Bariatrics Surgeon Practice - Content Strategy Case Study:

Goal: 2,500 Hyper-Targeted Visitors in 3 Weeks
Results: 10,000+ Pageviews, 9,500 Unique Pageviews With An Average Time on Page over 9 Minutes.

How do you design a content strategy and distribution strategy that attracts bariatric surgery patients looking for highly competent surgeons who have the patients best interest at heart?

The medical practice was relying exclusively on referrals and PPC ads, coupled with a shotgun approach to content marketing.

There was no pillar content developed. There was no depth to the content. And the content quality was lacking.

It wasn’t working.

This patient profile they knew from experience would be far more concerned about their health, disease state and longevity.

What kind of content do you write that will get the attention of a select target audience, their families and caregivers?

This is the challenge that this surgical group came to us with when we first met.

The Challenge:

Obesity is a worldwide epidemic

Nowadays, obesity is considered one of the most significant problems in public health.  It is a global epidemic; with over 78 million Americans obese.

While the number of obese Americans persists at record levels, the number of patients undergoing weight loss surgery hasn’t budged in a decade.

Last year, about 160,000 U.S. patients underwent weight loss surgery — roughly the same number as in 2004. That’s only about 1% of the estimated 18 million adults who qualify nationwide for the surgery, according to the American Society for Metabolic and Bariatric Surgery.

Benefits of Bariatric Surgery

Today that sometimes bariatric surgery can pay for itself within two to three years.

The latest long-term studies show that the typical patient loses about 30% of their excess weight with the bypass procedure and 17% with the band after three years.

That compares with weight loss of just 2 to 8% with diet and lifestyle changes.

Researchers estimate the initial costs of surgery are recouped within 2 to 9 years, as patients:

  • Cut down on prescriptions; it’s not uncommon for a patient to be on 11 meds
  • Reduce trips to the doctor and emergency hospital care.

On top of all that, two groundbreaking 2012 studies suggest bypass surgery can reverse and possibly cure diabetes.

Medical care for patients who have undergone bariatric surgery averages about $2,000 per year.

That is far lower than the cost to treat the co-morbidities of obesity.

In a VA study that compared patients treated surgically to those treated medically, medical costs dropped to $2,000 per year in the surgically treated group.

The cost for the two groups was the same for the first year including the costs of surgery and aftercare ($10,000), but the savings become evident in subsequent years.

The treatment costs for obesity-related conditions may exceed the costs of bariatric surgery as well.

Health Insurance

Knowing that this audience is broad, yet limited since many health plans either do not cover obesity surgery or require very rigid presurgical protocols and psychological examinations.

When insurers cover weight-loss surgery, it often comes with a number of requirements:

  • Patients must first pass a psychological evaluation, showing that their obesity is not due to an eating disorder or other mental problems that can contribute to weight gain.
  • Most insurers then require six to 12 months of doctor-supervised dieting, in which patients keep a journal of their eating habits and visit their physicians for regular weigh-ins and check-ups.
  • Surgeons say many patients are unable to keep up with the appointments and never qualify for surgery — a fact which they say helps insurers control costs.

“Half of the people I see drop out because they can’t commit to the time away from their jobs,” says Dr. Carson Liu, a bariatric surgeon in Los Angeles.

“Insurers know that 50% of patients will drop out.”Customer Journey Hour Glass

The Customer Journey

Thinking through the Customer Journey Stages as a digital marketing plan, we knew that we would need to develop a content strategy and distribution plan and ideally move potential patients to patients and then advocates.

We needed to discover patients and their caregiver’s pain points, anxieties, outcomes, and priorities.

This would require structured conversations with customers and physicians who refer to bariatric surgeons.

We did not want to assume that physicians who were referring patients knew things they may not have and awareness changes the conversation.

  • I know about the surgery, but is it right for me or my patients?
    • This requires showing how the results to prove it and give desire a goal.
    • We needed to speak to their concerns and current state of mind.

