What Google Can Teach Us About Trial Education, Awareness


Applied Clinical Trials

Applied Clinical TrialsApplied Clinical Trials-02-01-2016
Volume 25
Issue 2

Search-engine data offers window to public consciousness around clinical trial research, participation.

Google handles over 1 trillion searches a year. That’s more than 33 searches a month for each person worldwide who uses the Internet. 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 trial education and awareness. A number of tools provide access to search data, but Google’s tools are most popular. 


Fun with Google autocomplete

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 following query examples as questions. The question format helps to elicit biases people have about clinical trials. Hence, autocomplete will provide clues not only to what people want to know, but also their preconceptions with regard to clinical studies.

Quick insights for trial education

There’s much we can learn from these and other autocomplete suggestions. 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 the autosuggest exercise include:

  • What is a clinical trial? 

  • Do clinical trials work?  

  • Why do clinical trials exist?

  • What are clinical trial phases? 

  • What is randomization?

  • What are placebos?

Protocol-specific themes 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?


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 shows, search data provides a unique view into people’s thoughts and questions. Regardless of type, online data can be a quick and inexpensive form of market research.



Rahlyn Gossen is Founder/Digital Marketing Strategist, Rebar Interactive, and Applied Clinical Trials Editorial Advisory Board Member

- This article is adapted from a post that appeared on the Rebar Interactive blog.

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