Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How (and Why) DTCs Can Use Search Engine Marketing

How (and Why) DTCs Can Use Search Engine Marketing

By Scott Delea, SVP and GM, DigitalGrit, Inc.

What’s the most effective tool available to DTC marketers with limited budgets?

The easy answer: Search Engine Marketing. Last year, $7.3billion was spent on Internet marketing, exceeding the spending highs of the Web’s turn-of-the-century heyday.2 In the second quarter of 2004, 40% of all Internet advertising dollars ($947 million) were spent on Search Marketing – a sure sign that smart marketers know where the highest return on investment is.

“Pharmaceutical companies are starting to pay closer attention to advertising ROI and their DTC budgets have shifted accordingly,” says Mary Ann Belliveau, Head of Healthcare in Google’s Vertical Markets Group. “People today spend as much time on the Internet as they do watching television, and we’re seeing brands plan their ad campaigns in a much more integrated manner than ever before. Pharmaceutical companies realize that the wide reach they get with television ads prompt consumers to go to a search engine like Google to research information about both the condition and the brand.”

With Google and Yahoo! among the most heavily visited sites on the Web, it’s clear that her assertion is true (MSN and AOL, with searches fed by Google and Yahoo!’s Overture network are also among the most popular) 5 . Consumers now turn to the Web, not just for work or entertainment, but for information about health and wellness for themselves and their families. 6 In fact, Google is the top referral site for the Healthcare industry, referring over 53% of users to doctor’s sites and over 49% of users to medical sites.

Why is search so popular? A few good reasons: High ROI, pinpoint targeting and true accountability. With the majority of paid Search campaigns charged by the click, advertisers pay only for the leads they receive. (Click prices vary widely as keywords are typically bid upon. The more popular the keyword, the higher the price.) Astounding results can be achieved with as little as 10% of an existing marketing budget.

The ability to zero in on a target audience makes Search especially effective. By bidding on keywords – or search terms – that relate to their product, marketers can place their information right in the path of consumers who are actively seeking health information. For example, the marketer for a prescription allergy treatment might bid on keywords and phrases like “nasal congestion,” “pollen” and “itchy eyes,” as well as their product name. This way, consumers performing searches on any of these terms will find information on that product.

Also attractive is the accountability of Search. Clicks can be tracked accurately and easily – often within the Search Engine itself. (Google and Overture both offer basic campaign tracking.) So marketers can not only see how well their campaigns are performing, but what time of day their ads pull the most, which keywords are working best for them, and where the majority of their traffic is coming from.

Furthermore, because Search campaigns exist – and can be monitored – in real time, testing and tweaking can be affected easily. If a campaign isn’t performing well, keywords can be changed, copy can be altered, and clicks can be redirected – almost instantaneously.

Touching Consumers at Every Stage “DTC Search advertising allows pharmaceutical companies to reach patients at every stage of the pharmaceutical buying cycle,” observes Belliveau. “These programs can be used to reach the undiagnosed population and drive them to seek treatment; create a dialogue between patients and physicians; educate diagnosed patients; increase brand awareness; encourage patient compliance and build brand loyalty.”

Having a Search campaign, according to Belliveau, “allows the brands to reach consumers when they are raising their hand saying ‘Please tell me more about high cholesterol treatments.’ Search advertising is a powerful DTC marketing vehicle.” Search presents the opportunity for DTC marketers to put their products in front of these potential customers in the most effective way. Search offers a “pull,” as opposed to the uninvited “push” of TV ads. Consumers are trolling the Web, actively looking for product information. Their next step is likely to be a trip (or at least a phone call) to their physician – and you want them to ask about your product.

As an example, a patient who suspects they have a specific illness or condition, say, rheumatoid arthritis, may perform a search to learn more about the condition and available treatments, as 55% of online consumers do11. Similarly, a patient who is already on a course of antivirals may have questions throughout his treatment. He may be too embarrassed to call his doctor and first perform a quick search on “herpes treatment” to find the information he needs. (In fact, 48% of prescription drug buyers with Web access report going online to research a drug after receiving a prescription from their doctor.12)

Both scenarios present the opportunity to create a long-term, loyal customer. By providing relevant, informative Search results (and of course, useful information on your product’s site) you can make this consumer feel safe and confident in his course of treatment. Patients may turn to online Search for answers to the questions they’re too embarrassed to ask their doctors. Marketers have the capability, through Search Engine Marketing, to provide these consumers with answers to the questions they have about their prescription medications – and subsequently create a high-level of brand loyalty.

How does Search Engine Marketing work?

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) may seem a little trickier than other areas of Internet marketing simply because there are three different approaches yielding similar results. Here are some definitions of the key types of search listings as defined by the Search Engine Marketing Professional Organization (SEMPO).

Paid Placement: Advertising program where listings are guaranteed to appear in response to particular search terms, with higher ranking typically obtained by paying more than other advertisers. Paid placement listings can be purchased from a portal or a Search network. Search networks are often set up in an auction environment where keywords and phrases are associated with a cost-per-click (CPC) fee. Overture and Google are the largest networks, but MSN and other portals sometimes sell paid placement listings directly as well. Portal sponsorships are also a type of paid placement.

Basically, Paid Placements are brief advertisements that appear as “sponsored links” in most Search Engines. In sites powered by Overture (like Yahoo and MSN), these ads appear as the top listings, as well as along the right-hand column of the page. In Google, through their AdWords program, ads appear only in the right-hand column. Generally, these advertisements are purchased via keyword bidding – selecting a term that best matches your product and a per-click price that you’re willing to pay for it. Based on your bid, your ad will appear higher or lower in the ranking of results. With these ads, you only pay for the traffic you receive. That is, you only pay if someone actually clicks through your listing.

Paid Inclusion: Advertising program where pages are guaranteed to be included in a search engine's index in exchange for payment, though no guarantee of ranking well is typically given.

This is fairly self-explanatory. For site listings with Overture or AskJeeves – particularly if your site has been created with Flash, is frames-based, or features frequently-changing content -- Paid Inclusion is the best way to go. Overture’s SiteMatch option charges reasonable per-page fees for listings, then serves up results based on their relevance to search terms. Google does not offer paid inclusion.

Organic Listings: Listings that search engines do not sell (unlike paid listings). Instead, sites appear solely because a search engine has deemed it editorially important for them to be included, regardless of payment. Paid inclusion content is also often considered "organic" even though it is paid for. This is because that content usually appears intermixed with unpaid organic results.

If you like to play the odds, Organic Search is for you. Results aren’t guaranteed. In fact, if your pages change frequently or were created using Flash, your site might not show up at all. That’s because Search Engines send “spiders” over the Web to seek out text-based content for Organic Search results. For example, if a consumer performs a search on the term “GERD,” the spider will scan the Web looking for Web pages containing that term. The results will be listed in order of relevance – as determined by the Search Engine, not the marketer. Which means if you’re the marketer for a well-known DTC GERD treatment, your listing could be at the top – or somewhere on the fifth page of search results.

And if you are at all concerned about the credibility of Paid Placement or Paid Inclusion listings, you needn’t be. Research shows that the majority of Search users – at least 71% -- are unconcerned about sponsored links and listings.

Scott Delea is Senior Vice President and General Manager of eMarketing Services at DigitalGrit Inc. Scott can be reached at

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