As search engine optimization (SEO) becomes an increasingly important tool to drive traffic and conversions, pharma marketers are looking for a competitive edge in their pharma marketing strategies. SEO can help pharma marketers reach potential patients across the web with pharma-friendly content that is well optimized for both pharma and non-pharma keywords.

Why is SEO important for the pharmaceutical industry?

The majority of potential patients who are researching their medications online are currently typing in both pharma and non-pharma (e.g., symptom or diagnosis) keywords into search engines to find answers about their conditions.

Pharmaceutical marketers can reach these potential patients with well-optimized content that addresses the patient’s questions before he/she even considers contacting a physician or other healthcare professional.

A healthy digital pharmaceutical strategy incorporates both paid and organic media. Paid media is exceptional for building new qualified leads, especially when it intersects with patients and healthcare providers (HCP) on the platforms they use most. Search engine optimization provides lasting benefits without a steep dropoff in quality, plus you can maximize its return-on-investment.

The cost and time investment in developing a smart patient-friendly SEO strategy is worth it. Investing time and resources into SEO will give you the most benefit from your money for years to come, without large marketing budgets every year. And using various types of content with good SEO helps patients find what they need and gets active medical professionals interested online.

Who are potential patients searching for answers about their conditions online?

Potential patients searching for information online may be looking for any of the following:

Diagnosis Treatment options Side effects Symptoms Information on medications they’re already taking Alternative treatments Patient experiences, stories or testimonials Information about a physician or healthcare provider Information about a specific pharmaceutical product

How does SEO help the pharmaceutical industry?

SEO helps pharma marketers reach potential patients with content that is:

Pharma and non-pharma friendly, Visually appealing, easy to read, Informative, Unique, Helpful, Patient-focused, Actionable, Targeted toward the appropriate audience, for example, patients searching for information about a specific pharmaceutical product.

In the pharmaceutical industry, you need to use different marketing strategies. You try to give people information about the company’s products without advertising its main brand. For example, you can have a website for people who have diabetes or another disease. And everyone in that group will see that the website was made just for them.

10 SEO strategies for the pharmaceutical industry

1. Keyword research

The first step in your SEO strategy should be to complete a full keyword research. You are looking for search terms and phrases that potential patients use when searching for information online, especially those who are actively seeking the information you want them to find (e.g., side effects or non-branded solution names).

What is keyword research? Where do you find the keyword information?

To do effective SEO, you need to understand what your potential patients are searching for online. If you know the terms they’re using, you can provide relevant and original content that answers their questions more thoroughly than generic search results or other websites.

User intent is king in the competitive world of search. For example: If someone is searching for “headache relief,” and your page ranks high in the search engines, you want to make sure that visitor finds its content relevant. If you have a branded site, you also want to appear in the non-branded terms used by potential patients so that they don’t go elsewhere when looking for help.

The main difference between generic search and query-focused research is that you’re beginning with specific keyword terms instead of general topics. For example, a pharmaceutical company may want to rank for non-branded terms such as “Tetracycline antibiotic” or “Atrial fibrillation.”

With query-focused research, your goal is to come up with the most relevant and useful set of information that can help people with their particular problems.

If you have branded sites, consider current searches that are similar to the keyword for your site, but do not include the term “brand name” or other terms used exclusively by your company: For example, if your site is Acme Drug Company’s generic Tetracycline site, you can see how the search volume is for “antibiotics for acne” vs. something like “Tetracycline side effects.”

2. Customer journey mapping

Based on your keyword research, you want to know where and when potential patients are looking for the information they need.

Understanding customer journeys is one of the most powerful strategies for SEO in pharma. It can help you increase conversions and search success rates without investing a lot of money in advertising. You can significantly increase traffic without spending a lot more on SEO.

The customer journey is the path that a potential patient takes when getting information about your products and services. When you understand what your customers want to find, it’s easy to provide those things in exactly the right place at exactly the right time.

If you’re just starting out with SEO or planning for a new site, you must complete a customer journey map. It takes time and effort to plan these journeys, but the benefits are huge.

To create your customer journey map, you must do five things:

  • Identify all of the touch points in the potential patient’s path to purchase.
  • Know how information flows between departments and functions at each step along the way (e.g., research and development, marketing).
  • Create customer profiles to describe different types of potential patients (e.g., women ages 30-40 with family history of diabetes).
  • Map the current information flow from your customers or patients back to your business.

