Take advantage of pharma SEM: Your Rx for success

Hitwise reports that medical searches made up 45% of total online traffic from all categories last year, and eMarketer says online ad spend by the pharmaceutical industry is expected to reach $2.2 billion in 2011 — up from $1.2 billion in 2008. Search engine marketing (SEM) is growing within the pharma arena.

Recognize a dual audience. Unlike most SEM campaigns, pharma SEM needs two distinct strategies — one for consumers, one for physicians. Ads and keywords for physicians are more technical, but note that there’s overlap. Distinctions between
the two audiences are determined by their post-click activity. Match keywords to either group based on their on-site activity.

Make legal your friend. The Food & Drug Administration monitors pharma ads, so everything must be seen from a legal perspective. Content can be scaled back due to legal restrictions, and allow time to gain approval for updated keywords or for creative changes. Dynamic keyword insertion is often denied
by legal, which reduces the chance of high click-through rates.

Separate bid strategies by awareness and intent. Pharma marketing doesn’t rely on SEM to generate ROI or online sales, so success is based on a patient visiting a doctor and asking for a brand. That’s why weighting page views and capturing form downloads and e-mails are important. But users’ office actions are difficult to tie directly to SEM performance. This leads marketers to separate bid strategies by awareness and intent. Awareness keywords — broad-based generic terms — capture users who doesn’t know a drug’s name, with success measured on volume or ad effectiveness (as shown by click-through rate). Intent keywords — brand-specific — match users to site pages that lead users to the doctor.

A holistic outlook. Tie your search planning to TV and print advertising. Pharma is committing a share of its ad dollars to paid search, but the majority of marketing budgets are allocated to traditional media. SEM campaigns must work in tandem with traditional channels to take advantage of the lift they provide.

Healthy prognosis. Fewer direct competitors vie for select branded and unbranded keywords in the pharmaceutical arena compared to other categories. Generic terms often drive high
volume, resulting in heavy traffic in a short timespan and a shorter
learning curve for marketers.

Dan Brough is SVP, search director at Draftfcb New York. Reach him at [email protected]

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