Health resources were among the federal government Websites with the most traffic in September, according to a new report by digital business analytics firm comScore.
Three of the top 10 federal government sites were health-related, according to the firm. They were NIH.gov (National Institutes of Health), CDC.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and USDA.gov (Department of Agriculture).
Rounding out the top 10 federal government sites were Commerce.gov (Department of Commerce), Ed.gov (Department of Education), IRS.gov, SSA.gov (Social Security Administration), NASA.gov, State.gov (Department of State) and USAJobs.gov (Office of Personnel Management).
As the public concerns itself with disease prevention and looking for health care information, health sites have grown in traffic, according to John Mangano, comScore vice president for health marketing solutions.
People turn to government Websites as credible sources of information on subjects such as health ailments and pharmaceutical drugs, he said.
Worries about the flu drove traffic to CDC.gov and Flu.gov, according to comScore, which announced the results of its study on Nov. 1.
CDC.gov's traffic spiked by 116 percent from August to September due to searches relating to the flu. The CDC's site also earned the highest share of click-throughs at 17.7 percent during the month, followed by New York Times Digital (3.7 percent) and WebMD Health (3.4 percent).
With 10.6 million visits in September, NIH.gov was the most-visited federal government site. Its traffic was comparable with that of consumer health sites MSN Health and Yahoo Health. NIH.gov increased its traffic by 22 percent from September 2010 to September 2011.
"The NIH has always seen a good degree of traffic, as it is a premier source of a wealth of health information," Mangano told eWEEK in an email. "In the past year, they have been receiving a greater amount of traffic from Google."
Google lists NIH material before natural search results, Mangano noted. The red icon (or red/blue pill icons for drug names) mark NIH content.
Meanwhile, HealthFinder.gov, a Department of Health & Human Services site that offers health news and tips, garnered a 69 percent increase in traffic and 113,000 unique visitors in September 2011.
"We see a good degree of variability at this site, but the growth appears to be coming from referrals at USAjobs.gov, a U.S. government job site," Mangano said.
Worries about bacteria-contaminated cantaloupe from a source in Colorado drew a large increase in traffic to health sites, Mangano said. Press reports about problems with cantaloupe directed the public to USDA.gov and CDC.gov for details, he said.
"We looked at the search terms that led to these sites as well, and second only to the actual names ('USDA' and 'CDC') was 'Listeria outbreak,'" Mangano said. Listeria is a food-borne illness that has killed 29 people and sickened 139 from the cantaloupe-related outbreak, according to the CDC.
Other top government health sites in traffic included HHS.gov, FDA.gov (U.S. Food and Drug Administration) and MedlinePlus.gov, a National Library of Medicine site offering information on diseases, conditions and wellness in easy-to-understand language.
When doctors search for material online, they're likely to use organic search rather than paid listings, comScore reported in March. Nonpaid listings appear below the blue or yellow paid listings on Google.