural rankings. That means traffic that you get that you don’t have to pay every single time someone clicks for. It just shows up. Does that answer your question, Leigh?

Leigh:

Yes it does. Right on, that’s a great explanation. So I mean the term SEO gets thrown around a lot. Let me ask you, so when you first started with SEO, what was SEO and how have you seen it change over the years since you’ve been involved with it?

Sheldon:

That’s a good question and it’s something I think about a lot because it really has evolved so much. And honestly some of the tactics that I sort of learned about six, seven years ago, when I was first introduced to SEO have changed a lot and I think by attending a lot of conferences and always staying up to date with the current trends, you learn how it’s evolved. Things that used to work and don’t work anymore. But you also learn about the things that have worked since day one, and what I really want to talk about is the fundamental things that have worked since day one.

So I know five, six years ago, I spoke to a friend who had been doing SEO a long time further back and what he told me was, fundamentally SEO, it’s really about two things. It’s having, well first you have to do keyword research so having the target keyword. The target keyword or keywords, usually one or two phrases per page. And then having keyword rich content to support that keyword on your website. Those fundamentally are the most important things. So SEO, a good target keyword that’s relevant and then having keyword rich content to support that keyword on your actual website.

So I guess those are the core elements that have stayed around for a long time. Obviously since then a lot of other things have changed. Back five years ago people were doing some shady things like black hat SEO. What that means is people were building links, trying to just get a lot of links built to their website so it would seem like their website is a bigger website than it is. And a lot of times they were just playing these directories to do that. Setting up mirror sites. That stuff is all black hat stuff. That’s stuff that back in the day it really did work. It worked extremely well. A lot of companies made a lot of money thinking really well. But google has really thrown down the hammer on that over the past few years, because google’s goal as a business, why do we love google? I always think of it from the perspective of google. And that gives me really good ideas of how I can get my content to rank if you understand what google’s goals are.

So google’s goals ultimately is to create a search engine that shows the most relevant search queries for the user. That means they want to put the best content up front because it deserves to be there. So they don’t want people gaming the system, so they spend a vast amount of money and time making sure that people aren’t trying to game their system because that’s going to deteriorate the quality of someone actually going onto google search and using their search engine. Back in the day they used to have a button that said I’m feeling lucky, and if you clicked that button, it would actually default you to the first search result. And that’s how google has really taken such market share on the search engine space, is when you compare it to Bing or some of these other search engines, google just gives me what I’m looking for and it does a really good job at that.

At the end of the day, google is a robot also. They don’t have the time to personally look at every website. It has the algorithm, it has to be based on an algorithm. And that’s the other really important consideration is that if google’s a robot and it’s crawling your website, how do you tell that robot what keywords you want to rank for? Well you have to use those keywords on your website, and that goes back to what I was saying before. It’s having a good keyword focus and it’s having keyword rich quality content. Those are the fundamentals.

Leigh:

Gotcha. So you’d mentioned that what google’s objective is, is to show the most relevant, the best content first, basically, right?

Sheldon:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Leigh:

So let’s break that down a little bit. What are some of the elements. If somebody were tasked with increasing their organic reach, their organic traffic on their website, where would they start? What are some of the elements that they would kind of audit first and see if they have on their website, if they don’t have, what are those elements that google’s looking for to really determine what is a good quality piece of content?

Sheldon:

Yeah, it’s a good question. There are so many different areas to start, but I think probably the area that’s going to be fastest is just starting with your on page optimization. In SEO we call on page optimization pretty much the optimization of having a keyword focus per page. You can’t have, okay, so for each page on your website, you really have the ability to target one or two core keywords. You can’t target seven different things, a service, a product, and I don’t know why you would want to anyway because that’s confusing for your users to have one page just about a bunch of stuff that’s not related.

So what you’re trying to do is you’re trying to silo these keywords into their specific pages, so that you have a focal point. So I guess by starting out, the most important thing is just to make sure you have good on page optimization. When I say that, I’m looking at your title tag, which is a piece of code. You can find, you know whenever you open a browser, a new window, and at the top normally there’s a title. That’s called your title tag. It’s a coding element and it tells google plain and simple, here’s the key words that I think this page should be about. Just because you plug that doesn’t mean google’s necessarily going to say okay sure, we’re just going to plug you on the first page front.

