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Google's New Health Search Results: How Will Your Hospital Be Affected?


Raise your hand if you’ve ever searched for information about a medical condition online. If your hand is up, you’re not alone! According to statistics released by Google earlier this year, 1 in every 20 Google searches is for health-related information. If you are running a hospital, this means that a good portion of your patients are regularly turning to the Internet for answers to their medical questions.

In an effort to improve the quality of search results for health information, Google made some important changes this year — changes that could change the SEO and SEM playing field for hospitals and healthcare providers. In February 2015, Google started including health “knowledge graphs” (or essentially charts with health data) in certain types of health search results.

I’ll explain how this affects hospitals from a healthcare online marketing perspective, but first let me give you a better idea of what health knowledge graphs are…

What Data is Google Providing in Its Health Knowledge Graphs?

Google’s new health knowledge graph is basically a table of health data that shows up on the right-hand side of the search engine results page (SERP). It only appears when certain health conditions are typed into the search engine. Google started off with graphs for about 400 of the most commonly searched medical conditions in February, though it announced later in September that it would soon have more than 900 conditions represented. These included conditions and search terms such as the common cold, pinkeye, and arthritis.

Here’s a snapshot of Google search results for “herniated disc.” See the health knowledge graph on the right side?

Each health knowledge graph includes:

  • An About section with a medical illustration (condition overview, how common the condition is, how contagious the condition is, etc.)
  • A Symptoms section (a description of the most common symptoms and typical diagnosis requirements)
  • A Treatments section (common medications and other forms of treatment for the condition, types of specialists who treat the condition, possible lifestyle changes, etc.)

According to Google’s explanation of its new health graphs, the search engine collects this information from a number of reputable health-focused websites (Mayo Clinic, WebMD, Medscape, etc.), government agencies (NIH, CDC, FDA, etc.), and partner healthcare organizations. According to USA Today, Amit Singhal, Google’s vice president who oversees search, each fact used in the health knowledge graph has been verified by an average of 11 doctors.

How Will Hospitals & Healthcare Providers Be Affected?

It’s pretty clear to see how online users can benefit from Google’s new health knowledge graphs —users can rapidly access the basic medical information they are looking for without having to do too much digging. Plus, the information comes from reliable sources and is vetted by actual doctors!

Now the question is: How do these new graphs affect hospitals and healthcare providers who are marketing themselves online? Well, one way to look at it the situation is that the knowledge graphs could create competition for organic and paid search results. For examples, users may immediately turn to Google’s compiled data (because let’s face it… it’s right there), causing them to pay less attention to the links on the left side of the SERP. That’s the “glass half empty” answer.

Now let’s look at the “glass half full” answer. Let’s say you use various health conditions as search terms in your hospital’s search engine optimization (SEO) strategy. Maybe you have pages on your website that talk about these conditions and their treatments, or you blog about these topics.

Yes, Google’s health search results may provide a little bit of competition in the search game. However, you can still maintain a competitive edge if you use the right content marketing and SEO / SEM strategies. These would be strategies that actually complement Google’s new knowledge graphs rather than compete with them.

Honing Your Hospital’s Content & Search Strategy

Think of it this way: Google’s health data will mainly provide the basics. This information will likely pique online users’ interest and drive them to do more online research. For example, they may want more information about a specific type of treatment and where they can get this treatment. This is where your hospital comes in. By providing high-quality, in-depth information that answers online visitors’ questions on a deeper level, you can become the next natural step in your potential patients’ search journey. You can also better position your website as a reputable source for healthcare information on the web.

The key is knowing which terms your potential patients are searching for, what information these users are already getting from Google, and what additional information they’ll need. Once you have the right keywords and content strategy, you can then apply these tools to your website and paid search advertisements!