Effective Healthcare Content Marketing in the Zero-Click Search Era

by | Dec 4, 2019 | Digital Strategy

Google has historically been considered a “digital backyard” where brands connect with customers; however, the dominant search engine is slowly closing the gates by claiming the majority of search traffic. Find out how your healthcare content marketing strategy can adapt to this new reality.

Mar­ket­ing lumi­nary Seth Godin has a his­to­ry of see­ing into the future, hav­ing famous­ly said in 2008 that “Con­tent mar­ket­ing is the only mar­ket­ing left.” His lat­est pre­dic­tion on the state of search serves as a har­bin­ger for mar­keters mov­ing into 2021 and beyond.

“If you’re depen­dent on being found in a Google search, it’s prob­a­bly worth rethink­ing your plan.” —Seth Godin

Rand Fishkin, CEO of Spark­Toro and one of the fore­most author­i­ties in search engine opti­miza­tion (SEO), takes it a step fur­ther in his recent piece titled “Google in 2020: From Everyone’s Search Engine to Everyone’s Com­peti­tor.” He asserts that Google is cre­at­ing a walled gar­den with clear inten­tions to “com­pete direct­ly with those that helped it become a dom­i­nant, monop­oly power.”

As a result, he fore­casts that organ­ic search has reached its plateau and will soon decline.

Wel­come to the era of zero-click searches.

4 Sobering Facts About Search

To grasp the poten­tial impact of this shift, it’s impor­tant to under­stand search behav­ior and the out­sized influ­ence Google has on web­site traffic—especially in health care. Here are a few fun­da­men­tal truths:

  1. Google has a monop­oly in search. In a June 2019 report, SEO firm Jump­shot esti­mat­ed that Google has a 94% mar­ket share for brows­er-based search in Q2 2019 (as illus­trat­ed in the chart below). How­ev­er, the search engine is almost cer­tain­ly more dom­i­nant when con­sid­er­ing mobile apps. With Google apps like Maps and YouTube installed on almost every mobile device in the U.S., Google’s true mar­ket share is esti­mat­ed at more than 97%. 
  2. Google now claims the major­i­ty of search traf­fic. The same Jump­shot report found that for the first time, a major­i­ty of all brows­er-based search­es on Google.com (50.33%) result­ed in zero-clicks. Google’s ongo­ing attempts to answer more search­es via fea­tured snip­pets and knowl­edge pan­els with­out a click to any results are great for con­sumers, but not so much for brands actu­al­ly gen­er­at­ing the con­tent. As a result, zero-click search­es and clicks that bring searchers to Google-owned sites keep rising.
  3. Search plays a piv­otal role in the health­care jour­ney. Google reports that 1 in 20 search­es is for health-relat­ed infor­ma­tion, and that patients who book health­care appoint­ments run three times more search­es than those who don’t. By answer­ing health-relat­ed ques­tions, hos­pi­tals and oth­er providers not only edu­cate con­sumers they also estab­lish trust and become the best choice when the time comes to seek treatment.
  4. Con­sumers rarely (if ever) scroll past the first page of search engine results. It’s esti­mat­ed that 75–85% of searchers do not scroll past the first page of Google results. In fact, the top two or three results com­mand the lion’s share of clicks as illus­trat­ed in the chart below from Smart Insights. The click-through rate (CTR) falls sig­nif­i­cant­ly for each drop in posi­tion on Page 1—and any­thing past the first page (posi­tion No. 10) falls off the chart completely.

5 Steps to Success in a Zero-Click Search World

While the impact on SEO can’t be under­stat­ed (espe­cial­ly for search-depen­dent cat­e­gories like trav­el and weath­er), there is hope for health­care mar­keters. Search is still an effec­tive chan­nel for engag­ing con­sumers and clin­i­cians seek­ing health­care infor­ma­tion and remains the No. 1 source of site traf­fic for lead­ing health sys­tems, accord­ing to the Hos­pi­tal Dig­i­tal Expe­ri­ence Index.

So how can health­care mar­keters thrive in the zero-click environment?

