AdWords Restrictions For Addiction Treatment

Google’s New Policies For Addiction Treatment

Ever since the Affordable Care Act was put into effect, there has been a massive boom in the addiction treatment industry. It seems everyone wants a piece of the pie and for some the desire for financial gain is far greater than the desire to help those suffering from addiction. This results in taking advantage of addicts in most vulnerable stages of recovery. In Florida laws have been implemented that aim to stop patient brokering and California appears to be next up.

Last month, seemingly in response to this article from The Verge published 9/7/2017, Google decided to restrict ads for queries related to addiction treatment. The article explains how people find large lead gens through search ads and end up in the hands of whichever treatment center will pay the lead gen the most for the patient. The Verge paints a nefarious picture of the part Google AdWords plays in the marketers scheme.

Google has massive influence

…..in the way products and services are marketed online. Their decision to cut all ads overnight is having a ripple effect throughout the addiction treatment industry. Treatment center operators are left with little insight into what google’s new policies mean for their centers. This article aims to answer the major digital marketing questions facing treatment centers.

Saving Face

 

Google claims its goal is to make sure those seeking treatment through their search engine only see ads from reputable organizations. Google says it wants to stop deceptive advertising practices when human lives are at stake. This effort will take some time to complete, but so far we have very little information on what will come of Google’s decision.

It seems as though Google’s intent has changed, because not long ago, google was actively courting treatment centers to market with AdWords with no regard to the quality of care provided to the end user. WebServ has no opinion on Google’s motives although this sudden change of heart has an interesting chronological correlation to negative PR resulting from the article.

According to Bloomberg a midsize addiction treatment center can ‘easily’ shell out $1 million per month for AdWords. I don’t know what a ‘mid-size’ treatment center looks like but here in California a 24 bed residential treatment center (RTC) is considered pretty large. Regardless of where Bloomberg got their numbers, it has not been uncommon to pay over $100 per-click to rank for competitive term like rehabs near me. The cost per acquisition is high and the playing field is tilted toward large lead generators that have trained sales professionals at call centers ready to link an addict with the highest bidder with no regard to the quality of care and user experience.

 

Google AdWords Logo

& The Current Environment

 

Currently the ads for the highest converting search terms are simply turned off. Google appears to be restricting ads for more and more queries relating to addiction treatment as time goes on. Last month, after Google’s decision, you could still advertise on the results page for queries including addiction help, addiction rehab and painkiller rehab, among many others. Today a quick Google search reveals you cannot advertise for those terms. Google is doing more everyday to restrict more terms.

 

Windows to Recovery did a screen shot for Rehabs and look at the results

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/18/2017 at WebServ headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA. There are only organic results

If you look around can find ads for addiction treatment on the results page for queries that include abnormal combinations of words that people rarely search for.

A SERPS screenshot of a search performed on 10/17/2017

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/17/2017 at WebServ headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA. The arrows point to lead generators.

There are some queries that are not too obscure that still have ads. The only problem is that these phrases typically convert at a low rate, because the people that type these terms rarely end up in treatment. We found this search page for addiction services that still had ads on 10/17/2017.

| screenshot of search 3 2017.png

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/17/2017 at WebServ headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA

The pages that do have ads are for low-converting terms, mostly dominated by large national lead-generators. In fact, Aid in Recovery (in the results in the image above from 10/17/2017) was the main offender named in the article that this all sprang from.

Advantages of using

Google AdWords Logo

The advantage of being able to advertise on search results pages is that the user types a specific keyword which gives unprecedented insight into user intent. Never in human history have we been able to target consumers based upon exactly what they are looking for, right when they are looking, until now. Most browsing sessions start on a search engine and google gets the vast majority of the market share. According to netmarketshare.com, Google gets 78.78% of the search traffic globally as of September 2017.

Screen Shot of market share data for September 2017 obtained from netmarketshare.com

This is market share data for September 2017 obtained from netmarketshare.com

The advantage of being able to advertise on search results pages is that the user types a specific keyword which gives unprecedented insight into user intent. Never in human history have we been able to target consumers based upon exactly what they are looking for, right when they are looking, until now. Most browsing sessions start on a search engine and google gets the vast majority of the market share. According to netmarketshare.com, Google gets 78.78% of the search traffic globally as of September 2017.

