Keep abreast of our marketing and media insights about what’s shaping digital pharma, healthcare communications, marketing tech and the future of brand/consumer dynamics.


SEM Character Limit Relief for Pharma Marketers

How Google’s Expanded Text Ads Help Black Box and Combination Drug Brands

By Marc Benjamin

While not created specifically with the pharma industry in mind, Google’s introduction of the Expanded Text Ad (ETA) format created unprecedented space and flexibility for pharma to leverage best paid search practices associated with ads for combination products and drugs with black box warnings. Google’s ETA format has brought invaluable extra space to facilitate meaningful yet FDA compliant messaging in both of these special pharma cases. This has come as welcome relief to pharma marketers, given the constraints they face in the world of limited character-space platforms.

Expanded Text Ads significantly benefit campaigns supporting combination drugs (having two or more drugs combined into a single dosage form). Best SEM practice for combination drugs is typically to display the commercial name followed by each associated generic name, separated by the “/” or “-“ symbol. Just as adding a fourth row of squares exponentially increases the number of possible configurations compared to a standard 3×3 Rubik’s Cube, the extra space allowed by the ETA format creates many additional possibilities for combination drugs with impossibly long generic names.

Black box drugs must identify as such with specific language drawing the audience’s attention to their warnings. Often the result is a text ad consisting of nothing but the product name and the warning language, if those can be executed at all. Again here, the expanded character count means that paid search text ads for boxed warning drugs have room to convey a message beyond the required boxed warning language.

Compared to the legacy ad constraints, the ETA format features:

  • Significantly longer headlines
  • Longer and more versatile descriptions
  • Base display URLs auto-extracted from the destination domain

ETAs are composed of:

  • Two 30-character headline fields that can be strung together as a single headline of 60 characters
  • A display URL
  • A single 80-character description line

Expanded Text Ad format (Desktop and mobile experience):

Expanded Text Ad Format now available to pharma marketers using Google AdWords to reach their audience.

The ETA format supports a combined total of up to 140 characters –equivalent to a tweet – and 47% more characters than the legacy text ad format allows.

ETAs can appear in any position on any device – their widened horizontal footprint is made possible on desktops by Google’s current search results page layout. They are eligible to show on and its search partner network, as well as the Google Display Network. Ad extensions such as Sitelinks and Callouts are not affected.

With ETAs replacing legacy ads, many advertisers – particularly those with complex or regulated messages as in pharma – are seeing elevated click-through rates (CTRs) for the more information-rich ads. Pharma marketers should create and test more ad variations in this format, closely monitoring CTRs and traffic patterns to fully exploit it.

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:

Get Started

Learn if your target audiences are able to effectively find your brand, and how your website and brand measure up against your full-stack audience activation and engagement potential.