Have a question? Need to look something up? The first thing you probably do is reach for your nearest device to ask Google, Bing, or Siri -- 60% of U.S. online adults use search for health info, tools and services, according to DRG’s Cybercitizen Health® U.S. 2015 study. Measuring search behavior across millions of consumers can therefore serve as an enormous focus group, giving healthcare marketers valuable insight into how patients collectively think about a brand and allowing them to map these insights to phases within the patient journey. These learnings can inform content development tailored to patients’ informational needs and enable brands to reach patients at the right time with appropriate messaging.

To drive a successful search strategy, it is important to keep up on the latest search features and use cases. Here are four recent trends in search that healthcare companies should consider when developing their search strategy:

1) Search for predictive diagnosis – A study in The Journal of Oncology Practice found that researchers were able to predict a pancreatic cancer diagnosis based on a patient’s search queries. In the future, pharma companies will be able to utilize this methodology to prioritize keywords for paid search campaigns based on the most predictive terms to better reach prospective patients with disease information, potentially speeding diagnosis.

2) App Store paid search ads – Apple recently announced that it will be introducing paid search ads on the App Store. As beyond-the-pill apps continue to grow in prominence as a means of helping patients track their health and access support information, it will be even more important for brands to ensure that their apps show up when people search for these tools. Patients often find it difficult to locate a specific app within the cluttered App Store -- according to Cybercitizen Health® U.S. 2015, 31% of smartphone users agree that “I am overwhelmed by the choice of health and wellness apps available.” Companies should consider bidding on paid terms to ensure visibility in the top position for App Store searches.

3) Google symptom search – In collaboration with Harvard Medical School and the Mayo Clinic, Google recently added a symptom search feature to its mobile app. Google will now match symptom searchers to a medical database and return common health problems related to that symptom. Search results appear as “digital cards” that allow patients to find information on their ailment more quickly. This new feature will likely decrease usage of brands’ sites for unbranded symptom research. Furthermore, it will limit the visibility of brand websites appearing above the fold on mobile devices for symptom searches.

4) Mobile in-app searches – in May, Google launched GBoard, an iOS-based in-app keyboard that allows users to search directly within an app without leaving the app experience. GBoard will increase the usage of Google searches on mobile devices and allow users to share search results easily with others while texting. For healthcare marketers, this makes mobile SEO investment all the more important, especially since many patients use their smartphone during doctor visits. Of smartphone owners, 44% of use that device at the doctor’s office for health, and 36% of those patients do so in the exam room, according to the ePharma Consumer® 2015 study.

In order to truly optimize for search, companies need to understand how the channel fits into their full digital landscape. Search is just one connection point to a much larger digital ecosystem, including a brand’s website, social networks and mobile apps. Understanding the digital patient journey through search data can help brands house the right content on their owned digital channels to address searchers’ needs and questions.

At DRG, search is a key evaluation channel within our Digital Ecosystem Mapping service, which gives marketers a detailed view of the competitive digital landscape around a brand, product, or indication. This helps marketers understand how competitors use search and other digital channels to reach consumers, and to identify areas of opportunity to maximize digital investment, increase relevant content, and optimize existing campaigns.

To learn more about your brand's Digital Ecosystem and best practices for digital engagement, contact digital@teamdrg.com

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