Even before the pandemic, investment in digital healthcare businesses was rising significantly and analysts expect the size of the market to only increase – but competition for market share is intense.
In everyday life, we see more and more digital companies develop new ways of interacting with patients, and new ways to provide digital solutions to the needs and wants of the “digital customer”.
In the UK alone there are now dozens of mainstream digital healthcare brands– from app-focused companies like Babylon Health and Push Doctor to more traditional names from the high street.
Historic brick-and-mortar pharmacies such as Lloyds Pharmacy, Superdrug and Boots have introduced their own digital doctor and telehealth services to compete with emerging brands and industry disruptors.
With the rapid growth of digital healthcare companies, there is fierce competition to earn the trust of customers.
One of the key battlegrounds for these brands is (of course) the sphere of SEO.
Google - quite rightly – pays special attention to companies that impact users’ healthcare or financial situation, seeking to reward the most authoritative and safe brands with top rankings.
Google’s focus on Expertise, Authority and Trust (E-A-T) has serious implications for “your money or your life” (YMYL) sites that focus on health and finance – brands need to go above and beyond in their SEO planning to earn the most financially-significant rankings.
With all this in mind this blog post analyses the performance of three high street pharmacies that are well known in the British market - Superdrug, Boots and Lloyds Pharmacy - providing SEO insight using snapshot analytics from leading SEO tools.
It only takes a simple “online doctor” Google search to be bombarded with websites that specialise in providing digital healthcare – the results range from disruptive start-ups to more established companies that are well known in the UK market.
According to Semrush “online doctor” is a keyword that is searched on average 8.1K times per month in the UK and on a global scale - the UK is in the third position right after the USA (22.2K average searchers per month) and India (14.8K average searchers per month).
When looking at the “online doctor” keyword variations “superdrug online doctor”, “boots online doctor”, “lloyds online doctor”, and “lloyds pharmacy online doctor” appear to be the most searched keyword variations in terms of volumes (Fig. 1).
This is not too surprising since these brands benefit from the existing trust and customer awareness - companies such as Lloyds Pharmacy, Superdrug and Boots have been visible within the British market for decades and their retail stores are present on the majority of high streets.
Digitally speaking, Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug all adopted a domain strategy to position the companies as experts in the ‘online doctor’ sector of digital healthcare.
All three companies created a subdomain URL that explicitly contains the “online doctor” keyword as indicated below:
In terms of SEO, it’s debatable whether placing a keyword in the domain name carries an SEO benefit, however Boots, Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug are serious about their place in the online doctor marketplace as maintaining subdomains requires a lot of resources such as time, staff and money.
Having a subdomain is like creating a brand new website since the subdomain doesn’t inherit any SEO benefits of the root domain - particularly in terms of the authority previously added to the root domain by links.
In summary, subdomain domain strategy comes with certain commitments in relation to hiring a team of digital marketers, SEO specialists and content marketing professionals.
Lloyds Pharmacy, Superdrug and Boots would not invest their resources into creating subdomains without a long-term commitment to placing the “online doctor” concept at the heart of the strategy.
Taking into consideration the commitment of the three companies to developing their subdomains it’s worth having a look at the traffic each company gets to their subdomain URL.
By looking at the numbers it’s clear that Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug are in closer competition with each other. Boots on the other hand is lacking SEO strength according to Semrush results (Fig 2, 3 & 4).
One of the reasons for such a big difference could be due to the fact that Boots only just released its online doctor platform in June 2021 and is relatively new in the digital healthcare market, unlike, Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy.
Of the three online doctors, Lloyds Pharmacy was one of the first platforms to launch an online doctor, having its first platform created in 2002 and having a big re-launch in October 2019.
Superdrug on the other hand launched its subdomain strategy in July 2013 - nearly a decade after Lloyds Pharmacy first entered the digital healthcare market.
This could potentially explain why Lloyds Pharmacy has the highest traffic from organic keywords compared to Superdrug and Boots.
With the content and SEO in mind, Lloyds Pharmacy (Blue) and Superdrug (Green) share a relatively large number of organically ranking keywords, and Boots (Orange) seems to share more keywords with both companies than having rankings for its own unique keywords (Fig. 5).
From having a quick scan through the keywords there is a slight competition between Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy with many keyword rankings being close to each other's positions.
For example “anti period tablets” that Superdrug ranks 1st, Lloyds Pharmacy ranks 4th.
On the other hand, Boots ranks in 1st position only for branded keywords. Having said that Superdrug has such a strong organic presence that it ranks in the first 10 positions in Google organic SERPs for Boots’ branded keywords.
Boots is a well-known brand, and that certainly attracts customers to its subdomain.
However, for Boots to remain competitive and grow for non-brand keywords (many of which are very high value due to having high search volume and/or showing intent to buy) it will need to expand its keyword strategy and create content accordingly.
The digital healthcare market is developing quickly and as a direct response brick-and-mortar companies diversify into the marketplace by innovating and investing resources into digital products and/or platforms.
This is the case with Boots, Superdrug and Lloyds Pharmacy. Each company adopted a strategy where they created their own “online doctor” subdomains, however, along with that approach comes great responsibility and commitment to SEO development of the subdomains.
Building sustainable and effective organic ranking takes a long time for any business but for companies in the healthcare sector the SEO strategy needs to be carefully constructed based on Google’s E-A-T guidelines - there are no shortcuts or quick SEO tactics that speed up the process of creating organic strength for the subdomain.
Lloyds Pharmacy has been present in the digital health sector since 2002. Boots, on the other hand, is only just starting its adventure into the digital healthcare market and the journey of competing with companies such as Lloyds Pharmacy and Superdrug in terms of organic traffic is a long one.
In summary, Lloyds Pharmacy is a pioneer in terms of organic traffic and rankings followed really closely by Superdrug.
Boots as already mentioned has a long way to go however, considering how young Boots online doctor subdomain is the results are very impressive. And with Boots being such a well-established brand in the British market the prediction is that soon Boots will catch up with its competitors.