Alternative Media: Search-Engine Marketing: Click, Click ... Are You There?

March 1, 2007

Pharmaceutical Executive

Volume 0, Issue 0

Are your static banner ads underperforming? Are you paying through the nose for the perfect ad position only to discover that your click-through rates are in the low single digits? Chances are that your tricked-out, flashy pharma ad is being ignored because people aren't proactively looking for the information that it's offering.

Are your static banner ads underperforming? Are you paying through the nose for the perfect ad position only to discover that your click-through rates are in the low single digits? Chances are that your tricked-out, flashy pharma ad is being ignored because people aren't proactively looking for the information that it's offering.

Alex Porter

An alternative that is proving to be quite successful is search-engine marketing (SEM), a set of Internet marketing methods that increases the visibility of a Web site in search-engine results pages (SERPs). According to Pew Internet & America Life Project, approximately 45.7 million Americans use the Internet to search for information about pharmaceutical products. More than 26 percent go online to research prescription drugs.

There are three main subsets of an SEM campaign, and they can be deployed independently or as a combined effort:

Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Marketers bid on keywords that correspond to their Web site. The highest bidder receives the top advertisement position when readers search for that particular keyword. Popular keywords can be very pricey, costing upwards of $10 or more per click. Every time a consumer clicks on an ad, the marketer gets charged by the search engine.

Whos Spending Online?

Paid Inclusion Marketers pay a flat fee to be guaranteed inclusion in a search engine's natural listings. However, Yahoo! is currently the only search engine offering this service.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) Companies can boost their site's organic search ranking by improving their Web site's structure and content. Sites that are more relevant to a keyword naturally will rank higher.

All three of these SEM methods open the door for pharma marketers to reach their target audience online. But for companies looking to use this new mode of communication to its fullest potential, PPC marketing is the most effective method. Not only is the consumer initiating the communication by "actively researching" a topic, but the pharma marketer is in control of the placement and messaging of their ad. This gives companies flexibility in changing their messages and creative— and in the way they reach consumers.

PPC Campaign Nuts and Bolts

PPC marketing is the process of purchasing text-link advertising from search engines so that an ad and a link to the company Web site appear in the sponsored listings (typically at the top and righthand side of the search results). The order of these listings is based on a number of factors, including the cost per click that the advertiser is willing to bid, the click-through rate (number of times a consumer clicks on the ad compared with number of searches), and the relevance of the landing page to the search query.

TOP 10 Tips for a Successful Pay-Per-Click Campaign

Launching a PPC campaign is not a highly technical process, but it does require a certain level of understanding and time commitment to make it successful. Before launching a PPC campaign, make sure that you have taken care of all the essentials. Here's your must-do list:

  • Develop a Web site rich in content, with an easily identifiable theme.

  • Identify keywords and keyword phrases related to the pharmaceutical product, health condition, or disease.

  • Write ad copy specific to the keywords.

  • Explore and consider all search engines, including major search engines, lesser-known engines, and healthcare Web portals.

  • Identify methods of measurement (i.e., cost per click, click-through rate, and conversion percentage) to measure campaign success.

  • Develop a process to adjust bid prices and desired position in order to optimize the campaign's ROI.

  • Track, measure, test—and test again.

For more info, see "Top 10 Tips for a Successful Pay-Per-Click Campaign."

On Target With SEM

Industry estimates project an 80-percent increase in online spending for pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing over the next two years (see "Who's Spending Online?"). Highly focused techniques, such as local targeting and demographic targeting, are gaining ground quickly because of the additional options they allow.

Local targeting is the newest buzz in search-marketing circles—and with good reason. Search engines like Google will only show the PPC advertisement to the user if their IP address lies within the advertiser's targeted area. For example, a pharmaceutical marketer testing out a new skin-cancer medication would be wise to deploy a local geographic-targeting campaign in the Rocky Mountain region. The high altitude, outdoor culture, and great number of sunny days—along with the misconception that sun intensity is lower in cold weather—combine to create a high risk for developing skin cancer. Pharmaceutical companies pitching a skin-cancer medication are likely to find a large population of potential customers in these high-altitude areas, and a sophisticated Internet marketing team might choose to focus ads exclusively in this region.

Along the same lines as local targeting, demographic targeting opens new opportunities, particularly for companies whose drugs are used by consumers with certain characteristics in common. It focuses on searchers who match specific criteria such as age, sex, and health. MSN and Google both offer forms of demographic targeting to further enhance the potential of search marketing. For example, MSN gathers demographic data when consumers sign up for a hotmail account, and Google relies on third-party demographic research.

MSN allows advertisers to place an additional premium on their bid price and position if the users conform to a demographic target—based on information received from the users of the .NET passport. Google, through its site-targeting program, lets advertisers choose Web sites on which to advertise based on demographic profiles. For example, an advertiser can go through the interface and search for men over 65; Google then provides a list of related Web sites that an advertiser can select using Google content.

With SEM, you can target eyeballs that count. Pharmaceutical marketers can finger their audience more precisely using marketing methods that only a fluid medium like the Internet can deliver. Unlike its print counterpart, marketers can modify their campaign in real time and control their investment. SEM presents a new gateway to more effectively communicate with the big, wide consumer world that scours the Internet for information each day. When customers come clicking, will they find you?

Alex Porter is vice president of SearchAdNetwork. He can be reached at aporter@searchadnetwork.com