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Google’s work in progress with health care rankings

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Episode Overview

When it comes to Google rankings, the health care industry has emerged as one of the most experimental. It’s a sector that Google traditionally hasn’t focused on a lot, but as the competition in the space grows, the ranking factors are changing rapidly. Whether you’re a major player like a WebMD or Healthgrades, or a research institution or university, or a chiropractor, what does it take to rank with Google? In this last podcast of our April Searchmetrics Content Ranking Factors series, SEO strategist Jordan Koene CEO of Searchmetrics analyzes the sector, with information every health care marketer should know.

You’ll learn:

  • In terms of best practices, what is the difference in approach between local providers like a dentist and the content providers like a WebMD?
  • How is the Wikipedia approach working in the healthcare sector?
  • What is holistic content, and why is high density, high volume content becoming more successful?
  • Who and what are the authority factors that are influencing Google rankings?
  • What is Google’s strategy in determining the individual authority of a Dr. Smith over brand authority of a WebMD?


Episode Transcript

Ben:                 Okay, here’s the last installment of Ranking Factors Week with Jordan Koene, Searchmetrics CEO and lead SEO strategist.

Ben:                Jordan, welcome back to the final day of Industry Ranking Factors Week on the Voices of Search podcast.

Jordan:               I think a few weeks ago, you and me, Ben, we spent a lot of time talking about our back pain.

Jordan:              And I think that hopefully through learning about the ranking factors in health, that will go away.

Ben:                You know, I have to say this is my fifth podcast recording today, and I might need a doctor so, let’s get into it and talk about what’s happening in the

Ben:                Let’s start off high level. health care industry, major players, who’s making waves.

Ben:                 Tell me about the health care industry.

Jordan:               So high level about the health care industry.

Jordan:                Really unique category.

Jordan:               You’ve got a collection of very independent, local providers of data and content and then you’ve got the aggregators of the world that provide a lot of high-level content.

Jordan:               So we’re,

Jordan:               On the high-level side, we’re obviously thinking more WebMD, Healthgrades type level experience, on a local more base, we’re actually talking about like a specific chiropractor, speaking of back health, specific chiropractor in a very local, a local place.

Ben:                 Okay so, you have major players like the WebMD’s of the world who are creating descriptions of every disease, every symptom, right?

Ben:              Tons of content, long form, short form how to self-diagnose and then you’re getting individual more localize providers like your local health care provider, so talk to me about the ranking factors.

Ben:                 It seems like there are some really gigantic sites and then a lot of small sites as well.

Ben:             How are the ranking factors for the industry as a whole?

Jordan:               Yeah so, some of the interesting things that we notice in terms of the ranking factors as a whole here is that, what’s driving a lot of the success here is what we like to call at Searchmetrics, holistic content.

Jordan:               So really, a big body, long form piece of content.

Jordan:                So, we actually see high density, high volume content is very, very successful in this category, and it really shouldn’t be a, a huge surprise.

Jordan:               This is a category where users are, want to be heavily, heavily informed and are seeking very, very, very detailed and specific answers.

Jordan:                It would be safe to assume even that I don’t actually have any validation for this assumption, but I think it would be safe to assume that this is the one industry where the direct answer or the knowledge graph probably gets the most clicks.

Jordan:               So, like a lot of times you look up like how old is an actor or you know, what year was this built and you just look at the direct answer or the knowledge graph and you just move on.

Jordan:                You never click on any page.

Jordan:                But in this category, I bet you there’s a lot of clicks.

Ben: :                 I feel like there is the you know, say WebMD Searchmetrics client. There’s the self-diagnosis, where it’s like, what does the red rash on my foot mean?

Ben:                And when the response comes back it’s you know, possibly cancer, yeah, that’s generating a click real fast.

Jordan:               Real fast.

Ben:                 Yeah

Jordan:               I mean, instant reaction, (laugh)

Ben:               (laugh) okay so, so content density and you know, more focus on long form content is obviously going to be a primary ranking factor, you know.

Ben:                How much does accuracy matter here?

Ben:                 I mean.

Ben:                 You would think that this is something that’s going to have a real material impact on people’s well-being at the fundamental level, you know.

Ben:                In terms of understanding what’s the right content and who’s telling the truth, how does that factor in?

Ben:                Is that a ranking factor?

Jordan:                Wow that’s a powerful question.

Jordan:                What we do know from the data is that the majority of the keywords in the space are very informational based in nature and informational based queries are, they’re really hard to, it’s really hard to decipher accuracy.

Jordan:               It’s much easier to decipher accuracy when there’s a conversion event. Alright?

Jordan:              Because then the user actually completed what they wanted.

Jordan:  :               But in this case, it’s very difficult to understand that when the majority almost nearly all the keywords are informational based in nature, but the one thing that I can say is that Google has found various authority factors to really help determine who is generally speaking, the stronger authority and providing a, a more quality experience to their users.

Jordan:                So, in the history of, of search, there, there used to be like this authorship, a notion, and I’m sure that Google is using a version of that to make decisions in this particular category.

Jordan:               If you have a specialist or a doctor who writes an article about something that he or she is an expert in, that’s going to receive a lot more authority than just a blanket publication that’s community driven on a community site like Wikipedia.

Jordan:               And so that authorship and that authority piece, authority may be coming from say, a research institution who’s talking about this form of cancer or a specific hospital.