Your map will help you identify gaps in the journey for each type of potential patient. You can then focus on addressing those gaps in a smart way.

For example, figure out what you can do with content to make sure that each potential patient gets the information they need at exactly the right time and place.

Let’s take Tretinoin (a Retin-A® generic) as an example: When someone decides to research this treatment option, she probably has two questions: Can it help with my problem? How much will it cost?

Answering these questions can be difficult given the nature of retinoids. Generic Tretinoin (a retinoid) is a topical acne treatment that requires self-discipline and skin monitoring to make sure it doesn’t cause further damage. In fact, it’s a good example of something that can seem worse before it gets better.

A search for “Tretinoin side effects” shows the potential patient what to expect from the treatment and helps her decide if it’s right for her. If she decides that Tretinoin is the right answer, you want her to have the information she needs when she’s ready to buy.

In this situation, you can optimize your site for “retinoid side effects” and use content on your branded site as supporting evidence in that search term. You can also create a landing page specifically designed to address Tretinoin side effects so potential patients can get all of the information they need on one page.

3. Mobile-friendly website for your pharma brand or company

Optimizing for mobile is critical to success, and it’s not as hard as you think.

For pharma marketers, targeted mobile experiences are an opportunity to connect with healthcare consumers at a time when they’re looking for information about your products and services. The three mobile marketing tactics below can help you create “data pills.”

Mobile apps: These are one of the most powerful ways to engage patients during and after the sales process. Accounting for nearly 40 percent of all online activity, mobile apps give you a great opportunity to organize and activate your sales force. They can also be used to send critical information to patients about refills or other issues that require quick response.

Mobile landing pages: Landing pages are an important part of most SEO strategies, but they are even more important on mobile. They are ideal for answering questions that would otherwise require lengthy answers (such as “How do I take this drug?”). Invest in a responsive design company to make sure your landing pages work well on all types of phones and tablets.

Mobile-tailored content: Your site needs to be optimized for mobile search. This means that your content must be easy to read and navigate on a small screen. There’s no time for lengthy text or links that lead nowhere. Use bulleted lists, videos and other media to make your site as easy as possible to read and use.

4. Optimize your pharma content for voice search

Even if you don’t have a mobile-tailored site, optimizing for voice-based searching can deliver added value to your pharma marketing strategy.

Searching through voice gives searchers additional information beyond keywords or links that show up on the screen. When people search by voice, they’re looking for answers and solutions — things that help them take the next step in their decision-making process.

Voice search can help you capture the attention of shoppers who don’t respond to traditional text ads or landing pages. It also offers an extra opportunity to engage your customers with educational content and specific solutions that tap into their immediate needs.

Pharma marketers can capitalize on this additional opportunity by offering information that is specifically designed to answer questions that voice searches often have.

5. Add more interactive and visual elements to your content

The average attention span is just eight seconds — with the number dropping to as little as four seconds for content on mobile.

As you plan your pharma marketing strategy, make sure that you include interactive and visual elements in all of your content. These might include video, graphics, infographics, links to social media sites or other information that will catch the eye.

Some examples of interactive content for pharma brands are:

Video: A video might show the benefits of a particular drug or how to take it. You can also use videos that introduce your pharma brand and explain its purpose and unique selling points in an engaging way.

For example, Forbes magazine offers “10 Things You Didn’t Know About” branded content about various industries. It creates interesting mini-video clips that explain how a particular brand or drug works.

Graphics: Graphics, including infographics and charts, are an excellent way to get your message across in less time. Using graphics is also a quick way to give engagement data, such as product advantages or patient success stories.

Infographics: Infographic by the Alzheimer’s Association reviews the three types of Alzheimer’s disease and what each type means for a patient and his or her family.

Creating interactive content is just one way to meet the needs of today’s busy searchers, but it can make a big difference in how quickly — and often — your site is viewed.

6. On-page tactics for pharmaceutical companies

With so many products on the market, it’s hard to know how to position your brand in a way that sets you apart from similar brands.

Check out these tips for improving on-page SEO:

Include keywords in title tags and headers: When people search the web, they usually use a specific keyword or phrase as part of their search. Including these keywords in your pages’ headers and title tags is an easy way to tell search engines that your page is relevant to those terms, and can help you show up in search results. Make sure that every page on your site has a unique title tag with the product name and brand displayed prominently, so it’s clear which drug or supplement you’re promoting.

