Although the Internet is one of the most commonly accessed resources for health information, finding information on local sexual health services, such as sexually transmitted disease (STD) testing, can be challenging. Recognizing that most quests for online health information begin with search engines, the purpose of this exploratory study was to examine the extent to which online information about local STD/HIV testing services can be found using Google.
Queries on STD and HIV testing services were executed in Google for 6 geographically unique locations across the United States. The first 3 websites that resulted from each query were coded for the following characteristics: (1) relevancy to the search topic, (2) domain and purpose, (3) rank in Google results, and (4) content.
Websites hosted at .com (57.3%), .org (25.7%), and .gov (10.5%) domains were retrieved most frequently. Roughly half of all websites (n = 376) provided information relevant to the query, and about three-quarters (77.0%) of all queries yielded at least 1 relevant website within the first 3 results. Searches for larger cities were more likely to yield relevant results compared with smaller cities (odds ratio [OR] = 10.0, 95% confidence interval [CI] = 5.6, 17.9). On comparison with .com domains, .gov (OR = 2.9, 95% CI = 1.4, 5.6) and .org domains (OR = 2.9, 95% CI = 1.7, 4.8) were more likely to provide information of the location to get tested.
Ease of online access to information about sexual health services varies by search topic and locale. Sexual health service providers must optimize their website placement so as to reach a greater proportion of the sexually active population who use web search engines.