Despite Reports of Decline, Health Websites Retain Popularity
By John Mangano – August 15, 2011
Are online health websites really experiencing a slowdown in visitation? Contrary to recent survey findings reporting a decline (PDF), comScore shows that overall visitation to health websites has never been stronger. Ever since consumers gained unprecedented access to a wealth of information on the Internet, the demand for health and pharmaceutical information has only grown. Now, as connected devices such as mobile phones and tablets enable users to go online with even greater freedom, online health content is poised for continued growth. To better understand the prevailing trends in this sector over the past few years and where it appears to be headed, comScore analyzed several of the key dynamics in the industry today.
Health Site Audience Grows 60 Percent Over Past Three Years
Over the past three years, U.S. Internet users have shown a steadily increasing trend in visitors to sites in the Health category, which range from general health content sites to branded pharmaceutical sites. The number of total unique visitors accessing these sites on a monthly basis has increased from 86.9 million in June 2008 to 139.1 million in June 2011, representing a 60-percent increase.
Interestingly, the rate of growth in visitors to health properties over the past three years outpaces the growth of the total U.S. Internet audience by more than a factor of 4 (60 percent vs. 13 percent), showing the demand for health information continued to increase at a strong pace.
Even more telling is the growth in audience penetration of Health properties over the past few years. Three years ago, less than half of the total U.S. online population visited health sites. Currently, health sites now reach approximately 2 out of every 3 Americans going online monthly, an increase in penetration of nearly 20-percentage points since June 2008.
Key Health Domains and Pharmaceutical Sites Sustain Growth in Health Visitation
While this growth can be attributed in large part to the growing use of sites providing general health information, it’s important to note that it has also been bolstered by visitation to health content domains for major therapeutic areas (i.e. WebMD Depression, Healthline ED, etc.) and pharmaceutical product sites. Over the past three years, targeted health content sites have seen relatively consistent audience levels, even when considering seasonal traffic changes. Yet, a quick look at overall traffic for pharmaceutical sites hints at a slight decline over the past few quarters. Were audiences seeking less pharmaceutical information online over time?