SEO metadata that is both effective and compliant is essential for digital pharma marketers
I’ve been asked whether a pharma website can really be well optimized for organic search rankings and fully FDA compliant at the same time. My answer is an emphatic YES. When priorities of both marketers and reviewers are addressed holistically, informed decision-making with sensible safeguards results in better digital outcomes.
Search engines are the primary gateway for patients seeking health information. While SEO meta description language is often treated as a dispensable negotiating chip in the crunch of an MLR review, it can have very real implications on site traffic and engagement. Further, the very fact that the industry takes short cuts to ensure easy approval means hitting the mark on both compliance and effectiveness is a significant competitive advantage. Optimizing your organization’s search engine capabilities is often a difficult task, which is why many companies hire professional teams for SEO services to get the very best from their online presence.
Marketers should remember that a Google organic search result may draw on metadata but is “completely automated and takes into account both the content of a page as well as references to it that appear on the web.” Importantly, even if site owners omit meta descriptions altogether, the engines crawl the page content and other sources to determine what will be displayed in the search result.
Still, the nebulous role of metadata gives reviewers pause particularly around the question of whether brand sites should restrict their meta descriptions to conform to the same compliance standards used for paid search ads.
State of the industry – Who’s doing what?
While FDA guidance has steered clear of dictating SEO tactics, brands remain split into two groups with respect to metadata. One conforms with its intended purpose, using the available space to fully summarize the site or page content. It readily identifies the disease the product is approved to treat while also naming the product. The other restricts branded site descriptions to conform with the “reminder ad” format for compliant paid search.
Considerations for applying paid search standards to metadata:
- Applying the principles of the “reminder format” treats metadata as equivalent to direct brand communications and increases the probability that an organic search result will be constructed by the search engine without implying a claim
- This is the most conservative and risk-averse approach from a regulatory perspective
Rationale for fully descriptive metadata:
- Irrespective of the presence of metadata, it is not the marketer but the search engine that controls what shows as copy in organic listings
- There has yet to be any specific direction from FDA on metadata and no rules requiring their adherence to the “reminder” format
- Fully transparent metadata offers more accurate and thorough page descriptions, resulting in an arguably superior experience for patients and HCPs
Organic listings mirroring the “reminder ad” format:
When a brand chooses not to restrict its meta descriptions, I recommend applying these best practices:
- Include language that encourages searchers to read the brand’s important safety/risk info, and ensure that the full ISI is included on the linked page
- Use copy consistent with drug’s approved indication and avoid being misleading
- Include brand name and generic name
- Indicate the intended target audience
Fully descriptive organic listing examples:
Wanting more digital pharma insight? Access my whitepaper for examples of current best practices, case studies and anecdotes illustrating real-world applications of all 8 principals for digital pharma marketing success: