Posted in #HCSM

As Google Turns 20, What’s Next For Health Information Searching Online?

Twenty years ago, two Stanford Ph.D. students launched a new search engine with a bold mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. Now two decades later, at the first sign of a symptom, patients instinctively turn first to “Dr. Google” to find answers to their health questions.

One in every 20 Google searches is related to health. 

The Internet age has dramatically changed how people seek out and find medical information. In a recent article, Susannah Fox, former CTO for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, points out that 87 percent of 14- to 22-year-olds report that they research health questions online.

According to the most recent Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project, thirty-five percent of U.S. adults say that at one time or another they have gone online specifically to try to figure out what medical condition they or someone else might have. 63 percent of online health seekers were looking for information about specific diseases or medical problems. 47 percent were looking for information about a specific treatment or medical procedure. Additionally, 44 percent searched diet information, and 36 percent were looking for information about exercise and fitness.

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Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life Project

Why A Mobile-First Strategy Is A Must

Most people aren’t looking searching for information on a desktop or laptop anymore. They are looking at it on a phone or tablet. Recent studies show 52% of smartphone users gather health-related information on their phones. This means that your website needs to be easy to read no matter where your patient may access it.

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Just over a year ago, Google announced a major change to the way its search index will rank sites: it will go mobile-first. As the company explained at the time, Google’s algorithms will eventually primarily use the mobile version of a website’s content to rank its pages.

Having a mobile-responsive site (ie one that automatically changes its layout and placements of certain menus and buttons automatically) is important because firstly, not only are over half of patients searching online for health information on their smartphone, but secondly, Google now gives ranking priority to those sites that are mobile friendly.  In fact, Google has stated that it will penalize websites that aren’t mobile-responsive, so if your site isn’t optimized for mobile devices, you’ll likely lose out significantly in the organic search rankings.  To check if your site’s design is responsive, enter its URL into this Google tool.

Optimize Your Content For Google Search

If you want more people to find you online, you need to optimize your website through good search engine optimization practices. SEO (the ability to optimize your site for search engines),  is a detailed and sometimes confusing process, and you may want to hire an SEO expert to do it for you. If you don’t want to hire someone, there are search engine optimization tools available to help you do your own SEO — and many of them are free. I’ve put together this list of the best free SEO tools out there to help you instantly improve your online marketing.

Optimize Your Content For Voice Search

The majority of patients searching for information on the web still trust search engines but the way people search for information online is changing. Increasingly, people are using voice search on their smartphones, tablets or voice assistants (like the Amazon Echo or Google Home devices) to search for information on the internet (yet another compelling reason to make sure that your site is optimized for mobile).  According to comScore’s forecasting, 50 percent of searches will be performed through voice functions in 2020 and the majority will be done without even looking at a screen.

In essence, voice searches are largely about answering questions, not about focusing on individual keywords. SEO is fast becoming AEO (Answer Engine Optimisation).  To quote NewsCred, “If you’re a marketer, “What’s the Alexa strategy?” will be a question you’ll be expected to answer.”

Optimise Your Website For Local Search

If you want more people to find you online, you need to optimize your website through good search engine optimization practices. And if you want to attract new patients, your website also needs to be optimized for your local area. When someone uses the internet to locate a Medical Practice nearby, it’s critical that your website appears in those results (searches on mobile devices containing the phrase “near me” has skyrocketed in recent years).

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Recommended Reading:  Why and How You Should Optimise Your Medical Website For Local Search

In a relatively short space of time, Google has fulfilled its mission to make information universally accessible and useful. We know of course, that not all of the information on the Internet is useful, and some of it is downright dangerous. All the more reason, therefore, to make sure that the information you provide to patients is accurate, useful and easily accessible. Why not set your own ambitious goal to be at the top of Google’s Search Page when patients google health information. Following the tips in this post will help you achieve this goal over the coming months and years.

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