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Google Trends: Measuring the Impact of Healthcare Communications

Steve Rubel has been blogging a lot lately about a few new tools Google has launched to aid online search and analysis.  He's not very bullish on Google Co-op, but has a lot of good things  to say about Google Trends.  Google Trends is a new search engine that allows you to track search trends on any topic.

Rubel believes Google Trends is "an invaluable tool for building, tracking, selling and measuring the impact of any PR program, especially a product launch."  Presumably, Google Trends will enable communications pros to track real time audience response to marketing efforts, as people may be motivated to search online for information after hearing about it in the mass media, blogosphere or other communications channel.

Curious about how Google Trends works, I decided to try it out to see how people may have responded to two recent healthcare-related communications campaigns (antibiotic resistance education and the launch of Pfizer's Exubera).  Below are the results of my experiment.

-Google Trends Search: Antibiotic Resistance Education Effort

Earlier this year, the Michigan Antibiotic Resistance Reduction Coalition launched a pilot program, Antibiotic Roundup, to educate the public on the dangers of re-using antibiotics.  The program, which launched in January 2006 and ended in April 2006, encouraged people to return unused antibiotics to local Michigan pharmacies for disposal.  (Disclosure:  I helped MARR plan this program prior to launching my consultancy, Envision Solutions, LLC.)

I used Google Trends to see if there was an increase in Google searches for "antibiotic resistance," a program-related search term, from January - April 2006. 

Picture 3.png

As the screen shot to the right indicates (click the image for a larger view), there was a steady increase in searches for the term antibiotic resistance during this time period. 

Please note that this increase cannot be solely attributed to the program, as there were a few other antibiotic resistance-related news events (indicated by the "B" label) happening during this time.  However, these results indicate that the MARR program may have had some impact on consumer interest in antibiotic resistance.

-Google Trend Search: Exubera

I conducted another search to determine whether there Picture 2.pngwas an uptick in Exubera-related searches after this Pfizer medication was approved by the FDA in January.  True to form, there were quite a few searches for this term from January to  February 2006 (see the screen shot above).

Caveats, Suggestions For Improvement 

As useful as Google Trends is, there are a number of limitations to this service. 

-First, Google only samples a portion of searches on specific terms and right now there is no way to quantify how many searches are happening and whether the sample is representative.

-Second, these data should be combined with other metrics and tracking services to determine whether these results are valid.

I'd also like to see a few improvements made to Google Trends.

-First, I'd like to be able to target time periods and regions more accurately.  For example, as the MARR program was launched in Michigan, I'd love to be able to look at total searches for program-related terms in this state.  I'd also like to be able to compare searches on a month-to-month basis.

-Second, I'm not sure what the cut-off is for the volume of searches required to show a graph, but I'd like the threshold lowered so I could view hundreds rather than thousands of searches.

-Finally, I'd like to be able to drill down in the searches to see what kinds of information people were seeing when they used these search terms during specific time periods.

Overall, I think this tool is excellent and provides a nice snap shot of how people may be responding to healthcare-related communications campaigns.

6 Comments/Trackbacks

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