Making the Web Patient Friendly

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Elisabeth Pena Villarroel

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As patients and consumers continue to turn to the Internet for health-related information, pharmaceutical marketers are refining their search engine optimization (SEO) strategies to make sure information-hungry consumers are being correctly directed to the right sites. Getting, and Staying, on Top of the Internet Almost 99% of Internet users report employing search engines, according to an iProspect survey; and 81.7% of respondents will try a new search if they aren’t satisfied with the results found in the first three pages. In addition, according to Yahoo! Search Marketing, the majority of click-through volume comes from the first three listings of search results. Companies can greatly boost their Website traffic numbers by ensuring that their product or disease-state Website is on the top of page one of search results for their top keywords. The two primary methods that search engines use to cull results are algorithmic search, also known as an organic or natural search, and paid search, also known as a sponsored search. In an organic search, search engines use spiders to index Web pages, and results are served up to users via an algorithm that determines the most relevant results, titles, and descriptions for listings. In a paid search, advertisers bid on keywords for paid placement on the listing page. Sponsored results are served up to users based on bid price and relevance; the titles and descriptions for listings are developed by the advertisers. A pharmaceutical brand’s position in search results is especially important considering on average, one-third of visit activity at pharmaceutical Websites is the result of a search, while other visit activity is generated through advertising, links, or nonreferred traffic, according to comScore Networks research. Also, of the activity to pharmaceutical brand sites, visits from natural search results (69%) far exceed those of paid search visits (31%). To ensure a brand is at the top of the search results, Atul Singh, senior product manager of Humira consumer marketing at Abbott Laboratories, says marketers have to adopt a two-pronged approach: invest in paid searches and natural searches. “A natural search is the primary driver of traffic to Websites, almost four to one compared with a paid search,” he says. “Given the significant impact of a natural search, it’s surprising that so few pharmaceutical company marketers focus on natural search tactics. The drivers for natural search are: keywords, content, internal links, inbound links, tags, and landing pages.” According to Bonnie Becker, director of pharmaceutical category at Yahoo! Search Marketing, sponsored search is the best way to ensure a business or brand is featured at the top of the search-results page. Tom Snow, director of marketing, reproductive health, U.S., at Serono Inc., believes that both approaches are needed to ensure a brand has the best search-result position. “While getting onto the first page or into the top spots for natural search is certainly a worthy goal, I think it’s also important to be realistic,” he says. “If marketers are trying to get to the top of natural search rankings in a highly competitive disease state, or around a keyword that may be problematic, for instance, the name of a competitor’s product, they may be better off using paid search to drive traffic while focusing on SEO elsewhere.” When pursuing a natural search ranking, a company should put together a focused, limited list of condition keywords to optimize the site. Having a focused keyword strategy can maximize how well a site ranks against the most relevant terms. By contrast, having too many keywords can “water down” a site, making it harder to rank well against key terms. “Develop the keyword strategy based on brand goals and what can realistically be ranked well against,” says Peter H. Nalen, president and CEO of Compass Healthcare Communications. “For example, there is no sense trying to rank against a term such as ‘cancer.’ Government and association sites dominate this area, as they should. An alternative in this situation is to try ‘indication-cancer treatment’ as keywords.” Best Practices While having a user-friendly, informative site is the way to best serve consumers and patients, being at the top of the search-result list requires companies to follow some best practices. Having a comprehensive list of keywords that relate to the disease state and brand ranks high on the list. Keywords should be based on the content the site offers as well as popular keywords on search engines. “The first thing I would recommend to marketers is to really know and understand the most frequently searched keywords for their disease state or brand,” Mr. Snow says. “It’s important to determine what information people are looking for as well as the main keywords they’re using. These data should tell an awful lot about the audience, and these insights can serve as the foundation for the entire online presence.” Mr. Singh suggests that effective keywords can be determined by analyzing log files to identify which words visitors to the