Search and Social

3 Ways to Improve Pharma Search Engine Marketing (SEM) Bounce Rates (Part 3)

by Ian Orekondy on January 24, 2010


(; taken by Andrew Davidhazy)

Part One of the “Pharma Bounce Rate” Series explores why bounce rate is an important KPI for pharmaceutical search engine marketing campaigns: pharma sites are “content sites” typically designed to educate patients and healthcare providers, so if site visitors are not clicking deeper into the site, bounces indicate wasted advertising spend.

In Part Two, we analyze five top pharmaceutical brand websites’ bounce rates and begin to understand the impact of the FDA Letters on Sponsored Links on bounce rate.

Part Three focuses on the three key ways to improve pharma paid search (SEM) campaign bounce rates – typically one of the largest sources of traffic for major pharmaceutical brand sites.

 1.     Optimize Your Keyword List

Begin by reviewing the Google AdWords  “search query performance report” to identify irrelevant search terms and phrases triggering your paid search (SEM) text ads on Google.  (This is one of the easiest ways to improve pharma SEM bounce rates). When using broad-match and phrase-match keywords, your ads are eligible to appear whenever the user’s search query contains your targeted keywords.  Therefore, your ads could be appearing on less-relevant searches and so we need to actively optimize our negative keyword list to reduce irrelevant clicks to our site, since these clicks will likely bounce. 

For example, is promoting their Epilepsy Community with Google AdWords, and they appear to be targeting “epilepsy” or “epilepsy treatment” as broad-match keywords.

In the screenshots above, we can see that their text ad is appearing for the search query “horse epilepsy treatment”, and when we click the ad, the landing page is for people, not horses, so this  lack of relevance between keyword and landing page is likely causing these search visitors to bounce (and costing valuable marketing dollars).

Recommended Action:  Review the “search query performance report” each week and add irrelevant queries as negative keywords to our Google AdWords campaign to improve ad relevance, reduce landing page bounce rate and improve return on ad spend. In the example above, PatientsLikeMe would add the word “horse” as negative broad-matched keyword to their campaign to prevent their ad from showing on any search queries that contain the word “horse”.

This is an ongoing process, so after we’ve committed to maintaining a clean AdWords account by adding negative keywords on a weekly basis, we’ll want to focus on improving the bounce rate on keywords that are actually relevant, but for some reason are underperforming. 

Second, focus on improving the right keywords. Our goal now is to identify keywords that are relevant to our site, but that are both underperforming in terms of bounce rate AND high-volume in terms of traffic to our site, so that subsequent optimization efforts yield significant impact.

Any web analytics package will provide this data.  Here’s how to use Google Analytics to quickly identify high-volume keywords that are underperforming based on bounce rate, broken out by search engine:

Now that you’ve got your list of high-volume, high-bouncing keywords, you can focus your ad copy and landing page optimizations on these keywords for maximum impact. (Special thanks to the guys at LunaMetrics for calling out the new Pivot option, and inspiring this screenshot.) 

2.     Optimize Your Ad Copy.

Discourage unwanted clicks. There are a variety of reasons different people (who may not be our desired target audience) search for health-related keywords.  For example, students conduct research while writing course papers, or the general population may suddenly start searching for a condition term in response to a news story.  If you’re targeting only people who have been diagnosed, one way to reduce clicks from general researchers is to create ad copy that speaks directly to your intended audience.

In this example, when I search for keyword “mental health”, we see (Abilify’s unbranded vanity URL) shows an ad with the headline “Info on Schizophrenia”.

While this does a good job of encouraging clicks from people looking for information on schizophrenia, it does a poor job of discouraging clicks from general researchers. (More on unbranded vanity URLS vs. branded URLs below.)

Here’s an example where is doing a good job with their ad copy when targeting keyword “epilepsy”: 

By using ad copy that targets only patients who have epilepsy (“Do You Have Epilepsy?”), they are helping to reduce clicks from people who are not diagnosed with epilepsy and therefore may be more likely to bounce from their landing page which his focused on epilepsy patients.

For certain keywords, pharma companies often want to target healthcare professionals, rather than patients.  From Google’s “Connecting with Physicians Online”, we know that physicians are very interested in new drug developments and clinical trials.

A search for psychiatry drug clinical trials shows the following ad from, Pfizer’s healthcare professionals’ website:  

Pfizer does a good job of discouraging patients from clicking on their ad for psychiatry studies by calling out “for Healthcare Professionals” in their ad copy. 

Recommended Actions:

Include qualifiers in your text ad copy. Use headlines like “Diagnosed with Schizophrenia?” or “Managing Type 2 Diabetes?” in your ad copy to improve the quality of our traffic, reduce unwanted clicks and reduce bounce rate. Or call out your specific audience in your ad copy (e.g. “For Physicians Only”),

Test branded vs. unbranded vanity display URLs.  A major event in 2009 for pharma paid search (SEM) advertisers was the FDA’s issuance of Untitled Letters to 14 pharmaceutical companies regarding their use of sponsored search, and this resulted in an increased use of unbranded vanity display URLs driving to a branded site.  While there are several benefits to this approach that we will not discuss here, one impact that several companies have seen is a higher bounce rate on ads that utilize an unbranded vanity display URL driving to a branded site.  Yes, this is somewhat of a bait-and-switch, as Jonathan Richman calls the “switch-a-roo”, so it makes sense that bounce rates would be higher for these ads.  But it isn’t always the case, so you should be test branded vs. unbranded vanity display URLs in our text ads.

