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Teens are still most likely to rely on other humans for health information, but those who do turn to other sources rely most on the internet. In March 2015 polling by GfK for Northwestern University, 25% of US teen internet users said they obtained “a lot” of health information via the internet. While this trailed human sources including No. 1 parents (55%), school health classes (32%) and doctors and nurses (29%), it was more popular than all other media types included—books, TV news, radio and newspaper and magazine articles.
When looking to the internet for information, teens relied heavily on search. Among respondents who searched for health info digitally, 58% cited Google as a way of finding websites to conduct research, and an additional 14% relied on other search engines such as Yahoo and Bing. Browsing, social networks and ads barely came into the picture.
Teens’ search behaviors indicated the importance for health sites to show up on the top of search engine results pages. When asked how they decided which health sites to visit, half of teens said they clicked on the first site in results and only moved on to another if they weren’t fully satisfied with the info they found. Respondents were less likely to check site domains and sponsors. They also wanted health sites that provided the whole picture, as just 12% looked for teen-oriented options.
eMarketer estimates that 24.2 million US consumers ages 12 to 17 will access the internet from any location via any device at least once per month this year, representing 97.0% of the population in that group and nearly 10% of all internet users. For health companies targeting this group, strong search engine optimization is critical. However, Northwestern also noted that schools should teach best practices about running online health searches in order for teens to locate the best sources of information.
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