Behavior Of Mobile Health Seekers

Editor's note: This newsletter is being re-sent with proper source citation. Apologies for the mix-up.

Whether or not 2011 is the year of mobile, "mobile" will certainly be the buzzword of the year. As marketers figure out how to put full legal disclaimers into a single pixel and publishers look to mobile-optimize their sites, research on health seekers' current mobile behavior needs to be considered.

I have read a flurry of stats and infographics depicting the growing usage of mobile phones. The basic gist is that smartphone usage has hit critical mass and is here to stay, likely outpacing desktop usage in the next five years. Mobile users have a bifurcated means of consuming information through apps and browsers, and health mobile users are no different. Fundamental stats include:

  • 38% of cell phone owners access the Internet using mobile phone -- up 52% year over year, according to Pew Internet & American Life Project's "Mobile Access 2010."
  • 55% of cell phone Internet users go online daily from their mobile phones, again according to Pew.
  • 30% of mobile subscribers use search, 29% use downloaded apps, according to comScore's "March 2010 U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share."
  • 26% of apps downloaded in 2010 were used just once, according to Localytics' "First Impressions Matter," January 2011.



Across the industry, we are all paying attention and primed to do something soon. But, this does not mean that we should just re-purpose the same banner creative into HTML5, or condense an entire website into an app. Instead, we must consider what motivates mobile health users and what topics they are seeking and consuming.

Last week, I heard Shelley Hendrix Reynolds, the director of state advocacy for Autism Speaks and parent of an autistic kid, speak about her experience getting her son diagnosed with autism in the '90's. She recalled a point in time where she was stuck in a car for a couple of hours, considering for the first time that her son might be autistic, and the only thing she "knew" about autism was that it was caused by mothers. In her story, she was tormented by this urban myth for an entire weekend, but today she would have immediately pulled out her smartphone and began to search.

Mobile health information seekers are different because they exhibit a heighted sense of urgency, emotion and privacy. At HealthCentral, here are some of the behaviors we have seen:

  • Sexual health topics (including HIV/AIDS, pregnancy and STDs) receive the most mobile traffic, as a proportion of total traffic
  • Like desktop visitors, most mobile visitors are accessing our sites through long-tail search
  • Mobile visitors land on UGC content (Q&A and blog posts) more often than desktop visitors
  • There is a higher percentage of mobile visitors on the weekends than weekdays

These data points emphasize that people turn to their mobile phones to find immediate answers to personal questions. In order to put users first, we must make sure that our content is discoverable and useful. Mobile SERP rankings matter and so do App Store rankings. It's less about whether you create an app or mobile-optimize your site and more about where you can gain traction. Don't try to make health sexy and, instead, focus on content and ad experiences that help information seekers on their cross-platform health journeys.

3 comments about "Behavior Of Mobile Health Seekers ".
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  1. Jessica Simon from HealthCentral, April 22, 2011 at 3:04 p.m.

    You are right that privacy is even more important for mobile than desktop, since so much more personal data is available on mobile (like your #, provider, device etc.).

    Even so, companies like HealthCentral take privacy VERY seriously. We do not participate in any personally identifiable tracking or targeting and certainly do not sell or share PII data. This holds true for desktop, mobile or any other platform.

  2. Terrance Brown from TVCOFA, April 23, 2011 at 7:57 a.m.

    Great article!. I'm very interested in the citation of statistics. Can you provide a source or reference?


  3. Jessica Simon from HealthCentral, April 23, 2011 at 8:47 p.m.

    Terrance - I'm glad you liked the article! There was a publishing issue and the citations were truncated. MediaPost is working to fix it. Here they are:

    Pew Internet & American Life Project, Mobile Access 2010

    Comscore, March 2010 U.S. Mobile Subscriber Market Share

    Localytics, First Impressions Matter, January 2011

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