Challenges with Marketing Healthcare Online (in Google AdWords)

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.

About Joe Castro

Joe Castro is the Director of Online Advertising at Fathom. He has over 7 years of experience in digital marketing with a concentration in PPC/paid search and display advertising. He primarily works with healthcare clients, but his experience spans across all verticals. Joe is a frequent blogger for Search Engine Journal. In his free time, he enjoys working out and spending time with family and friends.

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