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Health Systems’ 5 Most Common Digital Advertising Mistakes

By | February 24, 2015

In the course of doing digital marketing consulting and management for several different health systems nationwide, Fathom has found their digital advertising accounts typically have several common problems. (We’ve even graded the paid search performance of the Truven 15 Top Health Systems.) Hospitals can make better use of advertising dollars and increase return on paid search by avoiding the following pitfalls.

1. Geo-targeting too large of an area.

Geo-targeting is such an important aspect of driving new patients and service line growth for a health system. When working with limited and sometimes shrinking marketing budgets (true of most health systems), saturating the market closest to where you provide care is imperative. Many times, advertising campaigns are targeting several designated marketing areas (DMA’s) or even multiple states and therefore limited by budget. When campaigns are limited by budget, ads do not appear every time a user performs a relevant search query in the core market. By honing in on the core market, a hospital’s ads can show up more often.

2. Keeping keywords primarily in broad match.

Broad-match keywords are great for increasing reach and showing up for many different search queries that are not bid on directly. However, broad-match keywords are extremely susceptible to wasting money on irrelevant keywords. By using those keywords with broad-match modifiers, you can control which are in the actual search query and therefore ensure relevancy. This will help make the daily budget last longer, generating more relevant clicks and ultimately, patients.

3. Lacking negative keywords.

In addition to having mostly broad-match keywords, many health systems’ paid advertising accounts lack a robust negative-keyword list. Having both plenty of broad-match keywords and very few negative keywords is a very bad combination. Therefore, make sure you create a negative-keyword list that gets added to each campaign and new campaigns in the future.

4. Forgetting ad extensions.

Ad extensions are free to add to ad copy and have the potential to significantly enhance ads. The cost of clicking an ad extension is the same cost of clicking the headline of the ad. Ad extensions also provide a significant increase in click-thru rate, which is a very important factor in determining quality score, cost-per-click. Just as importantly, ad extensions help increase the chances that a prospective patient chooses your health system over your competitors. We have seen significant performance improvements with ad extensions such as sitelinks, call extensions, review extensions, call-out extensions and location extensions.

5. Not using custom landing pages.

Many health systems send their paid advertising traffic to pages within the normal website navigation. This is not necessarily bad, but if you are looking to generate new patients and grow the service line, you need to invest in custom landing pages that are designed to facilitate direct communication. This means having clear calls-to-action, content specific to the search query, and a responsive page that is suitable regardless of device.

Hospital PPC Report

Start maximizing your digital advertising budget and growing your service line revenue by avoiding these traps.


Learn how to bid better against competing local, regional and national health systems: “Health Systems & Paid Search: A Study of Service-Line Competition.”

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How Much Should Health Systems Spend on Search Advertising?

By | February 4, 2015

The title of this post is a pretty common question we get from digital-marketing and service-line managers who want to know how best to promote their health system through paid advertising. Unfortunately, there is not a simple answer because so many factors can determine the “right” amount to spend.

That said, here are some things to consider when budgeting paid advertising for a healthcare organization:

1. How many service lines would you like to promote? Will you be promoting specific doctors?

2. How big is your designated marketing area (DMA), and where to you want to target? Are you just local, or do you have any national presence for a particular service line?

3. What are your goals from paid advertising? Are they simply patient acquisition and service-line revenue growth, or do you also want to generate some awareness for the health system as a whole?

4. How competitive is your market? How many competitors are using paid advertising themselves? Learn more about how to spy on your paid advertising competition.

5. Are you running this on your own or hiring an agency for support? Make sure you budget for management fees if you are paying an agency.

6. What is your overall marketing budget? How much are you investing in other channels such as radio, TV, billboards, etc.? How are those channels performing compared to your digital marketing (if applicable)?

Fathom’s experience running digital advertising with several different health systems across the U.S. shows that in general, health systems allocate anywhere from $10-$40k/month on media spend, again depending on the factors listed above. Typically, they run at least 5 service-line campaigns where budget can range from as low as $2,000/month to as high as $5,000/month when targeting a local area.

If you are just starting out in online advertising, we would recommend first prioritizing your service lines. Then, test out 3-5 of them to start, gradually expanding your advertising footprint from there. If you’ve been running paid advertising for some time and are not sure how much more or less you should spend, compare your online advertising budget and performance to other advertising channels and see which ones are providing the most bang for the buck.

If nothing else, at least now you know what questions to ask.


To get more ideas about smart advertising and the future of marketing in healthcare, download Fathom’s Patient Engagement magazine.