But what you need to do is once you do have that keyword focus, then you can also be using that keyword phrase multiple times within the content. I would say a rule of thumb that’s been pretty consistent over the past five years is if you’re going to target, let’s say, custom monoclonal antibodies. If you have a service page for custom monoclonal antibodies, then the product you would actually be targeting is probably more like custom monoclonal antibody service or something like that. That gets in a whole other realm of making sure you’re targeting the right types of keywords.

So let’s say you want custom monoclonal antibodies service. You need to use that key phrase ideally three to five times within a page that has around 500 words. And you should try to match it as much as possible. Don’t hinder the quality of your content ever just because you’re trying to stuff more keywords in. The quality of the content is very very important but incorporation of that keyword is important for google to see that on your site because once again, it’s a robot.

So title tag, having that keyword rich content, and you guys, if you just go on your website, go onto one of your service pages or product pages, whatever. Do a control-F. Look at how many times you’re targeting a keyword that you want to be ranking for. I can tell you, look at your site and then look at a site that’s ranking from positions one to 10, how much they’re using that phrase. It’s going to be pretty obvious why some companies rank and some don’t.

Leigh:

That’s a great strategy, just literally do command find and see where exactly not only on yours, but as you mentioned on those top pages that are ranking for what you want to rank for. Just do command F and see where that keyword is coming up.

Sheldon:

Yeah, exactly. And I think the last thing, Leigh, is, well not the last thing but one of the easy things to fix that gives a big improvement is you know just for your images, images also can get tagged. Google is not going to be able to look at, well not yet, maybe in a couple years, maybe in a year. But google can’t really identify what your images are unless you’re telling it because it’s an image. So there’s something called an image alt tag, so you can actually add onto each of the images and that just gives another ranking factor for google to understand that okay, the title tag is about the keyword, the content is about the keyword, and also the image is about the keyword. So if the quality is any good, then you’ll probably have a good chance of ranking.

Now, getting more competitive is a whole nother story. Sometimes, for some keywords, just doing that will get you onto the first page. But if you really want to get into those positions one, two, three, and maybe four, you gotta go a little deeper than just that usually. So yeah.

Leigh:

Okay, right on. So why would I want to get into position one, two, or three? Why not, why is this, the first page, not good enough?

Sheldon:

I think a lot of people once they’re on the first page they’re like yeah, we’re on the first page. But I mean, think of your own behavior when you go on google. For me personally, I probably will click on the number one, two, the problem is that there’s more and more of these ads as well, and actually a survey that was done, I think just last year, a lot of people, your general user, more than 50% I believe, couldn’t tell the difference between a paid google ad versus an organic ad. So now you have the competition of a lot of times the paid ads are taking up all the spots. Position one, two, three, maybe even four above the fold, and then you have your organic results showing up. And that once again makes sense because google’s probably getting a huge revenue stream from those paid advertisements, so they’re probably going to do that more and more because it’s going to make them money.

So that being said though, Leigh, back to your question, if you’re on the first page and let’s say you’re position 10, probably 75% of the clicks are going to the top pay advertisements, and then the rest of them are going to positions one, two, and three. Even before there was so many paid listings, as of about a year ago or less than a year ago, there was a lot of research that’s been done that position one organically normally gets 30%, position two gets about 20. Essentially one through four are taking up 70%, along those lines.

Leigh:

Totally. That makes a lot of sense. One thing I just wanted to throw in is oftentimes we’ll hear questions from a client like people are in the situation where they are already getting traffic, right? They’re not starting completely from scratch. They’re getting organic traffic. But what they want to know is, okay, I’ve got, maybe I’ve got an eCommerce store and I’ve got thousands or ten thousands or even hundreds of thousands of products, like where do I start? Where’s the lowest hanging fruit that I can start to increase traffic to those, the revenue driving pages?

And one thing that we found is that what’s really cool is, recently we’ve been using this tool called SEMRush, and we’ve got an internal debate whether it’s called S-E-M Rush or SEMRush on our team but I’m on SEMRush team, so that’s-

Sheldon:

Yeah, SEMRush for sure.

