Those of you who are regular readers know that I’m a big believer in search optimization. In most cases, it’s the single most powerful way to expose the right people to your brand at the right time. The importance of search as it relates to our digital lives is pretty significant. Consider this: 80% of all online sessions begin with search. Google has a 63.7% share of all searches. The point? Most people find things online by sitting down and using a search engine. It’s the first thing that happens 80% of the time. Two thirds of the time, these people are using Google. That means that just over 50% of the time when someone starts an online session, they open to Google and search.
In other words, if your site isn’t showing up on Google search, it may as well not exist. Moreover, it had better appear pretty high up in the results. How’s pharma doing? Just check out this post for the answer, which you might not like: “Pharma Search Engine Rankings Need Fixing.” The title probably says it all.
In any event, I’m going to add another wrinkle to help show you the impact that search engines have on your brands and how this impact is only going to increase. The result of this poor performance in search optimization is that people are finding alternatives for content. That is, they are looking elsewhere to find information about the conditions your products treat and even the products themselves. Sites like WebMD have become the “go to” sources for health information for many Americans. Wikipedia shows up on the first page of search results for nearly every condition and treatment you can imagine. So, you’re losing people to these sites and many others (each with varying degrees of credibility).
Well, just when you thought you knew the competition, it gets worse.
Now it’s possible for people to get a lot of the information they need without ever even leaving the search engine. That creates a problem for not just pharma and healthcare companies, but also sites like WebMD and Everyday Health. How can you compete with the immediacy and credibility of the content that shows up instantly from the search engine itself?
What am I talking about?
Last August, Search Engine Land reported that Google was adding Google Health data directly into the results of health-related searches. The result is the Google One Box for health. When you search for a condition like “diabetes,” this is what you see in Google (check out the area in the red box).
Never noticed that before? What’s more interesting is what you get from clicking through the links. Click on “Google Health” and you get information directly from their vast library of highly credible content. There’s no reason to look elsewhere or blindly click on search results hoping you find what you need. It’s all right there.
Where does Google’s content come from? It comes from the National Library of Medicine, which is part of the United States National Institute of Health (aka: the NIH). Tough to beat out the NIH for credibility. When I head to the diabetes section (on Google Health), I get a bunch of information including basic disease state information, the latest news (pulled from Google News), scholarly articles (from Google Scholar), and I also get to see related searches, which is something no one but the search engines can deliver.
This is an answer to the question people often have: “Am I searching for the right thing?” Of note, Google is able to compile condition symptoms simply by the analysis of searches people perform. No medical textbooks required. Neat trick.
Not to be outdone by Google, Bing is getting in on the act and trying to back up its claim that it’s a “decision engine.” A couple of weeks ago, they introduced their version of Google’s One Box and it’s even more powerful than Google’s version. When you search for “diabetes” on Bing, this is what you get (check out the area in the red box):
You’ll notice there are a few more choices within the Bing results. Here’s where it gets interesting.
Check out the third column in the box called “Medical Centers.” This is a list of places where Bing thinks you can get excellent diabetes care. Let’s pick Massachusetts General Hospital.
You’ll notice that (in the red box), you get patient ratings for Mass General. The ratings come from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Another pretty reliable source.
Going back to the diabetes search, you also notice a handful of “related medications” are listed as well. Let’s click on Glucophage.
Right there is a list of questions that people typically ask about their drugs. The answers come from Gold Standard, which is a part of Elsevier, the company best known as a publisher of medical journals. Here’s the answer people get to the question: “What is this medication?”
Like I said, no reason to leave the search engine. All of the basic information one would need is right there. So, why would I go to WebMD for more information? More importantly, why would I go to a pharma company’s brand site for more information? With credible information sources immediately available, with a minimal number of clicks, with about the right amount of depth for most people, where do these other sites fit in?
For pharma and healthcare companies, you have reason to worry. I think we can all agree that brand websites aren’t the favorite destination for patients. Now, with the convenience of these search tools, brand sites could potentially become even more obsolete. So, what are you to do?
Here are a few immediate actions:
- Make sure the information about your products is accurate and up to date. While these are quality sources, they aren’t infallible, so double-check. When there is an error, work directly with the sources (or enlist the help of Google or Bing if you can) to get the information fixed. Repeat for your competitors.
- Do some research to figure out where the content and data comes from that might impact your brand. If you know this, then you can make sure that future updates are more reflective of the full body of information about your product.
- Make your website better. This is a tough one, but if your site has the same depth of content as these search engine resources, seriously ask yourself, “what am I really adding to the situation?” If you offer nothing above what’s available here, then the answer is nothing. This also means that there’s no reason for people to come to your site for more information. Make your content deeper than what’s available from the search engines. Don’t be afraid to license that content either…they did.
- Continue to optimize your websites. While many people will use the search engine provided information, many others will continue to look through the organic search results. You’ve got to be there.
- Don’t forget about paid search. If you want to appear on the same “shelf” (think: grocery store shopping) as these search engine boxes, then the only way you can do it is with paid search. Direct people to quality content via paid ads and be sure to exceed what they can get from the search engine information.
The importance of search engines will only continue to increase. Because of this, you have to pay very close attention to everything that they do and be prepared to react quickly when they make changes. In many ways, search engines will determine whether or not people see your websites. If they determine that your sites aren’t valuable enough (via search rankings), then you may as well throw in the towel. Sure, keep your current site for anyone who types “yourbrand.com” into their browser, but know that they’ve probably already gotten everything they need somewhere else. That is, unless you do something more.
[Thanks to my colleague @nicocoetzee for the heads up on the Bing changes.]