An introduction to healthcare & medical digital marketing

The use of digital marketing for business purposes has grown year on year and now outstrips the annual spend of TV advertising. It is proving highly lucrative for businesses across all industries, including the pharmaceutical, medical and healthcare sectors.

A private medical practice or consultant can gain more brand exposure and consequently attract more new patients by using measurable digital marketing channels. We’ve put together a run-down of the main types of (non advertising related) digital marketing activities that businesses can explore.

Social Media Marketing

Essentially, this is used to attract fractured customers you may not reach through conventional channels such as direct mail. When used properly, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn can become social hubs for your business and help you to reach both patients and medical professionals. Your ‘followers’ and ‘connections’ can communicate directly with you – but more importantly you can also respond and interact with them.

Facebook has over 2.45 billion active users: even if your target market is only a tiny fraction of that, it’s still a huge opportunity to reach people who might not otherwise hear about your company.

It’s very easy to link to your company’s social media pages from your website, and this is a great way for your company to build a list of people who might otherwise browse your website and then leave, never to return.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Search Engine Optimisation, or SEO, means gearing up your website so it ranks highly for certain keywords when users type those keywords into the search engines. When done well, healthcare SEO can vastly increase the amount of patients and healthcare professionals you attract onto your site.

By researching the search-terms used by your target audience, an effective SEO strategy can be drawn up to make sure these words appear prominently on your website. This is something that should be done with the help of a professional, who knows how to use keywords effectively in your site’s metadata and copy.

Content Marketing

Content creation is an important part of digital startegy and the SEO process which comes after the initial on-site keyword optimisation has been carried out. By creating and syndicating high quality pieces of content you’re more likely to generate contextually relevant backlinks to your site. ‘Backlinks’ are links to your site placed on other relevant websites across the web. Done well, this can increase traffic to your website and raise its position in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

A well thought through, strategic approach to content marketing that is tailored your business will enable you to consistently create high quality content and digital assets that get shared online via social media and web links. This approach will help you to build your online reputation which will have a positive impact on your SEO strategy. In conjunction with relevant and regularly updated content, a well designed medical website with clear navigation and conversion points will help you to take full advantage of the highly targeted traffic that lands on your site.

The impact of user-generated content on medical and healthcare marketing

The medical and healthcare industry is constantly changing, particularly in light of developments in modern technology. Digital marketing strategies now involve SEO, social media, and a whole host of other methods to ensure online brand recognition and favourability. However, it’s important to remember, in the midst of these digital techniques, that the voice of the customer is still of paramount importance.  Monitoring user-generated content online is a useful method of gauging public reaction to a particular product or service.

Pharmaceutical and healthcare companies can benefit simply by monitoring the conversations about their brand that are already happening all around the Internet. Many websites, such as and, have discussion forums which allow users to create an account and post comments with questions and recommendations. Private blogs are also a good source of opinion based content, and even informal social media platforms such as Twitter can be searched for a mention of a particular product or condition. It is also possible for companies to invest in software which can collate information on public opinion from multiple web-based sources.

The information gleaned from user-generated content will offer a clear insight into public perception of the brand, and this information can then be used to identify the aspects of a current marketing campaign that are working, as well as those which may need revision.

To learn more about how Genetic Digital can help you to monitor the digital environment, get in touch.

Over half of internet users access company sponsored sites for medical advice

An American survey has revealed that more than half of all adults look at drug company sponsored information on the internet to find information about health issues and treatments. The information was viewed on either a website or a mobile phone app that was linked directly linked with a pharmaceutical company.

The survey, carried out by Manhatten Research, interviewed 6,634 adults in the United States in the final quarter of 2011 and revealed that 51% of internet users used pharmaceutical company sponsored digital resources. This is promising information for digital marketing in the phrama sector.

For the sector, the results are a welcome sign that the public is not averse to looking at sponsored information when it comes to matters concerning their health. The results showed that internet used the websites as a resource on a wide ranging field of topics including diagnosis, information on illness and disease, management of conditions, possible treatments, drug information and even how to broach subjects with their doctor.

Another finding of the survey, and a further encouraging sign for the industry, was that 43% of those surveyed also revealed that they discussed the prescription drugs identified by their online research with their doctors.

The Senior Healthcare Analyst at Manhattan Research, Maureen Malloy identified helping internet users prepare for raising the results of their online research as a key opportunity for brands which was currently being underutilised.

