How SGE is Changing Local SEO for Healthcare Digital Marketers

Here's what you need to know about Google SGE and its impact on search discoverability... and healthcare digital marketing.

Carrie Liken

By Carrie Liken

Apr 1, 2024

7 min

Update: As of May 2024, SGE is now AI Overviews. Here's what marketers need to know about AI Overviews.

If you're a healthcare marketer, you know that driving organic traffic to your website is critical. But Google's evolving search landscape could complicate that task: the recent integration of AI-generated results (called Search Generative Experience, or SGE) could drastically change how people find healthcare information.

Here's what you need to know about Google SGE and its impact on search discoverability for healthcare.

Google's evolving search algorithm

As you probably know, Google has continuously refined its search algorithms over the past two decades. (A major shift occurred in 2013 with the Hummingbird algorithm, which emphasized the importance of search intent over exact keywords.) Since then, Google has made many updates to provide comprehensive answers directly on the results page — potentially reducing website clicks.

Google's biggest change on that front came within the past year, with the integration of AI into search results.

Since the launch of OpenAI's ChatGPT in November 2022, we've seen companies turn AI adoption into a competition. Google worked to accelerate its AI development, and the company's response to ChatGPT, an algorithm now called Gemini, has been integrated into search results via Google's SGE.

Overall, the integration of AI models in this way may signal a revolution in how people search — and, as a result, in how digital marketers think about discoverability. Here's why.

The impact of SGE on healthcare

Initial research indicates that SGE will have a significant impact on the healthcare industry. The integration of AI-generated answers into Google search results is changing how patients find (and choose) care. Healthcare queries are already receiving AI-generated answers almost 90% of the time – significantly higher than other sectors.

Key implications of SGE for healthcare digital marketers

1. You may see a potential decline in organic traffic. Studies have shown that when SGE results are on the search engine results page (SERP), the information that is AI-generated is accurate and holistic enough that people aren't clicking into websites. This leads to a drop-off of organic traffic because searchers are finding the information they need on Google in SGE rather than clicking into a site to keep learning more. If SGE gains wider adoption — and more surfaced answers in search results are AI-generated — healthcare websites could see up to a 75% decrease in organic traffic overnight.

2. You might need a data-driven strategy now more than ever. Tracking relevant search terms and non-branded traffic is more crucial than ever for understanding current trends — and predicting potential traffic drops in the future. You can get prepared by embracing a data-driven strategy for your organization today.

3. Your listings, reviews, and content are more important than ever. Google has indicated that it pulls data from:

  • Google Business Profile

  • Reviews

  • Website content

  • Outside sources, like other publishers

If you want answers generated by Google to be correct and comprehensive, that means you need to actively manage the data sources they're looking at. Managing your listings across publishers, your reviews, and your website content gives you the best opportunity to give Google the information it needs — and in turn, Google can give patients and consumers the correct answers they need.

Here are five things digital marketers can do to prepare for SGE

1. Sign up for Google Labs today. You can't understand what the impact of changes in SGE will be unless you experience it yourself. Here are the steps: Go to Google Labs with your Google account (most likely, Gmail). Find the "Search Powered by Generative AI" button. Click on "Get Started." Start searching and experimenting on Google for personal searches, as well as those related to your healthcare organization. (Note: this needs to be done on a personal Google account — not a work account.)

2. Run tests to understand the impact of SGE on your website. This is where the data-driven strategy from above comes into play.

To understand potential impact on your web traffic, you need to know your baseline. For example: what keywords and search terms are driving your site's traffic today? Collect a list of keywords that represent at least 50% of your site's traffic (above your branded terms). Then, chart how these keywords perform on the new SGE experience. Make test searches using these keywords and document whether your website and/or website content shows in SGE.

Keep this test going on a regular cadence so that you can identify any changes to your website traffic. (In the meantime, make sure your pages are adequately schema-tagged.)

3. Prioritize your listings. With Google changing the ad landscape — and, as mentioned above, prioritizing listings and reviews data in SGE — it's never been more important to focus on your listings.

Be prepared for diminishing organic traffic to your website and increased discovery of your providers, physicians, and even content on health. If traffic to your site declines, you need to be prepared to help people find your providers, locations, and content on Google. Robust listings with correct, comprehensive information is the best way to do that.

Yext analyzed global data across 620K+ locations and major industries (including healthcare, financial services, retail, restaurants, hospitality, and more) to determine the value of a broad digital presence beyond only major publishers like Google, Bing, Apple, etc.

A brand with correct and consistent information across the most publishers in their market will beat those who only focus on a few of the biggest ones.* Harnessing the power of consistent data accuracy across a diverse network of publishers correlates directly to more clicks on Google, delivering better results for brands.

For enterprise healthcare organizations who are synchronized across more than 75% of the Yext publisher network, we noted an average 50% increase in Google website clicks. And no matter where a brand operates, non-Google publishers might already matter more than you think: the typical healthcare location sees 12% of all their digital engagement (including website traffic and detailed profile views) come from non-Google publishers.

4. Build relationships into your site. Your site needs structured data and defined relationships — because that's what allows Google to "read" and "reference" your data. If your website's information is structured, but relationships between information aren't defined, put a plan in place to develop relationships among your site's pages and content.

Here's what that looks like in practice: if you have a page dedicated to a condition – say, mitral valve repair – you shouldn't let that condition landing page stand alone. Add related elements to that page to make sure Google is seeing those associations, too. In this example, a Mitral Valve Repair page should include:

  • Content about Mitral Valve Repair

  • Doctors who perform Mitral Valve Repair surgeries

  • Locations where a patient can be treated

  • Transactions and calls to action (i.e. book a consultation)

Each of your website pages should be structured in a way that prioritizes how Google can reference this information in SGE.

5. Increase your focus on website transactions. As your content continues to be distributed to train the AI algorithms, your website will be a place where people need to transact, not learn. You may struggle to get people to your website, but the website will still serve an important purpose to a patient or a consumer when he or she is ready to take action. Your website should heavily focus on transactions like:

  • Phone calls to make an appointment

  • Calls to action to sign up for newsletters or health exams

  • Online appointment booking

There is still a lot we don't know about the future of Google and SGE. But we do know that the potential impact on healthcare website traffic is significant. Get prepared by starting with these five best practices today.

*As the largest listings vendor, Yext helps thousands of multi-location brands manage their digital presence. This offers Yext the unique ability to conduct a study of this caliber using such a large, diverse data set. To ensure we took an unbiased approach, Yext analyzed more than 620k locations – across all geographies and brand types – that have been live on Listings for at least one year. Reference the full study for more details.

Read next: How Diverse Publisher Coverage Impacts Brand Discoverability

New research from Yext shows brands can see +186% more clicks from Google when they manage their information across an extended publisher network.

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