Website are using; monitoring the pay-per-click bids to determine keywords; analyzing a Website’s local site search logs; and reviewing blogs to determine common and popular terms. Additionally, site content is of utmost importance in getting higher page or site rankings, Mr. Singh says. “Content has to be relevant to consumer needs, it has to be unique, and it must be refreshed on a regular basis,” he says. “Since search engines index the first few hundred words on each page, it’s imperative that the keywords are appropriately included in the content.” Robust, user-friendly content around keywords that are being searched will not only help with search rankings, but will create a valuable, positive experience for visitors. “If I can only focus on one tactic from an SEO perspective, it’s going to be content development,” Mr. Snow says. “At the same time, marketers can’t bombard their visitors with content for content’s sake. In the infertility space, we know that consumers and patients often feel overwhelmed and paralyzed by a ‘sea of information.’ With that in mind, we’ve tried to provide thorough content on our Website,, but in a way that’s digestible and, where possible, customized to where that user is on the patient journey.” Additionally, landing pages provide consumers with the first engagement with a Web property, so marketers should optimize these areas to provide an outstanding user experience. This includes leveraging systems to help segment customers and test different types of creative and page designs, according to Ms. Becker. Mr. Singh agrees that landing pages created for visitors looking for specific information can be used for SEO gains through building links to other pages. But he warns that Website content should not be duplicated on landing pages and excessive use of landing pages could result in a less-than-favorable experience. Pharmaceutical marketers should treat landing pages as mini-sites with tags, links, and keywords. Internal links are other areas that need to be carefully designed. All text links should have keywords embedded in them where possible, according to Mr. Singh. Search engines not only follow the text links, but also analyze the text in the link, impacting a site’s rankings. In addition, linking helps to give a site credibility; and nowhere is this more important than in the pharmaceutical industry, Mr. Nalen says. “In condition areas where the government and large organizations, such as .gov, .edu, and .org, are present, companies need to work harder to position their sites as authoritative,” he says. “This can be done by having other objective, recognized authorities linked to a brand or disease-state site. It is imperative, however, when looking for linking partners to emphasize ‘quality over quantity.'” Mr. Singh also has found that inbound links allow search engines to confirm the value and relevancy of a site. The quality of the site linking to a Website also is taken into account. “Receiving visitors from inbound links from major Websites in a category is very desirable,” he says. “Though difficult and expensive, it is worthwhile to be associated with a few high-quality inbound links.” Leveraging public-relations and promotional initiatives by including the Website in all news releases, brochures, and other promotional items can help boost linking potential, Mr. Nalen says. “Linking all the brand’s media pieces to the site can make inbound traffic soar,” he says. “A Website’s meta description — the one sentence description of a site that appears on the search results page — also is an important area for SEO. We recommend that metatag language be clear, concise, and consistent with the brand’s messaging. “Consumers/patients and physicians want facts when they are searching for health and treatment information,” Mr. Nalen continues. “When marketers write their meta descriptions, they need to make sure these answer patients’ queries factually. Over time, these messages should be refined, which will result in higher organic listings and an increase in qualified traffic to the Website.” Mr. Singh agrees that tags should be used, but does not recommend that marketers spend too much effort on them. “A title tag should be included on all pages, and it should describe precisely the content of the page,” he says. “Other metatags, such as keyword or description tags, are of low importance since major search engines generally ignore these.” Something to keep in mind is not to overdo SEO tactics, Mr. Singh warns, or a Website can run the risk of having its rank penalized by the search engines. SEO Maintenance With the everchanging world of online marketing and communications, just getting to the top of the search results in a category is not enough. Pharmaceutical product managers and marketers need to work to stay on top of their search-engine status. “Search engine optimization tactics are not things that marketers can do for a couple of months and then move on to something else,” Mr. Snow says. “It’s very important to be aware of the resources that are needed on an ongoing basis to maintain a strong search engine optimization program. If driving visitors from natural search is a priority for a brand, then as a marketer you better be realistic