Commentary

WebMD Does A Vision Check, Ups Output

WebMD has been with us, in sickness and in health, since 1996. Without much fanfare, it’s a destination place for people who want to know what ails them, from young adults to older people.

They’re just looking for different things at different times  Kristy Hammam, the editor in chief, divides much of the content on WebMd into two broad categories: lifestyle and wellness, diseases and conditions.

That’s an enormous turf where WebMD is probably the best known. In 2015, monthly visitors increased 17% from the year before, to approximately 77 million as of late last year. In the third quarter last year, WebMD generated f4 billion page views.

It leaves competitors in the dust, and sometimes generates rumors. Earlier this month, WebMD had to announce it was “not currently in negotiations to be acquired,” after the Financial Times reported some buzz that a drug store chain or insurance company might be interested.

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That’s the power of WebMD’s brand in the waiting room and on the exam table, so to speak.

Stephen L. Zatz, the president, notes, WebMD works both ends of the street. Not only is it a destination place for patients, its Medscape is the leading destination for physicians. In the most recently reported earnings call, the company said 380,000 physicians were active on the site monthly.

While WebMD has ample videos on the site, it decided last year to up its dosage, and make it more of a showcase. Now you’ll find videos with titles ranging from “Three Things to Have in Your Freezer” to “How to Perform Hands-Only CPR” to “Perfect Your Poop Pose” (done tastefully, all things considered).

The video range is deliberate: some serious, some not so. They're good drivers for advertisers, too. (Procter & Gamble's native video about incontinence, for Always, is as informative as it is subtle, unusual for that genre.)

“We’re in the process of creating 10 new franchise series with multiple episodes” Hammam says. In just the last couple months, WebMD has produced dozens of videos, and hundreds more will join them in 2016.

Part of the reason for that, Zatz and Hammam say, is the big move of the Internet volume toward video and the role of social media in driving people to sites. Part might also be that the rate of  its search query increases have slowed, as search generally has declined. 

Facebook’s in-feed video, Hammam in convinced, is changing the way people come to Websites, so video is a necessary tool for WebMD.

A good example of WebMD’s evolving videocentric approach was “WebMD’s Future Of Medicine” a series of reports started last year,  created in conjunction with “Good Morning America” host Robin Roberts.

By expanding the definition of health coverage (“How Your Brain Reacts to Spicy and Cold Foods” and “Surviving Cold Weather: What to Do if You Lose Power?” are currently featured on the site)  WebMD creates go-to features that can build traffic and get shares.

Those two video features don’t immediately seem like naturals for a health site, but both obviously have implications. Hammam calls more broadly health-oriented stories, like a “How-To Lite” video on quitting cigarettes, stories that are shareable on social media, which seems to be a goal.

The move makes sense, much as print magazines are figuring out that video gets visitors in the door. “That’s a driving force in our decisions,”  Hammam says.

pj@mediapost.com

 
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