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Count Down to Higher Click-Thru Rates with Google’s Countdown Widget

By | January 29, 2015

Google has been making a lot of changes over the past few months, and if you read my post about avoiding dynamic disaster, then you know that I don’t agree with all of them. With that said, one of their latest updates has a lot of potential for increasing both click-through rates (CTRs) and ad relevance.

The second addition to Google’s Ad Customizers rollout was something called the Countdown Widget. Located under the Ads tab when creating new text ads, the countdown widget lets you dynamically enter the number of days remaining to any days of importance. This will save a lot of advertisers time, effort and stress.

You will notice in the example below that setup is easy – a small additional step to creating a regular text ad. To access the countdown widget, you have type “{=” where you want to insert the countdown, and the widget will appear. Once in the widget, you can setup all of your options for the countdown, then apply.

Google AdWords Countdown Widget

I specialize in the education vertical, and this will be particularly helpful when it comes to counting down to semester start dates and/or enrollment deadlines. In the past, if you wanted to do “countdown” ad copy for colleges and universities, you would have to manually change the ad copy in editor every day (including weekends), and run the risk of a few ads slipping through the cracks, making the copy irrelevant.  With this new update the process in paid search for education is much easier, and I look forward to following up with the positive impact it’s having on our clients.

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The Right Way To Spend Millions on Senior-Living Advertising

By | January 16, 2015

little-old-ladyThe Fathom Healthcare team has had the privilege of running paid advertising for several different major senior-living and assisted-living community organizations. I know what you’re thinking: Why would anyone be excited to target senior citizens in need of long-term care? Well, this is actually a very fast-growing industry. According to Google, the senior population (of 65+) will grow nearly 100% from 46.2 million in 2013 to 92 million in 2060. This population explosion means more and more seniors will need care, especially as advances in medical technology and lifestyle changes allow them to live longer.

With all opportunities come challenges. One basic challenge in the digital advertising world is trying to determine WHO you are targeting. Like with some other healthcare organizations, advertising in this world involves targeting both caregivers and those in need of care. From experience with our clients, we know the majority of users (70%+) looking online for senior-living answers are actually the caregivers themselves. This means ad copy and landing page messaging needs to speak to caregivers, yet not completely neglect elders that might be searching on their own behalf.

Another critical element of advertising in the senior-living space is WHERE you target. About 30% of the time, the caregivers/influencers conducting the searches live outside the geographic area of the loved ones in need. Therefore, geo-targeting ads to specific locations based on the user’s IP address and sending that user to a landing page specific to the location could harm the chances of lead conversion (if that user was looking for care that would take place outside of the actual searching location).

That said, we’ve compiled 10 more of the best things we’ve learned from spending millions on behalf of senior-living clients:

1. Not All Leads Are Created Equal

Although this is a common observation across all industries and lead-generation campaigns, it’s super-important. You definitely need to track your ads and keywords in a way to understand which are generating high-quality and low-quality leads

2. Marketing Automation/Email Marketing Is Necessary To Nurture Leads

As a nice transition from the first point, generating leads is just the beginning. You must nurture these leads along the track of scheduling tours and eventually moving in.

3. Bing Performs Better than Google in Many Cases

From what we saw across our clients, we actually were able to generate leads at a much lower cost than compared to Google. This makes sense as the demographics of Bing and Yahoo are historically older when compared to Google.

4. Assisted-Living and Memory Care Keywords Are Most Expensive

If you’re wanting to run Google search campaigns on these type of keywords, be willing to pay anywhere from $10-$20 per click! That being said, making sure you have the proper negative keywords and a user-friendly landing page experience is crucial.

5. Keep Landing Pages Simple, Stupid!

If your organization has multiple communities within a specific location, do NOT list them all out on one landing page. Consider having a basic lead-capture form (even a multi-step process), a list of differentiators, and a short video to keep the user engaged … and more likely to become a lead.

6. Calls Matter

Make sure you’re tracking calls as closely as possible. This is probably no surprise, but calls are extremely important, especially in the senior-living industry. Your target demographic tends to be even more inclined than the general public to pick up the phone and call, as they might be afraid of what actually happens with their information when submitted via form. (Or they find it easier to simply pick up the phone and call.) Therefore, make sure you are tracking calls as carefully as possible to determine their quality.

7. Look to Other Channels To Generate Incremental Leads, Combat High CPC

Some media to consider include: Google Display Tactics, Yahoo Stream Ads, Yellow Pages, Gmail Sponsored Promotions, Similar Audiences. As stated in point #4, these keywords can be expensive. Consequently, testing out other channels (such as the ones listed above) to identify ways to bring in leads at a lower cost is prudent. Just remember to keep an eye on lead quality.

