Podcast #58

PPC & Google Ads in 2023: The Top Trends Your Healthcare Organization Needs to Know

With 2023 right around the corner, it’s time to consider the PPC & Google Ads trends that will have the biggest impact on search marketing and patient acquisition in the new year. The PPC ad landscape is changing as new channels and tools emerge. Advancements in AI and algorithmic have led to automated systems that can now deliver significant, never-before-seen capabilities to advertisers in the healthcare services space. While these newer systems provide a great deal of value, human oversight is still critical to ensure that leads actually turn into booked patients.

Episode Highlights:

Rich Briddock

Rich Briddock: “I know that we’ve been hammering home that message of landing pages matter for a long time, but now Google’s actually reading the content on your page to understand what you do, how you position yourself, if this person would benefit from your service. I think making sure that you have robust landing page content, that you tell a succinct story, these are all things that you should have been doing anyway for a conversion rate point of view, but it’s even more important now so that Google can identify your ideal audience and make sure that you’re winning the auctions that really matter to you.”

Related Resources

Announcer: Welcome to the Ignite Podcast, the only healthcare marketing podcast that digs into the digital strategies and tactics that help you accelerate growth. Each week, Cardinal’s experts explore innovative ways to build your digital presence and attract more patients. Buckle up for another episode of Ignite.

Lauren Leone: Hey everyone, my name’s Lauren Leone. I’m the SVP of Healthcare Marketing here at Cardinal. Joining us today a familiar face, Rich Briddock, who’s the VP of Strategy and Analytics. Today on the Ignite Podcast, we’re going to be talking about paid search trends, paid media trends, what to expect coming up in 2023 and it’s a lot. The landscape is changing. Google is changing.

Their talks of automation and a keyword-less future are beginning to unfold, and we’re constantly evolving how we think about it, how we react, and what we need to do to continue to drive success for our clients. What I want to do first, Rich is frame up some of the changes that we’ve been seeing. Talk about where automation is coming into play and some of the key trends that we’re going to see continue into next year.

Rich Briddock: We’ve seen smart bidding has been around now for a while, and I think 2022 was largely about consolidating campaign structures so that you could give the smart bidding options more conversion data to try and drive better performance. Moving away from the traditional approach of having very segmented campaigns to an approach of having more consolidated campaigns with more campaign conversion data in them, and then having more segmented ad groups.

Basically doing your segmentation down at the ad group level, that’s where the thematic targeting came in versus at the campaign level like it used to be back in the day. Now what we’re really seeing, or what we’re going to see in 2023 is you’ve got those smart bidding strategies in place now that are mature. You’ve got RSAs, which is the Google ads format that overtook ETS in 2021/2022 in place.

That’s more of the programmatic switch out of headlines and description lines to find the best-performing ads. The third piece of that is now Google is pushing everything into board match. What Google is essentially saying to advertisers is, don’t worry about how people search for you, what their search queries are that they use, because keyword intent is just one of many signals that we are looking at. Actually, let us worry about that. You just make sure that you’ve got broad match keywords in your account and we’ll match to a bunch of relevant queries, but we’ll also leverage a lot of audience signals.

We’ll leverage signals about your business, how you position yourself, how you talk about yourself on your landing page to find people who we think are most likely to take the desired action that you want them to take based on where they are in the buying process, based on their needs, and how you position to meet their needs, et cetera. Google’s taking away the need to have keyword builds that have 20,000 keywords in, all the available permutations, having exact match, having phrase match coverage, and now it’s a case of how good are your broad match seed terms to cover off on any potential queries that a relevant user could be utilizing in order to find you?

Lauren: It feels scary. A lot of agencies are resisting, a lot of clients are resisting. We know what resisting means. It means that there’s going to be a day when that’s the only option and you should be using this period to learn and not to resist because there’ll be a hard deadline. If you’ve resisted up until that deadline, it’s going to be cold turkey on what you’ve been doing versus what you need to do.

