So much of the external circumstances shaking things up in 2020 are inextricably tied to the world of healthcare. Here’s to hoping, first and foremost, that a lot of things get a whole lot better in 2021. As healthcare marketers look to their 2021 strategies, there’s certainly room for optimism. As we see it, pay-per-click (PPC) advertising, in particular, presents a tremendous opportunity for healthcare organizations to survive the pandemic and emerge even stronger.
PPC advertising is ideal for healthcare organizations for a couple of reasons. Most obvious among them is the fact that a lot of people use search engines. Daily health-related searches total 70,000 each minute, according to a 2019 report. That’s more than a billion healthcare-related searches a day. This is why PPC can deliver such immediate business impact—the pool of qualified, prospective patients is large.
In addition, it’s easier than ever to track and measure the performance of your PPC campaigns. It remains the advertising medium most flexible for all kinds of ad budgets. And PPC advertising creates some really good opportunities for healthcare organizations:
- The ability to target very specific audiences has never been so comprehensive.
- The availability of rich data that can be used to drive serious ROI has never been deeper.
- It’s easy to pivot and launch new campaigns.
So, how does your healthcare organization get more from your Google Ads campaigns? What are the best practices to maximize conversions? And how should you optimize your ads? We have the privilege of helping a lot of healthcare organizations build out and improve their PPC strategies. We always start at the same place: keyword strategy.
It is essential—a must, a dealbreaker—to make a plan before jumping into Google Ads. To that end, here are some of the very best keyword strategies that we recommend:
- Conduct thorough keyword research and identify your ideal patient’s search intent. Are they looking for more information? To book an appointment?
- Review potential keyword statistics and performance estimates for your campaigns to maximize click-through rate (CTR), conversions, and return on ad spend (ROAS).
- Narrow and refine your keyword list to target specific audiences, locations, demographics, and so on.
- Add negative keywords to your campaigns (search terms that should be excluded) to keep campaigns running optimally.
- Add keywords that searchers use, but won’t necessarily convert on.
- Use small keyword groups of relevant keywords that align with targeted ad copy and targeted landing pages that you’ve created.
- Use branded keywords so that a competitor isn’t driving traffic off of people searching for your company name or products.
The illustration below provides a sound method for identifying the keywords you want to target with your PPC campaigns. You’ll see that it starts with a broader, more general keyword grouping (“eye doctor,” in this example) and drills down with added modifiers to capture more targeted keyword variations.
Now that you’ve created a keyword strategy for your PPC campaign, let’s move on to six PPC best practices you can use to continue maximizing the value of your campaigns.
If audience research seems fundamental, it’s because far too many organizations get their target audience fundamentally wrong. The good news is that healthcare is by nature a highly segmented vertical. Most practices have at least a basic understanding of their target demographic, or at least have data to help them get there.
Audience segmentation is the cure for inefficient “spray and pray” campaigns. To determine how best to segment your audience, conduct thorough audience research with the express purpose of directly informing your PPC campaigns. For instance:
- Examine historical data and trends and create detailed patient personas that you can come back to for reference. When we say detailed, we mean it: be specific about where your personas are from, their income and profession, even healthcare concerns that keep them up at night. A good persona document is one your marketing team will reference often.
- Match your ad offers and messaging to the intent and needs of this target audience. If you provide oncological care, for example, your audience might be looking for the stories and experiences of people in their particular position. If you’re a dental practice, your target audience might be looking to book a cleaning or consultation.
- Monitor performance for ad grouping and optimize keyword strategy, copy, and creative accordingly. What metric are you interested in maximizing? Return on ad spend (ROAS)? Click-through rate (CTR)? Conversions? Make a plan, stick to it, and optimize regularly.
Ah, the joys of working with a copywriter specializing in PPC ads. It matters! The words you use in your ads are just as important as any accompanying creative and under-the-hood PPC tactics. Writing persuasive ad copy means empathizing—it means understanding what your audience’s needs are at precisely the moment they encounter your ads.
