Contextual Search Advertising for Pharma

April 7, 2017

Executive Summary

It is common for healthcare professionals, consumers and caretakers to search online for health-related information. While SEM helps engage many of these hand-raisers, enabling a targeted push-marketing tactic, like contextual advertising, helps even more to shape preferences and garner a favorable action. This POV will review what contextual advertising is and how pharma can harness its power.

What is Contextual Search Advertising?

Contextual Advertising is a form of targeted advertising where an automated ad serving system matches promotional ads to relevant digital content. When most people think “contextual advertising,” they’re thinking of the display banner ads that appear at the top, bottom, or sides of a web page. But when we reference “contextual search advertising,” it specifically relates to the concept that keywords are being utilized to contextually match to relevant content, with the automated ad serving system populating a paid search text ad to appear in traditional (banner ad) and non-traditional (native) placements on a web page.

While it is clear why a specific treatment option would want an ad to not appear next to an article about heart failure risks associated with certain treatment options, it is also advantageous to be able to trigger unique ads based on the content of the article and what it may signal about a patient or HCP.

For example, this level of targeting granularity can identify an article that shares new clinical study data about Treatment B, and subsequently serve a reminder ad that encourages physicians to learn about efficacy for Treatment A. Meanwhile, for an article about treatment administration, an advertiser would want to serve a text ad that references dosing/administration and links directly to the administration page of the website, garnering a positive user experience.

Applications in Pharma

In the pharmaceutical space, healthcare professionals are often researching newly approved medical innovations, dosing/efficacy/safety of treatments, and medical research about a disease state. On the other side, patients are looking to understand their symptoms, learning more about their diagnosis, and researching treatment options, related to what is effective and what minimizes side effects.

While SEM helps capture many of these hand-raisers conducting searches on Google, Yahoo, and Bing, enabling a targeted push-marketing tactic, like contextual advertising, helps even more to shape preferences and garner a favorable action.

Currently, these partners have a large list of endemic sites, but they are constantly growing, allowing advertisers to enhance their ability to target the most relevant audiences.

One of the benefits to executing contextual search advertising is that in most cases, SEM keywords/ads that have been previously approved by Medical/Regulatory/Legal can be used without the need to re-route projects. This, however, would need to be determined on a client-by-client basis.


More so than ever before, it is critical to capture the attention of humans at micro-moments, defined as those situations when individuals are ready to make a decision or are looking for information that will shape their preferences.

Search Engine Marketing (SEM) does an excellent job of reaching hand-raising physicians and patients, when they are searching for information on a specific brand or are evaluating treatment options for a disease state. Often times, these individuals are also reading or watching content across endemic or lifestyle-related websites. While traditional media buys can serve digital display ads across an entire website, contextual advertising brings search advertising efforts to places beyond search engines.

During the initial planning process, as well as throughout the year, CMI is constantly evaluating different media tactics and supplier partners in an effort to garner the best performance, dictated by the brand’s critical success factors and strategy goals. We highly recommend that contextual search advertising is considered in every campaign. Increased attention and investment is being allocated toward digital tactics that are able to bring a targeted execution to a broad channel. These new strategies complement traditional tactics well and are an important part of the multi-media mix.

Contextual search advertising has proven to be an effective channel for developing awareness and driving on-site behaviors for both launch brands, as well as those brands that have been in market for many years.
Pharma brands should evaluate their budgets to determine if there is a place for contextual search advertising and engage in a pilot program to show how it can help their brand. Once 2-3 months of data are collected, a more formal conclusion can be reached around whether to continue or end the program(s).