Jordan:              Those things matter and they are distinguishing ranking factors that we see in our data.

Ben:                 So does that get down to the individual author or is that at a brand level?

Ben:                 Is it the Mayo Clinics of the world, the Children’s Health of the world are going to have inferred credibility because they are a recognizable brand in the health care industry or does it matter that Dr. Jones is a well-established researcher as opposed to Dr. Smith who is a new doctor.

Jordan:               Yeah, you know.

Jordan:                This is a territory that’s a bit subjective because;

Jordan:              A. Google doesn’t really, really share a lot of information about what’s going on here and then also the, the reality is that this is a strong ranking factor, something that we notice here.

Jordan:               But what we also notice is that Google’s using other signals to kind of formulate this.

Jordan:                And what I mean by that is Google can test their way through this theory by incorporating these pages in say, the direct answer or the Knowledge Graph and then seeing if that specific piece of content is soliciting a positive response.

Jordan:               So, there’s one way that Google’s kind of going through that cycle.

Jordan:                But to answer your first piece of that question is like; is Google going down to that of a level?

Jordan:               Absolutely.

Jordan:               Google is now getting matches to the URL level and interpreting what is creating value for the consumer, but they’re actually getting down to the element or experience level on these pages and saying “hey, this statement or this quote from this doctor is what really matters and I want that to be in my search result.”

Jordan:                And so, Google’s, Google’s really, has really become so specific that they’re actually absorbing the most valuable piece of data from the content, this long form, typically long form piece of content and then displaying that directly to users in the SERP.

Ben:                That’s fascinating and it makes sense that Google is going down to the individual sentence and paragraph level to provide answers to the consumer but they’re able to interpret not only what brand has authority, but what author has authority within those brands as well.

Ben:                So tell me a little bit more about the SERP experience, what data are you saying?

Jordan:               So, like, in order for Google to surface that information, right?

Jordan:              They need an experience.

Jordan:               And what we see is like over thirty percent of the result in this keyword set, the health keyword set that we have, are being displayed with direct answers.

Jordan:                So direct answers are Googles way of saying “hey, we can incorporate this data right into our SERP, we don’t need you to read this entire article about this red rash, cancerous, possible cancerous rash.

Ben:                Hopefully not cancerous rash.

Jordan:               Hopefully not cancerous rash, exactly.

Jordan:                But they’re going to take that and they’re going to incorporate that right into the SERP with a direct answer and I wouldn’t be surprised if Google keeps tweaking this.

Jordan:               So in a couple of our earlier episodes we talked about Google creating very specific experiences for industries and health is one that I definitely believe Google will be doing a lot of experimentation on, is not a place where they traditionally played a lot in but as  more and more competitors grow in this space, I mean, we’re seeing research institutions, we’re seeing universities, we’re seeing content publishers, we’re even seeing non-profit organizations getting more and more aggressive in this category.

Jordan:                Google’s going to want to find a way to organize that and create a good, good experience for users who are trying to understand anything from diseases and symptoms to health care providers to the right type of medication and treatment for illnesses and health conditions.

Ben:                 So just to summarize I think the big take away here is that the health industry covers a lot of obviously complicated topics and so, in terms of the content the keyword dense, rich, long form content tends to be the content that performs the best and Google is grabbing the most important short snippets, the answers out of that content and displaying them in their answer box at incredibly high rate relative to other industries.

Ben:                Jordan, are there any other ranking factors that I’m missing here?

Jordan           No, I, I just want to  again, going off the theme of our last episode, give a little word of encouragement here, and I think that for this health category there is so much room to experiment around experience and I think that how your experience is being displayed is probably the greatest opportunity for growth because a lot of these sites have authoritative authors and have great content and is more informed and that how you distinguish yourself, you create a great experience around that.

Ben:                Well on that note, Jordan, I hope the red rash is non-cancerous and that wraps up Industry Ranking Factors Week on the Voices of Search Podcast.

Ben:                 Thanks to you for listening to my conversation with Jordan Koene, Searchmetrics CEO and lead SEO strategist.

Ben:                We’d love to continue this conversation with you, so if you’re interested in contacting Jordan, you can find the link to his bio in our show notes or you can send him a Tweet where his handle is JTKoene.

Ben:                If you have general marketing questions, or if you want to talk about this podcast, you can find my contact information in our show notes.

Ben:                 Or you can send me a Tweet at BenJShap.

Ben:                And if you’re interested in attending our Custom Ranking Factors Webinar on April twenty-fifth, head over to

Ben:                If you liked this podcast and you want a regular stream of SEO and content marketing insights in your podcast feed, hit the subscribe button in your podcast app, and we’ll be back in your feed next week.

Ben:                Lastly, if you’ve enjoyed this podcast, and you’re feeling generous, we’d love for you to leave us a review in the Apple iTunes store or wherever you listen to your podcast.

Ben:                Okay, that’s it for today and that’s it Industry Ranking Factors Week.

Ben:                Until next time.

Ben:                Remember, the answers are always in the data.


Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene

Jordan Koene is the CEO of Searchmetrics Inc. a wholly owned subsidiary of Searchmetrics. Previously, Jordan was the Head of SEO and Content Development at eBay. During his time at eBay, Jordan focused on utilizing eBay content to improve user experience and natural search traffic.

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