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Online Advertising Challenges for Medical Clinics


A physician lends his advice on running successful pay-per-click advertising campaigns, while warning of pitfalls from past experiences.

Recently, our medical clinic and spa celebrated its four year anniversary. My staff and I e wanted to use this opportunity to step up our online promotion.  We typically use a variety of strategies to draw in prospective patients but one in particular that had been doing well was online pay-per-click, (PPC) advertising.  We have gotten some great results using Google AdWords in the past, which is probably the most well-known of PPC advertising, so we decided to increase our marketing budget in that area. 

For PPC, you is bid on pertinent keywords that display ads when people search on Google or Bing. For example, you if you wanted your business ad to be listed for the phrase "Houston cosmetic surgeon," you would bid against other organizations for your ad to be displayed alongside organic search results for that keyword phrase. As a paid advertiser, you are only charged if someone clicks on your ad to go to your website, with the ultimate goal of then scheduling an appointment.  (Hence the name, pay-per-click).

We went into my Google AdWords account and increased my budget without changing a thing, as we knew our ads were already converting. Then, I braced for the phones to go crazy, ready for the influx of new appointments. I was surprised that the next day I got an email notice from Google that my ads had been suspended!

After a few choice words through unhappy emails and phone calls to Google, I was able to find out what happened and was reinstated.  Even though my company had used the same ad copy and made no significant alterations to our website, anytime you make a change such as upping your budget, there is a strong likelihood your ads will be reviewed by someone new. 

I'm not a novice to Pay-Per-Click advertising, as my company also runs a boutique medical marketing agency, where we often run marketing campaigns for other businesses. In this particular case, Google felt there were not enough disclaimers on our website from real patient testimonials.  What was particularly frustrating is that we had made the same changes a few months earlier, but now it was being reviewed by a new set of eyeballs. 

So why all the fuss about testimonials?  It really comes down to the Federal Trade Commission and the fact that health is big money. One in 20 searches on Google are health-related, and the competition for online traffic can be fierce.  This has led to outrageous and over-the-top claims from unscrupulous businesses, with reviews that can be suspect. So the importance of these rules are legitimate, but be aware Google treats everyone the same, whether you are a non-profit hospital, an established practice, or a fly-by-night online operation selling supplements. 

Other areas that clinics should be mindful of is that you cannot create ads that may infringe on trademarks. For example at our med spa, we use Botox for aesthetic purposes, but we cannot run ads with the name Botox. For those who are marketing new and innovative procedures, which are not covered by insurance (i.e. cash based) you may not be able to run ads.  Unfortunately the guidelines may be vague on what and what does not get approved.

I know many of my physician colleagues throw their hands in the air in frustration and hire an online marketing professional or choose other types of online advertising such as Facebook or other social media outlets. I've always had great success using pay-per-click through Google Adwords and Bing, but I'll be the first to tell you it's not easy. Competition continues to grow and often you are bidding against businesses with big budgets such as Walgreens, CVS, or pharmaceutical companies. It takes time and commitment and knowing that the average pay-per-click ad in health is just under three dollars, it can get very expensive.

The most important thing that I can recommend when it comes to online advertising is to be patient and see what works and what doesn't. The time has come to stop doing the do-it-yourself approach, and leave it to digital marketing experts especially those who specialize in healthcare. 

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