January 26, 2023

Tom Humbarger


6 min. read

Visitors to healthcare websites have specific needs in mind. They are often on a time crunch to urgently find very specific information. Because the website represents the primary digital patient experience, quickly finding relevant information is key. This post explores why search is so important to the digital experience and identifies how search can be quickly fixed by focusing on best practices. To learn more about wide variety of healthcare site search use cases, check out our key use cases for healthcare website search blog post.

Why is Search on Healthcare Websites So Important?

According to Google, 5 percent of all Google searches are health-related. However, most healthcare website administrators would prefer visitors not use Google to find content on their site, but rather use the site’s search capability to better control the experience. Most consumers themselves would rather search on a healthcare website than make a phone call or use a chatbot. This is evidenced by the fact that search drives three times the number of visitors to healthcare websites, compared to non-search interactions.

Before we share best practices for healthcare websites, we will lay the foundation for what types of organizations rely on search to help their site visitors, what information visitors search for, and who is searching on healthcare websites.

Healthcare Providers that Prioritize the Digital Experience

The Healthcare Provider industry covers many types of organizations:

  • Hospitals – individual or independent hospitals
  • Hospital groups – groups of related hospitals managed by the same company or organization
  • Healthcare insurance companies – companies that provide healthcare insurance
  • Combined hospital groups and insurance organizations – companies that operate a hospital combined with captive health insurance
  • Doctor groups – groups of doctors organized by specialty or location
  • Medical associations – organizations that provide support for specific diseases or support different healthcare professionals
  • Medical foundations – charitable organizations that are concerned with the general well-being of the communities they serve
  • Health & wellness organizations – organizations that provide health-related information and advice
  • Government health departments – government agencies that manage or direct care within city, county, state or national boundaries

Each of these organizations are unique, but they share many common challenges when it comes to the search experience.

Users are accustomed to a high-quality search experience, and they expect to quickly and efficiently find everything they’re seeking without any frustration.

What Is Being Searched on Healthcare Websites?

Users visit healthcare websites for a variety of reasons and the most common tasks include:

  • Finding services and getting care by searching for doctors or specialists
  • Locating the nearest facilities for medical treatment
  • Getting information on health and wellness published on healthcare websites in blogs, articles, podcasts, research reports, etc.
  • Learning more about diseases, conditions and treatments
  • Signing up for health notifications
  • Locating billing history and payment information
  • Comparing health insurance plans
  • Finding corporate or executive information
  • Searching for careers

Who is Searching and Why?

To reiterate, many people are landing on healthcare websites with a high degree of urgency. Perhaps they or a family member have a medical condition or emergency that needs attention or they are suffering a moment of despair. This is why being able to find relevant information quickly is so critical.

Studies show that men and women between ages 35 and 44 are the most likely to search for health-related information. It is at this stage of life when health concerns are starting to appear. They also may be searching on behalf of elderly patients.

Another study from Solutionreach showed that younger consumers are searching online because they need to find a doctor or provider for the first time or are planning to switch providers. For example, more than 40 percent of Millennials and Generation X are likely to switch physicians in the next few years. On the other hand, the older Baby Boom generation is likely to have long-term relationships with their care providers and only 20 percent are expected to change doctors in the next three years.

Healthcare is a very competitive industry with most providers focused on expanding their market share while defending attacks from multiple sides. Since so much is transacted on healthcare websites, concentrating on improving the digital experience will be key to remaining competitive and viable in the future. Search is one of the critical components of that experience and fixing search is the one piece of the digital experience where rapid improvements can be quickly realized by following search best practices.

Best Practices for Healthcare Website Search

The best practices for website search are important for all websites regardless of industry. When it comes to the websites of healthcare providers, here are some tips to keep in mind:

Make Your Search Bar Prominent

A variety of users will be looking to search on your site, so make sure that users can find your search bar easily. Users searching during an emergency or health issue may be emotional and unable to spend time looking around for what they need. A prominent search bar – on both desktop and mobile – is key here.

Use Auto-suggest to Save Users Time

Again, users may be in crisis situations and auto-suggest can help with both saving time and giving users suggestions for phrases they may not be thinking of while searching quickly. Even if users are just browsing for insurance forms or looking for information that is not time sensitive, typical users often haven’t spent much time on your site previously, so may not know exactly what they are searching for. Give users suggestions to minimize their typing.

Ensure that Search is Relevant

Nothing is more frustrating than conducting a search and receiving outdated or non-relevant information. Website managers need to understand their search analytics and ensure that the relevant information is delivered for the top search terms. One way to test for this is to examine what search results are returned for your most popular searches and refine the search engine to increase relevancy.

Use Synonyms for Common Terms

Nowhere are synonyms as important as on medical websites. You say “cuts;” doctors say “lacerations.” Simplify and convert medical jargon into layman’s terms so that the correct content shows regardless of whether the website user has a medical degree. Setting up common synonyms for conditions or specializations will guide users to the results they want to see.

Allow Users to Filter Results with Facets

Let users narrow the search results with different filtering options so they can find the results that are relevant to them and avoid those that aren’t. For instance, you could offer filtering by location, or by age group: child, adult or geriatric. Faceting also has the added benefit of allowing your server to run faster, as the filtering can segment out only a portion of documents to search through.

Showcase Popular Searches

Let users narrow the search results with different filtering options so they can find the results that are relevant to them and avoid those that aren’t. For instance, you could offer filtering by location, or by age group: child, adult or geriatric. Faceting also has the added benefit of allowing your server to run faster, as the filtering can segment out only a portion of documents to search through.

Display Related Searches

Similar to popular searches, showing alternative or related searches that have been performed by others and driven by machine learning will save website users time and get them more quickly to the answers they demand.

Ensure your Search is Responsive

Remember that many users will be on mobile devices. The search feature needs to be easy to use and deliver fast, relevant results regardless of what device users are using to search your healthcare website.

Monitor Search Analytics

After setting up the site search, website owners must pay attention to their search analytics. Understanding what is being searched for and how content is performing is critical to delivering a better search experience. Looking at no result searches can uncover content gaps or identify ways to make key information, like forms or community health updates, easier to find.
See how SearchStax Studio elevates the search experience with better site search for healthcare providersSchedule a product demo with our search experts to get an evaluation of search on your current website, see how search can be improved and discover how analytics and easy-to-use tools can drive the best practices to quickly optimize the search experience.

By Tom Humbarger

Senior Product Marketing Manager

“According to Google, 5 percent of all Google searches are health-related.”

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