Social services, health programs and community-based organizations provide individual support to improve the welfare of their community. This mission requires a mix of outreach, awareness and referrals so that the right services are matched to the right individual. As technology device ownership exceeds two-thirds and access rests at 75% of the total U.S. population, it is clear that individuals are now, more than ever, able to search for health and health service information online.
There are a variety of health topics specific to women and each topic has its own jargon and colloquialism. So how can a non-profit, service-based organization reach prospective clients who search for assistance?
When one googles (verb) a search term or query to make results appear, it is called “information retrieval.” One can only retrieve a highly-ranked website if the site is powerfully indexed with the search term queried by the user. For instance, a user can search for “croissant” and the results could show a few bakeries with croissants on the online menu. However, if your bakery sells croissants but the page does not include this term or the croissant is buried in a linked PDF, then the user is less likely to see your page in the results..
One can only retrieve a highly-ranked website if the site is powerfully indexed with the search term queried by the user.
Since it is more difficult to change the search strategies at the individual level, let’s head to option number 1: Organizations can properly index their site to make sure the prospective client can find their site.
Search terms within a web page can be pulled from its metadata. The metadata in usually hand-coded and can take the form of tags or HTML markup. Tagging and/or writing a description in HTML must incorporate subject terms from colloquial and scientific thesauri. Only using terms from the subject matter expert (SME) can make the information irretrievable to the person in need of the service; conversely, using only terms from the lay audience can omit your results from prospective professional referrals. It is clear that the terms and tags in a page require input from both the SME and the public.
Let’s check out these examples of search term topic popularity from Google Trends:
searching for a clinic to insert an Intrauterine device
The long-acting removable contraception, the intrauterine device, is known by its abbreviation, IUD, as well as by branded products such as Skyla, ParaGard and Mirena. It is clear that users search for “IUD” the most, with “Mirena” ranked a close second. If a reproductive planning clinic includes only “intrauterine devices” instead of IUD, then that organization is missing out on potential clients.
searching for counseling for Domestic Violence
Domestic violence, also known as intimate partner violence, is a prime example of the tricky line that agencies walk when promoting their services. Some organizations no longer use the term “domestic violence,” and prefer to use the inclusive “intimate partner violence” or “IPV.” Let’s go to the graph:
The search for “domestic violence” far outranks the search for the field’s preferred term, “intimate partner violence.”
Potential clients who are unfamiliar with the modern terms may not be able to find the desired result.
Whereas some organizations may not wish to use an outdated term, there is a benefit to incorporating all terms in the metadata (i.e. tagging and/or description). Otherwise, potential clients unfamiliar with the modern term(s) may not find the desired result. An unintended consequence is that your organization inadvertently penalizes a prospective client for her lack of scholarship.
Here are other google trends of common search terms for women’s health:
- Breast cancer, ovarian cancer
- Breastfeeding, lactation
- Sexually transmitted infections
- Human papilloma virus
- Tubal ligation
- Post-partum depression
But where can a non-profit, who is known for…not generating profit…find the funds to index their site? Indexing can be low-cost and sometimes free! Once the leadership agrees on the terms for the metadata, then interns and volunteers can audit the pages and apply the tags or HTML markup. (Side note: This is a great way for your organization to offer remote volunteer opportunities!) Organizations can tap into their site by tagging pages within the existing content management system (CMS) or adding a description meta tag to the existing HTML.
Your organization’s communications and outreach plan should include times to audit the metadata, test for recall (is your page coming up when someone uses a variety of search terms) and cross-posting with other organizations (to further optimize indexing). For extra credit, I recommend that you review the examples the the links above and manipulate the state/region/city maps to find out if you need to localize your terms to meet your clients. It is a great way to jump on the search trends of your area and see emerging terminology.
If your prospective clients can’t find you, then you cannot reach your clients! Create a plan to incorporate terms from both subject matter experts and the client base to expand your client base and to connect with prospective collaborators.
Note: This is not intended to be an exhaustive list of women’s health issues nor representative of the population. Specifically, this list may not include topics and language representing LGBTQA+, intersectional identities and the reproductively challenged.
Header graphic courtesy of Emily McCarthy.