Who knows what's going on in healthcare? Who knows what conditions and disorders are causing people problems? Can the way that people use search engines such as Google predict the future? If you are a healthcare marketer, how can you use Google to inform your strategy? 

Google is a treasure chest of information about how people are behaving and what issues are concerning them. Google logs the online activity and search behaviour of hundreds of millions of users. It knows what you and I do on the web everyday. It often knows where we are when we’re doing that search. And from the data that Google collects, it can draw conclusions. And so can you. 

Predicting a flu outbreak

A good example of Google’s predictive power in the healthcare sector is Google Flu Trends. Google has realised that certain search terms are good indicators of flu activity. Google Flu Trends uses aggregated Google search data to estimate flu activity in a US state up to two weeks faster than the federal centres for disease control and prevention. 

At Private Healthcare UK, we use Hitwise to analyse search activity in the UK healthcare sector. Hitwise is an online competitive intelligence tool which monitors activity on over 1 million web sites every day. What does search activity tell us about the recent flu outbreak? 

  • According to the Royal College of General Practitioners, flu cases rose 45% during the w/c 20th December. Over the same period, Hitwise reported a 128% increase in the most popular flu related search term “swine flu symptoms”.
  • One of the most popular fast moving terms in this period was “swine flu symptoms in adults” rising by 61%.
  • Other fast growing searches were “flu treatment” (+509% increase) and “how long does flu last” (+55% increase). 

Can Google guide your strategy in private healthcare?

Analysing behaviour in the past and present is a guide to what happens in the future; analysing how people searched in the past and how they search now provides some insight for your marketing team that may help to direct your marketing efforts. 

Let’s take obesity surgery as an example. According to the Private Healthcare UK 2010 WebWatch report (download it for free), three of the top twenty most visited UK web sites in the Health and Medical sector relate to obesity, weight loss and dieting. Here’s what a few minutes spent using Google Insights for Search tells us about the way in which people use search terms related to obesity surgery: 

Five years ago, “obesity surgery” was a more popular search term in the UK than “bariatric surgery”. In 2011, the reverse is true.

Worldwide, you see a different picture. For example, in the USA, “bariatric surgery” has always been a far more popular search term than “obesity surgery”.

Over the last five years, the number of UK searches for “gastric band” has risen significantly to overtake the number of searches for gastric bypass”.

Searches related to obesity surgery are seasonal (I wonder why....). Searches for “weight loss” peak after Christmas. They remain high through to June but are significantly lower towards the end of the year. 

Spend some time exploring Google Insights for Search... it may give you some worthwhile insights into your marketing strategy.


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About the author

Keith Pollard is Executive chairman of LaingBuisson International Limited, an online publisher in the healthcare sector that operates market-leading web portals such as Private Healthcare UK and LaingBuisson International Limited is also active in the online medical travel sector through Treatment Abroad, International Medical Travel Journal and DoctorInternet, the Arabic medical tourism portal. View for my full profile.

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