Other results showed that the use of company sponsored information increased dramatically in the event of people suffering from a chronic condition. Approximately 75% of angina patients and 68% of people with rheumatoid arthritis had accessed online information directly sourced from sites associated with pharmaceutical companies.

More people using the internet for health enquiries

More and more people are now prepared to share personal health information online in order to achieve a diagnosis and help.

According to new research by Simplyhealth, the private health insurance provider, more than half of people say that they would rather look up their health issues on the internet than immediately seek help from a healthcare professional. Information to be noted by companies wanting to sell healthcare products using digital marketing channels.

A total of 55% of those surveyed said that they would be prepared to submit information about their symptoms online, whilst half of respondents said that they would be happy to give basic information about themselves, such as their age.

The survey showed that nearly a third of people (31%) in the UK use the internet to find out if their symptoms warrant a visit to their GP, with 59% using Google to find out what’s wrong. The results show that younger people are often more comfortable with communicating over the internet, and are more likely to disclose personal information. 79% of 18 to 24s say they would give information compared to 63% of over 65s. Just under a quarter of those surveyed said that they would give details about their medical history online.

The research follows another recent survey, also by Simplyhealth, in which people saw the internet as a viable alternative in their search for help with their health in the face of long waiting lists at NHS healthcare providers.

Raman Sankaran, a spokesperson for Simplyhealth, said: “The internet, social media and instant messaging feature strongly in the results of our survey.

“All of this suggests that there is a shift in the way people want to access health advice and interact with healthcare professionals now.” This will have useful implications for the marketing of healthcare products to consumers.

How Google’s ‘Penguin’ is changing the face of SEO

Google’s latest update to its algorithm, dubbed ‘Penguin’, was only released on 24th April, but has already had a huge impact on hundreds of companies over the last few months and the way in which they strategise their search engine optimisation efforts.

The update is designed to counter web spam and over optimisation, by penalising sites that employ these underhand techniques with a significantly lower ranking in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).

Google’s Head of Webspam, Matt Cutts, announced Penguin in a blog post, which explained the principles on which the update is based. In particular, he emphasised the differentiation between ‘white hat’ SEO and ‘black hat’ web spam, highlighting the benefits of the former and the pitfalls of the latter.

The blog post stressed the importance of maintaining a focus of high quality content and user-focused pages under the principles of ‘white hat’ SEO and avoiding any of the ‘black hat’ techniques, such as keyword stuffing, link schemes, or unoriginal, duplicated content.

The online pharmaceutical sector is likely to be as affected as any other area of business, and so it is important for digital marketers in the industry to fully understand the Penguin update, and be aware of what they need to do to prevent their company from being affected – by Penguin or any of its successors. Cutts estimates the update will only affect around 3% of queries negatively, so as long as digital marketers follow and maintain the ‘white hat’ SEO guidelines, it is unlikely that there will be a detriment to their company’s online presence.

If your healthcare, medical or pharma website has been hit by the Google Penguin update then get in touch to learn more about how we can help you fix the SEO problems you might be facing.

Pharmaceutical marketing faces a ‘hurricane of change’

A report by the global management consultancy firm Booz and Company shows that senior executives within the pharmaceutical industry believe the business model is broken and that the industry needs to adapt marketing strategies appropriate for the digital age.

The critical nature of the state of sales and marketing within the industry was revealed by Danielle Rollmann, a partner in Booz and Company’s Global Health Practice, who claimed that “the pharmaceutical industry is the eye of a hurricane of change”.

The Booz and Company survey was designed to take the ‘industry temperature’ by surveying executives from leading US and European pharmaceutical companies. In response to the question ‘Is the pharmaceutical model broken?’ 68% answered in the affirmative with 44% in agreement and 24% in strong agreement.

In response to a range of questions, it was clear that many decision makers within the pharmaceutical industry believe that budgetary and financial pressures were going to have a serious impact on future sales and marketing efforts. The survey revealed that there was likely to be a substantial shift towards digital methods of marketing and a sharp decline in traditional print and journal advertising.

The biggest shift in marketing priorities was accelerated adoption of social media aimed at doctors to promote products with 58% of respondents projecting an increase in expenditure on social media as a marketing channel. Mobile technology for marketing, e-detailing and doctor oriented media channels were all identified by over 50% of those surveyed as likely to receive higher budgets in the next two years.

The results of the survey underline the increasing central role that digital marketing will play within the pharmaceutical industry for the foreseeable future and the importance of companies claiming their slice of digital territory as the earliest possible stage.

