The Future of Online Health: Interview with Aaron Wall

Aaron Wall is a skilled internet marketer and author of the hugely successful SEO Book. He has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, The London Times, Wired, BusinessWeek, and many other leading publications. I’ve followed Aaron for several years – he’s always impressed me with his knowledge and insight.

Aaron agreed to answer a few questions related to the future of online health. I hope you find this interview as illustrative as I have.


Cress: Have you ever used search engines to
improperly self-diagnose an illness?

I think it’s quite common for people to seek out information that verifies their assumptions.

A few months ago, I hauled a fifty-pound bag of garbage down three flights of stairs – at the end of the trip I felt quite a bit of pain and thought I had a hernia. A quick Google search validating my symptoms was enough for me to go get it checked out. Fortunately I was wrong.

Cress: Speaking at the Web 2.0 Summit in October, Google’s Marissa Mayer, Vice President of Search Products & User Experience, said, “If you look at health care, there’s already a huge user need, people are already using Google more than any other tool on the Web to find health information…It’s a natural core competency focus, to understand how to organize all that data.”

Given that lives are at stake, do you think Google hand edits will assume a larger role in health related queries?

Outside of the common thin affiliate get your overnight Viagra sites, hand edits are largely done by third parties who report SPAM and paid links. Health is a topic that people care about.

I believe Google is more concerned about low level spam (keyword stuffing, cloaking, sneaky redirects, link buying) than the truth of information. I believe it is their unwritten philosophy is that if you fooled everyone else, you fooled us too.

In general, it’s hard to manipulate core search terms like ‘heart disease’ and ‘diabetes’. That said, there is plenty of long tail traffic out there, especially for sites that leverage user generated content.

Cress: What about paid-for content on trusted sites?

Online publishers like About.com have been creating custom sponsored health content for years now.

Cress: Given the volume of ad-spending, on a local and nationwide level, do you envision Google making a more direct (portal-like) play (e.g. something akin to Google Finance)?

If they are storing your personal health records online and health search is a money maker, then I think there is a great chance they will create a portal service in the health area. But it’s hard to see it being like Google Finance. I can’t see Google wanting to edit it. I think it might be a bit more like Google News with hand-picked content providers.

Cress: How do you think Google will deal with issues related to SERP quality in a health platform? Do you believe Google will limit itself to a small number of established sites a la Google News?

Yes, I see them having select editorial partnerships driving the health portal.

Cress: In February, Google announced that they will enter the electronic personal health record space. What do you think of my hypothesis that Google will monetize the records with an AdWords play akin to GMAIL?

I do not think Google needs to monetize directly as you imply. Some of their patents and ideas are far more sophisticated than users realize.

For example, they might simply show you more contextual ads about your conditions or weaknesses in Search or GMAIL, without advertising directly in the personal health records area.

As an example, Bill Slawski shows how they can analyze your video game activities and deliver ads based on your strengths and weaknesses:

Examples of information that could be useful, particularly in massive multiplayer online RPG’s, may be the specific dialogue entered by the users while chatting or interacting with other players/characters within the game. For example, the dialogue could indicate that the player is aggressive, profane, polite, literate, illiterate, influenced by current culture or subculture, etc. Also decisions made by the players may provide more information such as whether the player is a risk taker, risk averse, aggressive, passive, intelligent, follower, leader, etc. This information may be used and analyzed in order to help select and deliver more relevant ads to users.

For more on SEO, check out Aaron’s new search engine optimization training program at SEOBook.com

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