Aug 20, 2010 at 6:00am ET by Mark Sprague
Like many small business owners, you’ve just hung out your shingle for your new business: a Lasik Surgery practice. You know that there are a lot of folks who are blind as a bat, and hate their coke-bottle glasses. You’ve paid good money for your website, but the customers are slow in coming. Why? And more importantly, how do you get their attention and interest?
Here I will explore a search behavior model that shows how consumers search for medical services. In this case we will look at Lasik surgery in some detail. In this behavior model consumers exhibit eight categories of search behavior across more than 9 million searches a month, according to data I pulled from Google AdWords tools.
Search behavior categories
Consumer search behavior falls into the following groups in descending order by search volume. General information searches will always account for the lion’s-share of searches. However, you can always tease out three or four themes from this group.
- General Information
- Value-based searches
- Type of medical procedures
- Post operative
- Search for clinics
- Search for surgeons
- Search for specific content
- Quality-based searches
These eight search categories above can be further reduced to just four types of search request.
- Searches for general informational and content.
- Searches for very specific medical information.
- Searches using adjective-base queries.
- Searches for people and organizations with physical addresses.
Let’s take a look at each category in some detail.
General Information: 8,202,060 searches
Most of these searches are vague in meaning—they don’t ask any particular question, and consumers often string together terms hoping they return good information. Examples of these include Lasik surgery, Lasik vision, Lasik eye and eye correction. It’s often hard to determine user intent when dealing with informational searches. But, if you examine the secondary modifying terms you do see a couple of recurring themes in these searches. The majority of the informational searches are modified using just three terms:
- Correction: 417,200
- Treatment: 48,300
- Procedure: 19,000
These terms suggest a couple of strong content opportunities for any medical office offering Lasik surgery. A content block about how the treatment corrects eyesight makes sense, and a second content block could be about the differing medical procedures that are currently available.
Value-based: 357,810 searches
The second largest category is value-based searches. This is surprising to me—users are, by a margin of 20 to 1, more interested in the cost of the procedure than the quality (16K searches) of the clinic or the surgeon. Maybe this is reflective of the current state of the economy. When you look at the secondary terms you see exactly two value themes in this group. They are mostly searching for services using the terms:
- Cost: 327,490
- Price: 26,579
Clearly the word cost would be the preferred term when writing website copy or developing PPC ads.
Side note: remarkably, there are a number of consumers who push the value envelope—close to four thousand users are searching for free Lasik surgery each month. Talk about pushing the “internet’s gotta be free” paradigm.
Type of procedure: 270,640 searches
The third category has consumers searching for information by type of surgical procedure. It’s likely that these consumers may have done previous searches, and want more detail about the different surgical procedures and processes. You see five terms dominating this category.
- Refractive: 103,320
- PRK: 60,290
- Wavefront: 36,800
- Cataract: 35,700
- Epi: 24,500
Again, these five provide content architecture opportunities to develop very specific content for a focused landing page.
Post-operative: 104,230 searches
The fourth category of behavior has consumers looking for post-operative information. A review of the secondary terminology show they are framing their searches using the following terms.
- After: 42,200
- Risk: 24,970
- Complication: 17,790
- Problems: 3,600
- Side effects: 2,490
- Recovery: 2,400
When you look at how the term after is used in the search phrases, we do see some vagueness around user intent. For example, in the following group, after Lasik is searched 27K times a month. Is this a case of trying to gauge the likely improvement to vision? Maybe. More likely, this phrase reflects the desire to find post operative information associated with the actual surgery.
- After Lasik surgery
- After Lasik eye surgery
- After Lasik
This behavior suggests that a page be devoted to post-operative information. A good page title would be “Risk and complications after Lasik surgery.” You could also develop a secondary tag line with the remaining terms: problems and side effects after recovery. In this case you have worked all the important post operative terms into a title and a tagline.
Search for clinics: 89,240 searches
Unlike the previous category, these users are searching for a physical location that provides Lasik services. 95% of the searches contain just two modifying search terms.
- Centers: 52,900
- Clinics: 13,980
The word center would be the term of choice when developing a landing page, writing ad copy or developing PPC ads. This behavior does not include those consumers who are searching for services by company name.
Search for surgeons: 69,100 searches
This category has consumers looking for a qualified physician to conduct the surgery. They only use two terms in these searches, and surgeon is the consumer term of choice by a four to one margin.
- Surgeon: 55,300
- Doctor: 13,800
This behavior suggests that a dedicated page be used for showcasing your medical personnel, and that the term surgeon appear in the URL string or the title tag. You should also work the term Doctor into the page copy.
Specific content: 46,150
In this category you have users making specific requests for a type of content. Two of the terms are somewhat vague, but they are requests for content. The top three modifying terms are:
- Reviews: 13,500
- Information: 10,380
- About: 7,200
There are several other types of content request&mdashyou see queries for comparisons between procedures (e.g. PRK vs Lasik), and there are requests for video content as well.
Quality-based: 16,060 searches
Consumers who are interested in quality services overwhelmingly use the term best. The term best is mostly used to search for a surgeon, not for a clinic.
Implications for your local business
Two of these categories also provide opportunities to improve your local SEO footprint in Facebook and in local search indexes. These categories are searches for clinics and surgeons—both focus on locations. First, you should make sure that you have enabled geotags in your source code, and have optimized these pages for local search engines.
Second, Facebook’s open graph protocol has geotags that allow you to mark up your page for viral distribution. This will be useful when “Facebook Places” is deployed. These geotags include:
- Street address
- Postal code
- Country name
Secondary search terms
When users search for information in a general sort of way you see them using the term laser, Lasek and Lasik somewhat interchangeably. In fact, laser shows up in over three million searches a month in this context. I suspect that many consumers who are just starting their research don’t understand that Lasik and Lasek are two different procedures. Consumers are also searching phonetically in large numbers. Consider these numbers:
- laser: 3,036,200
- Lasek: 237,800
- Lasic: 78,000
- Lazik: 33,100
- Lazer: 9,900
When you strip away the primary search phrase Lasik surgery and look at the density of the remaining terms, you have a list of 30 terms that account for over 95% of the search traffic. In fact, the top ten terms account for 90% of the traffic. When you review the information in this way it provides a very focused list of what the most important secondary search terms are.
Without this view it may not be as apparent how important the terms after, eye and vision are when writing content and ad copy. More importantly, this list of terms is your pallet for menus, labels and website copy…and of course, the source for content ideas.
So, what ultimate benefit do you derive by conducting this type of search behavior analysis? The benefits are many, but let’s summarize the top reasons why this is a valuable exercise.
- The process is data-driven, and helps you focus on user intent. There is no guessing involved.
- A categorical behavior model describes your potential customer’s complete research and search experience—you understand everything that a consumer is going to do when searching for your products and services.
- It provides an information architecture model for organizing a website based upon consumer expectations.
- It provides a content model for developing content strategy around focused landing pages.
- It provides a data-driven list of secondary terms that can be used effectively for navigational menus, content labels and page copy.
- It provides a better opportunity to present users with they want because you have anticipated what they are looking for.