Where are your patients getting their information? No web domain dominates, report says

It seems that no internet site has a clear dominance over healthcare-related searches, leaving a lot of room for healthcare systems, hospitals and payers to grab a piece of the market share.

A new report from Conductor dives into the top trending healthcare searches in 2019, ranging from searches for ways to reduce a child’s fever to finding a top-rated nursing homes. The report showed that 74% of the total market share for healthcare searches are not held by any one company. The other 16% is held by five top performers: Mayo Clinic, U.S. News & World Report, WebMD, ZocDoc and Cleveland Clinic.

While web-only information providers like WebMD still make up large chunk of the market share in many of the specific health categories, medical providers like hospitals and health systems are gaining ground.

The SEO Game

So what can providers and payers do to better compete in the SEO game?

Christine Schrader, senior manager of content strategy at Conductor, recommends getting familiar with search intent, where the searcher is coming from, and what they are really looking for. She says to look for patterns in the search queries that indicate reactive or preventative questions.

In addition, providers and payers should go to the SERPs for the queries the organization is ranking for and understand what kinds of results are coming up (are they video results? Images? Checklists? Is there an answer box?).

"Remember that you are trying to get the right information in the right format to the patient, and providing key guidance to them in what is often a time of need," she added.

Plus, medical providers looking to gain ground against major healthcare players can benefit from the specialization of domain names.

"We found that blogs with specialized names specific to categories of healthcare or a particular need tended to rank well," Schrader said. "Having a domain that speaks to a specialty or category of care you treat may help gain trust from users if you lack the brand recognition to drive click-through rate like some of the major players. Normal SEO best practice is to keep content on your main domain, but the option of a specialized domain seems to be deployed successfully among healthcare websites."

And specifically for insurers, Schrader says that the best payer performers in search engine results tend to create a variety of different kinds of content around specific categories via videos, social media, written content and more.

She also recommends that insurers focus on people as insurance often is seen as "dehumanizing" or remote from the actual person. Top web search performers often incorporated patient stories and human elements to their content.

"It is also, of course, key to create helpful, descriptive content that answers specific questions. Search for the highest monthly search volume questions within your category and do your best to answer them completely. The way your content pages are structured can also be important to successful implementation of an SEO strategy for an insurer. Pages that answered groups of related healthcare questions tended to rank well," Schrader said.

Christine Schrader, senior manager of content strategy at Conductor, says there are at least two factors playing into this change. The first factor is that hospitals with good reputations such as Mayo Clinic or Johns Hopkins are instantly credible sources, so if they are near the top of page one of a search engine results page, consumers will likely click on those results.

Second, hospitals and medical providers are starting to pay attention to SEO because of the abundance of wrong medical information online. 

"Those institutions have a vested interest in getting accurate information in as many people’s hands as possible in order to help more people and get bad information further away from the top of the search engine results. From a marketing perspective, they also want more people to know and trust them, and use their services in the end," Schrader told FierceHealthcare.

Overall, Mayo Clinic was the best performer across a variety of health queries. For doctor searches, ZocDoc was the top ranking site, followed by Blue Cross Blue Shield and St. John Health System.

Interestingly, the third top contender on that list, St. John Health System, is a regional hospital in Oklahoma but is scoring well on a national level. “This indicates that local hospitals can really compete with (and even beat) the major names like Healthgrades and U.S. News & World Report,” the report stated.

Conductor’s data shows one secret to success employed by Mayo Clinic: the provider dedicates separate pages (each with its own URL) for symptoms and causes, diagnosis and treatment, doctors and departments, and care at Mayo Clinic for a single condition. As a result, more than one of these pages can show up for a single keyword search. For example, the first results in a search for “coronary artery disease treatment” is the "diagnosis and treatment" page from Mayo and the second result is their "symptoms and causes" page.

RELATED: Mayo Clinic revenue jumps from growth in inpatient volume

Also found in their report: 

  • When it comes to women’s health-related searches, only one of the top 10 ranking sites—the Susan G. Komen for the Cure organization—specifically targets women as opposed to general health.
  • Of the top 10 sites, Medical News Today was the only news outlet, accounting for 7% of market share. Meanwhile, government websites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institutes of Health made up 6% of the market share.
  • Planned Parenthood accounted for 14% of all birth control market searches, with more than 10,000 searches a month. In addition, women frequently used keywords showing concerns for medical ethics and accessibility of care.
  • For men’s health, search behavior revealed that men often have misconceptions when it comes to identifying symptoms, providing a big space for healthcare companies to jump in and offer information.
  • For baby-related searches, YouTube and WebMD were competing for the greatest market share. And out of the top 10 domains, only 20% were specifically targeting baby health. Content was separated into proactive searches, accounting for about 3,004 monthly searches, compared to reactive searches, accounting for 9,057 searches per month. Overall, search behavior in the baby category showed parents actively looking for actions steps followed by phrases such as “how to” or “what to do.”

RELATED: WebMD acquires provider search tool Vitals.com

Schrader notes that there was a significant difference in what sources people looked to when seeking reactive information versus preventative information.

"For reactive information, like understanding a specific procedure or diagnosis (when people are 'reacting' by seeking more information about something likely coming from a doctor or insurer), people are much more likely to seek out high authority sources like medical providers or insurers," she said. "For preventative queries (when people are searching for general information about how to stop something from happening), the results were much more varied: blogs, forums, medical question aggregators like WebMD. Consumers seem more inclined to 'experiment' with less authoritative sources for preventative measures versus traditional sources of medical expertise."

For all children, the most visited sites in the study included KidsHealth and WebMD. But in the 10 subcategories in children’s keywords, no single domain appeared as a clear top ranker. The study did note that some of the best ranking providers, such as Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins, also listed informational pages on diseases, rather than just on provider services.

Finally, in the category of elderly, the best performing domain for the subset of nursing homes was the Center for Hospice Care Southeast Connecticut, which is both a service and content provider. The site aims to provide information before trying to sell any services.

Two other top domains were A Place for Mom and SeniorLiving, which are aggregate information sites for senior living options across the U.S.