In this regard, your persona information and keyword strategy will provide important frames of reference. Here are a few additional tips for writing persuasive PPC ad copy:
- Address your audience directly by writing in the second person. Make it about their need fulfillment, not your organization’s. This direct and conversational style is just more human (and it happens to convert better, too).
- Strive to alleviate concerns and remove potential barriers to action (to clicking, registering, or purchasing). One way to do this is to be transparent and consistent about what an ad is about and where the CTA will take a person that clicks, calls, or takes some other action.
- Use emotional triggers and words that appeal to fear, consequences, flattery, and so on. As healthcare marketers know, a person’s health is often a regular and compelling part of their daily lives. By the way, you don’t have to forgo compassion, ethics, and integrity to appeal to fear in healthcare PPC advertising.
- Be succinct. As a general rule, less is more, especially when attention spans have never been shorter. Most PPC ad formats have word and character limits that you can use as a guide.
- Use strong, direct, action-focused CTAs that encourage action and give the person an idea of what they’re in for if they do click.
One thing to keep an eye on is responsive search ads (RSAs). Thanks to Google’s push to make RSAs the default option, most PPC folks are familiar with RSAs. With RSAs, Google optimizes your headlines, ad copy, and CTA for you based on audience and search terms. All you have to do is supply the ad headlines, descriptions, and so on. Don’t overlook RSAs, especially since Google may be phasing out expanded text ads altogether. It’s a great way to get the most out of your ad copy without too much manual labor.
Have you ever heard the phrase “all sizzle, no steak”? Try “all clicks, no conversions” and you get the idea. Because that’s what results when PPC marketers fail to create a seamless journey from the search term, to PPC ad, to the landing page.
“Journey” is the operative word here. No part of your PPC campaigns exists in a vacuum. Your goal should be to orchestrate a journey in which every piece works in harmony. Here’s what we mean:
- Use the same offer. Align your ad copy and landing page copy so there’s consistency—so they speak the same language. Don’t bait and switch your audience with an ad that says one thing and a completely different offer. If the ad is about a free cleaning, for example, I don’t want information on a free cosmetic surgery consultation.
- Create optimized landing pages for each campaign and please, please don’t drive people from ads to your homepage. If the landing page isn’t optimized, people won’t know what to do when they click through, leading to an increased abandonment rate and inadequate conversion rates.
- Make it easy for people to schedule an appointment from the ad, especially important for healthcare marketers. You can do this by enabling certain ad extensions, which we’ll cover a bit later on in this article.
- Test, test, test the patient journey, including the appointment booking process. Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. Is there any part of the journey that’s high effort, or doesn’t make sense? Is there a hidden obstacle in the journey that’s quietly killing conversion rates? Testing will quickly reveal these friction points.
A lot of PPC success is about narrowing the focus. Beyond target keyword groupings and audience segmentation, location-based targeting can be a very effective strategy. Most PPC platforms, including Google Ads and Microsoft Ads, offer some form of geotargeting capability, sometimes called “geofencing.” Here’s what geotargeted PPC ads look like in the wild:
Essentially, you’re targeting your ads toward people in a specific geographic area. This makes a lot of sense for healthcare organizations, who typically have physical locations and draw a majority of their patient volume from the surrounding population. If you run an urgent care network in Sacramento, for example, you can target people searching for urgent care at or near Sacramento.
Another option is geo-conquesting, which targets people who are at or near a competitor’s location. Urgent care facilities might use this tactic, for instance, to help capture traffic in locations where the urgent care market is saturated and highly competitive. Here’s what geotargeting looks like in practice:
According to Google Ads Help, ad extensions can increase click-through rate “by a couple of percentage points.” In the world of PPC, an improvement of a couple of percentage points in nearly all performance metrics would be a huge lift, which is why you need to consider using ad extensions.
By enabling extensions such as call buttons, links, more text, and location information, you give The Google Gods a whole bunch of elements to display with your ad. The ad engines will automatically choose which extension to add based on search behavior, with the goal of increasing the click-through rate on your ad. Extensions include:
- Sitelink. Specify link text and URL to be added to your ads. Learn more about sitelink ad extensions here.