The Tactics:

Our Approach: A Customer-Focused Content Strategy

Our process, as always starts with a deep dive into the client’s customers.

Step 1: Extensive User Research to Define the “Who”

We looked at past patients (and families) that the medical practice worked with, and almost all of the patients were referrals – where another medical office had referred the patient to the medical practice.

The medical practice already had lots of technical articles around bariatric surgery and the various options available, but they were highly specialized and thus attracted consumers with a more in-depth medical background or understanding of medical terminology.

Patients researching information in an easy to understand writing style, with both the positives and potential adverse side effects of bariatric surgery and the required preparation would not find useful information on the clinic’s website.

They also had little to no pillar content that went deep into a subject.

From our research, most often patients and their families aren’t medical experts and have very little understanding of various procedures or what the steps for preparation of the surgery would be.  Therefore they wouldn’t be reading the technical content that was being produced.

Patients, families, and caregivers cared about what to expect from the surgery, what options were available, the positive and negatives of each, all required preparation, would the clinic staff be available to help facilitate this preparation and what if any, physiological exams would be required.  What did an exam consists of and similar.

In the end, we decided that we should focus on writing content that would attract families and caregivers of bariatric patients and obese patients looking for answers.

That was our “who.”

We should note who this “who” did not include:

  • We weren’t going to write for medical professionals. Yes, they had a few medical professionals as patients and who referred patients to the practice, but they were not the bestmost ideal customers. They were just, well, customers.
  • We weren’t going to write for patients with a medical background. Again, this was a “pretty good” customer segment, but with a different set of criteria and thus different pain points (see step 2 below).
  • We for sure weren’t going to write for Medical Doctors, as we explained above.

So, next, once we define who we’re targeting, we then focus on understanding what their pain points are in depth. This is what leads us to a content strategy

Step 2: Figure out their actual, day to day pain points

As we alluded to above, for these target customers, we learned that their day to day pain points were pretty far away from learning medical terminology.

Instead, they consisted of things like:

People Pains

  • How do I know what bariatric surgery option is best for me? (This is huge, for almost anyone considering bariatric surgery. They are actively searching for options along with the positives and negatives of each.)
  • How do we confirm our health insurance coverage?
  • My doctor doesn’t seem as well informed on the benefits of bariatic surgery, how do I educate them?
  • If health insurance isn’t available, what options for payment are?
  • How do I get buy-in for a family member who should consider surgery and is afraid of another failure?
  • If a family member has developed diabetes, what happens after the surgery?

We also created target personas for the medical community, who refer patients to this medical practice.  Our research showed that physicians were looking for precise information that would aid patients, this included:

  • An infographic of complications vs. benefits of bariatric surgery for adolescents that could be used in their practice for the discussion before referral.
  • An infographic that showed the obesity-related cancers and percentages of each.  Overweight and obesity-related cancers accounted for 40% of all cancers diagnosed in 2014.
  • The decrease in mortality rates resulting from bariatric surgery – 40% decrease in mortality in the surgery group with a 56% reduction in coronary artery disease, a 92% reduction in diabetes and 60% reduction in cancers.

Technology and Social Pains

  • What is the adverse event rate of each bariatric surgery option? If so which has the best long term outcomes?
  • We’re thinking of making a significant change, what are the risks?
  • Are there examples of other patients like me that have gone through the surgery?
  • Is there a support group available?
  • Can I talk to prior patients?
  • How to deal with complications for the patient beyond basic medical issues, mental health comes to mind, how are you gonna manage the total mental change that comes with being suddenly thin after a life of seeing something different in the mirror?
  • “There are a lot of lifestyle changes that come with bariatric surgery that are very scary, especially without the right information.  I thought I would have to give up my favorite foods and my social life. I also didn’t know who I was if I wasn’t the “funny, fat guy”.”

Also, we conducted additional research by looking at the top questions people asked about the topic on sites like Quora and bariatric forums, we talked to individual posters, patients and medical professionals, watched presentations from medical and bariatric conferences on the subject, and read numerous articles.

