Tracking the success of Johns Hopkins' high-profile COVID-19 website
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Johns Hopkins Medicine needed to provide accurate content very quickly in an information environment that was changing by the hour.
In a pre-pandemic world, the organization's content team would look to search engine optimization strategies to see what questions people are asking and determine what information would be most useful. However, that data was just not yet available for COVID-19 when the pandemic hit.
Even before the pandemic, Johns Hopkins Medicine's content strategy always involved meeting people where they are, and being in the places where they are looking for health information. Often, that is a search engine. When people are trying to solve a health problem, get more information on a diagnosis or help a loved one, they'll often turn to search engine results.
"We wanted to create high-quality, engaging content that would perform strongly on search engines and is easy to understand," said Aaron Watkins, senior director of Internet strategy at Johns Hopkins Medicine. "We published our first coronavirus content in January 2020 as the world began to witness the virus's impacts in China and before it would become a global pandemic."
By March 2020, the provider organization discovered its content was ranking No. 1 in searches, including "What is coronavirus?" and "Differences in COVID and flu symptoms." It developed the COVID-19 online self-checker and expanded its content into a hub of 90-plus articles, infographics and videos covering topics such as coronavirus symptoms, preventive measures, impacts on vulnerable populations and ways to maintain mental health.
"By making sure our content was available wherever people were looking for it, we increased traffic from social channels by 370%."
Aaron Watkins, Johns Hopkins Medicine
"With the website, we wanted to go beyond helping people just understand COVID-19, and also encourage people to take care of themselves," Watkins explained. "During a period of uncertainty as the pandemic wore on, we aimed to communicate that urgent care conditions are safe and that people should get the care they need."
MEETING THE CHALLENGE
Internally, Johns Hopkins Medicine adopted an all hands on deck mentality. It held daily huddles within the marketing and communications division, and all of its specialty teams including social media and editorial services. It received daily updates from medical experts inside the incident command center.
"We worked directly with clinical and research specialists, including infectious disease and emergency medicine experts, who led our command center to create content focused on symptoms and diagnosis, as well as best practices for prevention and wellness that could be implemented at home," Watkins recalled.
"With this collaborative mindset, combined with the unique perspectives and expertise of the Johns Hopkins faculty physicians, we were able to draw from information entrenched in research and cutting-edge approaches to medicine."
The new content creation model involves using taxonomy, state-of-the-art profiling, content scoring and personalization structures to reinforce a patient-first approach, he added. With this content, the organization was able to power its COVID-19 self-checker.
In terms of vendors, Johns Hopkins Medicine leveraged Sitecore's Experience Database (xDB) and Experience Platform (XP 8.2) to collect customer interaction data that enabled the provider organization to personalize web experiences.
The organization also worked with digital agency Berndt Group, a Sitecore Gold Partner with domain expertise in large hospital systems, D2C consumer commercial sites, nonprofits, professional associations and government sites.
"We considered that the content being created for COVID-19 could generate impacts beyond the specifics of the coronavirus," Watkins said. "We hoped that people reading our articles about wellness and COVID, older people and COVID, heart health as it relates to COVID, or babies and kids and COVID might also find value in articles about wellness, aging, heart health and children."
COVID-19 was one aspect of their interest, but Johns Hopkins could provide deeper value by guiding them to content to support longer-term needs. For example, visitors to a page on stress caused by the pandemic may create lifelong changes by reading content about stress management or developing healthy sleep or nutrition habits.
Johns Hopkins Medicine's main goal was to inform, and it believes a major success metric is traffic to the website.
It grew its visits to the coronavirus content to more than 38 million in seven months, and received one million page views per day in the early days of the pandemic in the U.S. It was able to drive so much traffic to the website by staying at pace with public questions and concerns and ensuring content was accessible to people who were looking for accurate COVID-19 information, Watkins said.
"Furthermore, by making sure our content was available wherever people were looking for it, we increased traffic from social channels by 370%," he added. "The average time people spent on our page is more than four minutes, which speaks to the level of engagement with our personalized content strategy."
ADVICE FOR OTHERS
"We'd advise other healthcare provider organizations to put customer needs first and meet people where they are," Watkins suggested. "A successful strategy involves leveraging personalization techniques and a strong content creation model to deliver information that will be of value and easy to understand for your customers."