SEO Tactics for Pharmaceutical Sites

In a previous column, I wrote about how pharmaceutical companies are behind the curve with their SEO efforts. And while I certainly don’t want this column to focus too heavily on one industry, I did want to wrap up the discussion by describing some SEO tactics that actually have a chance of getting through the various legal and regulatory reviews that are typical of the pharmaceutical space.

Content Expansion

Admittedly, most product teams turn this one down such that the acceptance rate is about 10 percent. Still, that’s actually pretty good given just how many recommendations will typically be rejected. When my clients have accepted the idea of expanding content on the site to target additional relevant keywords, they have required two things:

  1. The content must be non-branded. That is, while the page can cover many aspects of a given condition, it can’t include any statement that overstates the product’s effectiveness; e.g., don’t even come close to suggesting it’s a treatment with no downside. Doing so would trigger a whole bunch of other editorial requirements that everyone wants to avoid.
  2. The content can be included in the navigation, but it should be separated from the rest of the content including using a sub-folder, limiting internal linking to product pages with branded language, and keeping URLs as unbranded as possible.

Content Authoring and Distribution

Not one pharmaceutical company to which I’ve proposed the idea of content authoring and distribution has accepted the idea. I’ve had some agree to the concept, but they rejected the effort that would be needed to get such content written, reviewed, and approved.

Where I have had some success is with having someone else, with pharmaceutical experience, write the content. The biggest stumbling block then was the need to keep branded display ads from appearing beside any of these unbranded articles. Quite doable, but your best bet is to get this sort of effort going when there aren’t any active display campaigns.

Keyword-Rich Internal Links

Internal links are underused in this space. Most of the time designers and the product folks rely on the main navigation to provide the necessary linking. And when the pages are short, the navigation is probably as good as you’re going to get. If you’re working with longer pages that include keywords of interest, there’s an SEO benefit from turning these keywords into links to other pages on the site. As a concept, I get near 100 percent approval of this tactic, but of course some of the actual link suggestions are rejected.

Links From Other Owned Sites

In just about every other industry, linking between a family of sites is a no-brainer. Unfortunately, it’s actually a practice that is frowned upon between pharmaceutical sites. The problem lies in what the surrounding text and anchor text state about the destination page. In addition, there is typically some trepidation of any implication that could be inferred from directing a user to leave one site and land on another. The trick to getting around such concerns is to use an exit pop-up triggered by JavaScript and nicely styled with CSS. Done right, the link is clean for search engines, but allows for a more complete description of the destination site/page to appear and that also requires the user to acknowledge they read the disclaimer. Even with the workaround, I’m looking at just 5 percent acceptance of this tactic.

Limited Outreach

Relevant, high-quality links are hard to come by, but they’re also worth the effort. I’ve found that the traditional outreach approach requires a few more constraints on the pharmaceutical side to pass the approval phase. The end result of all of the constraints is that the only valid targets to reach out to are resource lists – pages listing a bunch of sites each with a title and short description, all of which are usually categorized. The resource list must also not imply too much. For example, if the section on the page is labeled with the word “Cure” but the product doesn’t actually cure, then it won’t get a go-ahead.

SEO for pharmaceutical sites can be frustrating. Whereas our fellow SEOs in other industries are working diligently to come up with creative ideas to push the organic search performance of the sites they work on, pharmaceutical SEOs need to focus more on taking traditional tactics and coming up with creative ways to tweak them to make them compliant. It’s not an easy job, but someone’s got to do it!

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