Women Users, Search Strength Drive Health Focus for IAC and Others

Following big moves in developing health content by firms like Microsoft and About.com, IAC has taken a minority stake in The HealthCentral Network. The decision demonstrates a growing interest in using health content to drive traffic from search engines, often from the household primary care physician, a.k.a. Mom.

CEO of IAC’s Media and Advertising unit, Peter Horan, will sit on HealthCentral’s Board as well as oversee IAC’s health initiatives, which indicates a strong potential for advertising integration.

The health site publisher operates over 30 sites, including DrKoop.com. Many focus on specific conditions such as ProstateCommons.com, which allows users to check prostate treatment options, find resources, and share personal experiences in a forum-like section available on many of the network’s sites. The Web sites also provide information from Harvard Health Publications and other health experts.

Since ’06, New York Times-owned About.com has emphasized its health content, touting doctor-approved information. The publisher recently re-launched its Drug Finder pharmaceuticals database, and revamped its CalorieCountPlus site last year.

Google reported popular 2007 searches included several diet-related keyword terms including “Weight Watchers,” “Atkins Diet,” and “Mediterranean Diet.”

Indeed, search engine optimization factors in heavily to the health content push online. A 2006 Pew Internet and American Life Project report found 80 percent of American Web users, around 113 million adults, had used search engines to locate health information.

Health resources on the Web provide users with “a very targeted answer in a relatively anonymous kind of way,” said Jeremy Shane, VP of business development for HealthCentral Network. All of the company’s search-driven traffic comes through search engine optimization rather than paid search advertising, according to Shane.

Also new to the health content game is The Lance Armstrong Foundation. The organization just announced a partnership with Demand Media to launch an ad-supported health site called livestrong.com.

Microsoft is among those building health content and resources. In fact, HealthCentral is among the partners providing content to Microsoft’s HealthVault, a database of individual health information and tools. Despite the fact that IAC’s Ask.com competes directly with MSN’s search offerings, that alignment will remain intact, said Shane. “In fact, [the Microsoft partnership] might help create new opportunities,” he added.

Around 60 percent of the HealthCentral network’s audience is female, according to Shane. Because of their common roles as household caregivers, women conducting searches for their own medical purposes as well as those of their children and other family members are a primary target for health content sites.

“In many ways health is the ultimate in targeted advertising,” said Shane.

About.com aims to draw more mothers seeking health information and other relevant content to its site in the coming year. “Moms are the chief medical officers of their homes,” said About.com CEO Scott Meyer during a recent interview with ClickZ News.

IAC has also invested in a Medem, a platform for doctors to communicate with patients.

Not only does health content attract users, it attracts ad dollars, often from pharma and consumer packaged goods companies. Shane suggested coordinating with IAC’s Ask.com search operation could benefit HealthCentral advertisers. “Ask.com gives us the capability to accelerate the fulfillment of campaigns through their search engine results,” he said. HealthCentral sites currently feature display ads, as well as more customized ad products called “customer engagement centers” that can feature text and video content associated with a particular drug brand, for instance.

Attracting pharma advertisers, however, presents some unique challenges, particularly when user-generated content is concerned. “There are significant regulatory impediments…in terms of where side effects of their products may be discussed,” explained Shane. In April, the health publisher introduced its AdSafe technology, which prevents ads from running when certain words or phrases appear on a page.

With Horan, IAC’s advertising division head overseeing IAC’s health related projects, new ad opportunities could be in store for HealthCentral. Shane anticipates additional ad products and pricing structures to be introduced as a result of the IAC investment. Editorial integration is also planned for the properties. “It will be possible to drive traffic to IAC properties through our health properties,” said Shane. Of course, IAC properties could do the same for HealthCentral.

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