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.

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

The pharmaceutical and healthcare marketing 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 social media environment, get in touch and we can talk you through our social media marketing services.

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.

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.

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.

The value of digital marketing in a high-cost environment

The cost of developing new drugs has increased dramatically whilst the number of drugs in late-stage development has continued to decrease.

According to a new report by professional services firm Deloitte on the world’s 12 largest pharmaceutical companies, the average cost of bringing a product to market rose by more than 25% to more than $1bn (£630m) this year, from $830m in 2010.

Meanwhile, the number of drugs in late-stage development dropped from 23 to 18. Ten of the 12 companies have also experienced a drop in returns from research and development (R&D), going from 11.8% last year to 8.4% this year.

Julian Remnant, head of Deloitte’s European R&D advisory practice, said that the news was not all bad: “While this picture reflects a snapshot of the very real productivity challenges the industry is facing, it belies some underlying successes. Of the 12 companies we analyse each year – the top 12 research-based pharmaceutical companies globally – nearly two-thirds succeeded in realising more value from product commercialisation than has been lost from late-stage product failures.

“Also, across the 12 companies, non-R&D costs have declined, resulting in a higher operating margin – which helps to free up cash flow that could be reinvested in R&D.”

The figures do however point to a need for pharmaceutical companies to find more cost-effective ways to develop and market their products in order to maximise on returns.

One way to do this would be to practice more digital marketing, where products can be promoted for relatively little cost but to a very wide audience.

Digital channels take lion’s share of pharma marketers’ media mix

Digital channels are finally starting to overtake traditional channels in their share of pharmaceutical product teams’ overall media mix.

According to a study by consulting firm Cutting Edge Information called Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing and Social Media: Managing Growth, Mitigating Risk and Mastering Strategy, digital channels formed 54.7% of drug companies’ media mix this year, compared with traditional media’s share of 42.1%.

While the use of all three main digital marketing channels (mobile media, social media and websites) increased throughout 2011, mobile led the way. Use of mobile grew from 5.6% in 2010 to 15.5% in 2011 – a nearly threefold increase.

Casey Ferrell, research analyst at Cutting Edge Information, led the study. He said: “It’s particularly interesting that digital media growth has accelerated in 2011, especially for small and mid-sized pharma companies.”

In 2010, digital marketing channels increased to a combined 40.6% of the average media mix, while traditional marketing channels went down to 55.0% compared to 2009.

Social media made the largest gain as a percentage change in the media marketing mix in 2010, rising 53.9% from 6.3 % of the mix to 9.7%. Traditional digital marketing such as websites and mobile marketing also increased slightly during this time, while print media and television/radio slipped by 5% and 2% respectively. However, those numbers rose significantly in 2011.

The full report can be found at