Should Health Content Lead or Follow?

The media industry is facing some of its toughest times in over a decade. It’s increasingly challenging for publishers to find predictable sources of audience and revenue. Content providers are all chasing finite eyeballs across limited channels. In this swirl, digital publishers are buckling under an identity crisis. To help us out of this disorientation, one of the questions we need to answer is: Is it our job to follow, or to lead? 

Content Publishers as Followers

Many content providers today are competing for search clicks. It seems like the only way to survive. At Healthline, we’ve leveraged our proficiency in search to break through, be relevant, and stay strong. The great thing about search is that it is now used by almost everyone looking for information, almost all of the time, making it one of the most efficient ways to reach massive audiences.

Success in search builds upon itself. If a content provider can understand what people are searching for, they can produce content to satisfy that search intent. And as more people read that content and are satisfied with it, it gets ranked higher for more searches, and even more readers read it. It’s a win-win.

The Limitations of Search

But there’s a downside to a heavy reliance on search. Search enables us to answer questions about familiar and known topics. By engaging users through search, we can address common misconceptions. For example, when users search for the lemon detox diet, we help debunk the myth. But by focusing exclusively on search, many content publishers have stopped exploring new ideas that educate readers and expand their views. Simply following people’s interests means that we’re not adding substantially to societal knowledge. 

This takes on a special significance in health content, where what people are searching for is sometimes of questionable legitimacy and often grossly different from the health problems they actually need to address. In a recent post aptly titled Media, Death, and Google, Healthline CEO David Kopp confronted the discrepancy across three sources: our biggest health problems per the CDC, what The New York Times (as a proxy for the publishing world) thinks matters most to users, and what Google tells us users actually worry about. He shows us that the The New York Times and Google are fairly correlated with each other but quite differentiated from the CDC, meaning that if publishers are only relying on search data to inform their content strategy, they are reflecting what people want (or programming their fears) and not necessarily what they need.

An Obligation to Lead

Instead, we as health publishers have an opportunity, an obligation, to help direct our readers toward a better future that exists beyond their current line of sight. We need to have the thoughtfulness, bravery, and confidence to conceive and create content that will enlighten our readers and add to their lives. This will bring us back to the leading edge of principles and ideas, infusing creativity back into our content and pushing up our collective intellect. It will also allow us to differentiate ourselves and our voice, and keep our editorial and research teams motivated. Most importantly, it will enable us to stand for what we believe in. 

‘Discovery’ Content

In Healthline’s case, our vision is to create a stronger, healthier world. To do this, we can’t just satisfy today’s wants, we need to create tomorrow’s health agenda. So we supplement our SEO-driven “demand” content development with “discovery” content. During discovery meetings, our editors-in-chief rely on the input of our various teams to identify timely and impactful health topics that can change our lives for the better. Specifically, we’re learning from our medical surveillance team, who shares with us the new truths from the medical community, and from our social listening, consumer insights, and trends research teams. We then use our inspiration and judgment to evaluate which topics to pursue and how to address them in ways that truly reflect the ethos of a generation. 

Following are some topics we’ve decided to pursue as a result of this proactive effort:

  • “It’s Not Just You” is a series dedicated to surfacing some of the lesser known issues in mental health. Here is one example. 
  • LGBTQIA Safe Sex Guide. Also, we were one of the first health information sites to produce an in-depth guide to transgendered health. Both of these resources support underserved populations. 
  • “Leading Voices” is a perspective series we’re launching, featuring experts, journalists, and thought leaders in health. The first article in the series was authored by the American Medical Association president. 
  • Women and Opioids” reports on the unseen impact of a critical issue facing America.
  • Breaking news on the health issues of vaping as a public danger, coupled with a decision to block vaping ads.

Ultimately, at Healthline, we’re committed to creating content that can drive the formation of healthier attitudes and behaviors. We haven’t abandoned search. In fact, our first priority is to ensure that we’re answering the questions our readers have. But once we’ve done that, we’re leading the health agenda and raising social consciousness. And that’s our responsibility. 

If you’re interested in partnering with us to provide health leadership to your customers, or just learning more, please email us at

About Healthline Media

As the #1 health media property in the US, Healthline Media reaches more than 94MM unique visitors each month (Comscore, August 2021). We provide credible health information with a compassionate approach.