Top 5 Lessons of an Online Advertiser Turned Healthcare Marketer

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Since January 2014, I’ve been working nearly exclusively with healthcare clients, trying to take their marketing to the next level from an online advertising perspective. Working in the healthcare field is significantly different than other industries.

I currently work primarily with regional health systems/hospitals, senior living and assisted living facilities, and drug/addiction rehab facilities. Each specific segment has a few distinctions; however, I’ve seen the following trends in all three.

1. The Approval Process Takes Longer: Most of the time, several different stakeholders are involved in campaign decision-making, at least from an online perspective. For example, with health systems, we generally work with both a digital marketing director and an individual service-line marketing manager. In most cases, the service-line marketing manager represents the interests of the business line, but still needs approval from specific physicians and other stakeholders to launch new PPC or display campaigns. That communication relay often leads to delayed campaign launches, as the business unit verifies the priority treatment or condition is correctly communicated.

2. Competition Matters More: All healthcare marketers have great interest in what their competitors are doing, more so than most other industries that I’ve worked with … for good reason! By knowing their competitors’ strategies, we’re able to find ways to differentiate our clients’ strategies and generate more leads and revenue. For health systems specifically, I looked at which advertisers were bidding on which keywords and how often they were showing up on See the full report—Health Systems & Paid Search: A Study of Service-Line Competition—for more details.

3. Digital Competes with Traditional Marketing Budget: Healthcare marketers still invest heavily in traditional advertising and marketing such as billboard, radio, TV and newspapers. Understanding traditional advertising is imperative, so that we may incorporate similar messaging in PPC and display advertising. In addition, healthcare organizations need to understand the results of online marketing in a context versus traditional in order to ensure they are maximizing revenue with overall marketing budgets.

4. Determining ROI Is More Difficult: Determining ROI (even from digital) is extremely difficult and complex in healthcare. Why? Here’s several reasons …

  • With many healthcare organizations, brand awareness has traditionally been more of a focus than ROI. Transitioning this mindset away from branding and more toward conversions and revenue takes time.
  • Longer buyer journey and customer lifetime value—more touch points need to be tracked offline and throughout the patient life cycle.
  • Caregivers often research on behalf of loved ones ( = difficult to track actions back to actual patient)
  • The healthcare industry is typically a “late adopter” with technology and CRM

5. Stricter Advertising Policies: Prohibitive policies govern what you can and cannot say and how you can target specific users. Google AdWords even has its own ‘help’ section dedicated to the specific restrictions around the advertising of healthcare-related products and services. Finally, using site remarketing is a very sensitive subject in the healthcare space (although it’s typically very effective).

Site remarketing is essentially targeting visitors with display ads who have already been to your website. You might be able to get away with retargeting, as long as you adhere to HIPPA compliance and avoid a specific condition or treatment that the user was researching on your site. For example, if a user visited a cancer page, you cannot show a cancer image ad. Only a general ad, such as a health system logo with generic messaging, may be shown.

To summarize, online advertising for healthcare is an endlessly fascinating, but complex and regulated field. Fathom is constantly working to identify challenges and propose solutions as our knowledge and expertise grows in this space.


Check out the marketer’s guide to hospital acquisition to take the headache out of rebranding:

The Art of Rebranding

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