Klick Health

Pharma SEM: Beyond the Click

SEM Channel Lead

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Search Engine Marketing (SEM) is vitally important for pharma brands, but campaigns fail when success is measured in the wrong way. Klick Health's SEM expert Mike Ott vents about bad strategy, and offers effective solutions to make sure it's done right...

Bear with me here, I need to rant a bit. I have just been handed an account to manage that was previously created and run by another agency. As part of the process, I’m learning about the brand and its previous campaign by browsing through old reports. I’m perplexed, confused and frankly a little frustrated. An injustice has been done here in my mind and even though the client moved away from this agency it wasn’t soon enough in my eyes. How could they get away with mishandling the account for so long? How can they not hold themselves accountable to a higher level of standards? Are they actively choosing to mismanage the account or do they just not have adequate knowledge and skillset? All this is going through my mind as I’m reading pages of a PDF telling me that SEM performance improved because the click-through-rates (CTR) increased. The top keywords are chosen by clicks and CPC as the model of efficiency.

If this sounds at all familiar it’s because it happens far too often. In the many years I’ve been working in the pharma industry I’ve taken over dozens of accounts from other agencies and in the majority of those cases, the focus is on front-end metrics as success measures. In some instances, we might see a conversion metric or two but they’re only treated as secondary measures and often aren’t the primary talking point.


What is a front-end metric and why is that not the right way to measure SEM?

Front-end metrics are data points that show what happens before the user lands on the website. They have their place in the spectrum of data analysis that your specialists should be leveraging to optimize their campaigns. They’re by no means a success metric on their own however because they only tell the a portion of the story about how effectively users are getting to the website. SEM is a direct response channel with multiple levers that can be utilized to modify or adjust performance. While it solely can’t be held accountable for how well a website engages users with the proper use of data optimizations can be made to focus the advertiser’s investments in the right places. These optimizations can help ensure the best ads are serving to the most appropriate users at the right time. SEM experts can guide the dollars being spent towards users who are more inclined to engage and interact with the website the way the brand wants them to. These engagements or interactions are back-end metrics and hold far more value and weight in the optimization process than the front-end metrics do. Since advertisers pay for the click, it’s important that those clicks are qualified and that is done by looking at back-end metrics.


How should we measure success?

Let’s cut right to the point here. The most important objective every client has is getting more users on prescription for their drug and/or getting more healthcare professionals to change their prescribing behavior and favor their brand over competitors. Whether you’re deploying a brand awareness strategy or a retention strategy, the end goal is still always about getting patients on prescriptions.

Pharmaceutical manufacturers don’t sell products on their websites. They require a visit to the doctor or another healthcare professional, a prescription and a visit to the pharmacy to acquire. That means there’s no direct connection between the media that sends traffic to the website and the prescriptions that happen as a result of that advertising. We do have proxies, though. The back-end website metrics that measure how users are engaging with the site indicate behaviors that suggest a user’s inclination to talk to their doctor about getting diagnosed, seeking treatment options and even the brands they’ve learned about while researching. Some of the interactions on the website are better indications that a user is close to getting on prescription than others. A savings card download, for example, has a fair chance of being redeemed whereas downloading a PDF information brochure while showing the users is somewhat interested, has a much lower probability of meaning the user is talking to their doctor about being prescribed that brand. All of these interactions and their importance to the brand (often determined by proximity to getting on prescription) should be considered in SEM bidding strategies as well as reported on and spoken about as primary objectives that the paid search campaigns are being optimized towards.


Setting different expectations for patients in different stages of their journey

SEM offers broad reach in that it can capture users from all stages of the patient journey. From the moment a user is experiencing symptoms and trying to self-assess to getting into a doctor’s office for a diagnosis to getting on treatment and establishing loyalty with a brand, people are using search to collect information and help guide their decisions each step along the way. It’s important to keep in mind however that the type of information they’re seeking changes as they move through each stage. A brand that’s looking to capture users at multiple stages within the patient journey should also have key performance indicators (KPIs) established to measure user engagement for each of those stages. A brand that wants to capture users searching their symptoms but setting their savings program as the only KPI creates a disconnect. A user who has yet to be diagnosed is unlikely to be interested in treatment or savings. Instead, a more appropriate interaction would be a doctor discussion guide or a self-assessment tool.

Alternatively, if a brand is focused on targeting the bottom of the funnel users, KPIs such as the aforementioned discussion guide or self-assessment tool are good to have in the arsenal but they should take a back seat to KPIs such as savings cards, trials, and eCRM programs.





What is Crossix and why should pharma advertisers consider using it?

I don’t want to get into all of the solutions Crossix offers but rather the ones that I have used and found value in from the SEM perspective. The offering I tend to lean towards most often is their ability to create a relationship between specific website interactions and the user getting on prescription. By creating a relationship between a KPI and prescriptions if the brand provides additional data about the value of acquiring a prescription we can model out and benchmark return on investment (ROI) targets then establish cost-per-action (CPA) goals to be optimized towards.


Weighing different engagements and patient journey stages

It’s important for SEM experts to have conversations with clients about what they want users to do when they get to the website. It’s also important for the specialist to take that conversation further and extract how valuable each KPI is to the brand and what the brand wants to accomplish with regards to targeting the different stages of the user journey and how to effectively measure that. Priorities can be established across KPIs and journey stages then incorporated into a bidding and optimization strategy so the SEM tactic is working towards the interactions that matter while also taking into consideration what the users are showing demand and interest in.


SEM experts are the bridge between user interests and brand objectives

What’s more important, what the brand wants or what the user wants? That’s actually a trick question. The answer is both are important and it’s our job as SEM experts to play the role of the middleman balancing the two. We do this by setting goals, priorities and collecting data to evaluate how users are engaging with the various KPIs and monitor what users are doing on the website if they aren’t engaging the way the brand wants or expects. At the end of the day, the client is paying for this advertising so it absolutely has to meet their needs and have a positive impact on their bottom line but if we just ignore what the user wants then the campaigns will never perform the way the brand wants them to because success is always dependant on the user finding value in the website.

If the client wants the user to do X on the website yet the users are showing more interest in doing Y, as the mediator between the two the SEM expert can share those insights which can feed into larger digital strategies on how to work with those user interests to funnel them towards the brand’s objectives. SEM experts can also leverage how the brand has prioritized their KPIs and match that against the rate at which users are interacting with them to determine where that breaking point is that suggests it’s more beneficial to drive a user to what they want vs driving them to what the brand wants (and vice versa).


Go Beyond the Click by Partnering with Klick

That’s all the ranting I need to do for now. I feel much better but the real question is, how are you feeling… about your SEM campaign? Could you or your agency be looking at data differently? Let’s talk about it! 

More About the Author

Mike Ott

Mike Ott buys traffic depending on how engaged the user is and what the clients objectives are. For him, it’s all about the end result: when he can produce a profitable campaign for a client. He's been doing SEM for over a decade now and loves that the industry is constantly changing and coming out with new innovations.

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