Here are five proven strate­gies for win­ning in the zero-click search world:

  1. Opti­mize for Google Fea­tured Snip­pets. If you’ve searched for a weath­er update, the score of a game or oth­er quick piece of infor­ma­tion, you’ve prob­a­bly noticed that Google places a snip­pet above the No. 1 organ­ic result or ad. The snip­pet, typ­i­cal­ly gen­er­at­ed from a meta descrip­tion or the first para­graph of copy in an arti­cle, is designed to suc­cinct­ly answer a ques­tion in a short para­graph or brief list. To earn this cov­et­ed spot on the SERP, focus on ques­tion-based search­es that have a sim­ple answer. Think about ques­tions that start with “how, why, what, when, who” and more. Learn more about Google Fea­tured Snip­pets in our post: Zero Clicks Does­n’t Mean Zero Views.
  2. Turn your web­site into a con­ver­sion engine. Like any good investor, mar­keters who diver­si­fy their port­fo­lio of traf­fic sources will increase the poten­tial for return. Trans­la­tion: Don’t put the major­i­ty of your ener­gy (eggs) into opti­miz­ing for search (bas­ket). The fol­low­ing illus­tra­tion from Spark­Toro rep­re­sents how your site and sub­scrip­tion strat­e­gy can serve as the cen­tral des­ti­na­tion for all dig­i­tal chan­nels, dri­ving users to a con­tent hub designed to advance the con­ver­sa­tion towards a con­ver­sion. With this inte­grat­ed approach, we’ve seen suc­cess in help­ing health­care sys­tems evolve their con­tent strat­e­gy to gen­er­ate high­er inbound traf­fic and leads. 
  3. Make key­words with high CTRs a pri­or­i­ty. Key­words sig­nal a user’s intent when con­duct­ing a search, and key­words with a high CTR are typ­i­cal­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the intent to pur­chase (or in health­care, to attend a sem­i­nar, sched­ule an appoint­ment, etc.). Make sure your treat­ment and con­di­tion pages fea­ture key­words with high CTRs by address­ing ques­tions like, “Where should I get my hip replaced in She­boy­gan?” rather than focus on more gen­er­al queries that can be answered with­out a click like “hip pain symp­toms.” Also, devel­op a key­word strat­e­gy for high-poten­tial terms, typ­i­cal­ly defined as those rank­ing in posi­tions 3–20 and gen­er­at­ing 30–50 queries per month. This will help engage con­sumers search­ing for spe­cif­ic diag­noses and treat­ment options and dri­ve them to your ser­vice line pages.
  4. Think beyond the click. While cap­tur­ing search traf­fic at the moment of truth is impor­tant, con­sid­er what hap­pens after your cus­tomer con­ducts the ini­tial search and arrives on your site. Since the large major­i­ty of site vis­i­tors aren’t ready to engage when research­ing solu­tions, nur­ture the rela­tion­ship by offer­ing use­ful resources in exchange for their con­tact infor­ma­tion and then cre­ate con­tent that solves for every step in the health­care jour­ney. As not­ed in strat­e­gy #1 above, email mar­ket­ing is an effec­tive method for main­tain­ing top-of-mind aware­ness and bring­ing users back to your site after the ini­tial vis­it. Here’s an example.
  5. Recon­sid­er or rein­vest in print. Unlike organ­ic search and social media con­tent, your con­sumer or clin­i­cal pub­li­ca­tion is vir­tu­al­ly guar­an­teed to get in front of the right audi­ence. And while it may be counter-intu­itive, this is espe­cial­ly true among Gen­er­a­tion Z—the largest gen­er­a­tion of con­sumers at 25% of the pop­u­la­tion. Despite grow­ing up on social media and sur­round­ed by tech­nol­o­gy, those ages 24-and-under are spend­ing more time read­ing print than dig­i­tal plat­forms. Their trust in mag­a­zine con­tent when com­pared to dig­i­tal media, com­bined with print’s tar­get­ing capa­bil­i­ties and engag­ing for­mat, make the tried-and-true mar­ket­ing chan­nel an effec­tive resource for con­nect­ing with con­sumers (just ask Face­book).

Need Help Evolving Your Content Strategy?

Let our dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing experts audit your site and make rec­om­men­da­tions to increase organ­ic traf­fic and conversions.

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