about the resources, both headcount and operating expenditures, that need to be deployed.” Because search engines modify their algorithms quite frequently for site indexing and page rankings, marketing executives also need to keep themselves current with the latest changes as well as understand the role of paid versus natural search and what factors impact each. “Search is a very dynamic area of the online marketing mix that marketers have to follow very closely,” Mr. Singh says. “Search engine optimization of a Website is an ongoing process that keeps evolving along various dimensions; keywords, content, internal links, inbound links, tags, and so on.” Search engine offerings, such as Google and Yahoo! Sitemaps, can help marketers keep on top of their Website’s standings and allow a site administrator to view what pages have been indexed, when the site was last analyzed by the search engines, for which keywords a site currently is ranked, and why a particular page is not being indexed or ranked. While marketers need to know what their customers are searching for when they initially define their keywords, they need to continually pay attention to what their customers are searching for and how their Website ranks. “SEO is not something you do once and then forget about,” Mr. Nalen says. “It is a constantly evolving process.” PharmaVOICE welcomes comments about this article. E-mail us at With a shift in marketing’s focus to direct-to-patient and the growth of the Internet as a major source of health information, companies need to employ search engine optimization tactics to help direct information-hungry consumers and patients to appropriate content. Activities Driving Patients to Search Online Patients turn to the Internet to learn more about a brand or condition as a result of: Symptom suffering Diagnosis and/or prescription from doctor TV advertising with heavy media weight News stories Large promotional events (i.e., Super Bowl, NASCAR) Conversations with friends and family Source: Yahoo! Search Marketing, Burbank, Calif. For more information, visit Tom Snow Serono I would recommend to companies that are looking to strengthen their search engine presence that they identify a strong SEO agency partner to work with their teams and optimize their sites on an ongoing basis. Peter Nalen Compass Healthcare Communications In the dynamic, highly publicized and scrutinized pharmaceutical industry, it is critical to have a strong search presence against your company’s brand name. When a patient is prescribed a medication about which they have very little prior knowledge, search engines are readily available resources of information. A highly organic ranking can be pivotal in turning that unfilled prescription into a compliant patient. Search Engine Optimization Bonnie Becker Yahoo! Search Marketing Marketers who can use both paid and search marketing campaigns maximize their exposure and ensure their businesses are featured in the search results. Atul Singh Abbott Laboratories Bottom line, marketers need to make sure their Website content is unique and relevant for their visitors and is refreshed on a frequent basis. If there is good content, top search rankings will follow. Best Practices for Search Engine Optimization for Internet Communications Design pages for users first, search engines second Develop original and unique content that has genuine value Choose terms for the title that match the concept of the document — users are more likely to click a link if the title matches their search Think carefully about the key terms users will use to find your content or content similar to yours; use those terms to guide the text and construction of your page Use hyperlinks to help people find interesting and related content, when applicable Use metadata (including title and description) that accurately describes the contents of a Web page Adhere to good Web design in general Source: Yahoo! Search Marketing, Burbank, Calif. For more information, visit Sound Bites from the Field If pharmaceutical marketers could focus their efforts on only one aspect of an online campaign related to patient-centric marketing over the next year, PharmaVOICE asked industry experts to identify what they think is the most important area. Ian Cross is CEO of I-Site, Philadelphia, an interactive agency specializing in the online marketing of consumer health, nutrition, and pharmaceutical products. For more information, visit “If a site already is loaded with consumer- centric content and strong calls-to-actions (CTAs) that drive patients to seek and maintain treatment, then well thought out, ongoing search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) programs are a must. Marketers need to optimize their sites for key search terms, budget for pay-per-clicks, measure conversion to CTAs, and reregister with search engines quarterly. If the site doesn’t have the necessary consumer-centric content, and it still performs like a turtle, then it’s time to get back to basics and redesign with strong CTAs and SEO best practices. It’ll be more than worth the investment when Web analytics show ‘didn’t stays’ down and CTA conversions up.” Jere Doyle is Founder, President, and CEO of Prospectiv, Woburn, Mass., which