Most Doctors Ignore Paid Search to Access Health Content: comScore

By Brian T. Horowitz  |  Posted 2011-03-14

Most Doctors Ignore Paid Search to Access Health Content: comScore

Doctors are more likely to use natural, or organic, search and direct navigation to find their online health resources compared with paid search listings, a report by Web analytics and research firm comScore reveals. 

Marketers buy paid search listings, which appear in a blue or yellow background at the top of Google search results, while natural, or nonpaid, search results generated by Google's algorithm appear below the paid results.  

Doctors have a very specific goal in mind when searching for health information online compared with patients, and this criteria leads physicians to click on natural search results, according to John Mangano, comScore's vice president of health marketing solutions. 

"These guys are using the Internet in ways that are trendy, relevant and growing, and in some ways using it more than the average American," Mangano told eWEEK. 

While a patient may search for the general term "cholesterol," which leads to a few paid links, a doctor may get more specific with a search like "triglycerides in Italian-Americans." 

"If you put in a search like that, organic search is going to be more likely to deliver the kind of answer you're looking for," Mangano explained. "Paid search is not as detailed." 

Since search terms for Web content compiled by government resources are not paid, doctors will also tend to rely on the authoritative content of sites like that of the National Institutes of Health. The first natural search results on Google for pharmaceutical items are government content, and the search engine signifies the NIH content with a red and blue pill icon. Google uses what looks like a gray pill box with a red outline for non-pharmaceutical NIH searches for other terms like "malaria." 

"Government content is good because there are certain things that the government has; there's content that you can't get anywhere else, like on the CDC site," Mangano said.  

Doctors also dive in quickly in health care search, find very specific details they're looking for to inform patients-like the side effects of a medication-and then get off, Mangano noted.  

"It's not as heavy as research; it's more of an info snack you need at that moment before moving on," he said. 

With doctors searching in an organic way, rather than using paid search, the research shows that companies need to build brand awareness and effective SEO strategies to attract physicians to their Websites, comScore reports.  

Most Doctors Ignore Paid Search to Access Health Content: comScore

title=Physicians Prefer Nonreferred Visits} 

Nonreferred visits, or direct navigation, in which searchers manually enter a URL or access sites from bookmarks, are how physicians find a majority of sites, according to comScore. 

"Physicians don't click on paid search," Mangano said. "If they're using search, they're going to click on nonreferred [links]."  

Categories of sites physicians visited the most include Pharmacy Services at 73 percent, Pharma Support at 67 percent and Clinic Sites at 59 percent. 

In contrast, paid search of pharmaceutical sites accounted for only 7 percent of doctors' Web visits in comScore's research.  

Physicians' visits to government health sites and social media sites generated 100 percent natural search results. Meanwhile, 80 percent of visits to pharmaceutical sites were natural search compared with 20 percent paid. 

Of physicians' natural search activity, 71 percent was geared toward locating physicians and 59 percent involved searching for general health content, like that of WebMD and Everyday Health. Meanwhile, 45 percent of doctors' Web visits led to government health sites such as the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or National Institutes of Health. 

To compile the report on physicians' search habits, which comScore released as part of its comScore/ImpactRx Physician Behavioral Measurement initiative, comScore gathered search data from about 1,000 physicians. 

ImpactRx tracks and evaluates how pharmaceutical promotional activities may lead to physician prescribing behavior.

When companies are forming their SEO plans for health care sites, they want to keep in mind that doctors prefer natural search, Mangano suggested. 

"They're going to be more receptive to results coming off of organic search, so definitely don't overlook search engine optimization," he advised. "That should be as important, if not more so, than a paid search strategy."

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