2020 Medical Search Trends: Medical searches meet and exceed pre-COVID levels across multiple specialities

October 23rd, 2020 by Paula Keller French

Key Insights:

  • Monitoring search trends can make your campaigns more effective, as you are able to adjust your strategy based on trends.
  • As of October, numbers of searches returned to pre-COVID levels for several medical practice areas including cardiology, neurology, urology, and gynecology.
  • Cosmetic procedures saw a short-lived dip in search interest for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lift in March. By the end of May, interest exceeded pre-COVID levels for 3 of the 4 procedures:
    liposuction, rhinoplasty, and breast augmentation. Facelift interest exceeded pre-COVID levels in late July.
  • Addiction treatment searches didn’t drastically dip as much as other medical specialties, and have been slowly rising to pre-COVID levels. The most recent data indicates it has now exceeded early 2020 interest.

2020 Medical Search Trends (so far)

Monitoring search trends is a critical piece of managing a productive digital marketing strategy. It can inform your need to adapt your marketing strategy, whether that is away from search to other mediums or to invest more heavily in search engine optimization and paid search.

2020 has seen shifts in search trends unlike anything I’ve seen in my 11 years working in SEO. It’s no surprise given the “pivots” and “unprecedented” year we’ve had. In a recent conversation with a colleague in the medical industry, we discussed expectations for 2020 healthcare revenue and what we’ve seen so far in the return of patient confidence.

I was interested to see how search trends on Google mapped with what we had seen with the practices and hospitals with which we work, so I took a look across several practice areas and assessed the data.

How do I read the Google Trends charts below?

Each chart that shows the change in the amount of interest in a given topic based on the number searches during a time frame. Specifically, Google calls this metric “Interest over time” and defines it as “search interest relative to the highest point on the chart for the given region and time. A value of 100 is the peak popularity for the term. A value of 50 means that the term is half as popular. A score of 0 means there was not enough data for this term.”

For more on how Google calculates Trends, see here: FAQ about Google Trends.

I have included a table of my own analysis of the numerical data, looking for highs, lows, and averages both “pre-COVID” and “post-COVID.”

In some analyses below, we look at “Topics” which looks across several ways people could be searching to gauge searchers interest level at a point in time. In others, we look at “Search terms” which is used when it makes sense to compare to similar search terms that would otherwise fall under the same topic (such as “drug rehab” & “alcohol rehab,” as they both fall under the topic of “addiction treatment”).

Medical Specialities: Cardiology, Neurology, Urology, Gynecology, Oncology

Google trend chart showing interest over time in medical procedures

Summary of findings for medical speciality search trends:

  • In the week of October 4, searches returned to at or right below pre-COVID levels
  • Cardiology, neurology, urology, and gynecology all follow the same pattern: initially, searches for these specialties dip in March, but people were still searching, even in the earliest days of the shutdowns.
  • The lowest point of searches for these topics were early to mid-April, which is when the public started to recognize that this stay-at-home life was going to become our new normal for much longer than we originally thought.
    Cardiology, neurology, urology, and gynecology all follow the same pattern: initially, searches for these specialties dip in March, but people were still searching, even in the earliest days of the shutdowns.
  • Since April, searches have been on the rise, with dips during the holiday weeks of July 4 and Labor Day.
  • Oncology did not see the same variation throughout the year. While interest levels are slightly lower since pre-COVID, interest remains steady throughout 2020, with an interest level ranging from 24-38, averaging around 30.

Chart showing 2020 search interest and data from medical industry

Cosmetic Procedures: Liposuction, Breast Augmentation, Rhinoplasty, Rhytidectomy (Facelift)

Google Trends chart for cardiology, neurology, gynaecology, oncology, urology topics

Summary of findings for cosmetic procedure search trends:

  • There was an initial, short-lived dip in search interest for liposuction, rhinoplasty, breast augmentation, and face lift. This dip spanned across the end of March and into April.
  • After the dip, there was a surge in interest, with the number of searches exceeding pre-COVID levels as of the end of May for liposuction, rhinoplasty, and breast augmentation.
  • By late July, liposuction saw peak interest (100), greatly exceeding pre-COVID interest levels, when the peak was 79.
  • Rhinoplasty interest also peaked in July, and remains above the pre-COVID average.
  • Breast augmentation search interest peaked in June, and it’s average interest since June has remained at 33, which is equivalent to the pre-COVID peak in January.
  • Facelift interest saw its peak in July, with an interest level of 40, relatively much greater than the pre-COVID peak of 31.

Medical search trends chart show 2020 data from Google

Addiction Treatment: Drug rehab, Addiction treatment, Alcohol rehab

Google Trends chart for drug rehab, addiction treatment, and alcohol rehab

Summary of findings for addiction treatment search trends:

  • Looking at addiction treatment search terms, there was also a bit of a dip but it didn’t have as drastic of a change, and has been slowly rising to and exceeding pre-COVID levels.
  • The search term “Drug rehab” saw peak interest (100) in the week of August 16, only slightly more than the pre-COVID high on February 16 (98).
  • The pre-COVID 2020 average for “addiction treatment” was 54. During the heaviest shutdown period (March 15 – May 10), the average interest was 44, with the lowest point being 37 on March 15.
  • “Alcohol rehab” searches reached their peak during the week of October 18, exceeding the pre-COVID 2020 high of 55 in early January.

2020 Google search trends for addiction treatment for Search Influence blog post on health industry trends

How can search trends help us help more patients?

No doubt by this point, you have been comparing and contrasting this data to what you’ve seen at your practice or hospital. The goal of monitoring search trends (along with your own campaign-level data), is to inform necessary adjustments to your marketing strategy.

During the early months of shutdowns, we were hyper focused on looking for shifts in consumer behavior so we could, yes, “pivot” our strategies. In the best case scenarios, we were able to shift budget to the channels where our clients’ audience was spending their time, and away from the channels where they weren’t as active (and produced some really awesome results). We were then able to make shifts back when that activity returned.

There are several reasons we can attribute to the overall return of searches and why in many cases, medical searches are exceeding pre-COVID levels. Whatever the reasons, this is a critical time for businesses to closely analyze their marketing mix to assure they are a) carefully spending their marketing budget and b) confident they’ll understand the outcomes of their marketing investment.

If you’d like some support in analyzing where you’re currently investing in marketing, want some fresh ideas, or are interested in partnering with an agency like ours, reach out. Our dedicated team of strategists will work with you to understand your goals for 2021 and provide recommendations to help you build your patient pipeline.

P.S. If you are looking for more reading, check out our recent post: “How Hospitals and Healthcare Practices Can Adapt to Google Updates” and follow along with us on our Healthcare & Medical Marketing Blog for future industry updates.