New Google search update raises privacy concerns

Two weeks ago Google changed the nature of search with its Search Plus Your World update which adds social media results to its search returns.

This evolution in the way search engines work is an acknowledgement of the fact that consumers continue to move their internet activity onto social media networks.  While the update was highly controversial in the tech world it is becoming increasingly clear that the modification could have major implications for pharma companies that have embraced Google’s own social network, Google Plus as a way to interact with the public.

On the positive side, early pharma adopters of Google Plus business pages will benefit from their content on the network gaining more traction in search returns which should drive more traffic to their online portals. However the update has also raised privacy concerns which could derail some companies carefully conceived Google Plus marketing strategies.

The big appeal for pharma marketing of Google Plus was the networks’ functionality allowing the allocation of an individual communication network to specific groups, the Circles feature. This allowed the companies to set up separate networks for each of their target markets, for example one for cancer another for circulation and so on.

Members of the public who joined the individual Circles were able to share experiences with others that were dealing with similar issues within a limited and empathetic environment. The problem with the Search Plus Your World update is that snippets of those conversations could now subject to a much wide distribution by appearing in search returns.

Pharma companies on Google Plus should be aware of the privacy issue and the effect of the new update.

FDA releases new off-label social media guidelines

The United States’ Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded 2011 by announcing new social media marketing guidelines for pharmaceutical companies.
The FDA released its “Guidance for Industry Responding to Unsolicited Requests for Off-Label Information About Prescription Drugs and Medical Devices” document, which mentions Twitter and YouTube.

The 15-page guidance document addresses off-label information, telling pharma companies how they should respond to consumers who are looking for information for a prescription drug on aspects outside of its intended use.

Some critics say that the advice given is too ambiguous – a comment that the FDA refutes.

Karen Mahoney, an FDA spokeswoman, said: “We understand the level of interest and wanted to get out what we had available to provide guidance.”

“This is just the first of multiple planned guidances that respond to testimony and comments from the Part 15 public hearing that FDA held in November 2009.”

In the guidance document, the FDA writes: “FDA recognizes that it can be in the best interest of public health for a firm to respond to unsolicited requests for information about off-label uses of the firm’s products that are addressed to a public forum, as other participants in the forum who offer responses may not provide or have access to the most accurate and up-to-date information about the firm’s products.

“Statements that promote a drug or medical device for uses other than those approved or cleared by FDA may be used as evidence of a new intended use. Introducing a product into commerce for such a new intended use without FDA approval or clearance would, under these requirements, generally violate the law.”

Pfizer and Grunenthal bag brand new digital pharma awards

Pharma giants Pfizer and Grunenthal have won a new award for excellence in digital pharma marketing.

Senior employees at the two companies were winners at the PharmaTimes Marketeer of the Year Awards. Grunenthal’s UK Senior Marketing Manager Matt Lowe was named Digital Innovator in the UK, while Pfizer’s European Brand Director Robert Collingbourne was awarded the European title.

This marks the first year that PharmaTimes has officially recognised digital excellence in the pharma industry. The magazine says that the awards are for those who “embrace the new opportunities presented by digital marketing in an innovative and ground breaking way but within the spirit and code of the relevant regulatory frameworks”.

Other finalists nominated for the new awards include people from Shire, Roche, MSD, Bayer, Boehringer Ingelheim and Amgen.

MHRA wins award for digital communications output

A medical device and drug email alerting service has been honoured with an award for its achievements.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) runs a free healthcare alerting service via its website consisting of 74 content channels covering a wide range of topics including safety and regulatory information and latest news. Users can then choose the subjects that are of particular interest to them and then receive alerts as soon as any relevant information is published.

The service has won an award for Excellence in Digital Communications from GovDelivery, a leading provider of government-to-citizen solutions for the public sector.

GovDelivery chose to award MHRA for achieving “an amazing engagement rate” of 78.9% – the highest of all GovDelivery’s UK clients.

Last year the MHRA sent over 10 million emails via its free alerting service, and has issued over eight million so far this year on various topics associated with healthcare. The service currently has more than 42,500 subscribers.

Rachel Bosworth, director of communications at the MHRA, said: “This is a fantastic recognition of the MHRA’s commitment to keeping our audiences informed through timely and targeted communications.”

“We are absolutely thrilled with our achievement and to be recognised for our focus on engaging effectively with our stakeholders.”

A testament to the ubiquity and importance of digital healthcare marketing and communication in the early 21st Century.