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Google Trends for the aesthetic practice

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Google’s publicly available and free-to-use analytic tool, Google Trends, can help cosmetic physicians gauge consumer cosmetic procedure interests, curiosities, misperceptions and decision making, according to a study recently published in Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery (PRS). 

In a study-related discussion in the same PRS issue, Brian K. Brzowski, M.D., writes that many surgeons report they spend $4,000 to $5,000 a month on search engine optimization — not to mention the tens of thousands of dollars yearly that website design and management can cost a practice.

“Consequently, we can certainly conclude that the costs and risks of such expenditures justify careful consideration when determining precisely where, when and how to place these hard-earned dollars to work,” he writes.

This article could provide insights and resources to help practices more effectively navigate online marketing so their money is well spent, according to the discussion.

Google Trend At a Glance

Google owns the largest share of the U.S. search engine market at 63.5%, while competitor Bing is at 24.1%, according to June 2018 statistics by Comscore. And anyone can extract Google’s internet search data by visiting Google Trends and entering a search term, like "facelift," or topic, like “what is a facelift?” A search on “What is a facelift?” instantly reveals a chart of search interests on the question over a year’s time; greatest interest by state or subregion; interest in related topics, such as platelet-rich plasma, as well as “Related Queries,” including “What is a mini facelift?”

Related Queries are search queries most often searched for by users who entered the initial query. Google Trends also reveals what it calls Rising Queries. These are terms that people searched for with the initial search term that had the most significant growth in the requested period of time. Google assigns a percentage to these rising stars, or if a search terms grows by more than 5000% calls it a “breakout,” according to the study in PRS.

What does this mean for aesthetic searches?

The study’s authors used yearly American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) aesthetic procedure statistics from 2005 to 2016 and evaluated data about 22 procedures using Google Trends.

They found the annual number of eight of the 22 procedures evaluated, including breast augmentation, butt implants, hair transplant, chin implants, ear surgery, nose job, face lift or facelift and upper arm lift, correlated well with Google’s search volume in the same year. Six procedures correlated with searches performed during the year prior, including gynecomastia, butt implants, hair transplant, ear surgery, nose job and upper arm lift. Consumers Googled most about these procedures in Florida and New York.

Interestingly, in 18.5% of related queries for the nine procedures that correlated to ASPS statistics had to do with celebrities. Keywords, including how much, cost and/or price, were in 13.5% of queries, and 8% mentioned these keywords: before and after, pics, before after, pictures and/or photos, according to the study.

Researchers noted the impact of celebrity news on Google searches in another study published April 2018 in Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. They used Google Trends to measure the impact of highly publicized plastic surgery events and found interest in fillers increased noticeably after Kylie Jenner announced she received lip injections, and interest in plastic surgery decreased the month after Joan Rivers’ death.

Plastic and reconstructive surgeons can use Google Trends to get real-time reports on consumer interest in cosmetic procedures, according to the PRS study. The authors suggest that Related Queries might be among the most applicable and actionable data for plastic surgeons because it can shed light on patient preference trends in real time.

“Our data on face lifts reflected an increasing desire by patients for outpatient and nonsurgical procedures, with searchers for [vampire facelift], [facelift cream], [liquid facelift] and [laser facelift] all appearing as Rising Queries,” they write.

Marketing experts weigh in

While Google Trends can provide cosmetic practices with some valuable information, the data has limited application, according to Ryan Miller, CEO of Etna Interactive.

“The data available from Google Trends illustrates the relative past popularity of a keyword or concept, not the absolute number of times a word or phrase is searched in any given market,” according to Miller. “It can be especially valuable for a quick, gross analysis of consumer search behaviors. It lets you see how people have been searching [and] when there are spikes in interest in particular keyword topics. But it has been studied in a variety of contexts and shown to be a poor predictor of future behaviors.”

So how can Google Trends best serve the aesthetic practice? In these four ways, according to Miller:

  1. To chart the general rise or fall of popularity for a procedure or topic.
    Take “lip injections” for example. “This phrase has enjoyed a rapid climb in popularity over the last 5 years and may have peaked last summer,” he says. See the numnbers here.
  2. To assess the popularity of a brand before investing in it.
    Aesthetic physicians can view the impact of successful consumer marketing campaigns for Coolsculpting (Zeltiq), for example.
  3. To compare the relative search popularity of two procedures.
    For example, comparing a branded search for CoolSculpting to a generic search for liposuction returns a fascinating result, which Miller found here.
  4. To better understand when potential patients are most active online. “Search patterns for any given procedure aren’t always in step with consultation and procedure bookings,” according to Miller. Here’s an example using breast augmentation.

One of marketing expert Joseph Sloan’s top tips for aesthetic practices using Google Trends is to use the analytics provided to find good blog topics — especially seasonal blog topics.

Sloan, marketing and communications coordinator at Advice Media, uses the example of looking at consumer interest in CoolSculpting in the past five years. The Google Trends chart that popped up when Sloan searched on the term shows a spike in searches the first week of January.

“Most likely, the users are trying to make a change in their life and lose weight in the new year,” he says. “This data is crucial when planning practice promotions/specials, blogging and content marketing.”

Aesthetic physicians should create blog posts around these procedures before the first week of January to improve their chances of ranking, according to Sloan.

“Also, because the trend is largest around the new year adding the year to the title of a blog post shows the information is extremely relevant to their search (helping you rank higher),” he writes. “With these types of spikes, it is clear many users are window shopping trying to learn more. A great idea would be to have a post like 'Why 2019 is the year for CoolSculpting’ and discuss benefits, what recovery/results will be, and why 2019 is the best year to sign up. Then end the blog with a strong call to action.

Cosmetic practices should also consider using Related Queries for blog topics and marketing promotions. The practice physician who appears in results will come across as an authority in the field, Sloan says.

“You can explain the benefits of the procedure you offer, and this helps build brand awareness,” he adds.

Sloan’s next tip: “Google trends has a map that shows interest by subregion. When we look at Sculpsure [Cynosure] we can see that it is not often searched in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming or the Northeast. If you have a practice located in these locations this may not be a good term to try to create content around because users from these states are not searching for it as much,” Sloan writes. “Or this could be seen as an opportunity to educate and offer something that patients may not be able to find for miles around. Checking the subregions for your state can help you better understand what patients in your state are searching for.”