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  SEM Services: New AdWords Policy for Pharma PPC Ads

Search Engine Marketing Services: New AdWords Policy for Pharmaceutical Product Ads
In a major change to it’s AdWords search engine marketing policy, Google is now requiring that pharmaceutical product advertisers and affiliates managing SEM programs and PPC services obtain certification from the Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites (VIPPS) or Canadian International Pharmacy Association (CIPA) before placing PPC ads on AdWords.  Previously the AdWords guidelines required only that pharma retailers and affiliates be verified by PharmacyChecker.com.  Google’s new SEM advertising guidelines also restrict drug ads to the advertiser’s home country.


PPC Services Providers -- Requirements for Pharmaceutical Products
Search engine marketing firms offering pay-per-click programs and other SEM services must comply with the guidelines of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) which oversees all print, radio, TV and online marketing of prescription pharmaceuticals.  The FDA divides ads into three categories, and each has separate requirements for benefits description and risk disclosure
  • Product Claim Advertisements: Include the name of the drug (brand and generic) and one or more FDA-approved uses.  Must also list the most significant risks of the drug, and must provide a balanced view of benefits vs. risks.
  • Reminder Ads:  Give the name of the drug, but not the benefits or risks.  Can not be used for drugs with serious risks (‘boxed warnings’).
  • Help Seeking Ads: Describe a disease or condition, and may name the drug manufacturer or pharmacy, but cannot name the drug or infer that their product has a remedial effect.

SEM Restrictions and Mixing Product Claim/Reminder/Help Seeking Ads
Most online drug ads are developed by SEM services firms on behalf of prescription drug retailers (vs. manufacturers).  Search engine marketing services providers inherently prefer reminder ads, which provide a direct path to a PPC sale, and avoid the requirement for extensive risk disclosure (hard to do this in 95 character pay-per-click ad).  We’ve all seen TV product claim ads that go on at great length in gruesome detail about a drug’s potential side effects – enough to make us wonder if the disease isn’t preferable to the remedy!

A smaller proportion of online ads for pharmaceuticals are funded by the drug manufacturers to create awareness of the disease (via help seeking ads) and remedial effects of their drugs (through product claim ads).  These high dollar ad campaigns have been conducted primarily on TV, radio and print; although recently we have seen a significant increase in online display advertising and PPC services.


Conclusions and Recommendations for Online Drug Retailers and SEM Services Agencies
  1. Google’s policy change will significantly reduce the number of illegal and misleading pay-per-click ads for prescription drugs.
  2. The new AdWords SEM program guidelines for pharmaceutical products will be a major nuisance for affiliate advertisers and small retailers (who must go through the process obtaining certification by VIPPS or CIPA).
  3. Google’s definition of a ‘pharmaceutical product’ is so broad that this new PPC program policy will also have the unintended consequence of making life difficult for legitimate SEM firms and retailers of non-drug products like medical devices, diet pills, natural supplements, and herbal remedies.   A lot of innocuous pay-per-click ads will be disapproved initially; and the SEM firm will need to explain that it is not marketing a pharmaceutical product.
  4. Pharmaceutical manufacturers and online retailers should confer with their PPC services company to review the impact on the new AdWords policy on their overall SEM marketing strategy, Product Claim/Reminder/Help Seeking ad mix, and specific pay-per-click ad content and targeting.
  5. Online advertisers of natural remedies, herbal supplements, medical and drug-related services should be alert to the possibility of ad rejection by AdWords, and prepared to defend the ads as 'non-pharmaceutical'.  

Semantic Advantage is a search engine marketing firm in Austin, TX.  We help businesses design and implement effective SEM strategies and high ROI PPC campaigns.  For more information about SEM ads and pay-per-click programs, visit our SEM services page.

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