The Most Convincing Drugs on the Web

Mar 28, 2007

Consumers are attracted to drug Web sites that engage them with educational info rather than fluff or hype--and they're likely to log off if they believe they're getting a hard sell, a new study has found.

The Web sites for erectile dysfunction (ED) drugs Cialis (tadalafil) and Viagra (sildenafil) motivated the highest percentage of visitors to ask their doctors for a prescription--and not just because of their sexy content. "Consumers want more understanding of their condition," said Meredith Abreu, vice president of Manhattan Research, which tracks the online behavior of patients and physicians. "They want tactical information."

Eli Lilly's Cialis.com, for instance, features sections such as "About ED," "Talking to Your Doctor," and "Help for Partners"--complete with several videos and excerpts from a physician-authored book on ED. Pfizer's Viagra.com similarly features a sexual health quiz, a video, and conversation starters for broaching the subject of ED with a doctor.

Manhattan Research's annual survey of 4,965 consumers (who visited about 180 different product sites) revealed a high correlation between self-reported Web-motivated prescription requests and the amount of information companies provide about side effects, the product's mechanism of action, and even alternative treatment options.

For instance, the Web site for Sanofi-Aventis' Allegra (fexafenadine)--the fifth most successful site for generating prescription requests--offers a feature that compares the allergy drug with three other products. (Allegra, not surprisingly, wins the race, but consumers nevertheless seem to value the head-to-head.)

In the same vein, drug makers are increasingly addressing the issue of price and reimbursement on their Web sites, Abreu noted. Coupons and e-newsletters can also help get consumers to try a drug and then stick with it, but rank lower in importance than disease and price information.

On average, among the sites that have more than 1.5 million visitors, roughly 7 percent ask for a prescription. The top-performing sites spark script requests in the double digits (although Abreu declined to disclose exact figures.)

Rounding out the top five were AstraZeneca's heartburn drug Nexium (esomeprazole) and Sepracor's insomnia drug Lunesta (eszopiclone), at numbers three and four respectively.

The study also looked at what drove visitors to a particular product site. Sites for lifestyle products typically receive visitors that are not taking any treatment but had their interest piqued by a TV or print advertisement. Sites for serious conditions like hypertension often receive hits from patients currently on therapy and researching disease-management tools.

The sheer volume of visitors should command manufacturers to pay attention to the information they present on their Web sites, Abreu noted. "The numbers keep exceeding our expectations," she said. "Your product site really is a critical tool that consumers are using. It is the reality today."