We’re doing a lot of experimenting and we know that clients and our team are fearful of it, but what are the things that we’re doing to continue to apply our best practices, to continue to have human oversight over an AI that feels like it could go wild? Really, when you think of Google doing its thing, you think of just running through your budget and spending tons of money. How are we going to control that?

Rich: Agencies should be excited about this change, not fearful of it. The reason is the work that you used to have to do to make sure you had coverage was pretty miserable. Trying to figure out every which way to Sunday, how someone could search for you and find you. Back in the day, having to do keyword-level bids on tens of thousands of keywords. That tactical work was difficult, it was time-consuming, and it took away from the broader strategy, the things that really make a difference.

I think agencies should be excited about the fact, and marketers should be excited about the fact that Google has taken that on because now they can focus on other things. The more strategic things, like am I saying the right things to my users in my messaging? Do I understand the buying decision?

Am I reinforcing motivations? Am I removing hurdles? Am I tackling the anxiety and friction? Do I have a great landing page? Am I doing testing? Am I testing landing pages? Am I testing ad copy? These are all things that are not going anywhere that allow agencies and in-house marketing teams to flex their marketing chops and be a lot more strategic.

I think we see it as a good shift in that you’re not spending time having to put in millions of permutations of keywords into spreadsheets anymore and make huge bulk changes through editor anymore. It’s more about getting down to the nitty-gritty of why should a consumer choose your business for the thing that they need which really is what we should all enjoy doing from a marketing point of view.

Lauren: The biggest piece when it comes to controlling this broad match world where we’re going to say, we know Google understands intent. Google understands that someone typing in dentist near me and best Alpharetta dentist, really the intent is the same, right? It’s to find someone local and relevant to where you’re searching. Those two things are going to yield the same result, but to control Google going wild with it and ending up on keywords that aren’t relevant, what is the quality measure when it comes to sending the right signals back into the [unintelligible 00:06:14]?

Rich: Obviously tracking the right conversions is going to aid what the smart bidding strategy is going to do if you’re using a conversion-based strategy. Make sure that you’re not tracking a bunch of fluff conversions [crosstalk]

Lauren: Which would be?

Rich: Page views or even–

Lauren: Directions clicks. That’s my favorite one.

Rich: Direction clicks, local hosted stuff, even sometimes calls from ads. If those don’t convert well or tend to be existing patients. You get what you set the algorithm to go chase typically. Making sure that your conversions are set up really well is definitely one thing. In terms of some of the other signals, one of the main signals is Google’s reading your landing page content to determine what you do. Again, this is where the landing page becomes even more important.

I know that we’ve been hammering home that message of landing pages matter for a long time, but now Google’s actually reading the content on your page to understand what you do, how you position yourself, if this person would benefit from your service. I think making sure that you have robust landing page content, that you tell a succinct story, these are all things that you should have been doing anyway for a conversion rate point of view, but it’s even more important now so that Google can identify your ideal audience and make sure that you’re winning the auctions that really matter to you.

There’s a ton of stuff that you can do. We’re testing board match-only campaigns as an [unintelligible 00:07:29] now across a number of key accounts and we’ll have more information to share as this pan out, but what we’re actually seeing is the opposite of what you described, which is if you have two keywords that one’s on broad match and one’s on exact match because Google is leveraging these additional signals, the one on broad match actually converts much more effectively, even though it could be matching to a wider set of queries.

Lauren: I think that’s the main thing. The broad match approach, this approach where we take or let go of the keyword control, that is where the audience signals are then part of the equation. Keyword is one of hundreds of signals that’s being looked at. When we continue to do things like exact and phrase and we try to control it, Google is throttling your ability to look at audience. All you have to rely on is, did that person search a term that I wanted them to search that truly shows their intent? You lose everything else. You lose their demographics, their behaviors their online activity, their intent.