Step 3: Finally, build a content strategy

A heavy emphasis on the content creation part of the Outsell Digital Process is that the content has to have originality and uniqueness to it.

We don’t just create, for example, beginner level “How-to” content that’s similar to a bunch of other “How-to’s” in the space.

Searches related to bariatric surgery

After doing more research, we learned that many patients who were researching information on:

  • bariatric surgery side effects
  • bariatric surgery diet
  • bariatric surgery requirements
  • bariatric surgery risks
  • bariatric surgery recovery
  • bariatric surgery complications
  • bariatric surgery results
  • how dangerous Is Bariatric Surgery
  • what is the safest form of weight loss surgery
  • how much do you have to weigh to get bariatric surgery
  • what is the least invasive weight loss surgery
  • is bariatric surgery painful
  • what are the long-term consequences

We felt that telling these stories would be perfect content for attracting the target persona.

Here’s why:Outsell Digital Medical Study Social Media

  • They would have built-in social proof. Patients and prospective patients love hearing what other patients experience and success like theirs are doing and how they did it.
  • The stories would be original. From what we could tell, a lot of these personal stories enhanced with medical knowledge were not all over the internet, in fact, they were tough to find.
  • The problems overcome in these stories would be highly specific and resonate with our target personas.

Sourcing Stories

In our demand for originality, we treat content marketing for our clients more like journalism than blogging. We want to turn their blog into a premier source for deeply insightful, original, educational, or entertaining content in their space.

So, we went looking for patients that had first-hand experience going through the evaluation, insurance company requirements, surgery and recovery with bariatric surgery.

  • We asked the practice Chief Medical officer and surgeons in the medical practice for introductions to other medical professionals who both referred patients and other bariatric surgeons and obesity researchers they knew
  • We looked for SlideShare presentations and presentations from industry conferences for people who had spoken about obesity, weight loss, impact on diabetes, cardiovascular disease and bariatric surgery then we sent cold emails/tweets to them
  • We scoured articles, forums, and Quora to see what consumers were saying about the experience.
  • We searched Youtube for videos of people who had given presentations on bariatric surgery and co-morbidities of obesity.
  • We looked at bariatric surgery niche sites to find existing stories and discussions

In the first two months, we secured interviews with senior obesity researchers, bariatric surgeons, other medical professionals (endocrinologists, internal medicine, etc.) and patients that had direct, firsthand experience.

Our Article Production Process: Originality, Specificity, and Storytelling

Once we secure interviews like these, we do extensive background research on the person we’re interviewing and the topic. We don’t just walk into an interview cold. We read previous articles or posts they’ve written, watch presentations or talks they’ve given- so we walk into the conversation with one to two angles for the story already in mind.

We come prepared with a list of questions for the subject matter expert and get their perspective and experiences on the topic. This is the key to writing content that isn’t high level, and that is relatable to the reader.

Often, we’ll go into the story thinking we’re going to tell the story about one unique angle, and as we get deep into the interview, the person we’re interviewing will say something interesting that steers the story in an entirely new direction.

That’s why it’s important to have our content strategist, writer, and ourselves on the calls so we can listen for what’s the most compelling part of the subject matter experts’ story.

We asked the writer of two of these pieces, their opinion on it and here’s what they said about getting on the phone:

“You can get the really specific details of the story because you have the opportunity to ask follow-up questions. You just don’t get that when you’re only talking to someone by email or over text.”

Immediately after the call, while the interview is fresh on our minds, we discuss potential angles for the story extensively:

  • What were the most interesting aspects about what they said?
  • What pain points did they mention that other target customers have?
  • What’s the best hook for this story?

We also, at this early stage, started thinking of promotion while we are creating the article:

  • What communities could we share these stories?
  • Are there influencers who would also enjoy sharing this with their audience?
  • What other promotional avenues should we explore?