Here we can see that a search for “COPD” shows the different types of display URLs in action:  

The ad uses an unbranded vanity URL, and drives directly to the branded Sympicort site, while Singular’s ad is a branded reminder ad with the branded URL Both ads comply with the guidance provided in the FDA Letters, so test both types of ads to see what works best for your campaign in terms of ad response, bounce rate and other on-site conversion metrics.  

3.     Optimize Your Landing Pages

Landing page optimization is so valuable and so under-used within the pharma space, I will certainly be writing more posts on this topic.  As search marketers, we’re so focused on success factors like search engine technology, keyword research, searcher intent, bid management, ad testing and FDA regulation, that sometimes landing page optimization takes a back seat; but it shouldn’t.  It’s one of the best tactics you can implement in terms of return on investment.

Landing page optimization is a craft unto itself, and I believe it should be a top-priority for pharma marketers looking to improve their search engine marketing campaigns in 2010.  If you focus on one thing in 2010, I recommend it be landing page optimization.

One of my favorite online marketing websites is called Marketing Experiments. (I am not affiliated with their company in any way, and I highly recommend you subscribe to their free enewsletter.)

One of the challenges with landing page optimization within the pharma space is the time and cost associated with the medical, regulatory, legal (MRL) review process, so let’s explore 3 ways you can quickly improve your paid search (SEM) landing pages before engaging in a full landing page optimization approach.

Fulfill the promise and don’t make me think.  A common mistake pharma search marketing campaigns make is creating an expectation within the text ad, but then not paying it off directly on the landing page.

In this example, we searched for keyword “type 2 diabetes fitness tips” and see this ad on the search results page: 

This text ad (unbranded vanity URL for Actos) is relevant to my search term (the headline mentions both “Type 2 Diabetes’ and “Exercise”), and it also tells me that I can get “helpful tools”…great!

But the landing page for that text ad is product homepage: 

Where are the fitness tips?  Where is the exercise information?  Where are the helpful tools?  Visitors from search engines expect instant gratification.  If you offer something in the text ad, but you don’t deliver it immediately on the landing page, your bounce rate will be higher than necessary.  It’s a safe bet that visitors from fitness-related keywords are bouncing at a high rate for the Actos paid search campaign.

Here’s a good example from Januvia’s paid search (SEM) campaign.  Same keyword as the above example: “type 2 diabetes fitness tips”:

The text ad is relevant to the search query: 

And the landing page pays off the text ad immediately, and then offers clear calls to action to drive further site engagement related to the search term: 

In terms of fulfilling the promise of the text ad, Januvia has done a good job here.

Recommended Action: Drive to the most relevant page on the site (usually not the homepage), and if you don’t have the relevant content, either put a plan in place to create it, or reconsider spending advertising dollars to target those keywords.

Sidebar: Richard Meyer at World of DTC Marketing recently posted a story about a medical devices maker that was spending over $1 million/year on paid search, yet had many keywords that were driving  bounce rates as high as 97%. Richard found that many keywords with high bounce rates were driving visitors to the site homepage.

Eliminate clutter, and consider custom paid search landing pages. This is where I’ll be focusing much of my optimization energies in 2010, and this will require importing lessons from industries other than pharma. 

The highly-competitive car insurance category offers some great examples of custom paid search landing pages that are highly-relevant to the keyword and pay off the text ad, but go one step further by eliminating clutter in order to focus on driving visitors into the website and reduce bounces.  This is an especially good category to learn from, since cost per click (CPC) for car insurance keywords can be as high as $30 which means car insurance companies took an early lead in terms of optimizing landing pages, and also because they are similar to pharma brand sites, in that they are typically focused on just one main product (though not always).

Here is the ad GEICO ran when I searched for “auto insurance quote”: 

What’s remarkable about their custom paid search landing page is the degree to which GEICO has eliminated clutter:

Note how it strips out the entire site navigation.  Note how the call to action is above the fold. The landing page is designed specifically for people who searched for car insurance quote keywords, and so they aren’t offering 15 different links that create friction.  Contrast this with the Januvia example above.  Do you think Januvia’s paid search (SEM) bounce rate would decline if it created a custom paid search landing page for fitness-related keywords/text ads, and eliminated the side navigation?

What makes interactive marketing so exciting for me is that we don’t have to guess, we can test.

I’ll be writing more about ways pharma companies can begin to create custom paid search landing pages and then test them to improve both engagement metrics like bounce rate, as well on conversion metrics like CRM signups and printouts of Doctor Discussion Guides.

 Have an example of a great pharma paid search (SEM) landing page? Please share in the comments section below!

Further Reading and Resources:

Search and Social MediaPharma Search Marketing – 8 Keys to Effectively Planning and Executing a Pharma SEM Campaign to Launch a New Drug

Dose of Digital – How Pharma Should Use Paid Search

Marketing Experiments – Post on Improving Website Conversion

Always Be Testing: The Complete Guide to Google Website Optimizer

Official Google Blog: Stop bouncing: tips for website success

In Part Two of this Series , we analyzed five top pharmaceutical brand websites’ bounce rates and begin to understand the impact of the FDA Letters on Sponsored Links on bounce rate.

You can follow me on Twitter at: 

Please share your best pharma paid search (SEM) landing page examples, and I’ll be sure to include in an upcoming post!

Ian Orekondy


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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Britney Pickhardt April 1, 2012 at 7:24 am

Thanks for this great article very informative and useful


Logan Krey April 2, 2012 at 10:57 am

Thanks for the helpful article.


Brenda Grefe April 3, 2012 at 6:11 am

I love how much detail you put into each step. Keep up the great work.


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