- Callout. Add additional text callouts to support your ad copy, such as “Free Initial Consultation,” “Accepting Most Major Insurance,” and so on. Learn more about callout ad extensions here.
- Structured snippet. Additional header/supporting detail that displays beneath your ad copy. An example might be “Pulmonary Care” then “Asthma,” “Pulmonary Vascular Disease,” and other treated conditions beneath. Learn more about structured snippet extensions here.
- Call. Add your business phone number to ads that users can click or tap on to call you directly. Learn more about call extensions here.
- Location. Display your business address, map, directions to, etc. beneath your ad. Learn more about location extensions here.
Here’s what some of these ad extensions look like in practice:
6. Optimize Ads for Mobile
With so many people using search engines, on so many different devices, your PPC ads must be optimized for each type of device and platform. Getting text, images, CTAs, and other elements of your PPC ads optimized for mobile devices can be the difference between percentage points on CTR, ROAS, and other metrics.
Here’s why mobile optimization is so important:
- People are spending 23 additional minutes per day on their smartphones in 2020. You have a captive audience each and every day.
- Statista estimates that there are more than 3 billion smartphone users worldwide. There’s simply no excuse to not optimize for mobile.
- In 2019, the mobile conversion rate for U.S. online shoppers was 1.53 percent (Statista). There’s a lot of room for improvement here!
- According to Google, the average mobile checkout experience takes 120 taps, with a 27 percent abandon rate. This kind of experience is far too burdensome for mobile users.
Luckily, the aforementioned responsive search ads (RSAs) automate this process. In practice, RSAs are designed to save you time and improve performance for your ad groups. All you have to do is create variations for ad headlines and descriptions and then let AI choose the optimal combinations based on the user’s device.
You might be saying, okay, Cardinal. But what kind of PPC campaigns should my organization actually be running? And we hear you! Here’s a breakdown of the five core PPC campaigns we typically recommend for our healthcare clients.
The easiest place to start is often with the low-hanging fruit. That means targeting searchers at the middle and bottom of the funnel. These searchers are either looking for a specific type of treatment (“lower high blood pressure”, for instance, or “physical therapy for shoulder pain”), or a specific type of provider (“hip replacement surgeon”, for instance”, or “physical therapist for athletes”). How do you know they’re ready to convert? They’re telling you their intent with the language they’re using to search.
These are patients that are ready to seek care, and they can be persuaded to choose your practice by offering special promotions and discounts. They’re coming to Google to find a healthcare solution, specifically, so they’re already “warm” to strong offers. Your timely, persuasive ad is there to convince them to choose your practice based on a special service offer ($1,000 off LASIK surgery, for example, or a free consultation).
Remarketing campaigns are a highly effective way to stay top of mind and keep leads engaged. You can, for example, create ads to target and convert past website visitors, or to engage past customers for repeat purchase of services or products. Remarketing ad campaigns include standard, dynamic, RLSA, video, and customer list remarketing.
Not every healthcare organization can buy billboards or take out a Super Bowl ad. PPC ads, on the other hand, are a cost-efficient way to build brand awareness. Some of our clients use PPC ads to let their market know about new locations, products, or services. Brand awareness ads perform particularly well using remarketing or lookalike audiences.
People connect most with content they can relate to—content that tells their own story. Consider using testimonials to show the types of patients that have chosen your healthcare organization, worked with specialists, or achieved highly desirable results. Testimonials are effective because they help alleviate patient fears and build trust. For these types of campaigns, our recommendation is to humanize your brand using photography and video on your landing pages.
As with most marketing specialties, PPC is constantly evolving. As the best practices and strategies above indicate, healthcare marketers have a lot of capabilities at their disposal. The common thread seems to be the ability to get granular and intentional about your audience so you can reach them at precisely the right time. In our view, the ability to do so will be what separates the healthcare marketing teams that survive in 2021, from those that thrive.