Search Plays Big Role in Online Health

August 6, 2009

This article is included in these additional categories:

Analytics, Automated & MarTech | Paid Search | Pharma & Healthcare | Search Engine Optimization

Americans who look for for health and medical information online turn to search engines two-thirds of the time when they are seeking answers, indicating that internet search is an increasingly important factor in Americans’ treatment decision process, according to a study by Manhattan Research.

The study, “Pharmaceutical Search Engine Marketing: Leveraging Online Health Searching to Fulfill Brand Goals,” found that as paid search programs have come under fire in recent months, search has taken center stage once again as marketers scramble to adapt to new FDA regulations.

Manhattan Research suggests that successful pharmaceutical search campaigns can play an important role in leading valuable target customers from the research stage to becoming product users. Consumers who visit product sites are nearly three times more likely than the averageUS adult to request prescriptions by name from their doctors. Increasing search engine visibility can help brands to reach consumers actively seeking health information and to effectively insert themselves into the patient-physician treatment discussions.

Major findings from the study:

  • Approximately two-thirds of ePharma Consumers think they can tell if a medical site is from a credible source prior to clicking on the search result, indicating that consumers feel that they are proficient searchers and are able to parse out relevant content for themselves.


  • More US adults use the internet than they use doctors for obtaining health and medical information.
  • Consumers are much more likely to begin their quest for health information with a search engine rather going directly to a website.
  • Consumers who visit product sites are nearly three times more likely than the average US adult to request prescriptions by name from their doctors.
  • When consumers use search engines for pharmaceutical or health information online, they are most likely to search by the name of a specific condition/disease or the name of a specific product.
  • The most common situation for which they use a search engine for this purpose is when they have symptoms for a condition.

“Mastering search engine marketing is critical for brands looking to take advantage of consumers’ increasing reliance on the Internet to figure out and manage their health issues,” said Monique Levy, author of the report and senior director of research at Manhattan Research. “The trouble is, mastering search is not as straightforward as it seems, especially with murky FDA guidelines and increasingly complex digital assets such as mobile and video.”

About the research: The report is part of Manhattan Research’s ePharma Consumer market research and strategic advisory service. In addition to the use of search engines for health and pharma information, the report covers the impact of social networking/Web 2.0 and tracks consumer interaction with more than 250 branded and unbranded pharmaceutical sites, including in-depth data on the effect of DTC advertising, visitation, site search rationales, desired site tools and features, and actions taken off-site. ePharma Consumer v8.0 was conducted via online survey in Q408 among 6,566 adults (ages 18+).

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