About.com Health Study Finds Online Health Advertising Increasingly Helpful

Reading time: 4 – 6 minutes

Earlier this year, About.com conducted a research study on health, revealing that significantly more people find online health advertisements helpful in coping with diseases and learning about the side effects and safety of medication [1]. The study confirms that people are turning to the Internet to take charge of their health and to better educate themselves about conditions and treatment options.

About.com Health Study

The About.com 2010 Health Study had three objectives:

  1. Get a better understanding about how people use online tools to manage their health and what kind of information they are seeking
  2. Understand what kind of health advertising would be the most helpful and grab the most attention
  3. Understand how About.com visitors use the website for health information

A survey was presented to 1,321 people; either About.com visitors or the About.com user panel. Seventy-three percent of respondents were female; 27% were male. Sixty-eight percent of respondents were between the ages of 35 and 64. The results were compared to an About.com health survey conducted in 2009.

About.com health survey results

The About.com 2010 Health Study found a significant increase in people using online tools to take charge of their health and better educate themselves about conditions and treatment options. Respondents indicated that they relied on online health information to:

  • Feel better informed when talking with their doctor, making it a two way dialogue rather then a one way conversation (68% of respondents)
  • Research medications and therapies (62% of respondents)
  • Get lifestyle suggestions to improve overall health and wellness (53% of respondents)
  • Verify what doctors tell them (49% of respondents)

Compared to the 2009 About.com health survey results, the trend of no longer just relying on doctors and immediately filling prescriptions is accelerating. After being diagnosed with a new condition, respondents are:

  • Using search engines to find more information about conditions (65% in 2010 vs. 47% in 2009)
  • Using search engines to learn about different treatment options (47% in 2010 vs. 16% in 2009)
  • Visiting to health websites to find more information about conditions (43% in 2010 vs. 20% in 2009)

Health ads as a source of information

The About.com health study found that more people are using online health ads as a source of information to help educate themselves about symptoms and conditions (46% in 2010 vs. 42% in 2009), and the different treatment options available (47% in 2010 vs. 42% in 2009). Respondents indicated that health ads make it easier to speak knowledgeably with their doctors (26% in 2010 vs. 17% in 2009).

The survey found that health seekers view health ads as helpful in coping with diseases and learning about medication side effects and safety. Fifty-eight percent of people are looking for pharmaceutical advertisers to provide them with information on possible side effects and drug safety, 55% are looking for information on drug effectiveness and 47% are searching for information on ways to cope with a condition or disease.

Survey respondents indicated that health ads which incorporate humor and are visually appealing with a lot of color and pictures would grab the most attention. Younger adults age 25-54 said they are more receptive to ads with social elements and interactive ads, while older adults (55+) are more receptive to video ads. Respondents find that ads with printable health tips, free trial offers and user stories are the most helpful.

Health information being searched for on About.com

The top condition About.com visitors suffered from in 2010 was allergies (43%), followed by overweight/obesity (38%), arthritis (36%) and high blood pressure (36%). Compared to 2009, in 2010 there was an increase in prescription medications filled for people suffering from asthma/allergies, chronic pain and diabetes.

Health seekers visited About.com for a variety of information, in all areas more in 2010 than in 2009, including:

  • Nutrition, health/low-calorie foods & recipes (48% in 2010 vs. 31% in 2009)
  • Medication, including side effects (46% in 2010 vs. 23% in 2009)
  • Help in understanding certain symptoms (44% in 2010 vs. 37% in 2009)
  • New treatments & new research related to a condition (42% in 2010 vs. 29% in 2009)

When compared in terms of trustworthiness with other leading consumer healthcare sites, About.com ranks second (41%) to WebMD (48%). MSN Health, Yahoo! Health and AOL Health all scored less than 10%.

The About.com Health Study isn’t without it’s limitations. The study is biased towards people actively searching online for information and towards people already using About.com. Nevertheless, the study results show that online health advertising is increasingly being used as an educational resource. According to Evan Minskoff, vice president, marketing, from the About Group [1]:

Health users are increasingly looking to relevant advertisements as decision making tools, when those ad messages are properly connected to the consumer’s need or goal. Advertisers can reach prospects more effectively when they align messages with content that helps deepen a brand’s relevance to consumers at key moments of need.


  1. Online Health Advertisements Increasingly Trusted, Effective, 2010 About.Com Health Study Finds. About.com 2010 Aug 31.
About the Author

Walter Jessen, Ph.D. is a Data Scientist, Digital Biologist, and Knowledge Engineer. His primary focus is to build and support expert systems, including AI (artificial intelligence) and user-generated platforms, and to identify and develop methods to capture, organize, integrate, and make accessible company knowledge. His research interests include disease biology modeling and biomarker identification. He is also a Principal at Highlight Health Media, which publishes Highlight HEALTH, and lead writer at Highlight HEALTH.