From our perspective, it’s the process above coupled with our team of writers with journalism (not marketing) backgrounds that make the stories we produce effective.

We’re going for magazine quality content, not content that any other marketer could produce.

Builds Relationships

Are Built On Trust

Drives Revenue

The Results:

Promotion and Traffic Results

Our first three articles, in 3 weeks, accumulated over 10,000 pageviews, 9,500 unique pageviews and had an average time on page larger than 9 minutes.

Well beyond the goal of 2.500 targeted visitors.  This resulted in over 50 patients following up and scheduling appointments.

Outsell Digital Medical Case Study

The bulk of this traffic came from the content promtion plan discussed here coupeld with a small budget for native ads . One piece, in particular, an interview with two leading obesity and nutrition clinicians and researcher who have lead a significant volume of research on the outcome of bariatric surgery and diabetes lead to over 7.100 unique website visitors.

Content Promotion

Typically when content marketers or agencies publish content, “promotion” means sharing on a few social channels: Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook.

This rarely works.

So even if you nail the process from the beginning to this point and produce an amazing piece ideally suited to your target audience’s pain points, it won’t get enough traffic to make a difference without careful promotion.

Our promotion process is a lot more involved.

At a high level, it consists of targeting publications and online communities that we think the target audience might frequent.  After identifying the channels, we organized them in the spreadsheet below.

Outsell Digital Medical Case Study Content DistributionThis serves as our method of tracking the various channels we promote in as well as brainstorming new ideas for promotion.

Much of the actual work around promotion can be done before the article is finished. We call this “Pre-promotion” work, and it consists of joining relevant Facebook groups, Linkedin groups, Quora, Subreddits, reaching out to local market bloggers and collecting press contacts.

After searching for journalists, influencers, and publications that serve our audience, we drafted pitches and social media copy to use for post descriptions.

We paid close attention to the language used on each platform when promoting. Each group will have its unique style, and it’s critical to understand their culture.

It’s imperative that we acknowledge that these results would not be possible without each part of our process working together, in sequence.

  • Without user research, content will not be focused on the ideal customer and their pain points
  • Without user research, you can’t create a thorough, highly targeted promotion spreadsheet
  • Without focused, unique, original content, promotion will be far more difficult
  • Without focused, specific content, even if you get traffic, it will be difficult to convert it into leads or paying customers.

Native Advertising

Native ads have a single purpose: getting a specific action from the reader.

This could be donating to a charity, downloading a PDF, subscribing to an email newsletter, visiting a landing page or website, or buy a product.

The test of an effective advertorial or native ad is, does it grip the reader and lead them in precise language, to what to do next. This is the call to action.

You need to be thinking about connecting with your target audience, gaining and building trust, selling your products or services when you sit down to write marketing copy. If you are not, you need to reexamine your motivations and priorities.

The goal of great content and copy isn’t to create content for the sake of being clever. Your goal is to create content that is helpful, insightful, educational or interesting for your target audience.

Native ads are very effective and can be targeted to individual zip codes.

You need to be thinking about connecting with your target audience, gaining and building trust, selling your products or services when you sit down to write marketing copy. If you are not, you need to reexamine your motivations and priorities. The goal of great content and copy isn’t to create content for the sake of being clever. Your goal is to create content that is helpful, insightful, educational or interesting for your target audience.

Native ads generate 308x more time than ads with an 18x higher purchase intent verse ads.

Native advertising is prime for car purchases which are high-involvement decisions and involve significant research by consumers, before purchase.

Sponsored content allows medical professionals to engage consumers with educational and meaningful content to aid in the decision-making process.

Placing advertising in the viewer’s activity stream is a powerful way to reach audiences and when combined with video has the potential to do this effectively, and elegantly that is not disruptive to the user experience.

It provides a level of depth and detail that standard pay per click (PPC, search, and banner) ad units are not capable of.


Using the medical practice’s – practice management system data, an e-newsletter is sent out to subscribers and potential and current customers.

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