Personalized Search Results for Health Information

Ketchum recently participated as a sponsor and presenter at ExL Pharma’s 8th Annual Public Relations and Communications Summit. In the post below, Katherine Watier summarizes key takeaways from the presentation that she shared at the conference. 

Have you noticed that your search results are changing? Have you noticed that when you search for things on Google the results you receive seem targeted to you – location and interests wise? Or if you’re using Bing, have you noticed the “Search Buddies” bar on the right that lets you ping your friends on Facebook and Twitter without leaving Bing search?

The world of search engines is definitely changing and becoming highly personalized to EVERY searcher. These changes apply for every type of search query – including those related to health issues.

Patients’ Searching for Health Information

Are patients using the Internet to look for health information? Data from Google (and this data is from 2009) speaks volumes. 86% of patients who use the Internet to research symptoms use Google, and, as noted in Well-th: Ketchum’s new Health and Wellness Trend Report, more Americans go to the Internet with their health questions and concerns than to their primary care physician.

Physicians’ Online Searching Behavior

How about if you’re trying to reach physicians with information about a product, service or other data? How do they look for information? Again, Google is predominant, and mobile access to the Internet is at an all-time high (84% searching on a mobile device, and 54% searching using a tablet). You can see all of Google’s data about physicians search behavior in their cool infographic.

All patient and physician searches are being impacted by how much the search engine knows about them. To see for yourself how much Google knows about you, log into your Google or gmail account and go to Go ahead and check it out now. I’ll wait.

Ok you’re back. Are you now completely stunned by how much Google knows about you? And the search engine is using ALL of that information to personalize your search results.

One More Element Impacting Search Results – Human Review & Evaluation

There’s one more element to understand about Google beyond how it is personalizing your search results from the sheer volume of data they have about you. The search engine is REALLY focused on making sure that all of the results that appear for any given search are HIGH quality. And they get there through having real live humans evaluate search results and add their findings into improvements to the search engine’s algorithm.

Here are just a few of the questions that those real live people are being paid to answer when they look at search results:

  1. Does the page provide substantial value when compared to
    other pages in search results?
  2. For a health related query, would you trust information from this site?
  3. Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  4. Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

You can see a full listing of the questions that Google posted here, though the Google Human Raters are paid to answer quite a few more than just the few questions published by Google.

So what is a Marketer to Do?

The rapid pace of change may make this seem very overwhelming if you’re a marketer, especially in the health care space. But in some ways, it’s actually very simple to get your message in front of your target audience online. It comes down to this:

1. Know your audience. Know how they search for information, what words they use, whether they look for information via their mobile device or desktop, and know where they go online to look for health information. Have your target audience test your campaign messaging. Build online personas of your target audience based on the data you’ve gathered to make sure that the content and design of what you’re putting online will resonate with your audience.

2. Use that information to create messaging that is compelling and that will encourage your target audience to share it with others. How will you know if it’s compelling? You’ve already tested the messaging and design with your target audience.

3. Tell them about your messaging. It is no longer the world of “build it and they will come”. If you’re going to put information online, you need to let your target audience know that the information is there. There are a variety of ways to do this whether it’s traditional PR exposure that drives your audience to the URL, links from other websites and social or paid online advertising. The mix of those that you should use depends on your goals and your message.

It’s a crazy personalized online world out there and reaching the person searching for health information is more complicated than ever. But it’s not insurmountable; it’s just critical as a marketer to think about drawing in your target audience based on interest and curiousity vs. assuming that the old tactics of push and blast marketing will reach them. And it’s possible. Just get much closer to your end consumer and engage them in the content generation process.