Healthcare's prospecting cure

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The past several years have seen some dramatic changes for the pharmaceutical industry's marketers that have forced them to reevaluate where to allocate budget. From the PhRMA Guiding Principles on direct-to-consumer advertising, to the steady loss of patent protection for branded pharmaceuticals, the traditional tools of the past decade are being replaced by methods that take into account the ways in which audiences now receive healthcare information. A new generation of Internet-savvy health-information seekers now exists, and smart marketers know the best ways to reach them.

Enter search-engine marketing. SEM is a powerful and cost-effective way to help companies reach members of their target audiences. But SEM campaigns for this industry bring with them unique challenges.

The healthcare industry is heavily regulated, minimizing what can be said and when. For SEM it can be difficult to know how to maximize search results while also meeting industry regulations. For example, the Food & Drug Administration's Fair Balance Act demands that all marketing present accurate and fair assessment of the risks as well as the benefits of the drug.

First, determine how consumers talk about the condition and the drug. The way in which consumers refer to a condition can often differ vastly from how companies discuss it.

Next, create authoritativeness through linking. Search engines rank sites based on authoritativeness. One of the determining factors in a site's authority is the number of quality reciprocal links to and from other known authoritative Web sites. With regulations you simply can't post a bunch of links to sites. You can link only to US-based sites for US-approved drugs. You can't make false claims by linking from "cure" sites and the like.

Another best practice is continuous optimization. Pharmaceutical SEM should involve continually optimizing across the organic- and paid-search formats as often the regulatory, competitive or media landscape changes during campaigns.

For example: Are new regulatory restrictions making it too difficult to include the appropriate text on the advertiser's site to optimize for a particular keyphrase? SEM providers should monitor factors like these to dynamically optimize their clients' campaigns.

SEM can deliver immediate return on investment for any marketing campaign. However, it is important to remember not only SEM best practices but also manage the ever-changing industry regulations.

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