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SAMHSA Hotline Dominates Search

Wednesday June 17, 2020

Reading Time: 9 minutes

The top section of the Google search results page was recently replaced by a large banner showing a SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration) addiction hotline number. SAMHSA is a government agency whose website contains addiction and mental health resources. This change has been implemented in certain states, and according to a source at Google, it will soon be implemented nationwide. In the coming weeks, the majority of addiction-related terms will trigger this banner to show above the fold, before paid ads and organic listings.

Desktop Example

SAMSHA hotline desktop

Mobile Example

SAMHSA hotline mobile


Google’s Hotline Boxes

The top section prominently displaying the SAMHSA phone number is referred to as a hotline box: a part of Google’s knowledge panel. Today, a Google source confirmed that they are applying hotline boxes to addiction-related terms. Google does this for important searches that suggest a crisis or emergency requiring immediate help, like human trafficking and suicide.

The exact layout of the page differs slightly by term and device, but overall the SAMHSA number occupies the top. Google Ads have been moved either under the hotline banner or to the bottom of the page. A majority of the time, the top result receives the most clicks.

Combine this with the phone number being recommended by Google and a government behavioral health directory, and the advantage for SAMHSA is enormous. A large portion of leads will be calling this number.

What Happens When You Call SAMHSA?

So, what exactly happens when SAMHSA’s hotline number is dialed? We tested it and received a list of the 5 treatment centers closest to our location which is their standard practice.

Although the intentions of this are good, there are an array of issues that arise, affecting user experience from both a search and addiction treatment perspective.

Dialing the SAMHSA hotline directs you to the closest centers, when local help isn’t always the best option. There are times where an individual needs to get out of toxic environment to have the best chance at recovery. Additionally, local centers may not offer the appropriate levels of care or clinical services required by the individual.

The Impact on LegitScript and Google Advertising

Taking away the top section of the search results page diminishes the value and purpose of LegitScript certification and centers competing fairly for addiction treatment terms. Addiction marketing online became so unethical that Google banned addiction related ads until a strict certification process could be implanted. That certification process became LegitScript certification.

Many treatment centers pay thousands of dollars and dedicate dozens of hours to becoming LegitScript certified to be able to run Google Ad campaigns. Search ads show at the top of the search results, and therefore drive many leads to treatment centers.

Removing the top section and replacing it with a hotline number moves Google Ads down the page, diminishing the value of Google Ads and the value of certification.

Diminishing the value of LegitScript certification isn’t in the best interest of the treatment industry or those seeking help. LegitScript assures a center is licensed/certified, but also goes into a much more rigorous process to make sure the center is ethical and provides quality treatment.

The requirements for being listed on SAMHSA are much more lax than becoming LegitScript certified.

What Treatment Centers are on SAMHSA?

There are several non-certified centers on SAMHSA. On our first search, the third treatment center listed on SAMHSA had a facility name that was questionable, which made us think it could be a lead generation company. This listing didn’t have a website, so we Googled the address, revealing a different treatment center’s website whose name didn’t match the name on the directory. Upon further research, we found the original center’s name was changed because the owners were arrested for patient brokering a year ago. Patient brokering is akin to human trafficking, meaning that the Google hotline that seeks to help those in crisis can actually cause unintended harm.

Protecting those seeking addiction treatment from unscrupulous players is precisely what the industry worked so hard to achieve.

If we’re putting addiction in the same category as suicide and human trafficking, we need to hold it to the same standard of delicacy and scrutiny. If an individual considering taking their own life or a victim of human trafficking called a hotline with unsafe resources, it would be unacceptable.

Help Stop Google from Implementing the Addiction Hotline

Since not all centers on SAMHSA are LegitScript Certified or members in good standing at the National Association of Addiction Treatment Providers, we want to urge Google to stop using the hotline box for addiction related searches.

If you’d like to help, mention the hotline to your Google Ads representative during your next meeting or submit feedback on the hotline box. To submit your feedback on the hotline, click the small grey feedback text in the bottom right corner of the box.

hotline feedback

After clicking the link a box will appear that will give you the opportunity to voice your concerns.

Reading Time: 5 minutes

legitscript addiction certification

For those treatment centers that have been certified by LegitScript – congratulations!

For those that are still applying, listen up.

We’re finding that one of the most overlooked standards listed in their certification standards is #10.

It states:

Applicant must disclose all physical properties and corporate entities under its control and/or to which it refers participants. Any such properties or entities that provide addiction treatment services must also adhere to these standards. 

Digitally, this means that approved centers may not link to any other treatment centers who are not LegitScript certified from their website, as it is considered “referring.” This means centers can’t link to a.) centers that are sub or sister brands of a facility that haven’t also been certified and b.) any treatment center in the US who they have linked to for a variety of reasons who are not LegitScript Certified.

Why They Aren’t Allowing Outbound Links to Uncertified Centers 

This certification standard prevents a certified treatment center from running ads on behalf of or for an uncertified treatment center. For example, if treatment center A is certified and their friends at treatment center B are not, they could feasibly get a kickback by directing their Adwords traffic via linking to the uncertified center.

What this means for your website, PageRank and SEO? 

All centers who are or want to be certified can use this tool to see their outbound links. Centers who have applied or will apply to be certified should remove links to centers who are not LegitScript certified. You can see certified centers by using the website legitimacy search tool on their website.

When pruning links, you may lose some inbound links to your website, especially if they were reciprocal links. This may impact your PageRank, so be sure to create a new link building strategy to maintain the volume of quality inbound links. This strategy can include getting links from parallel industries, individual practitioners and online industry publications while also making sure you’ve taken advantage of all local and general citations.


What do you think of this standard? We think it is a smart standard hedging against any unscrupulous players trying to survive in the new – and hopefully improved – landscape of internet advertising in this industry. Feel free to reach out with any questions or tips on your outbound/inbound linking strategy.