Consumer-Facing Drug Sites Coming Up Short

A study of several major pharmaceutical industry direct-to-consumer (DTC) Web sites by Electronic Ink has found that poor user experience has likely had a negative impact on ROI.

Click to view full-size chart

The heuristic study, which quickly identifies significant usability problems, allows one or more usability specialists to systematically inspect a user interface in consideration of the intended audience and usage and applies accepted principles of user interface design such as consistency, simplicity, flexibility, intuitiveness, responsiveness and robustness. DTC Web sites for pharmaceuticals including Periostat, Pravachol, NIASPAN, Plavix, Glucophage XR, and ZOCOR were analyzed.

Click to view full-size chart

In many instances, poor design and layout of the sites interferes with users’ ability to identify and locate relevant information, the study found. One example of this is the use of banner-type images on several of the sites. While intended to attract users to visit other parts of the site, it is likely to do just the opposite, as research has shown that users will often ignore items that look like advertising banners, or fail to perceive individual elements of a banner — a phenomenon called “banner blindness.”

A number of significant usability issues relating to site navigation were also discovered among the sites. The study found the use of nonstandard and inconsistent navigational cues, navigational tools that were hidden and easily overlooked, lack of effective information hierarchy and a lack of search functionality. Some sites, for example, failed to use the Web industry standard of underlining text links. Additionally, visited links failed to change color. Not only does this go against user expectations, but it also removes the opportunity to provide visual feedback to the users as to their whereabouts in the site.

EMail Newsletter and Promotion Opinions Practices by Moms
Photo Credit goes here.

Significant issues arose that could affect the degree to which an end user would find the sites meaningful and useful. These issues included content that was not presented in a format that was appropriate for the Web, content that was not engaging, content that was not as extensive as it could have been and content that was not presented at an appropriate language level. Since people tend to scan text rather than reading straight through as with print, large blocks of text are likely to go unread. Confronting readers with advanced information on topics relating to clinical studies and pharmacology likely overwhelms most consumers.

EMail Newsletter and Promotion Opinions Practices by Moms
Photo Credit goes here.

In general, the study found that inadequate consideration was given to issues of accessibility including aspects of design and layout that would accommodate persons with disabilities, which can pose a big problem for drug sites targeting users with various medical conditions. Several of the sites failed to consider such users by not including helpful design elements such as larger type and image-tags. Additionally, those individuals who rely on alternative means to browse the Web (e.g. screen readers, keyboard-only control) may not have full access to all of the site’s features and content.

Many of the sites evaluated did not effectively integrate their e-marketing with existing consumer marketing programs, making it difficult to identify brands. For example, colors, images, slogans and promotional offerings were not consistent with their print and broadcast marketing counterparts.

EMail Newsletter and Promotion Opinions Practices by Moms
Photo Credit goes here.

Trust is also an important element in the success of a pharmaceutical Web site. Pharmaceutical companies are able to launch customer-focused, data-driven online marketing strategies to boost their traditional marketing programs. But research has shown that despite the numbers who go online to look for medical information, less than 25 percent of online consumers would share personal information with drug makers. According to Electronic Ink, one of the key factors in establishing trust is in creating a positive user experience by presenting professional and aesthetically pleasing designs, providing appropriate content in a tone that is both informative and understandable, identifying the sources and credentials of information and providers and delivering a message focused on the health and well-being of the individual, rather than focusing on the pharmaceutical product.

EMail Newsletter and Promotion Opinions Practices by Moms
Photo Credit goes here.

“While we believe DTC sites offer huge upside potential in supporting the marketing goals of pharmaceutical corporations, DTC sites as a whole are badly missing the mark,” said Harold Hambrose, CEO and president of Electronic Ink. “Basic yet critical mistakes are being made across-the-board, and the end result is that potential customers are driven away by barriers that include poor design, content and a myriad of usability disconnects detailed in our research report.”

According to Jupiter Media Metrix, by 2002, half of all revenue produced by the pharmaceutical industry will be generated from a combination of print, television and online DTC advertising.

Top 50 Internet Advertisers by Media Value,
May 2005
Position Advertiser Media Value ($ 000) Sector
1 Vonage 30,187 Tech
2 21,337 Fin
3 Verizon ISP 19,500 Tech
4 12,455 Misc
5 11,250 Ent
6 8,887 Ret
7 South Beach Diet 8,491 H/F
8 Ameritrade Brokerage 6,622 Fin
9 6,282 Ent
10 MSN 6,089 Tech
11 Scottrade Stock Brokerage 5,846 Fin
12 University of Phoenix Online 4,685 Edu
13 Dell Dimension Computer Products Direct 4,488 Tech
14 Dell VAR Computers Products Direct 4,316 Tech
15 E*Trade Financial 3,786 Fin
16 Teleflora Online 3,753 Ret
17 Teleflora Florist Delivery 3,745 Ret
18 3,713 Class
19 University of Phoenix 3,640 Edu
20 Circuit City 3,569 Ret
21 3,345 Ret
22 3,201 Fin
23 Webshots Photography 3,138 Misc
24 Cingular Wireless 3,001 Tech
25 Andale ISP 2,825 Tech
26 2,771 Fin
27 LoanWeb 2,686 Fin
28 2,618 Tech
29 ING Direct 2,586 Fin
30 2,577 Ret
31 CareerBuilder 2,575 Class
32 2,506 T/H
33 Charles Schwab Consumer Services 2,457 Fin
34 2,445 Fin
35 2,278 Date
36 2,273 Ret
37 Love@AOL 2,180 Date
38 Hydroderm Skin Care 2,175 CPG
39 Comstock (JupiterImages) 2,173 Ret
40 Hampton Inn Hotels 2,165 T/H
41 2,091 Misc
42 2,083 Misc
43 2,073 Class
44 Glycemic Impact Diet Program 2,060 H/F
45 2,042 T/H
46 1,966 H/F
47 Western Union 1,959 Fin
48 Perfect Match 1,872 Date
49 1,814 Fin
50 Answer Financial Auto Insurance 1,812 Fin
Methodology: Chart represents the value of display advertising in both standard and non-standard ad formats. Media expenditure estimates do not always take into account special considerations including publisher discounts, barter agreements, co-sponsorship, affiliate relationships, etc.
Sectors: Auto – Automotive; Class – Classifieds; CPG – Consumer Package Goods; Date – Online Dating; Edu – Education; Ent – Entertainment; Fin – Financial Services; H/F – Health & Fitness; Misc – Miscellaneous; Ret – Retail; Tech – Technology; T/H – Travel/Hospitality
TNS Media Intelligence logo
Top 50 Internet Advertisers In April, 2005

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.