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Healthcare Marketers’ Best Frenemy: Google?

Search-engine results pages (SERPs) sometimes are a gateway to your website content. Other times, they’re a competitor.

The way you think about driving traffic to your site needs to change. Google has made it easier than ever for users to find what they need without leaving the search engine. Learn how to compete.

Times Have Changed

In the past, search engines worked almost exclusively like this: You’d type in a query and get a list of webpages or other online content that might have what you’re looking for. Then you’d choose which link to click on and be taken to the most relevant content.

Google was an intermediary serving two audiences. Content creators allowed the search giant to scrape their content in exchange for (mostly) free traffic to that content. Consumers came to Google for its ability to point them to the best possible sources of information to answer their questions in exchange for the occasional click on an advertisement — which was always clearly marked as paid placement and was relevant to their search.

Now, Google is moving from being the card catalog for the internet to trying to be the encyclopedia. No longer acting as an intermediary – a guide pointing the way to information – the search engine is increasingly serving up content directly on the results page. For example, rather than just linking to a page listing family practitioners, the search engine itself lists some available, nearby providers. Or instead of providing a link to a webpage with the address for a doctor’s office, Google takes the searcher to its own Google Maps application where it can continue to show paid advertising options.

As Google serves up more information directly on its SERPs, so-called “no-click searches,” — where searchers never leave Google network of websites — are steadily increasing. No-click searches have been relatively consistent on desktop computers where they’ve hovered at about 34 percent of desktop searches for the past few years, but they’ve grown dramatically on mobile devices with a whopping 61 percent of mobile searches in 2018, up from just less than 42 percent in 2016, according to data from software companies Jumpshot and SparkToro.

Many segments aren’t feeling this pain yet as the growth in no-click searches has been offset by growth in mobile searching volume, but certain markets where Google has been aggressive in implementing its new techniques, such as restaurants, video, weather, and airline flights, have seen significant drops in traffic from Google.

Why Does This Matter?

This change is great for Google, which keeps more traffic on its sites, controls the end-to-end experience for more and more of its users, and gets more advertising revenue. This change is also ok with most consumers who can be indifferent to where they get their questions answered, have great trust in Google, and often have a distinct preference for Google’s services. But what does it mean for you as a marketer and creator of healthcare content?

That depends on the searcher’s need and type of query. Many no-click healthcare-related searches are simple and transactional — searches for a provider’s address or phone number, for example. If that one bit of information is truly all the user needs, and the information they find on the SERP is accurate, they’ll still be able to engage with your organization.

Another growing category of no-click searches today is answers to generic healthcare questions. Google will display a featured snippet with the answer to the question right at the top of the SERP. This is also what is read aloud when answering voice-search requests powered by Google’s search engine (the ultimate no-click search platform!).

So even though your webpages may lose some traffic to the SERP, users will still convert — at least for today — and that conversion, though not a pageview, is what ultimately impacts your organization’s bottom line.

But in other cases, users may miss valuable information that appears only on your webpage, not in whatever snapshot of content Google chooses to display on the SERP. Ideally, you’ve strategically created webpages that not only answers users’ immediate questions but also leads them to other relevant content that guides them to take action. A featured snippet on a SERP just doesn’t provide the same level of value as your well-built webpages.

In addition, as Google continues down this path, we could see more and more transactions bypassing health-system websites, giving Google unprecedented power to influence where consumers receive care.

What Should You Do?

These changes certainly don’t signal an end to SEO. Far from it! But it’s time for us to rebalance the role of SEO within our traffic-generation efforts. It’s only one tool in a complex arena of strategies. More of those strategies need to be employed, and it’s more important than ever that the SEO work you do is focused on the right areas for maximum impact.

So how can you help make sure more users see the full range of your organization’s valuable information? Consider these approaches.

Drive Users Directly to Your Site

Harness the potential of your marketing efforts that bypass search engines. For audiences you already have a relationship with, use email marketing and social media to send users directly to your website. And promote online content through offline channels, including broadcast media, print publications, and community outreach.

Play Google’s Game

It’s more important than ever to create, claim, and manage content about your organization on Google’s platforms, especially Google My Business, Google Maps, and YouTube. Add photos and videos, and respond to reviews and questions that users submit. You can also use Google Posts — a form of microblogging — to promote news and events such as community screenings and health fairs.

Just remember that anyone can suggest edits to certain elements of knowledge panels, so you’ll want to monitor them and correct misinformation.

It’s OK to Pay

Facebook has been a few years ahead of Google in tightening organic reach. Like Google, Facebook has been under considerable pressure to increase revenues by moving more businesses to pay for access to its users. The result is that boosted Facebook posts have become the most commonly used paid online advertising technique used in healthcare.

Your organization isn’t expecting free TV ads or billboards. Going forward, it should expect to pay for online visibility but also benefit from the advantages of visibility, trackability, and greater dollar-for-dollar impact online compared to traditional marketing channels.

Optimize Your Website Content

Although no-click searches are increasing, the raw number of overall Google searches is steadily rising. And your website likely continues to get most of its traffic from organic search, meaning you still need to optimize your webpages for search engines using tried-and-true tactics. This includes writing informative, compelling content that rewards users for coming to your website and keeps them there.

In addition, healthcare organizations need to reevaluate what — and who — your’re optimizing for. Too many organizations look inside to decide what to prioritize. Going forward, more organizations need to look at consumers’ healthcare journeys to determine when they can be reached and examine search behaviors to find where it’s most important that they compete, such as for localized searches (e.g., “Family practice doctors near me.”)


You’ll put your organization in a strong position for success if you give Google what it wants, but also continue to invest in diverse digital marketing efforts. With a robust array of skills and marketing initiatives, your team will be ready to top the competition, no matter how technology and user behavior change. Want to talk more about ways to compete today? Let’s chat.

Ben Dillon

Chief Executive Officer

Healthcare Marketers’ Best Frenemy: Google?