You’re feeling a little under the weather, or maybe you notice some weird spot on your arm. Instead of calling your trusted primary care physician or taking a trip to urgent care, you call on Dr. Google.
You’re not alone. According to a 2013 Pew Research study, 72% of Americans search for health information online.
While Google won’t provide a number on how many health-related searches are performed, we know it’s a lot. As health care content has improved over time, Google’s SERPs have evolved. In June 2016, Google updated its catalog of health symptoms to include more detailed information for specific conditions including symptoms and treatment options.
Last month, Google gave its search experience a major shot in the arm.
A Deeper Look at the Medical Knowledge Graph
Because pictures speak louder than words, here’s what a search for “nearsighted” looks like:
The searcher’s eyes are immediately drawn to the colorful image and statistics on the right side of the results page.
According to Google, the data for this Knowledge Graph comes from “high-quality websites, medical professionals, and search results. The data is reviewed by doctors and aggregated for display in the SERPs; a licensed medical illustrator creates the visuals. The only two links on this tab of the panel is to download a PDF version of the information or to learn more about searching for medical information on Google.
Symptoms & Treatment Tabs for Self-Diagnosis and Care
Wait, there are tabs?! I missed this at first, but each Knowledge Panel includes a tab for Symptoms and Treatments. Let’s dissect what these panels offer the self-diagnosing searcher.
The Symptoms panel explains if the condition is self-diagnosable and whether the searcher should seek the advice of a medical professional. Symptoms are briefly discussed, along with messaging encouraging the searcher to consult a doctor for medical advice.
If the searcher is convinced their symptoms match the information displayed in Google, they can navigate to treatments. This is where the search experience is most compelling.
Let’s pretend I’m suffering from nearsightedness, so I investigate the suggested treatment options. I’m given four distinct options:
- Medical procedure
Each section of the treatment tab includes more links to more specific information. Here’s a brief rundown of each:
In this example, there are three types of devices recommended for nearsightedness: Bifocals, Glasses, and Contact lenses.
Remember: this content has been vetted by a team of doctors, so it’s completely within Google’s control. Each option keeps me on the SERP, but the experience of each is a little different.
For Bifocals and glasses, the search results include a Featured Answer and a People Also Ask box. But the results for contact lenses return as Shopping Results. This is a bit misaligned; if I’m just in the process of determining that I have nearsightedness, I’ll need to visit an optometrist to know what specific type of contact lenses I need.
Other sections of the Treatments tab perform similarly. Here is a brief rundown of each scenario:
I decide that I’d rather investigate having my suspected vision issue with non-invasive procedure like LASIK. The results for LASIK are dominated by four paid search listings. The organic listings include a People Also Ask box and a mix of general and localized results.
What surgery options are available for my condition? The Knowledge Panel (vetted by doctors, remember?) suggests that maybe refractive surgery or laser surgery may be the answer.
The results for “nearsighted refractive surgery” includes two paid search listings at the top of the page. The organic listings include a People Also Ask box and a mix of general and localized results.
After doing all this research, I’m still not sure what treatment option is best, or what specifically is ailing me.
I decide it’s best to seek a specialist, so I choose to see who Google recommends for an Ophthalmologist. Clicking on “ophthalmologist” takes me to, wait for it…
Another search results page with local results at the top. The rest of the page includes local organic results.
There are some different treatment options for other conditions. For example, “dry eyes” includes a “self-care” option that suggests artificial tears.
Hypochondria is starting to set in; not as a patient, but as a marketer. From a single search, a prospective patient can self-diagnose, research symptoms, and consider treatment options. This effectively does two things:
- It keeps the searcher on the results pages, and;
- In most cases, it prevents my condition, symptoms, and treatment-related content from achieving visibility in search results. For local healthcare professionals, this is tall order to begin with.
What’s the impact been thus far?
It’s difficult to say how this SERP will impact marketers. We did find a client that has been consistently generating impressions and clicks from 283 unique keywords that include “nearsight” in the search query. While not all queries return the Knowledge Panel, here’s what we’re seeing:
For May 3-29 compared to the previous 28 days (April 5-May 1):
- Impressions fell 21.3% (from 68.7k to 54k)
- Clicks fell 18.5% (from 329 to 268)
- The average ranking for the ranking URL fell from 9.2 to 9.8
While this data is largely anecdotal, it suggests that the new Medical Knowledge Graph is having a negative impact on this site’s organic visibility and traffic for this family of keywords. We also noticed a similar downward trend in impressions and clicks for “farsight” related keyword phrases that had been performing better prior to the May 12 update.
What’s a healthcare marketer to do?
Test Shopping Ads
If you are a device manufacturer or you sell over-the-counter remedies, consider testing out Google Shopping Ads. Traffic from this type of search experience is incredibly relevant, so if your medical device or product is priced competitively, this may help you sell more products.
Go All in on Local Search
If you are a local physician or other healthcare professional that treats people in a local office, then going all in on local search is our recommendation. This is a challenge because for “near me” searches, proximity is the most important factor that determines if your business will show up in local search results.
Expand Content Marketing Efforts
All healthcare professionals should consider expanding their content marketing efforts. Throughout this search experience, one thing remained consistent. Google was displaying People Also Ask boxes. These boxes provide tons of examples of content that marketers can improve upon on their own sites.
Here at Vertical Measures, we call this strategy 10x content. It’s not enough to just publishing your own version of a page that is ranking for your desired topic and keywords. Instead, publish something that is 10 times better for an opportunity to get 10 times the return in traffic to the page.
Dr. Google is Not Going Anywhere
Unlike the recent trend impacting the length of meta descriptions, this SERP development should not be ignored. Based on how Google has treated healthcare related searches in the past, we believe that the expansion of these types of queries will only continue.
Just last fall, the search giant rolled out Searching-for-Health.com, a site focused on health care and disease that analyzes the top searches for health issues in the U.S. and compares that data with the actual location of occurrences for those conditions to understand how search data reflects life for millions of Americans.
Most recently, Google’s parent company, Alphabet has been exploring becoming a healthcare insurance company and developing artificial intelligence and machine learning to predict and detect health care conditions.
It’s possible that Google could get into the realm of telemedicine. In the future you may be able to self-diagnose yourself via your own computer or phone, then video-conference with a doctor who confirms your own diagnosis and prescribes a course of treatment, all without ever stepping into a physician’s office.
Open up and say ‘Ah!’
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