Leigh:

It’s definitely SEM Rush. But what’s really interesting with these tools that you can do is that you can look, we were talking about the difference between page one and even the top portion of page one versus page two, is that you can see exactly what pages you’re ranking for on page two. If you’re in position 11, meaning that you’re just across the border of being on page one, you can filter by all of those pages and just see what keywords, sorry, what pages are there and what keywords are getting trafficked for those pages. So that’s just such an instant win place that you can say okay, if I can just move from page two to page one, these handful of pages, that’s going to be the quickest 30 day win of instant free, organic traffic that pretty much anybody can give you.

But without knowing that it’s so overwhelming. I don’t even know where would you start? So these kinds of analytics tools can really help you find that lowest hanging fruit. And looking for those page two pages.

Sheldon:

Yeah, Leigh, one more thing to add, just more specifically, and actually you know, the SEMRush thing was kind of an eye opener for me last year. We had, Leigh and Alisha, one of our senior SEO strategists, attended a pretty big digital marketing conference towards the end of last year and they brought us this whole wealth of new ideas. And it’s crazy, even though I’ve been in this space for so long doing SEO, the new analytics tools that come out, the new strategies that come out, those things, I’m still learning a ton. And I think one of the biggest things was just based off what Leigh was saying, looking for those areas that you are already ranking pretty well in and just seeing what you can do to move into some of those higher positions, and one thing that I found particularly effective is that using some of these tools, you can see actually, sometimes you don’t realize that your biggest competitor is you. Your website is cannibalizing your own rankings.

So what I mean is, imagine we have some sort of keyword, let’s say epidote mapping service or something. And we take a look at SEMRush and we might see that actually, you are ranking both number 7 and number 11 for two different pages for the same keyword. That essentially means that you’re diluting your own ranking power. Because you’re cannibalizing yourself. It’s like, if you, it’s the same keyword that you’re ranking for but it’s two different pages. So what should you do? Well you should probably combine those pages into one stronger page. And instead of ranking 7 and 11, and getting maybe a total of 20% of the total traffic share, or 10% of the total traffic share, combining it and ranking number five. Or number four. And getting 50% of the total traffic share for that key phrase.

So it’s stuff like that, that as the space gets more and more competitive, you need that kind of analytical data to be able to make guided decisions instead of just guessing.

Leigh:

Absolutely. Yup.

Sheldon:

Also one more thing I wanted to add. There’s, I did talk a little bit about your fundamentals, keyword research, content, keyword rich content and your image alt tags on page optimization, but one of the biggest trends that I’ve personally noticed is that more and more, google is getting better at measuring user engagement and end user behavior when they go on your website. And that’s probably been one of the biggest changes for SEO is that it’s not just about, step one, yeah, use the keywords. Have a good keyword target. But beyond that, for the top articles or top pages that rank for certain keywords, usually those ones just read really well. You know, web usability is huge. Writing for web, it’s different than writing an essay. It’s different than writing a publication, you know?

And the problem is so much of the time we still see just a chunk of text, hardly readable. Leigh actually probably knows more about this than me, but it’s about building a webpage that has really great user engagement and those other things all actually are now more and more a part, a fundamental part of a good SEO strategy. Leigh, I don’t know, do you have any tips just in general on writing for web or that kind of stuff?

Leigh:

Yeah, absolutely. That ties back into what we were talking about on a previous episode, conversion optimization formula. But it ties perfectly into SEO too because if you think about it, google is just a big question engine. That’s why people go to google is they ask questions and they want to know the answers. So it’s not rocket science, it’s like well what questions are people trying to answer and then literally answer them. So that’s the first thing. In a previous episode what we talked about is surveying your best sales people and then also surveying your customers and asking them what are the most frequent questions that get asked, and then how do you respond to those? How do you address those questions? And having those question answers on your website.

One of the things, for example, that we’ve noticed that AdCam does very very well is they automate that entire process, so there’s, if you were to go to any one of the popular products, there’s going to be tons of Q&A, a Q&A section, that’s generated by actual customers. So in a way, people are actually writing the content for those product pages, which is huge huge huge bonus points for google because keep in mind that on average, the best ranking pages are 1500 words or more. So you need meat to a page. And if you’re constantly generating new content, whether it’s on your own by updating the content just and improving, yourself adding different types of content, or if you have something like a comment section, a review section, a Q&A section on your product page, if we’re talking about eCommerce specifically, that’s a fantastic way to add meat.

