**Disclaimer, please read** I have ZERO proof that Google is artificially ranking a specific page for 10’s of thousands of search queries. Everything written below is pure speculation. The “evidence” I have is from performing hundreds of live searches without any cache or cookies and using ahrefs to look at keywords, traffic, and link metrics.
If you work in the addiction treatment industry or pay attention to paid search marketing, you likely know that Google AdWords removed all ads for rehab related keywords in the US in September 2017, then later removed rehab ads globally in early 2018. The reasoning is sound and was needed, shady call centers poured a ton of money into Google AdWords to “refer” people suffering from addiction to treatment centers. Treatment centers would pay for the placement, sometimes up to $15,000.
Regardless of the needs of the individual suffering from addiction, call centers would go to the highest bidder to “place” them.
On April 16th, Google introduced a new vetting process for addiction treatment centers. Treatment centers have to pay an application fee of $995 and $1995/year for recertification from LegitScript, and independent third-party that will approve treatment centers for AdWords Ads.
I’ve talked with several treatment center owners and the application process is very lengthy, which isn’t a bad thing. Also, call centers are not allowed! Hoozah!
Let’s get to the fun stuff
Enter SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration). Specifically, the SAMHSA National Helpline page.
A couple of weeks ago, I was doing some research for a client and I noticed that the National Helpline page was ranking for a couple of competitive local queries. I did more searches in other localities and kept finding this page ranking in the #1 organic spot, usually below map results, sometimes above it.
Curious, I started doing general search queries without a local identifier and the page kept ranking at the top or in the top 3 organic results.
Finally, I started plugging in brand names of treatment centers and sometimes, not always, the National Helpline page would outrank the brand name, too!
Now that I was really perplexed on what was going on, I decided to plug the URL into ahrefs and things started to get interesting:
If you look at the organic keywords for the National Helpline URL you see a massive spike in organic keywords after 1/31/18. More than a 10-fold increase in organic keywords in a relatively short period of time.
That’s cool, what about organic traffic? Almost the same spike:
What about links, could they be the reason for this dramatic increase? Maybe, but I don’t think it’s the sole causal reason.
Towards the end of 2017, there were roughly 75k referring pages and less than 750 referring domains, then a dramatic increase in referring pages. Now, there’s just a smidge more of 1000 referring domains and more than 150k referring pages.
Here are several possibilities that could explain this:
- The dramatic increase in referring pages at the end of 2017 and the beginning of 2018, especially if those referring pages were topical and/or authoritative.
- Internal navigation updates
- On-site SEO
- Content changes
Try doing some searches for yourself. Do any search you think someone would search for looking for an addiction treatment center. Search queries like “drug rehab near me”, “treatment centers for alcoholism”, “detox city”, etc. You will see the SAMHSA National Helpline ranking towards the top of organic results.
Again, I have zero proof that Google is artificially ranking this page besides what I’ve shown but comparing Google results vs. Bing results shows a drastic difference. On Bing.com, I couldn’t find a single instance of the SAMHSA National Hotline page ranking for a single keyword that ranks so prevalently with Google.
Is Google wrong for doing this, if in fact, they are?
Not at all, in my opinion. The National Hotline has no direct relationship with the treatment center(s) they recommend for individuals that call in.
A lot of the directories that rank well nationally for these competitive queries have the same call center model or they charge treatment centers on a per call basis using call tracking.
How can treatment centers get on SAMHSA?
Use the SAMHSA Treatment Locator to search for your treatment center. If you find it but need to make updates, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call the BHSIS Project Office at 1-877-250-4665 (Mon-Fri 8-6 ET). If you can’t find your treatment center, head over to the Facility Application Form and follow the instructions.
What do you think?
I find the massive increase in keywords and traffic very intriguing. Do you think Google MAY be artificially ranking this page, the large increase in referring pages could be at play, or something else?
Blake is the President & Founder of RicketyRoo Inc. He has more than 12 years of local SEO and paid search marketing experience working with a variety of small to medium-sized businesses. He’s a contributor to the Moz Local Search Ranking Factors and speaks at digital marketing conferences about local SEO.