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 2020 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:
- 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%.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
4 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 from ConnectiveDX.
So how can healthcare marketers thrive in the zero-click environment? While there are technical elements that can be employed to optimize for featured snippets, knowledge panels and other Google tools, this article focuses on areas that don’t require extensive SEO knowledge.
Here are four proven strategies for winning in the zero-click search world:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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).
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