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Search Engine Marketing: Announcements

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Today (11/12/09) at the FDA Social Media Hearings, Google made a presentation and proposed two new ad units for pharmaceutical paid search marketing. These new ad units are specifically for pharmaceutical advertisers and are designed to improve quality of ads displayed for relevant search terms. In their presentation at the FDA hearing, Google made the point that overall quality of paid search ads (as measured by quality score and click-thru rate) has declined significantly since the warning letters were issued in late March. Consumers seemed to relate better with branded ads and actually clicked on them more frequently than the current ads, which are shown with vanity URLs.

Brand Claim Ads Option (for non "black box")

The first ad option Google presented allows advertisers to use full brand name and indication in the ad. There is an additional line that will be used for a "fixed" warning statement. On that extra line there will also be a link that will direct users to a page with additional risk information.

"Black Box" Ad Option

Google also proposed an ad unit type that could be used specifically for "black box" drugs. It would display full brand name (including generic name) but would not speak specifically to any indications or claims. This ad would allow for FDA-approved black box treatments to be displayed using their brand name in the ad. This would also include an additional line of text that would provide a statement for consumers to find the full safety and prescribing information. This line would include the same "More Info" link that would click through to the full ISI.

Implications

In their presentation, Google made particular note of the fact that click-thru rate (which is the primary measurement in their "quality score" algorithm for paid search advertising placements) has dropped off significantly across the board for pharma marketers. The Intouch Search team has also noted this difference across our current clients. This dramatic decline, based on Google’s presentation, has been caused by the lack of quality brand advertisers on related queries previously occupied by FDA-regulated products. The new proposed ads have been developed to encourage pharmaceutical companies to re-engage users in the search landscape.

These are not FDA approved options at this point, but if this (or something similar) were to become an approved option, regulated pharmaceutical products could begin utilizing paid search at pre-warning letter levels. This would be beneficial to many of our clients who have pulled back or seen declining performance due to the current "bait and switch" method of utilizing vanity URLs. For Google (and other search engines that would likely follow suit), this would improve quality score for health-related queries and result in better revenues (Google’s bottom line). For the FDA, this would follow the guiding principle of providing consumers with relevant benefit and risk information for approved treatment options related to diseases and conditions people are researching.

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