Now if you don’t have that kind of traffic or you’re generating tons of interaction, you can just manually do Q&A. Just an FAQ section on your product page. And that’s actually a huge mistake that we see a lot of clients make is they’ll have an FAQ section and they’re brilliant, they’re really well, because our clients know their stuff. They know their business better than anyone else in the world, and they’re able to make incredible FAQ sections, but they’re buried on a page that says FAQ, which nobody clicks on. Why would anybody click on a general FAQ page? They want to know the answer to the question that’s relevant to the page that they’re on. So it’s really simple, just split out the FAQ sections onto specific product pages or services pages. And you’ll rank. You will. And you’ll have a better conversion rate.

Sheldon:

Yeah, I forgot to add also, when you were talking about how AdCam and a lot of these other eCommerce website, even outside life sciences, let’s say Amazon, the key is obviously content, so companies like Amazon or AdCam or you name it that rank really well that have scalable ways of creating content, it’s not scalable to have a team of people in house, or beneficial for your users, to be just writing content every single day. It has to provide utility. And obviously the best content is going to come from other customers because they know the problems and other customers have the same problems.

One thing that just came to mind as you were saying that is, I know we’re doing user testing for another pretty big websites and commerce store, and this is a really big company, really big reagents company, and the guy that we were interviewing, he’s doing his postdoc at Berkeley. And he was on the product page and then he saw a tab that said write a review. No sorry, it said reviews. And he clicked on the tab and he’s like oh, I thought it was going to get reviews. They want you to write reviews? Which is really funny.

So obviously it’s easy for us to say to be like look, you need customers to write reviews. You’ve gotta get this reviewed. The harder part, honestly, is how do you get people to do that? And this is where some really good tools come in. So let’s say you bought something from X company and I just feel like, I’m not going to go back to the website and leave a review because everyone’s busy. You’ve gotta make it easy for people. They’re not going to go back to the website and leave a review unless they want to leave a really terrible-

Leigh:

A bad review, exactly.

Sheldon:

Like I’ll go back, when I’m going to a restaurant or something, I normally, it’s funny because I was on Trip Advisor, I have a senior, I’m like a senior contributor now on Trip Advisor. I have like 50 reviews.

Leigh:

And they’re all like one star I’m sure.

Sheldon:

Yeah, I was looking and I was like wow, if anyone saw this they would think I’m a horrible person. Because it’s all bad reviews. So I actually went in there and for the sake of it I added a bunch of five star reviews because I didn’t want to look like I’m so biased and a mean person. But the truth of the matter is when I normally have really bad experiences, I will go and take my time to leave a review. Of course sometimes if it’s an amazing experience I’ll go leave a review too, but more often than not it’s when I’m really bothered by something.

So the same with just an Amazon or something else. But the thing with Amazon and AdCam, the thing is, what they do is they automate it and they remove obstacles to getting people to review it. So next time you buy something on Amazon, there’s a good chance you’re going to get an email, let’s say after a set period of time, a week, you know, two weeks, whatever it may be, that actually sends something to your email inbox asking you to review it, it’s really simple. You can click through, sometimes you can review it directly in the email. And that’s easy because someone could just be on their commute or whatever, on the train, they get an email and they’ll be like oh yeah, I actually really liked that product, there’s a five star review.

So you gotta take, in the world where people are so distracted by everything, you gotta just reduce those barriers to entry or those obstacles from getting people to do stuff like that, and that’s going to provide you a winning strategy. There’s a great tool called Yopto, Yopto.com, that helps you automate that process. But more than ever for the eCommerce store, the people that are going to win are the people that are going to be adopting new technologies that just help their customers do simple stuff like that easier.

Leigh:

And one of the best parts of Yopto is, we haven’t even brought up what are the risks of opening up the floodgates of reviews is having bad reviews on your site, right? So one of the nice things about Yopto is that you can actually filter anything where you can set the parameters, but anything that’s less than a four star review, it won’t automatically post it to your site, and it’ll actually turn it into a support ticket so you can filter out people like Sheldon from your website and turn them into support tickets and actually follow up and see how you can help them rather than having that pushed through.

