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Google’s New Symptom Search: Should Doctors & Hospitals Be Worried?


Google has taken yet another step that makes it easier for online searchers to self-diagnose their medical issues. With the search engine’s latest feature, all you have to do is type a symptom into the search box and Google will automatically pull up medical conditions that match that symptom. Type in the symptom “sore throat,” and you’ll get matches such as common cold, strep throat, tonsillitis, postnasal drip, and upper respiratory infection with information about each ailment.

This is currently available on Google’s mobile site, as well as on its apps (iOS and Android), according to CNET.

On its blog, Google said its goal behind the behind the new symptom search feature is to help searchers better navigate all the health information that is available online, pinpoint more realistic conditions they may have, and better identify when they need home care and when they need to see a doctor. While it may seem like Google is trying to play doctor, the search engine does include instructions to consult a doctor for medical advice. It’s our hope (and likely the hope of all medical professionals) that patients actually realize when an actual visit to the doctor is needed.

Read this blog post to learn about other recent changes Google has made to add medical information to the search results.

Will My Google’s New Health Results Outshine My Website?

Another concern that healthcare providers might have is whether or not Google’s symptom search feature will distract from the organic listings that appear on the search engine results page (SERP). Will online users actually click on one of the listed websites when they can get the answers to their questions directly from Google? This is a legitimate concern for providers that work hard to boost their healthcare SEO strategies and search engine rankings.

Here’s our take on it: The searches that are being affected are those that include broad, nationwide terms such as “bruise around eye,” “headache on one side,” “lower back pain,” etc. As a result, the new symptom search feature is going to primarily be available to online users who are in the research stage of the cycle… in other words, people who are trying to figure out what is wrong with them—not necessarily where they should seek treatment.

Right now, the types of websites ranking for these types of terms include:





These are major institutions, websites, and media outlets. From a search engine optimization (SEO) standpoint, a local doctor, medical group, or hospital just is not likely going to compete organically with sites such as the ones listed above for such broad, national keywords.

(Nor do they really need to.)

What won’t be affected is local SEO. The second that you take one of those searches and customize it to a specific geographic area (such as “back pain Los Angeles”), the Google-provided medical information goes away and you instead see map results and organic results featuring local healthcare professionals. This creates a playing field where local hospitals can better compete.

The Bottom Line: The best strategy for healthcare providers right now is to continue focusing on your local online presence. You can start by optimizing your website with localized keywords, allowing you to target patients right in your area. It’s also important to manage your healthcare organization’s Google My Business profile (and other local directory profiles) and work on attracting more positive online reviews. Taking this step can help you get you or your healthcare organization ranking higher in local search results, which include the map listings and the top local organic results.

If you need help improving your hospital’s or medical practice’s web presence, contact our SEO experts at Scorpion. Our healthcare marketing team can help you boost your visibility in search engines, attract new patients, and retain existing ones!