Rich: I think also what it underlines is that keyword intent is not always clear and obvious. That some people will type the same thing if they are in a first-time search exploratory mode as they will it, it’s the 17th search that they’ve done and they’re ready to pull the trigger right now. I think there’s a perception that people search more specific, more complicated things the further they get down the funnel but in reality, that’s not always the case.

You might be searching for a dentist near me and that might be the first search you’ve ever done, and you’re just curious to see if there is a dentist near you that you could go to, but you have no intention of booking an appointment with that dentist. You might also use that search query if you need to book an appointment with a dentist right then. I think these audience signals really help to understand that previous search behavior, to understand where someone is in their patient journey and how close they are to that conversion.

Lauren: I think even more so, the nuances in healthcare with insurance and payers and household incomes and looking for certain demographics that does not materially change behavior to a large enough degree that keywords alone can solve. We get asked all the time, I am looking for people that specifically have commercial insurance. Well, my behavior isn’t dentists near me that accept commercial insurance. I’m going to seek out that insurance payment information once I’m ready to become a patient, or I’m going to look for it on the landing page. This need to only drive me leads and clicks of people that are within my payer preference, that is just not a reality of how search works.

Rich: No, we’ve definitely run insurance-specific campaigns or insurance-modified keywords, but the search volume is negligible.

Lauren: Allow the audience signals to be part of that equation so that Google can understand that people that work these jobs and do these things and have these behaviors tend to have commercial insurance. That’s a signal that we can get by leaning into the broad match strategy.

Rich: Absolutely.

Lauren: Another thing that we anticipate coming up next year is this world in which maybe consumer demand is at a lower level than it’s been in the past couple of years. We know there’s economic uncertainty. We know people may be more hesitant to proactively get care. We also know that that means every advertiser is going to be on there trying to capture those people. CPCs are going to rise, CPMs are going to rise. What is your suggestion? How should healthcare marketers think about lower demand, higher cost to advertise next year? What would a channel mix look like and how can they be smarter about their dollars if there are fewer dollars to be had?

Rich: This is not a phoning it in answer, but it’s just doing the best practices, doing everything right. If you need to be incredibly efficient, then you need to be focused on the most transactional phases of the funnel. If you have less budget, then you should focus your dollars where people are most likely to convert based on what we were saying with the broad match stuff, harnessing those signals, but then also on things like conversion rate optimization. If it takes you 100 clicks to drive a conversion, why not work on a program that means that 20 clicks drive a conversion?

Because if you can only afford now to buy 80 clicks as opposed to the 100 clicks you were buying before, but you don’t want to lose the lead volume, then working on conversion rate optimization as an example would be a great way to become more efficient and potentially lower the amount that you’re having to spend on media without having to sacrifice anything in terms of lead volume. It’ll be interesting to see what happens. We thought with COVID that a lot of people were going to get hit really hard in terms of healthcare providers, and what ended up happening with everybody staying at home was that inventory opened up, CPMs actually went through the floor and advertisers could perform really well on social media channels and other display channels.

It’ll be interesting to see what an economic downturn could yield in terms of some of the advertising trends that maybe we won’t expect as well but generally go to where the efficiency is. Maximize your strategies there. Focus your efforts on improving those first because if you’re going to have to cut the fat, you’re not going to cut the fat from search, you’re not going to cut the fat from landing pages, you’re not going to cut the fat from CRO, you’re going to do it from upper funnel strategies. I would say focus on that transactional audience and maximizing your ability to capture them.

Lauren: One thing I’ve been sharing with people I’ve been speaking to in the industry is if you can tolerate from a timer or money perspective to parallel pass, so trimming the fat from an actual ad dollar ad buy perspective on some upper funnel channels now doesn’t mean to forget about them. Maybe at the same time is, “Look, I understand my mix is limited right now, I’m really focused on efficiency,” but you’re going to need videos. You need to understand your user and how they’re thinking. You need to do user journey mapping exercises.

