On 1st February 2017, Google launched health cards in its search results in the Australian market. This feature, available in the US since 2015, shows relevant medical facts in the Knowledge Graph in response to queries about over 900 commonly-searched health conditions.

Generally divided into three tabs – About, Symptoms and Treatments – the health cards show key information about a condition, such as the main symptoms and treatment options, the commonality of the condition and the ages affected. The information has been reviewed by medical doctors at Google and the Mayo Clinic, and the high-quality illustrations featured on the cards are from licenced medical illustrators.

The health cards have a mobile-like functionality on desktop, with similar mobile aesthetics, expandable boxes and carousels.

Google Health Cards Tonsilitis

Google has said that its intention behind releasing this feature is to enhance users’ access to high-quality and relevant medical information; according to Google, one in 20 Google searches are for health-related information. They have stated:

“We hope this information will empower you in your health decisions – so the next time you need information on measles or treatments for tennis elbow, Google will be a better place to start.” – Google Australia, 1st February 2017

Impact for advertisers and websites

Google’s self-proclaimed mission is ‘to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful’. In the last few years, the focus has been on accessibility – with more and more detailed information being displayed within search engine result pages themselves. While this may negatively affect the organic traffic metrics of a website, a net benefit is delivered to the user. And with the emergence of voice search and voice-activated devices like Amazon Echo, this trend is likely to continue beyond health cards to other prominent verticals in Google Search.

Accordingly, the emergence of health cards has a number of implications for advertisers and websites, particularly those with health-related content.

Health Cards Self CareGreater depth and value of content

The content of health cards is probably sufficient enough to answer the queries of a large number of searches, even though they do not go into a great depth of detail. What this means is that click-through rates onto webpages which aim to answer these queries, whether through ads or organic search listings, may decline. Such websites will need to ensure that their content adds additional depth and value than what is already presented in Google’s health cards in order to compel users to click through.

Already live in the US version of the health cards feature (though not yet in the Australian version) are ‘self-care’ links, directing users to an organic search of the term. In the below case, if a user were to click on ‘Avoid allergen’, Google would direct them to Google search of ‘seasonal allergies avoid allergen’. Brands that anticipate the arrival of this feature in Australia may have an advantage in creating and optimising targeted long-form content for these keywords, leading to increased search exposure for sites ranking well for these terms.

Attention to quality & accuracy

With the introduction of health cards, Google is encouraging higher-quality health content on the web so that users are “more informed and better able to select reliable information” (Search Engine Land, 10th February 2015). The medically-reviewed content in a health card is the first step in answering the user’s inquiry and acts as a reference of accurate health information. Further content that a user comes across needs to be consistent with the health cards, while maintaining a high standard of accuracy and reliability.

Website engagement as important as ever

With the focus on quality, Google is now even more likely to look at user engagement on health-related websites as a quality signal. Such websites need to pay attention to metrics such as time spent on site, bounce rate and pages per session. While engagement is already a ranking factor for organic search results, it will probably be even more imperative for health-related content, so content marketers should look at ways to extend the user journey on content pages.

Health Cards Common BrandsPotential for commercialisation

At this stage, there has been no indication that Google will create opportunities for advertisers to place ads in the health cards. However, in the US version of health cards, “common brands” for treatment are listed (and it is likely that this kind of information will eventually be available in the Australian version). Google could create the opportunity for commercial brands to bid on ad listings in that space.

For the time being, though, AdWords ads are not directly affected, and on mobile, the ads appear above the health card so they continue to be visible at the top of the search result.

Next steps

If your website produces health-related content, it is encouraged as an initial step to review the content and ensure its consistency with Google’s health cards. Further to that, you should also assess its quality in order to ensure depth, accuracy and user engagement. Reprise will continue to monitor Google’s developments of this feature and changes in the search landscape to identify ways to adapt and capitalise on new opportunities.

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Ala Al-Mahaidi

Digital Solutions Executive, Reprise Media

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