Hospital Search Implications of Google’s Healthcare Knowledge Graph

shinglesA month ago, Google announced that health information will now be shown in the Knowledge Graph, as the company says 1 out of 20 (5%) Google searches is health-related.

The goal of this update from Google was to help users find health information quickly and easily. The Knowledge Graph box is typically displayed near the top of the search results. In the case of the new healthcare searches, the information on commonly searched conditions was compiled and reviewed by a team of medical doctors both from Google and the Mayo Clinic for accuracy.

So, other than Google providing relevant to users’ search queries, how might this impact a health system or hospital’s search traffic?

Here are some things to keep an eye out for:

  • Drop in total visitors and clicks
  • Lower click-thru rate on broad match/general keywords
  • Fewer ads and therefore, fewer impressions on Google SERPS (paid advertising)
  • Fewer goal completions and visitors

Think about it: If a hospital website was previously pulling in visitors and clicks from general health condition searches, it might now miss out on some of this traffic because users are now able to get that same information right on Google without having to make that extra click.

However, the sites that may be most impacted by the new update to the Google Knowledge Graph may be those that focus on health conditions and diseases, such as webmd.com and everydayhealth.com. Below is a screenshot from compete.com that shows approximately how many visitors these sites have received up until January of 2015. I am interested to see if there’s a significant decrease in unique visitors since the knowledge graph started showing health-condition searches in February 2015.

everyday health unique visitors

According to similarweb.com, 87.46% of WebMD’s unique traffic comes from search. Just imagine what type of hit WebMD could take in terms of overall traffic if just 5-10% of users now find the information they are looking for directly on Google SERPS.

Traffic sources

If you are a health system or hospital, you might want to tweak your search marketing strategy in the following ways:

  1. Long-tailed keywords first. Optimize and bid on keywords that focus on treatment, surgery and doctors. Typically the knowledge graph only shows up for general condition-related queries. Also, these longer-tail searches imply the user is past the research phase and looking to find an actual place for treatment.
  1. Engagement and unique content. With the same basic information available on most websites and now directly on Google, the way a hospital website can differentiate itself is by providing an experience that competitors aren’t. For example, if someone is searching about weight-loss surgery or obesity, you can feature a BMI calculator and testimonial videos (preferably showing side-by-side before-after shots). Or, if a woman is researching pregnancy/maternity, perhaps you can offer a customizable birth plan.
  1. Differentiators. Remember, with a very educated audience that is able to get health-related answers even quicker now, explaining why your health system is the best for treating a particular condition could be the deciding factor.

Final thoughts
Although I do think that providing healthcare information quick and easy through the knowledge graph is a great idea, I can also see it negatively impacting Google’s revenue. If PPC ads show up less often or are clicked less frequently, that means less money for Google. In addition, if fewer users go to WebMD, everydayhealth.com, and other health resource sites, that means fewer users are clicking on Google’s display ads and again, less money for Google. I’m sure in the long run, Google figures updates like the knowledge graph will increase visitor loyalty and retention, plus potentially take market share from competing search engines like Bing and Yahoo. Time will tell …

 

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Learn how to bid better against competing local, regional and national health systems: “Health Systems & Paid Search: A Study of Service-Line Competition.”

Hospital PPC Report

About Joe Castro

Joe Castro is the Director of Online Advertising at Fathom. He has over 7 years of experience in digital marketing with a concentration in PPC/paid search and display advertising. He primarily works with healthcare clients, but his experience spans across all verticals. Joe is a frequent blogger for Search Engine Journal. In his free time, he enjoys working out and spending time with family and friends.

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