A new feature will help Google search users match symptoms to potential health problems much faster.

On its Inside Search blog, Google detailed a new feature that matches health symptoms with potential ailments. The tool has not been rolled out entirely, but the company said it is part of their ongoing search improvements for 2012 and businesses in the healthcare industry that provide quality information about medical conditions might find the feature helps push their sites up in search results.

According to Roni Zeiger, chief health strategist for Google, the tool matches a symptom entered as a search query to the most likely causes for that ailment. Using the example of “abdominal pain on my right side,” Google shows the possible causes of such pain above its usual search results.

A series of test queries showed that the the feature is not available to all searchers just yet, but this should change over the next few weeks. For healthcare companies, the value of SEO becomes even more pressing, as Google has essentially added a new pair of search rankings within its SERPs that give top spots to those with relevant content.

It’s unclear exactly what criteria Google will use to pull content from websites for its health search results or how these rankings will be determined, but the creation of high-quality brand journalism aimed at informing readers is a must regardless.

Interestingly, Brafton reported last week that an analyst from Citi found that the share of traffic Google delivered to top health information websites dropped markedly between January 2010 and January 2012. Two years ago, Google was responsible for nearly one-quarter of all traffic to health websites. However, it now delivers just 15 percent – though its latest health search features may help change this.

Joe Meloni is Brafton's former Executive News and Content Writer. He studied journalism at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, and has written for a number of print and web-based publications.