8. Use ALL Your Ad Extensions to Stand Out from Competitors

Yes, ad extensions work, especially if you’re trying to get more clicks than your competition.

Case #1: Google call-out extensions increased click-thru rate (CTR) as high as 79% after implementation:


Case #2: Google review extensions increased CTR as high as 160% after implementation:


Case #3: Google seller ratings (extremely popular in this space) contributed to an increased CTR as high as 30% after implementation:

seller ratings

9. Mobile Search is Outpacing Most Other Industries

Yes, we all know mobile search is growing and has been for several years; however, according to Google, 46% of all senior-living related searches is from a mobile device (phone or tablet). This means advertisers need to a.) advertise on mobile devices, b.) have a specific bid strategy, and c.) have responsive landing pages (which many companies currently lack).

10. Use Exclusion Lists

These lists—including negative keywords and placements—are an oldie, but goodie. Placing negative keywords across multiple campaigns through lists will save you time and money as well as improve lead quality. The same goes with negative placements across Google Display campaigns. You’d be amazed to see which sites your contextual display campaigns are being matched on—be sure to check placement reports regularly and add to negative placement lists rather than doing it at the campaign level. This will save time and allow you to exclude low-quality sites across multiple campaigns instead of one by one.

If you are advertising on behalf of a senior-living community, these tips should ensure your success in 2015 and help increase both leads and move-ins.

Interested in learning more? Read our guide to generating senior-living move-ins.

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Challenges with Marketing Healthcare Online (in Google AdWords)

By | October 29, 2014

If you are a healthcare marketer like me, you have probably noticed that there are several restrictions and limitations in this field, especially as it relates to online advertising. I wanted to take some time to write about the various challenges when advertising for healthcare organizations. The problem with many of these challenges is that there is no clear right and wrong, and many answers depend on the situation.

Challenge 1: Targeting Health-Related Content – The Google AdWords policy team also has a restriction on ‘healthcare-related content.’ This declares users are not allowed to promote various healthcare products and services. This list is very vague, e.g.:

  • Over-the-counter and prescription medication
  • Medical services and procedures
  • Pregnancy and fertility-related products and services
  • Medical devices and tests

Google ortho surgery

As one can infer from the list above, a lot of these categories are subject to interpretation and unfortunately, Google’s interpretation. “Medical services and procedures,” for example, generally is not restricted, as many of our health systems bid on keywords like “bariatric surgery” and “orthopedic surgery.” Google goes on to state:

“The restrictions that apply to this content may vary depending on the product or service that you’re promoting and the countries that you’re targeting.”

Challenge 2: Keyword and Ad Copy Approval (Request an Exception): With the lack of clarity (and case-by-case basis) for restrictions on “healthcare-related content,” many times when you try to upload new keywords or ads they are flagged, and you must request an exception within the AdWords interface or Adwords Editor. Although this is only a bit annoying, it can limit how quickly you can launch new campaigns, keywords, and ads.

recommended actions

Challenge 3: Retargeting/Remarketing – Retargeting is considered to be “interest-based advertising” by Google AdWords, and it restricts this based on “health or medical information.”  Therefore, retargeting for hospitals, treatment clinics, and other healthcare organizations is basically not allowed in Google AdWords. To read more specific details about retargeting, what is and is not allowed, and a work-around, check out:”What You Need to Know About Hospital Retargeting.”

My number-one recommendation is to ask Google or other advertising platforms if you’re allowed to promote certain conditions or treatments BEFORE you plan an online advertising strategy.

Another consideration that is not necessarily a restriction, but needs to be thought about is the ethics behind which users you are targeting and how. In the past, we’ve had healthcare clients ask us our opinions on this subject matter. Targeting users on Facebook based on their age, location, and interests can provide really granular targeting, but it can also offend your users and therefore negatively impact your brand. Let’s say for instance, you were promoting a bariatric information seminar on Facebook; you will most likely target users within your health system’s geographic location, age groups most likely to be interested in bariatric surgery, and possibly interests that imply users are obese and are more likely in need of bariatric surgery—eating, McDonalds, fast food, weight loss. Although this would be an extremely targeted campaign, a healthcare organization would need to weigh the pros and cons of this type of targeting with a full understanding of the implications.

audience details

To summarize, it’s extremely important to not only understand the restrictions with healthcare marketing and advertising, but also consider the ethics that go along with it.

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