For far too long, disreputable treatment centers and lead generators had been using AdWords to take advantage of people seeking help for drug and alcohol abuse. When Google decided to start restricting ads targeting drug rehab-related keywords in September 2017 (one week after this article on The Verge by Cat Ferguson came out), the decision was celebrated by many. While it was great to see Google finally taking action on the ads, the question was now, “How are the organic search results for these keywords?”
There has been a lot of abuse in the local results for rehab keywords over the years. From fake treatment center map listings being created to legitimate treatment centers getting their listings hijacked, you can’t be sure a listing in the 3-pack is really who they are, where they say they are. I do feel that Google made a strong effort to remove listings that were obviously fake soon after The Verge article was published. I have no doubt, however, that many listings remain that shouldn’t.
And as pointed out in this article on The Intercept by David Dayen back in October 2017, organic search results for many drug rehab-related keywords could lead you to the same sketchy treatment centers as the ads. It seems that Google didn’t put too much thought into what was left once the ads were removed.
How Have the Organic Results for Drug Rehab-Related Keywords Changed Since Then?
Recently I noticed a result for The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration national hotline (https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline) appearing at the top of the results for a lot of drug abuse and rehab-related keywords:
According to data from ahrefs.com, that page on the SAMHSA website ranked in the top 3 organic results for around 2,600 keywords near the end of January. But by the end of February, that number had grown to just under 30,000. And as you can see below, the page went from not being a top 100 position in the search results to being in the top 3 for A LOT of keywords.
These are just a few examples of some keywords the page obtained a top 3 position for recently:
Something else I noticed, when using the ‘site:’ search operator for websites that are drug or alcohol-related, adding certain keywords to this type of search can trigger the SAMHSA result to appear (a search like this should only show results for the website being searched, in this example: rehabs.com):
What is the SAMHSA National Helpline?
The SAMHSA result that Google appears to be promoting is a free, confidential 24/7 treatment referral and information service for people facing mental and/or substance abuse disorders. They do not provide counseling, but they have trained information specialists that answer the calls and transfer callers to state services or other appropriate intake centers in their states. So, they’re helping to connect people with services and treatment centers that I’m assuming (and hoping) are legitimate.
If all is as appears, this seems like a good move by Google. I wonder how much call volume has increased for the SAMHSA helpline over the past few weeks. Their website claims their call volume in 2016 was over 65,000 per month. Think about how much it must be now. I wonder if they’re aware of the change or if they’re trying to figure out why their call numbers just increased significantly. I hope they’re able to handle all of the calls.