provides customer acquisition, e-mail marketing, and data-analytics solutions to leading consumer-brand marketers. For more information, visit “Getting the most relevant drug-treatment information to the right consumers at the right time is the most important aspect of online patient-centric marketing. Online customer- acquisition solutions using multiple channels, such as treatment-oriented Websites and e-mail marketing, provide the best vehicle for marketers to build a highly targeted in-house list of informed patients who need their drug treatments. In the future, more pharmaceutical marketers will continue to implement these programs. This approach is a win-win for consumers who get the information and drug treatments they need, while pharmaceutical companies build brand trust and loyalty.” Eugene Lee is VP, Group Account Manager, at Regan Campbell Ward • McCann, New York, a full-service medical communications company, offering professional advertising, medical education, interactive, managed care, and direct-to-patient communications. For more information, visit “The most important area for improvement is patient relationship marketing (PRM). People visit Websites for different reasons, but many pharmaceutical companies still employ a one-size-fits-all approach, overlooking the reasons why users visit these sites in the first place. PRM overcomes this hurdle by segmenting users and offering them custom communication plans targeted to their unique needs. An undiagnosed person may be searching for disease-state information, while someone already diagnosed may desire support and community. By delivering relevant and useful information on a timely basis, PRM builds trust and loyalty with the user in a way that was not possible before.” Marc Weiner is President of Qi, Parsippany, N.J., a division of CommonHealth that provides competitive analysis, interactive design and development, and Website planning. For more information, visit “Marketers need to optimize new and existing Web pages so that search engines can index all content, including video, audio, Flash, JavaScript, and HTML. They also need to keep up with Google and Yahoo’s constantly changing requirements, since each of these Web technologies requires a different metatag strategy. After optimizing, use an SEM campaign to place users directly into specific interior pages in the Website, not the homepage. Don’t make patients work to get to the content. If patients are given the specific health information they are looking for in the search engine, they’ll view your Website as relevant to their needs.” Stephen Wray is President and CEO of Cadient Group, Conshohocken, Pa., which is e-defining healthcare marketing by unifying and, in turn, magnifying traditional brand marketing from an interactive core. For more information, visit “Search engines are the top tool used by consumers to find healthcare information, so understanding how patients search online will be critical to driving successful interactive campaigns. Most marketers view search as a linear experience: a user enters a keyword, chooses a result, and visits a Website. In reality, users perform a series of searches to find what they need. We call this spiraling pattern of behavior ‘the search cyclone’. Smart marketers understand this pattern, capture users at the top of the funnel, and quickly spin them through the spiral of information, creating enough momentum to drive them to action.” U.S. Online Marketing Forecast: Digital Marketing Spending ($ in Millions) 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 E-mail marketing $1,393 $1,451 $1,522 $1,600 $1,557 $1,606 $1,664 Online classifieds $2,173 $2,654 $3,119 $3,584 $4,000 $4,375 $4,705 Search engine marketing $4,177 $5,722 $7,252 $8,609 $9,921 $11,112 $12,244 Display advertising $4,128 $4,890 $5,695 $6,379 $7,017 $7,578 $8,109 Total $11,871 $14,716 $17,589 $20,171 $22,495 $24,671 $26,721 Percent of total advertising 5% 6% 6% 7% 7% 8% 8% Note: Numbers have been rounded Source: Forrester Research Inc., Cambridge, Mass. For more information, Experts on this topic Bonnie Becker. Director of Pharmaceutical Category, Yahoo! Search Marketing, Yahoo!, Burbank, Calif.; Yahoo! Search Marketing helps companies drive traffic to Websites through services such as sponsored search, local advertising, and product/travel/directory submit. For more information, visit Peter H. Nalen. President and CEO, Compass Healthcare Communications, Princeton, N.J.; Compass is a full-service online marketing agency exclusively supporting brands in the pharmaceutical, biopharmaceutical, and medical-device industries. For more information, visit Atul Singh. Senior Product Manager, Humira Consumer Marketing, Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Ill.; Abbott is a global, broad-based healthcare company devoted to discovering new medicines, new technologies, and new ways to manage health. For more information, visit Tom Snow. Director, Marketing, Reproductive Health, U.S., Serono Inc., Rockland, Mass.; Serono Inc. is the U.S. affiliate of Serono SA, a global biotechnology leader with headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. For more information, visit

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