Google Health: Up, down, and moved around

Google Health: Up, down, and moved around

This was supposed to be the day that Google Health was launched, and it sort of was. If you entered a health care search term into Google this morning, you would have seen a set of subcategories to click on to narrow the search. But if you waited till this afternoon, that functionality had disappeared. Why? I don’t know.

The whole things seems to have been moved over to Google Co-op -Health, a section where poor schlubs like you and I are given the opportunity to provide free advice that helps one of the world’s richest companies improve its search algorithm.

The “health labels,” as Google calls the narrowing terms, are divided into four categories:

  1. Condition info (e.g., symptoms, treatment)
  2. Drug info (e.g., side effects)
  3. For doctors (e.g., patient handouts)
  4. Info type (e.g., alternative medicine)

The categories are a little clunky and will probably be revised, but the general concept is reasonably useful. But, remember that the “Don’t be evil” company always has its eye on revenue maximization, so what is the real motivation for this approach?

One of the maddening things from an advertiser’s perspective, is that most people seem to search on broad topics like “asthma” even when they are looking for specific information, like activities for kids with asthma. (If you want to check out this phenomenon yourself, go to Google’s adwords page and check out the number of hits for fairly specific search terms compared to general ones.) An ad for a low margin asthma camp or book with information for kids with asthma is unlikely to get top billing on Google’s ad list, and so the sponsor may not advertise at all. Encouraging users to segment themselves more finely essentially provides Google with additional billboards to post advertising.

Since Google gets paid on a click-through basis, the more targeted the ads the more valuable they are. Google Health is not evil but it’s not saintly either.

May 10, 2006

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