Thursday, January 11, 2007


by Joshua Slatko

Source: Med Ad News (December 2006)

Many pharmaceutical product Websites have significant flaws that limit their appeal to a broad audience. Health-care marketing company Campbell-Ewald Health studied 58 consumer Websites across nine therapeutic categories: allergy, asthma, cardiology, diabetes, gastroenterology, men’s health, mental health, urology, and women’s health.

The study found that many Americans cannot fully understand the information on pharmaceutical Websites. Product sites frequently overlook Spanish-speaking consumers as well as caregivers. Additionally, product sites do a poor job of tracking returning traffic or allowing users to personalize their site experience. Product sites also perform poorly in search-engine searches, because marketers have not built sites to appropriate Internet standards.

The reading level of pharmaceutical Website marketing copy is a major concern for pharmaceutical marketers. The average branded pharmaceutical Website requires 12 years of education to read the content, meaning that only 55% of the U.S. population can fully understand the information provided on these sites.

"We looked at sections of the copy and, more often than not, examples would require at least 13 years, sometimes 17, sometimes even 20 years of education to read," says Lori Laurent Smith, senior VP, Campbell-Ewald ( "It is hard to say that a company is consumer-focused and friendly when the reading level of its copy is greater than what almost half of Americans can comprehend."

Campbell-Ewald based their conclusions on Gunning-Fog and the Flesch Reading Ease, two commonly used tests for analyzing the reading level of content. "To put it in perspective, a 12 on Gunning-Fog is around the reading level of The Wall Street Journal," Ms. Smith says. "A Fog index of six is around the TV Guide. A Fog index of eight is around Readers’ Digest. And most pharma sites are coming out at 12."

Other potential misreadings of the audience are common. According to Campbell-Ewald’s study, more than half of users who search for health-care information do so as caregivers. But most pharmaceutical product sites are oriented toward patients and potential patients only.

"More than half of the people looking for health-related information are doing so on behalf of someone else," Ms. Smith says. "But on most product sites, the tone, the copy, and the imagery are geared toward the individual as if they were the patient or considering the medication."

More than 75% of the pharmaceutical Websites studied failed to address the Spanish-speaking population in the United States. According to the 2000 U.S. census, 11% of U.S. residents spoke Spanish at home. But Campbell-Ewald’s researchers found that three quarters of pharmaceutical product Websites did not have a corresponding Spanish translation version.

"The Spanish-speaking consumers are often overlooked or ignored by pharmaceutical Websites," Ms. Smith says. "About 75% of the Websites we looked at did not have any type of translation whatsoever. Considering the amount of money that pharmaceutical companies are spending on measured media, in some cases upwards of $100 million, not having a Spanish language translation on their product Websites is somewhat surprising."

Only half of the pharmaceutical Websites were developed using generally accepted Internet standards. Established by the World Wide Web Consortium, these standards ensure usability for all consumers, including full accessibility for disabled Internet users. Pharmaceutical Websites are missing out on significant traffic from search engines because they are not built to the most universal Internet standards.

"Quite a lot of pharmaceutical Websites scored poorly on search engines because their sites are not built to the standards," Ms. Smith told Med Ad News. "What those standards ensure is that all content is available to all users regardless of the platform. We typically see an increase in search-engine optimization for sites that have been built to those standard compliancy measures."

The effect of this loss of traffic is significant. According to the Campbell-Ewald report, 95% of consumers looking for health information reported use of a search engine in 2005.

Ms. Smith encourages pharmaceutical companies to tone down the selling aspects of their Websites and concentrate on serving as resource centers. "As many as 73% of health-information seekers reject data they find on the Web," she says. "One of the reasons is that the information is too commercial, or more concerned with selling products than providing accurate information. The person who hears about a product from DTC advertising or word of mouth wants to understand what the product is and how it works. They do not want to be bombarded with coupons and offers."

There is some good news for pharmaceutical Websites, according to Ms. Smith. Websites have done a good job of providing users with tools, quizzes, and lists of information to bring to doctors.

"Marketers are acknowledging that patients and caregivers are online doing research," Ms. Smith says. "There does seem to be an infatuation right now with providing tools in order to facilitate a user bringing information to their doctor’s office."

The study found some differences among therapeutic categories. Products exclusively for men’s health or women’s health focused on providing very different types of information. Men’s health drug sites, for example, provided more facts on the treated disease as well as explanations of how the medication works in the body. The women’s health sites outperformed the men’s in explaining side effects and offering information on alternative treatment options.

Overall, mental-health products did the best job of providing information for caregivers. Cardiovascular products, which is a critical category for infirm and elderly patients, ranked among the lowest for caregiver support.

The Websites that performed the best in the study included,, and These sites are clear, easily understood, and engaging. Users can navigate these sites easily. [IgniteBlogger Comment: was created by Ignite Health,]

The diabetes drug Byetta is jointly marketed by Amylin Pharmaceuticals Inc. ( and Eli Lilly and Co. ( The cholesterol drug Lipitor is marketed by Pfizer Inc. ( The central nervous system drug Seroquel is marketed by AstraZeneca (
buzz this