The Internet continues to rapidly become the top resource for health questions and concerns. Searches for health and condition-related information and products grew 24% year-over-year, and about 64% of those who participated in a recent Google survey revealed that they rely on search first to conduct research about a medical condition.
Google admits that the trust factor for consumers rose 44% in health-related online resources compared with two years ago, but the company believes the information and experience should improve. It has not because pharmaceutical manufacturers are limited in the information that advertisers must use, such as unbranded URL redirects and creative ads that give limited information about risks and benefits.
Three things must happen in order to create an ideal user experience: transparency about products and sponsors, a balanced view of risks and benefits within the search ad creative, and connecting consumers to the most helpful information that will allow them to make informed decisions related to their health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administrative (FDA) sent letters to a majority of Google's pharmaceutical clients in the past year regarding their sponsored or paid-search ads on search engines. The FDA said the search ads containing both a brand name and a health condition do not satisfy the "fair balance" requirements for pharma advertising, which requires advertisers to include side effects and other warnings.
So, nearly a year ago, Google proposed two beta formats -- a Black Box Format and a more balanced Product Claim -- to the pharma makers and FDA in hopes of making the ads more transparent. The ads contain an extra line of text for requisite risk information, as well as a link to fair balance information, both of which should help consumers make educated decisions.
A typical AdWords search ad headline contains 25 characters, and the second line up to 70 characters. Google engineers worked with the Google pharma business unit supporting the health industry to add a third line of text -- 70 characters -- that manufacturers could insert the additional information into.
Although there are no plans to do so, adding an additional line of text in search ads could provide other industries such as consumer products goods (CPGs) with an extra line to offer up health-related warnings or information on food and how it's produced.
Mary Ann Belliveau, Google's health industry director, says the idea is intended to give consumers balanced information and ensure they understand what the ad is trying to promote, market or sell. "We would hope to present enough data to make the FDA and manufacturers comfortable with an ad unit including a brand name and risk information," she says. "Since the ad is not approved, we couldn't do a live test, so we did a research study."
Belliveau hopes the survey results will prompt some advertisers to submit data copy to the appropriate parties for clearance. Google has shared some of the "top line" information, but plans to give them additional information within the next week.
Today, consumers searching on "allergy symptoms," for example, get query results that include an unbranded ad with an unbranded URL and no mention of the product, risks or benefits. Those who support Google's pharmaceutical clients believe that consumers could benefit from an ad containing a URL that matches that of the landing page, a mention of the product and a third line of safety information including an additional opportunity to click to the ISI.
Last week Google also presented findings from the survey conducted in August, along with the new ad formats, to more than 200 health and pharmaceutical marketers at the company's New York offices during the annual ThinkHealth event. About 5,500 responded to the online survey, all U.S. residents over age 18 who conducted a health-related online search in the past three months.
The new product claim ads offering the drug brand name and side-effect information result in lower click-through rates compared with the ads with no drug brand name or risk information. Half were at least "somewhat likely" to click on the non-specific ads -- only 30% admitted they would be somewhat likely to click the product claim ads.
While CTRs declined, fewer clicks represent a more qualified lead to Google and advertisers. It also provides a better search experience for consumers who are looking for important information. The study found an increase in the number of participants who did identify the ad was sponsored by a drug brand, a positive move in Google's view on why the changes should occur.
Advertisers have been limited creatively because of FDA regulations. The next move is for the drug manufacturers to present the new ad formats to regulators for approval, Belliveau says.