Addiction Treatment Organic Results

 

The people looking for treatment are still starting their search on Google, they are just left with organic results rather than paid results. A quick google search for almost any rehab related query results in large national conglomerates ranking in the top results. No AdWords? No problem. They are able to rank organically because they  have the resources to do so. In organic results they have a map of nearby businesses which can be hijacked by scammers and in many areas there are no nearby treatment centers.

 

What This Means

What Google has done up to this point has had no positive effect on those seeking treatment and has had an overall negative effect on the business owners that are actually trying to help people. Google may have no ill-intent and actually wants to help but it really doesn’t matter. Google has so much influence that whatever they decide has huge implications for our entire industry.  Treatment centers are marketing services that have the potential to save countless lives and the only thing they have been able to do is make it so treatment centers can’t advertise on their search page. This move has routed people to the same high pressure lead-generators that they were trying to stop from advertising. After asking for evidence that organic search results were still getting users to call-centers, a spokeswoman for Google provided this statement.

We are deeply committed to delivering useful and relevant search results to our users. A site’s ranking on Google Search is determined using hundreds of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query, including things like PageRank, the specific words that appear on websites, the freshness of content, and your region.

Google has teamed up with a non profit organization called Facing Addiction to develop new policies for addiction treatment. Google has yet to comment on how they intend to handle advertising for treatment centers in the future, referring all questions to Facing Addiction. From what we can tell, Facing Addiction seems like a great organization. They are a non-profit that seem to be working hard to promote ethical business practices. This could be wonderful news for ethical treatment centers and their patients in the long run and we sure hope it is. For now, Google’s move has no benefit to anyone. Stay tuned for updates.


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Marketing an addiction treatment center seems to get harder by the day, but there seems to be more and more people needing and seeking help with their addictions. This article outlines some of the reasons for this and seeks to provide additional insight.

If you are an out of network provider of substance use disorder treatment, finding the right insurance plans can be difficult, but is imperative for a treatment center to get paid fairly in order to operate. There are a number of different strategies to acquire good paying insurance plans, but most are ineffective or too expensive.

To complicate things further, plans in California are typically no good. If you go to a local Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and you notice all the newcomers seem to be from out of state you should be able to start connecting some dots. -Spoiler alert- They aren’t actually on vacation.

So where are all these treatment centers finding the good leads, and why can’t you?

Step 1. Finding Good Payers for Rehabs

 

The main reason a lot of treatment centers can’t find good leads is because they don’t know where to look. Your aging report and data from previous clients is a good place to start finding insight on who pays well and start finding trends. If you can’t make any sense of that you may want to partner with a behavioral health billing company that provides these insights.

Usually what you will find is a couple trends:

 

Decent Exchange Plans are from certain areas of the country only

Certain Employer Plans pay well regardless of location of an addiction treatment center

You will begin to find that some of these plans are paying up to ten times more than some of the ones currently filling your beds. How would it affect you business if you could be at maximum capacity all the time with the best plans? Once you have a detailed list of payers the problem seems to be one that is solvable, but where do you start?

Step 2. Creating a Strategy for Rehabs

Now that we know what a qualified lead looks like we start looking for places to find them. So lets break up our efforts into 2 parts to be in line with the list we generated in the previous step:

  1. So let’s say we know of about 10 states that have good paying exchange plans. Well that’s easy enough we change our current ppc campaigns to target users in these locations. Also maybe modify our landing pages to optimize for conversions (i.e . people in New Jersey might not react the same to the landing page copy as someone in California). Better yet make individual landing pages and serve them to users based upon their location.
  2. If certain companies have the best paying plans then we know we want leads with these employer plans, but many platforms don’t give you the opportunity to target based upon a certain employer. Facebook seems to be the solution here, but if you don’t do it right it won’t work. A good campaign that targets large group employers that pay well has the potential to work miracles for your treatment center.

Step 3. Execution

I’m not going to provide too much insight here, either you have a good digital marketing team or you don’t. If you have these lists and your prospective client is well defined and targeted and you have good ads and landing pages it is going to work well. If you don’t it won’t. So if your phones aren’t ringing and you are struggling to admit clients like never before, you need to change with the industry. Give WebServ a call. We will give you a free digital marketing audit and help you make the needed changes.


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