Getting "Engaged"

Web analytics can help a new generation of pharmaceutical Web sites measure the success of their message
Oct 01, 2008
By Pharmaceutical Executive


Gary Angel
The new generation of pharmaceutical Web sites is richer, more community oriented, more interactive, and more personal than what came before. Today, most branded-site experiences include at least some combination of rich media and community building, routinely featuring extensive video from both healthcare professionals and patients. Assessments, surveys, caregiver support, and communities are becoming the standard, not the exception. Yet as customers begin to shift more attention to the Internet, there remains one vital question: How do we know if this fancier, more expensive experience is actually working?

Web analytics is the study of how visitors behave on a Web site. It's a powerful set of techniques for helping companies optimize their Web sites and understand their customers better. The basic premise of Web analytics is simple: You can relate various site behaviors to outcomes, and figure out which strategies work well and which don't.

Of course, this is all very easy in retail, where outcomes are obvious and measurable. But most industries are not that lucky, and few have as challenging an environment as pharmaceuticals. After all, how do you measure the success—and more importantly, the difference in success—between site designs when you aren't sure what represents "success." The answer: You can't. So the first step in any analytics effort is figuring out how to measure success, then determining what that means for each page being viewed.

Actively Engage the User

The most common measure for what constitutes success on pharmaceutical sites is a concept called "engagement." Engagement is often measured by how much site content a visitor sees. However, that "how much" is often, incorrectly, measured by how long a visitor spends on a site or site tool and how many pages a visitor views. These are useful measures, but they're not always the best measures of engagement, and they rarely tell the whole story.

Here's a common example. A branded pharma site added a set of patient-story videos to their home page. By clicking on a link, visitors were taken to a site that played a patient's story, and were given the option of playing additional stories. The new addition was reasonably popular. Visitors viewed multiple movies, and spent quite a bit of total time watching the patient stories. It looked like a success! Careful measurement, however, showed that it was less of a success than originally perceived. Viewers of the video rarely surfed other places on the site or looked at information about the drug, and they almost never viewed the page on how the drug works. Furthermore, patient-story viewers had extremely low rates of registration or printing information.

The problem resulted from a lack of navigational alternatives within the videos, as well as how they were placed on the site. After viewing a patient story, the only obvious navigational options were more stories. As a result, visitors typically navigated through the stories until they were done, and then left the site—accomplishing nothing for the pharma that owned the site. There was no attempt to match the patient stories to relevant content (such as living with the condition or taking the drug). In addition, the only navigational path to the videos was from the home page. Visitors either viewed the videos or they viewed the rest of the site, but not often both. So even where site content matched a patient story, there was no easy navigational path between the content and the video.

These two factors combined to isolate the patient stories from the rest of the site, making them much less effective than they might otherwise have been. Tighter integration of video and rich-media components on sites like RiseSupport.Com or http://Tarceva.com/ illustrates how much more can be attained when these experiences are carefully and thoughtfully embedded within the site.