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70 S e p t e mb e r 2003 PharmaVOICE For many phar maceu t i ca l ma r keters, the excite ment of launching a brand Website is short lived. Every thing that seemed so perfect, from the cre ative concept to the graphics and content,quickly comes under suspicion when monthly reports show little return for their investment. It’s a frustrating scenario, to say the least. Savvy marketers, wanting to get to the bottom of the problem, conduct their own research, going to a favorite search engine and entering the brand name or indication as a search term.At this point, frustration turns to anger when the site doesn’t show up anywhere in the initial search results. Or, worse yet, a competitor’s site is listed in the top 10. By starting at a general search engine such as Google or AltaVista, the marketer was starting where more than 65% of consumers start when looking online for health information, accord ing to a 2002 Harris Study. Search engines have become an invaluable resource for consumers as they face the vast content available online. Harnessing the power of common search engines and using them to drive traffic to a site is what searchengine marketing is all about. Therein lies the marketing challenge. Marketers looking to reach specific patient seg ments must key into clues offered by the way Inter net users search for information.These interests can be used to target specific consumers and deliver appropriate messaging. For example, a user reveals a specific interest when typing “type II diabetes in women” into a search engine. It is obvious that health issues relating to diabetes in specific and women in general are of importance to this user. Ensuring that a brand site is listed in the top search results and the message in those results is relevant to the query is an effective way for a brand to begin a relationship with the tar get audience. UNDERSTANDING SEARCH ENGINES A search engine is a classification of a broad range of search sites, ranging from humanbuilt directories such asYahoo and Looksmart to automated indexing sites such as Google or MSN. Each search engine reviews the content on a site, either through human eyes or automated “spiders”, and attempts to classify it in its database. Some only accept payment for advertis ing on the site, while others accept payment for priority listing or even simply to be listed.To make matters more confusing, the search results of some engines are syndi cated to other search sites. Regardless, all offer some form of paid placement in addition to their search results. Each search engine has its own method for reviewing and indexing Web sites, which is kept confidential and changes rou tinely to improve the accuracy of the results. There are four major areas that contribute to being listed in the search results: Visible Content: This is the content that users see when they look at a Web page. The frequency of words, position on the page, and proximity to other words all are calculated in determining relevance. Coded Content: In the source code to create the Web page, there are a number of areas for text. This text is reviewed for relevance, an area that can have a negative effect on a site’s ranking. Unscrupulous Website coders have “loaded the code” with repeti tions of keywords to appear higher in search result rankings. Search engines view this negatively and have developed rules that will result in far lower search rankings if words are repeated too frequently. Link Popularity: As search engines “spider” the Web, some keep track of which sites are linked most frequently. The theory is that the higher quality the site, the more often other sites will link to it. Paid Listings:Companies such as Overture, former ly Goto,allow companies to bid on certain keywords, paying for each click through. While many may not have heard of Overture, most have probably seen their listings on sites such as Yahoo, Lycos, AltaVista, and others. SEARCHENGINE STRATEGY There are four major components to an effective searchengine strategy: Keyword Selection: Researching and selecting the most relevant and appropriate keywords is the foun dation for searchengine marketing. While the vol umeof traffic to the site typically measures a site’s suc cess,the most important success metric is the volume of qualified traffic, or number of users who see con tent and take the desired action.Keywords should be targeted not just on the drug name and class, but to indications and likely search terms of patients and caregivers. Marketers should take off their marketing hat and think about how a consumer would conduct a search on a specific disease or condition.For exam ple,while marketers may look at their product to treat “stress urinary incontinence”,consumers are more like ly to search for “bladder problems.” A keyword may be too broad or popular to be useful. Once a master list of keywords has been cre ated, the popularity of each term can be obtained through various tools offered by companies such as Overture. This will tell executives how many times that particular search term has been typed into the major search engines in a certain period. Obscure keywords or phrases should be eliminated from the list, and special consideration should be given to overly broad or popular keywords, such as pediatric or heart disease. Optimizing for these broad search results can be expensive to sustain and may result in too many unqualified visitors. One useful resource for keywords is to look at the code of competitor’s sites. Keep in mind, though, that the courts have taken a stance of not allowing firms to use trademarked terms of competitors simply to Making a case for a SEARCHENGINE STRATEGY Harnessing the Power of Search Engines CREATING AN EFFECTIVE SEARCHENGINE STRATEGY FOCUSES A COMPANY’S EFFORTS ON BEING VISIBLE TO THE TARGET AUDIENCE WITH THE RIGHT MESSAGE AT THE RIGHT TIME. MEASURING THE SUCCESS OF THESE MESSAGES ALLOWS LIFESCIENCES EXECUTIVES TO OPTIMIZE A SEARCHENGINE STRATEGY ANDACHIEVETHEBRAND’SBUSINESS OBJECTIVES. Gerry McGoldrick, VP, media services, for Insight Interactive Group, says search engines are a costeffective and efficient means for a brand to interact with its target audience. Marketers looking to reach specific patient segments mustkey into clues offered by the way Internet users search for information.Studying users’search terms is critical. Gerry McGoldrick drive traffic to a site unrelated to the trademarked term.The FDA has issued letters to companies on the improper use of keywords in the source code of a site. Site/Link Optimization: Once the short list of searchengine keywords is devel oped, the site and related links need to be optimized based on this list. From the keyword to the link messaging to the site content, relevancy is the key to all suc cessful searchengine marketing efforts. As described earli er, this entails changing not only the visible copy to ensure that the key phrases are used,but also the source code. The use of the key phrases should be focused on the specifics of that page or section of the site. Each content area should have its own set of key phrases woven into the site, for example. Additionally, areas of the site focused on compliance may have different key phrases or a different order of those phrases when compared with a specific dis cussion about the drug. Using the key phrases as a guide, pharma executives also should seek out the most popular sites related to the key phrases and strive to have their site linked. For some, this will simply be a listing in their links section,others may require a reciprocal link, and others may require some sort of grant or fee. Being linked from these popular destination sites will not only drive traffic to a site, but raise the importance of that site as measured by search engines when they calculate the link’s popularity. Paid Placement:When a user goes to a search engine and enters a term, search results are only part of the picture. There also are paid placements, which should be included in all searchengine strategies. Paid placement is a very costeffective way to break out of the clutter of the competition and ensure the message is being seen first. Where possible, the paid placement and site optimization should work together to own certain keywords and block competitors from any visibility. Paid listings allow certain flexibility in messaging and guarantee visibility for certain key phrases. Combining site optimization and paid placements delivers a onetwo punch that gets results. Measurement and Optimization: The measurability of the Internet offers extremely valuable input into the effec tiveness of a searchengine strategy. Key success metrics for the site should be established at the onset of the search campaign planning process. Each keyword/search engine combination can be measured to see what visitors view on the site. For example, if the goal is to have poten tial customers register to receive a newsletter, each key word/site pair can be measured against not simply traffic to site, but also signups for the newsletter. This form of ongoing measurement is critical. As search engines change their optimization strategies or as competitors and related sites enter the scene, the value of certain messaging can be evaluated. Gerry McGoldrick is VP, media services, for Insight Interactive Group, an interactive marketing firm in Philadelphia. PharmaVoice welcomes comments about this article. Email us at feed firstname.lastname@example.org. Making a case for a SEARCHENGINE STRATEGY Themeasurability of the Internet offers extremely valuable input into the effectiveness of searchengine strategy.