All of the state health insurance marketplaces (also known as exchanges) are online, but millions of expected users may have a hard time finding them. Marketplaces will enable shopping and enrollment mainly through their websites. States are using a variety of promotional strategies, but most people will likely find marketplaces in the same way they find other websites—through common keyword searches on Google, by far the nation’s dominant search engine. Poor search engine results can create serious barriers to shopping and enrollment, the major measures of success for marketplaces and, by extension, the success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
We used standard methods to assess Google results for the 17 marketplaces operated by 16 states and Washington, DC that offer individuals, families, and small businesses a place to shop for health care coverage. Over three days in mid-September, we looked at results for keywords that data from Google show people are commonly using to search for health insurance. We examined both unpaid (or “organic”) and paid (or “sponsored”) results. Although research shows that unpaid results get more attention, paid results can also lead to page views.
Our preliminary findings show that marketplaces for four states—Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, and New York—and Washington, DC did not appear on the first page of Google results, which generates 92% of all page views. In addition, both unpaid and paid search results for most of the remaining 12 states were frequently absent from page one.
With enrollment in the marketplaces opening October 1 for coverage beginning January 1, this would be a good time to focus on search engine optimization (SEO), the process of increasing the rankings of unpaid or “organic” search results. Once implemented, SEO results can be seen quickly, especially for a topic as popular and important as new health insurance options. However, it requires analysis, planning, and time to implement.
Methods for Conducting Search Engine Result Testing
To test search engine results for state-operated health insurance marketplaces, we used the five keywords most effective in producing page views of a prominent healthcare-related website produced by a federal client: Affordable Care Act, affordable health care, health care, health insurance, and Medicaid.