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POV - Google Health Symptom Search Results

Date: April 13, 2012

Analyst: Mitch Cross, Director Search Engine Marketing and Ankit Shah, Media Director

Subject: Google’s New Health Search Results

According to Google’s own internal data, searches on symptom-related keywords are often followed by searches related to conditions relevant to those symptoms. In an effort to improve user experience, Google has launched a new feature of enhanced health search results.

When a search is performed on a symptom-related term, a list of relevant conditions (along with brief descriptions) are served in-between the paid search ads and organic listings. As an example, when a symptom-related query such as joint pain is entered, a section appears on the results page displaying relevant conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, gout, osteoarthritis, sprain, and bursitis, along with a brief description of each. The names of these conditions are hyperlinked so that, when clicked on, the user is taken to a new search result for that condition.


According to Google, “This list is not authored by doctors and of course is not advice from medical experts.”  Instead, Google states, “The list is generated by our algorithms that analyze data from pages
across the web and surface the health conditions that appear to be related to your search.”
Currently, this feature is only being beta tested across a limited amount of symptom-related keywords.


Google is being tight-lipped about the strategy behind this new feature,but CMI anticipates several potential implications with its launch, primarily affecting consumer search efforts vs. those of HCPs:

  • Increased search volume on condition-related terms on Google
  • Increased Cost Per Click (CPC) on symptom-related terms

    • Clicks on condition listings could come at the expense of paid search ads, thus lowering Click Through Rate (CTR)
    • Reduced CTR can negatively affect Quality Score and cause an increase in CPC
    • As fewer organic listings appear above the fold, advertisers might increase their paid search efforts to make up for the reduction in clicks, resulting in increased advertiser competition
  • Increased patient/physician dialogue resulting in increased searches performed by HCPs

    • Patients could end up feeling anxious when faced with a list of possible conditions, which could trigger conversations with their doctors. Doctors are then faced with a barrage of questions from their patients and may look to Google more often to research answers.
  • Possible behavioral targeting opportunities

    • Google will log these searches as they do with other web search and has an opportunity to behaviorally target other products
    • Less real estate on the results page, forcing some organic listings to appear below the fold



No major action needs to be taken now. This feature is too early in its beginning stages for deep recommendations, but marketers should be aware of it as it might have an effect on certain metrics such as traffic volume, CTR, and CPC. Paid and organic search agencies should be coordinated in the event this feature causes a decrease in traffic driven from organic listings from symptom-related terms. In this case, paid search can be tasked with making up for some of the loss in organic traffic.


If a decrease in CTR and/or click volume is detected for symptom related paid search terms, we suggest testing an increase in position from the right side of the results page to the top. Additionally, we recommend building out longer tail symptom related terms, as these terms will be less likely to be displaying Google’s enhanced symptom search results. Lastly, be sure to adjust budget caps where necessary to compensate for increased spend related to higher CPCs.