Google's New Health Search Results: Healthy for Both The Ailing, And Advertisers?

On Feb. 13, Google updated its algorithm to help simplify searches for conditions related to certain health symptoms.  Google’s Chief Health Strategist, Roni Zeiger, M.D. described the change by saying: “The company sees users search on health symptoms and then almost immediately turn around and search for conditions they discovered in those initial search results. As a consequence, Google is now going to ‘compress’ that two or three-step process into one. 

In the truest sense, this appears to be an algorithm change that increases the efficiencies of the SERP. For brands, the question is: What impact will Google’s “compression” have on its search advertising? Will Pharma brands maintain the same level of visibility, in both paid and organic search, for symptom-related terms as they did before? What can they do to maximize the change?

To start, Google's stated goal to “compress that two- or three-step process into one” will require a change in how Pharma advertisers develop and execute their search strategies. Here’s how this change could affect the strategy and performance of Pharma brands in search:



1. Google’s new related searches box at the top of the page minimizes the paid ad space and pushes possible brand presence to the less seen side rail.

2. By compressing the click process to get users to results for health conditions faster, Google is essentially devaluing these condition terms.  Pharma brands may start to experience decreasing traffic volumes from condition terms.  In an auction model, this may lead to keywords becoming more competitive, and thus more expensive.

3. Less paid real estate for brands will mean changing organic search strategies to focus more on condition terms to help maintain visibility for repeat visitors looking for specific condition information.

4. Because Google’s goal is to eliminate steps in the click process for users, advertisers will need to understand the true value of symptom terms for their brand’s campaign performance. To make sure that brands are present in search results, a willingness to spend more for symptom terms is inherent.

The next step is for Pharma brands to analyze the data.  Using a strategy of comparing paid and organic traffic volumes, CTRs, and conversions, pre- and post-change from Google, for your general and long-tail symptom phrases is the best way to determine any adverse effects. 

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