Google handles over 1 trillion searches a year. That’s more than 33 searches a month for each person worldwide who uses the Internet. These figures do not include almost a third of total searches worldwide since Google’s global market share is about 70%. People do a lot of searching.
Search engine queries provide a window into people’s thoughts and questions.
Using aggregate search query data, we can better understand potential clinical trial participants. And understanding is essential to improving clinical trial education and awareness. A number of tools provide access to search data, but Google’s tools are most popular. Google’s Keyword Planner is freely available, but it can take some time to become proficient with it.
Fun* With Google Autocomplete
(*depending on how you define fun)
To illustrate the value of search engine data, I decided to have a little fun with Google’s autocomplete. Autocomplete is the real-time suggestions Google provides as you type a query. These suggestions are based on various factors, including prior queries from other people. Because prior queries inform autocomplete, it can provide a view of collective consciousness around different topics.
This exercise is purely for “infotainment.” If you really want to analyze search engine data, there are better, more sophisticated ways. But this exercise is a quick and easy method for getting some high-level insights into the general public’s thoughts and questions about clinical trials.
I’ve structured the queries below as questions. The question format helps to elicit biases people have about clinical trials. So autocomplete will provide clues not only to what people want to know, but also their preconceptions with regard to clinical trials.
Take a look at the queries below and Google’s autocomplete suggestions for them. What do you see?
Do Clinical Trials
How Clinical Trials
How Do Clinical Trials
What Clinical Trials
What Do Clinical Trials
When Clinical Trials
When Do Clinical Trials
Why Clinical Trials
Why Do Clinical Trials
Quick Insights for Clinical Trial Education
Looking through Google’s autocomplete suggestions, here’s what I think we can learn. People’s preconceptions and questions about clinical trials can be addressed with two main types of education — basic and protocol specific. Autosuggest provides insights into educational themes we might need to address within each of these categories.
Basic themes found in our autosuggest exercise include:
- What is a clinical trial?
- Do clinical trials work? (loaded question!)
- Why do clinical trials exist?
- What are clinical trial phases?
- What is randomization?
- What are placebos?
Protocol-specific themes found in our autosuggest exercise include:
- What are the risks and benefits?
- What’s the cost and compensation?
- How do I find a trial?
- What’s involved in participation (e.g. length)?
- Will I get a placebo?
These themes map relatively well to my experience. I do a good bit of patient education and engagement work, specifically in the digital realm. But what really immersed me in patient education was my time as a research coordinator. When you talk to patients constantly, you quickly learn when and how to present what information. The themes you see above were ones I regularly discussed with patients.
Also note that answers to some of these questions will not be found online. That’s because we don’t readily provide them! For example, most clinical trial websites do not provide specifics about what’s involved in participation. How many patients become frustrated with lack of information and never inquire about a study? Consider this patient need when working on your clinical trial recruitment website.
Online Data as Market Research
In recent years clinical researchers have turned to social listening to understand patients, but social data is not the only online data game in town. As this exercise has shown, search data provides a unique view into people’s thoughts and questions. This ability has been largely underappreciated by clinical researchers.
Regardless of type, online data can be a quick and inexpensive form of market research. It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to get to know patients better! You don’t even need an online presence to make use of online data. But if you do have an online presence (I hope so!), online data is essential to being effective.