Sheldon:

And that’s kind of too, you want, the feedback that’s ultimately going to be ultimately more valuable to your business in the long term are those reviews that aren’t five star reviews. It’s more beneficial probably to customers buying stuff to have those publicly listed five star reviews, but I want to know, for me personally, when I run a business, I want to know the times that people are not happy. So I can address it and I can get better. And I think that’s going to be a really important not just for SEO or for digital marketing, but for your business in general.

Leigh:

Yeah. And one actually sort of a little traffic hack that you could do is if you’re kind of in a David and Goliath situation, you’re going up one of the big guys that does have a lot of community activity on those product pages where questions and answers are happening is just go and take all those questions and then answer them better on your page. Just use the exact same questions that people are asking. And then just answer them better.

Sheldon:

Yeah. Exactly. So that’s another way where you can, and that’s something that occurred to me.

Leigh:

Yeah, and when I say better, it’s not just writing more but you could add photographic evidence, things like that. Video. You could turn one of AbCam’s product pages into an entire content library if you just answered all the questions with videos. That would be an incredible resource.

And you know that you’re not just shooting in the wind because you’re going off of questions that are literally being asked. And if one person is asking a question on any one of those sites, it means there’s 1000 other people that aren’t. So literally, you’re tapping into a pre-existing market that already exists.

Sheldon:

Yup. And combine that with some keyword research.

Leigh:

There you go.

Sheldon:

It’s extremely powerful.

So I think we are running close to our 30 minute time. We try and keep this short and concise and then of course we’ll dive deeper on the next episode into paid traffic. And what I mean by paid traffic is my favorite channels would be AdWords, Facebook, and Linked n. I think Facebook in particular is incredibly underutilized by a lot of companies on the life sciences space. We’re starting to see some more. But just based off of our early media buys over the past year and a half or two years on Facebook, we’ve just seen some really amazing results that have outperformed AdWords.

But we do get our general hesitancy of I just don’t know if my users are on there. I’ve also heard other things like well you know yeah, I heard like yeah Facebook is kind of the place where it’s like personal life. But it’s like, we’re trying to grow your business. Personal life and of course the career, like LinkedIn is your business, Facebook, but you can’t really, I don’t think, make those segmentations. It’s just about running ads and seeing what’s working. If it’s working, it’s working, you know?

Leigh:

Yeah, and that’s, the thing you bring up about well my audience isn’t on Facebook, well first of all, they are. And a good test that you can prove that if you want real evidence is to set up, basically all you have to do is just set up the Facebook pixel on your website and then create a custom audience that says all traffic. And you can literally see all the people who’ve already been to your site that are on Facebook that you can run advertisements to. So it’s just an easy way to say, they are there.

And it is a test. So maybe it’s not. Maybe that’s true. Maybe your audience actually isn’t on Facebook, which wouldn’t happen.

Sheldon:

Yeah, you could-

Leigh:

You could do that test and then you could get down literally to the user, to the number of people that have actually been to your website in the last 30, 90, 180 days and see how many of them you can target on Facebook. So that’s something that we’ll get into in more detail.

Sheldon:

All right, Leigh, any last words, thoughts, feelings?

Leigh:

Last words, I have no last words today.

Sheldon:

All right, awesome. So stay tuned, we’ll be coming out with a new episode. We do these podcasts once a week now and so we’ll be releasing a new one every week. Be sure to subscribe or we also have this, depending on how you got to this podcast, it’s on our website, we’ll have a comments section, if you have other comments be sure to post them. Because we’re always looking for the same advice we gave you guys, answer the questions that your audience has, and we’re trying to give you guys the most value. And give you the most in depth and concise answers to your questions surrounding life science and digital marketing in general.

All right, thanks everyone.

Leigh:

Thank you.

Sheldon Zhai

Sheldon Zhai

Sheldon Zhai is the founder and CEO of Supreme Optimization. He's an expert digital marketing and technical web development specialist. Previously he was a molecular biologist and researcher at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. You can find Sheldon Zhai on LinkedIn.

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