A webometric analysis of online health information: sponsorship, platform type and link structures

Darja Groselj (Oxford Internet Institute, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK)

Online Information Review

ISSN: 1468-4527

Publication date: 25 February 2014

Abstract

Purpose

This study aims to map the information landscape as it unfolds to users when they search for health topics on general search engines. Website sponsorship, platform type and linking patterns were analysed in order to advance the understanding of the provision of health information online.

Design/methodology/approach

The landscape was sampled by ten very different search queries and crawled with VOSON software. Drawing on Roger's framework of information politics on the web, the landscape is described on two levels. The front-end is examined qualitatively by assessing website sponsorship and platform type. On the back-end, linking patterns are analysed using hyperlink network analysis.

Findings

A vast majority of the websites have commercial and organisational sponsorship. The analysis of the platform type shows that health information is provided mainly on static homepages, informational portals and general news sites. A comparison of ten different health domains revealed substantial differences in their landscapes, related to domain-specific characteristics.

Research limitations/implications

The size and properties of the web crawl were shaped by using third party software, and the generalisability of the results is limited by the selected search queries. Further research exploring how specific characteristics of different health domains shape provision of information online is suggested.

Practical implications

The demonstrated method can be used by organisations to discern the characteristics of the online information landscape in which they operate and to inform their business strategies.

Originality/value

The study examines health information landscapes on a large scale and makes an original contribution by comparing them across ten different health domains.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author would like to thank Dr Sandra Gonzalez-Bailon and Prof. Ralph Schroeder for their help and guidance throughout the course of this research. The author would also like to thank Prof. John Powell and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions, from which the final version of the paper has benefited greatly. This research was supported by the Slovene Human Resources Development and Scholarship Fund which covered the author's tuition fees.

Citation

Groselj, D. (2014), "A webometric analysis of online health information: sponsorship, platform type and link structures", Online Information Review, Vol. 38 No. 2, pp. 209-231. https://doi.org/10.1108/OIR-01-2013-0011

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Publisher

:

Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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