Google to Change Search Results for Health Queries
If your site or blog deals with health and fitness-related information (and if it doesn't, you might want to rethink that, given that 2011 comScore data indicates that around 100 million Americans search for health info every month), listen up: Google will be changing the way it handles health-related queries in the very near future.
In short, the search results for health queries will now display a list of possible conditions every time an individual searches for a symptom, such as "difficulty breathing", "low energy", "back pain", or "headache," to name a few, as the top search results.
Although it still remains to be seen exactly how these changes in the Google search engine results will affect your own health website or blog, knowing the details beforehand will help you prepare.
Why the Changes?
According to Dr. Roni Zeiger, Google's Chief Health Strategist, the changes are coming because Google noticed that users were almost universally searching for a symptom to find an underlying cause, then searching for the various underlying causes themselves. The change will eliminate this extra step, showing possible underlying causes immediately when you search for a symtom or symptoms.
Zeiger says that the condition lists will be generated entirely through algorithms, and that no human intervention is required. According to Zeiger, the changes won't have any affect on AdWords, and the new results will only be generated if you search for a symptom (such as "headache") as opposed to a condition (such as "brain tumor").
How Should Your Site or Blog React?
Unfortunately, it remains to be seen how these new Google health query changes will affect best practices for health and fitness-leaning websites and blogs. However, a line of text that will be included at the end of each conditions list offers some clues: "Drawn from at least 10 websites including [site A] and [site B]," with sites A and B being major, authoritative resources such as NIH.gov, wikipedia.org and medhelp.org.
The goal, then, is to ensure that your site is counted among this list of "at least 10 websites." Since Zeiger states that the list will be generated entirely algorithmically, we can assume that the selection process will come down to SEO. For now, this means that you should continue to do everything you're doing to optimize your search engine results, particularly for keywords related to symptoms of various conditions.
Of course, additional details will present themselves once the changes officially take effect.