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Can Pharma Marketers Use SEM Keywords Too Broadly?


Capture general disease name searches without misleading your audience

In an effort to adhere to the spirit of FDA regulations, I often see pharma brands and MLR teams not only reviewing text ads, but also expressing concerns or prohibiting outright the use of certain keywords. Sometimes this results in keeping potentially valuable keywords out of SEM campaigns for fear of their being misconstrued as misleading their audience.

Getting down to basics, paid search campaigns are the product of keywords and text ads. Keywords define the audience to be targeted, and text ads are the marketing message. Here I explore the common ground shared by accurate, best-practice regulatory compliance and effective pharmaceutical audience communication.

Consumers will search for disease terms that are broader than a brand’s narrow indication

Marketers of a drug treating a subset of those with a given disease may be concerned that the general disease name as a keyword (without qualifying the subset) broadens their implied indication. Let’s consider a drug indicated for type 2 diabetes employing the keyword “diabetes” without the qualifier “type 2.” Some patients have type 1 diabetes, a disease this drug is not indicated for.

People living with diabetes often search for information about the disease without specifying the type. Google nevertheless generates millions of search results in response to each query. A broad “diabetes” search may thus generate results for drugs that treat either form of the disease.

If a person with type 1 diabetes searched for “diabetes treatment options,” then neither search engines nor pharma marketers have any way of determining whether the searcher is a type 1 or type 2 patient.

Can Pharma Marketers Use SEM Keywords Too Broadly?

Is “diabetes” by itself a compliant keyword? If an ad for a drug treating type 2 diabetes is served to a type 1 patient as a result of this search, the fact remains that the user searched for “diabetes treatment options” and found the full set of available results about the exact topic they searched for.

For a type 2 diabetes treatment campaign, a strategy of bidding on long-tail phrases like “type 2 diabetes” while omitting general “diabetes” searches significantly reduces the ad’s discoverability among its target audience. Consider that 90-95% of all diagnosed diabetes cases are type 2, yet “type 2 diabetes” only accounts for 40% of total monthly Google searches for either “type 2 diabetes” or “diabetes”.

Omitting the unmodified “diabetes” keyword would result in a 60% drop in search impressions with no provable difference in targeting accuracy. The inescapable implication is that many patients who would benefit from treatment with the drug will simply not find the information because the ad is not served.

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