Online Health Sites Are Long-Winded – And Searchers Couldn’t Be Happier

Nov 16, 2017

Health-related websites must create highly relevant, long-form content tailored to answer searchers’ questions with more authority and clarity than other industries, according to a new Searchmetrics study that identifies key ranking factors for specific industries.

According to Pew Research, some 77% of those seeking health-related content begin by searching online. Health publishers, online shops, insurance providers, state and not-for-profit healthcare suppliers can best meet searchers’ needs by delivering content that is longer than is typical in other online industries. The content must be well-structured, using bullets, headers and informative imagery, the Searchmetrics Ranking Factors study found.

Online health covers a range of content, from fitness tips and nutritional advice, to medical research studies and information from health insurance providers.

The research is based on an analysis of the top 20 search results on for over 6,000 typical health-related search terms (examples include ‘atkins diet’, ‘bmi calculator’, and ‘spider bites’).

Searchmetrics identified the most commonly occurring elements that appear in these high performing health-related results, noting how they differ from the findings in its separate, broader benchmark Google ranking factors study which analyzed the results from 10,000 general, high search volume keywords that apply across all industries.

Five important lessons from the study ‘Health Ranking Factors: Data Insights for Performing on Google’ are:

  1. Word count – long is good -- Pages that rank in the top 20 results for health searches used 685 more words on the page than the benchmark average found in the general ranking factors study.
  2. Content relevance is a priority -- Content that ranks highly for health keywords also tends to be more relevant to the search query than high-ranking content for more general searches.
  3. Make use of unordered lists and headings -- High-ranking health-related search results are more likely to include unordered lists (bullet points) and (sub-) headings. These elements help to structure web content on the page and guide people through, making it more digestible and easier to consume – especially regarding longer content.  
  4. Large images – don’t use too many -- High-ranking health related pages tend to use fewer large images (200 x 200 pixels and above) than more general search results according to the study. Health results that make it into Google’s top ten results feature just one large image per page compared with 1.6 on average for general results in the top ten.
  5. HTTPS is not commonly used but could provide a rankings boost -- Less than a quarter (24%) of pages that rank in the top 10 results for health related searches use HTTPS encryption, which provides a more secure way for online visitors to view and engage with web pages. For more general search results analyzed in the benchmark study the rate of HTTPS use is 45%.