Maybe some qualitative and quantitative research on what are their new fears, what are the new barriers? Those two things can coexist. You may not be spending the dollars now on those channels, but thinking about how am I going to get back into these channels? When is the time and am I going to do it in a way that’s smarter than the way I was doing it before? Is really what I would say the best combination, the best of both worlds could be.

Rich: Yes, absolutely. Do the stuff that doesn’t have a ton of sunk cost, but that still needs to be done and that will gain you efficiencies down the road.

Lauren: Last topic, because I want to make sure that we keep this concise for everybody listening. New and emerging platform. Advertising on TikTok, advertising on the Apple App Store, some new ways that people could be advertising or shifting dollars. What’s your point of view on it?

Rich: TikTok is the darling at the moment of the new media landscape. It is the newest player in the social media space that is relevant and there is definitely a younger demographic that is consuming healthcare information on TikTok. There are doctors now that have millions of followers. There is a stat that I read that said 20% of people consult TikTok for healthcare information before going to see their provider, their primary care provider. It still needs to be put into context. 65% of people go to Google before they go to see their primary care physician. You’re still looking at less than a third of people utilizing TikTok. I also think that it’s going to be relevant for you depending on what kind of healthcare provider you are. The main things that people are looking for on TikTok are things like anxiety, depression weight loss, these kind of symptoms. Obviously, if you’re in the behavioral health space, TikTok could be definitely valid and we know that the younger demographic tend to consume more healthcare through behavioral health than they do through other things like other procedures and–

Lauren: Primary care.

Rich: Primary care being a great example, right? What I would say is, I wouldn’t let that stat drive everybody to run out and all of a sudden say, I’ve got to advertise on TikTok. I think there are certain verticals where it really will make sense. The behavioral health one being one if you want to engage with young professionals in their early 20s, then it definitely makes sense. The benefit of TikTok, and you mentioned it in another answer, is it allows you to educate more so than Google does because of the video format.

You can give some great healthcare advice to people who are searching for relevant content. Obviously, you’ve got to have the ability to do it. Something that maybe people should think about if TikTok is a potentially relevant avenue for them is how do I produce video content that is useful to this demographic, that is going to be younger, that is going to want to be educated about things, their healthcare needs that impact them? I think there’s a lot of opportunity, but I think you’ve got to understand who the audience is and what they’re looking for and I don’t think there should be a wholesale rush out to be on TikTok because it’s the new cool thing.

Lauren: That’s the number one answer to media mix. I get inquiries through our website that say, I want Facebook ads, so I’m going to pick up the phone, I’m going to talk to that person, and I’m going to take a step back and diagnose who are you trying to reach? What are you trying to reach them with? What service? Okay, what does your mix already look like? This need to just do a thing because you’ve heard about it and you want to do it without contextualizing it in your wider marketing mix, and number one, ensuring that your customer is spending their time there. Ask yourself that question and if the answer is, yes, they are spending their time there because they fit TikTok’s demographic, then talk to your agency about launching a campaign.

Rich: If you’re going to go onto a platform like TikTok, just make sure that you have the right content. You can’t just jump onto TikTok.

Lauren: With your YouTube ads.

Rich: Yes, with your YouTube ads and actually, more people are seeking healthcare information via YouTube search than TikTok right now. Maybe if you have YouTube, you should be on YouTube. There you go.

Lauren: All right, everyone. That’s been our 2023 trends in paid media. Thanks, Rich, for joining us. Please like, share, subscribe, wherever you’re listening, and we hope to see you guys next year.


Announcer: Thanks for listening to this episode of Ignite. Interested in keeping up with the latest trends in healthcare marketing? Subscribe to our podcast and leave a rating and review. For more healthcare marketing tips, visit our blog at cardinaldigitalmarketing.com.

Healthcare Marketing Insights At Your Fingertips

Listen and subscribe to Ignite wherever you get your podcasts.

Get Started

Ready to Grow?

Great partnerships start with great discoveries. We start with your business goals and budget, and then help you find the right digital marketing strategy to fuel growth.

Fill out the form to get started!

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.