Use keywords regularly throughout the page: Creating an effective content marketing strategy means delivering quality information to potential customers. After all, nobody expects you to offer a comprehensive product site for your brand without providing detailed information about how it works, or what conditions it might treat. By including keywords in the page copy, you can tell search engines that users will find this content helpful and relevant.

For pharma companies, that means offering details about the drug’s purpose and its uses, as well as side effects and other relevant information. The more helpful and unique this content is, the more likely you are to attract potential customers who might use your products.

Avoid keyword stuffing: When creating content for your site, don’t just stuff keywords into the page — or else search engines may think that you’re trying to manipulate them. Make sure that your website answers questions that voice searches often have.

For example, many people who are looking for information on drugs will want to know how they should be taken, what side effects they might cause, who can take them and when they’re most effective. Be sure these questions are answered in the page copy of your site so that search engines understand it’s relevant to a specific search, and your brand has a better chance of showing up in the organic results.

Use keywords in links at least once or twice per page: Links are another way for a search engine to tell what a page is about. Make sure that every link on your site includes keywords — this technique is called “anchor text” — so that your pages are clearly linked to other relevant content and search engines will more accurately know what topics those links cover.

Real-life example: Popular Science magazine has an article called “Can You Hack a Human?” The link in the middle of the page for it is simply “hacking-fifth-generation.” This tells Google this is a link to an article about hacking and that it’s the fifth generation (in this case, of humans). Use different phrasing for links when appropriate: Search engines may recognize synonyms or related words as having similar meanings. If you use different phrases in your link text, search engines will understand that there are separate topics on these pages better than if you only use one word as the anchor text.

Avoid duplicate pages and pages with little or no content: In addition to creating high-quality content, it’s important to create a site that provides answers for users who are answering specific questions related to your brand. This means avoiding having too many duplicate pages or generic landing pages (like contact pages, site maps and legal pages) with little or no unique content. Make sure that your site answers questions that voice searches often have.

For example, many people who are looking for information on drugs will want to know how they should be taken, what side effects they might cause, who can take them and when they’re most effective. Be sure these questions are answered in the page copy of your site so that search engines understand it’s relevant to a specific search, and your brand has a better chance of showing up in the organic results.

For pharma companies, this means providing details about a drug’s purpose and its uses, as well as side effects and other relevant information. The more helpful and unique this content is, the more likely you are to attract potential customers who might use your products.

7. Expertise, Authority and Trust for pharma companies

In addition to optimizing content for search engines, pharma marketers should also consider using SEO as a way to build expertise and authority on topics related to their brand. This can increase your site traffic by showing you as a leading expert in the industry.

How do you do this? One of the most effective ways is to link to other pages within your site, and especially to a set of pages called “category landing pages.” These should be tagged with relevant keywords.

Real-life example: A student’s blog on popular medical topics like gluten intolerance, obesity or eating disorders may feature content on various diets used to treat those conditions. The most in-depth portion of the blog (or perhaps a separate page or section) could be tagged with keywords related to gluten intolerance, while a brief summary of the diet would go on another landing page for those who are looking for a quick overview.

Expertise, authority and trust for your brand can also be gained by including content on other sites that’s written in an editorial style. This type of content is read more often than ad copy because it looks like articles or pieces from an expert source — which you are!

Topical questions and concerns that your company has the expertise to answer is another excellent way to increase brand authority. If you’re a large pharmaceutical company, experts within your organization can be interviewed or quoted on hot topics in pharma– for example, a recent news story about potential side effects of a new drug.

An example of an SEO strategy that could be a little more controversial for pharma companies (but is still very effective) might involve mentioning your brand name as part of a call-to-action link. This may not be appropriate for all brands, but many companies are doing this without realizing it.

3. Conclusion

As the search engines update their algorithms to favor brands that are frequently updated, pharma marketers will want to focus on what they can actually do to help with SEO strategies.

When you’re working on site optimization, keep in mind that your brand doesn’t have to be mentioned often, but rather better represented when it is. Avoid repetition and just try to be helpful when you’re on page.

Organic search results are increasingly driven by special SEO tactics — strategies that build and maintain your brand’s authority in the industry. One of the basic principles behind effective SEO strategy is to address what people are looking for (to answer their questions), focusing on industries or keywords related to your site, as well as content that is helpful to visitors and customers.

If you have any questions about SEO strategies for the pharmaceutical industry, contact me.