Use of Internet audience measurement data to gauge market share for online health information services

J Med Internet Res. 2005 Jul 1;7(3):e31. doi: 10.2196/jmir.7.3.e31.


Background: The transition to a largely Internet and Web-based environment for dissemination of health information has changed the health information landscape and the framework for evaluation of such activities. A multidimensional evaluative approach is needed.

Objective: This paper discusses one important dimension of Web evaluation-usage data. In particular, we discuss the collection and analysis of external data on website usage in order to develop a better understanding of the health information (and related US government information) market space, and to estimate the market share or relative levels of usage for National Library of Medicine (NLM) and National Institutes of Health (NIH) websites compared to other health information providers.

Methods: The primary method presented is Internet audience measurement based on Web usage by external panels of users and assembled by private vendors-in this case, comScore. A secondary method discussed is Web usage based on Web log software data. The principle metrics for both methods are unique visitors and total pages downloaded per month.

Results: NLM websites (primarily MedlinePlus and PubMed) account for 55% to 80% of total NIH website usage depending on the metric used. In turn, top-level domain usage (inclusive of NLM) ranks second only behind WebMD in the US domestic home health information market and ranks first on a global basis. consistently ranks among the top three or four US government top-level domains based on global Web usage. On a site-specific basis, the top health information websites in terms of global usage appear to be WebMD, MSN Health, PubMed, Yahoo! Health, AOL Health, and MedlinePlus. Based on MedlinePlus Web log data and external Internet audience measurement data, the three most heavily used cancer-centric websites appear to be (National Cancer Institute), (American Cancer Society), and (non-profit organization).

Conclusions: Internet audience measurement has proven useful to NLM, with significant advantages compared to sole reliance on usage data from Web log software. Internet audience data has helped NLM better understand the relative usage of NLM and NIH websites in the intersection of the health information and US government information market sectors, which is the primary market intersector for NLM and NIH. However important, Web usage is only one dimension of a complete Web evaluation framework, and other primary research methods, such as online user surveys, usability tests, and focus groups, are also important for comprehensive evaluation that includes qualitative elements, such as user satisfaction and user friendliness, as well as quantitative indicators of website usage.

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Information Services / statistics & numerical data*
  • Information Services / trends
  • Internet / statistics & numerical data*
  • Marketing of Health Services / trends*
  • National Library of Medicine (U.S.)*
  • Neoplasms*
  • Online Systems*
  • PubMed
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • United States