Understanding Website Design & Online Marketing in the Pharmaceutical Industry - Falkon Digital Ltd

Understanding Website Design & Online Marketing in the Pharmaceutical Industry

By Luke on March 10, 2014

fluid being drawn from a bottle with a syringe

When it comes to website design and online marketing, there are always different hurdles and regulations to be aware of between industries. This is particularly true for the pharmaceutical industry; regulations for prescription medications can be very restrictive, although there is greater flexibility on over-the-counter (OTC) products. We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of experience in this sector, and as such we’re aware of some of the strategies required. Here is an overview of just some of the things you may wish to consider if you have the opportunity to work in this interesting, but challenging sector.

Website design for the pharmaceutical industry

It’s rare that a pharmaceutical company will redesign and develop its primary company website. It’s more likely that a particular brand will be developing a website or microsite to support its product. Direct marketing of a prescription medication is often avoided by developing a website that is educational or a useful resource for either a GP/medical professional or for the patients themselves.

One of the hardest aspects of developing these websites and getting them approved, is understanding the approval processes and the creation of the content. Unless you have specific experience in doing this, it would be highly recommended to work with a medical writer or to work in partnership with a medical communications agency that doesn’t have dedicated in-house capabilities to develop the site. 100% accuracy is required on the content, even down to the punctuation. The content needs to be reviewed in digital format and again on the site, as issues converting the content to HTML can create issues. For example ensuring that hyphens, en-dash and em-dashes are implemented correctly, and are not stripped out when publishing them to the site are a common issue. A medical communications agency can also speed up the design process by providing initial guidelines on the design, and reviewing the designs and imagery for appropriateness prior to sending them to the client.

Depending on who the website is catered for, it can be important to restrict information from certain users. For example, if the information for the GP contains advice on how to manage a patient, this isn’t something that you want the general consumer to access. A secure login and a verification method to ensure that only medical professionals are accessing the content is required. Additionally, if you are capturing any form of data, particularly any sensitive patient information on your website, then it is crucial that the information is encrypted and stored in a very secure database.

Understanding you demographic – Medical professionals and patients

Clearly there will be some big differences in the content for the medical professional and a patient. The medical professional will be interested in high-level scientific data around the clinical trials and success rates of the medication, case studies and white papers. As such the design of the website around this content is often very clean and non-distracting, the navigation will be simplified and the content will contain additional internal links to references as appropriate. The design will be stylised and in keeping with the rest of the website, however it will be more reserved and will not contain as much, if any, imagery unless it’s part of the content.

For patients, the content and the design will be very different. There will be a much more image lead design, and the content will be much less scientific (although they should be able to access this information if desired). Case studies will be presented from the perspective of the patient rather than from a purely results based study. The navigation and elements on the page need to guide the user through a journey, encouraging them and engaging them. Content needs to be broken down into manageable chunks of information so it’s not overwhelming, and this is often best displayed graphically for easy understanding.

Forums and user-contributed content

Forums and any other form of user-contributed content on a website can be extremely useful, and often enables a patient to create an online community or support network. However, with this functionality comes a lot of regulatory and moderation issues. Ideally a forum would allow you to quickly post and reply without needing to have your posts checked first by a moderator. Any delay in your posts going live can interrupt a conversation and reduces the usability of the site. However, if a user was to provide i.e. incorrect information or advice, or maybe post something inflammatory about the product or brand this creates other issues. A high-level of moderation may be required to check and delete posts if necessary, which can be time consuming and expensive.

Online marketing for the pharmaceutical industry

The pharmaceutical industry is incredibly competitive, with each drug often totalling millions of dollars in research over many years just go get it to market. Additionally, the ethical and regulatory restrictions imposed by the governing organisations can make online marketing a minefield for those that don’t know about the industry. As mentioned earlier, OTC medications are much more flexible but they are very strict for prescription medications. Here are just some of the common problems as well as some example solutions.

Creating something useful

Creating something of actual value to the medical professional or to the patient is normally the first step. This can be in the form of a website or microsite, and it can contain a lot of great information in the form of clinical data, support, information about side-effects and general information about a particular therapy area. Additionally providing tools or frequent updates can keep users coming back to the website. Examples may be i.e. an interactive calendar or tool to support patient adherence.

Content marketing

Note that a content marketing strategy including a blog can be a powerful strategy, as it is in most industries; however frequency of blog posts can be an issue due to regulations and the required approval processes (approval can take weeks). You can create i.e. a calendar of blog posts that are pre-approved and scheduled to go out over a 12 month period, however this eliminates the possibility of responding to any time-sensitive information.

Search Engine Optimisation (SEO)

Content can be an issue for SEO. You may perform some initial research and find what you believe are the best keywords to target, however these specific keywords or phrases may not be allowed under the regulations. Therefore, you will need to use other techniques to associate the website with these keywords which can be very tricky, or will yield slower results.

Another issue you will find with content is when you’re targeting medical professionals. You may have pages and pages of fantastic content, but it has to remain hidden behind a secure login so Google will never be able to read and index it.

Link building

Most online marketing companies are now pretty careful when it comes to link building anyway in light of the crackdown by Google on paid or unnatural link building. The pharmaceutical industry was always very sceptical regarding link building, and did not want links from certain categories of websites. This includes website such as business directories and article submission sites. For websites that are aimed at medical professionals, there are known web portals and communities that may be prepared to share your website if it is good enough or offers value. Although these are often few and far between, the strength of these links are high (if the linking page is indexed!).

Pay Per Click (PPC)

PPC works best for the consumer/patient but be aware there are the same restrictions over the use of keywords. Sometimes however you’re able to target particular keywords so long as that keyword is not used in your ad text.  Google is also quite strict about the content you use in your ad text when related to pharmaceuticals and medicines. Your ad may get rejected even if strictly speaking it is correct, but doesn’t comply with Google’s own healthcare policy. Note that some of the requirements may differ country to country.

Banner advertising on partner websites can be acceptable in some instances, and promoted videos/tweets/posts can be very powerful for promoting a website on YouTube, Twitter and Facebook. Just make sure that it is the website that is being promoted. Be aware that if the therapy area is very competitive, that the Cost Per Click (CPC) can be very high.

So there we have it; that was just scratching the surface on what is involved in website design and online marketing within the pharmaceutical sector. For more information on this feel free to comment below or contact us.