Search data

Does search engine data really tell us anything?

Imagine you’re about to take the first step in your award-winning healthcare communications campaign. It’s a cancer campaign. Your shrewd communications acumen tells you to first gather insights – such as search metrics. Listen to your audience, learn from them and leverage these insights to inform your campaign, set benchmarks and measure your impact.

Don’t just Google it

First, you might “Google it”. The ever-reliable Urban Dictionary defines this as, “An answer to a question that you are too lazy to answer”. It also tells us a lot about modern approaches to information searching. It implies that Google (no one ever “Bings it”) will either completely answer the question or provide a better answer than anything else.

And why wouldn’t it? A quick Google of “cancer” throws out 1.7 billion results in under a second. Surely, there must be something of value amongst all the noise. But therein lies the problem. Patients, clinicians or comms professionals don’t have time to trawl through every page of search results until they eventually stumble across what they’re looking for.

Data backs this up: 75% of search engine users don’t click past the first page of Google, which means that if your content isn’t there, chances are it won’t be seen by the people who need to see it the most. It’s little surprise that companies are adopting increasingly creative ways to get to the top of Google, from strategic placement of keywords to tailoring content length to my personal favourite, advertising using a competitor’s name as a keyword. Naughty.

Listen, learn, leverage

At Aurora, we know that search engines can tell us a lot more about what’s going on than which marketing team has managed to get onto Page One. They also tell us what people are genuinely thinking about; they’re insights not to be missed.

A recent blog from Our World in Data highlighted the disconnect between causes of death in the US, what people search on Google and what the media actually reports on. In this example, the major standout was terrorism. Despite accounting for less than 0.01% of deaths in 2016, it accounted for 7.2% of Google searches and a huge 35% of media coverage in the New York Times. From this, we can infer that people are disproportionately concerned about terrorism compared to other potential causes of death.

Wouldn’t it be interesting to apply this same approach to a common healthcare issue? The famous statistic is that one in two people in the UK will get cancer in their lifetime. It is the second leading cause of death worldwide, accounting for 16.3% of deaths in 2016. The graphs below depict the differences in incidence, Google searches and news articles of a sample of ten common cancers.


Incidence for common cancers


Average daily Google searches


Apart from the top three, “Googles” of cancer types aren’t ranked in terms of their prevalence within the population, as might have been expected. There is also a disparity between average daily “Googles” of certain cancers. Breast cancer towers above the rest, with almost double the number of searches compared to prostate cancer.

Maybe then, the cause of these disparities lies in the consumer media. Are the general public more likely to search for more information about the cancers that are being reported on by the Daily Mail, The Guardian etc.? Do high-profile campaigns create a disproportionate interest in certain cancer types? In breast cancer, this appears to be the case, but the other cancers have reordered again.


Mentions of cancer


Leverage your Acumen

My point here isn’t to paint a picture of a complex mess. For communicators today, it is clear that no analysis of one source is complete without considering another. A simple media analysis tells you what journalists consider newsworthy, which is a valid and useful insight. But in healthcare, we can’t assume anything, which is what makes search data so important.

The insights generated through search tell you more about what people are privately thinking – their concerns, questions, wants and needs. The benefit of this anonymised truth is that it alerts us to people who are suffering – and allows us, as communicators, to offer solutions. Leveraging this endless data source enables us to base our activities on evidence and measure success.

By analysing and comparing multiple sources, we can paint a complete picture of the situation as it stands and then understand the real-world difference our campaigns have made. These sources are:

  • Search data
  • Traditional and social media
  • Direct conversations with people

Aurora recognises that listening and learning from patients is essential – we talk to them directly, see what they post on social media and, to round it all off, find out what they’re searching. This data-driven approach, which we call Acumen, puts us in the best position to accomplish our goal: to make tangible and positive differences to patients and their families.

Get in touch to find out how we can use deeper insights to make a difference for your company –

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