Can Healthcare Companies Target Competitors in Google Ads?

Healthcare companies are heavily regulated with respect to what they can say in advertisements. Governments apply some of these restrictions, and Google Ads applies even more.

Such companies can’t make false or misleading claims. They can’t promise health benefits without substantial clinical trial data. Many drug terms are not allowed in ads. Some products and services can be advertised only in specific countries and with special Google certification. And on it goes. If you’d like to read the complete Google Ads policy regarding health advertising, here it is.

So it is natural to wonder, what about targeting competitors?  As a Healthcare company, can you use Google Ads to target searchers who are seeking competitor products or services, just like can be done in most other industries?

The short answer is: Yes.

The slightly longer answer is: Yes, but be very careful.

Read on for the full answer.

Competitive Targeting in Healthcare

What You Cannot Do

If a competitor has registered their brand names with Google, then any ads that mention those brand names will be automatically disapproved.  There is no recourse unless the competitor gives you explicit permission to use their brand name. And good luck getting that permission in the healthcare space!

What You Should Not Do

Even if a competitor has not taken steps to register their brand names with Google, you should not use their brand in your ads.  Doing so is playing with fire.  Your ads may run fine for a time, even for years.  You might earn substantial revenue by steering away customers from their website to yours.  Everything might seem just great.

And then one day you receive a notice of legal action.  You are being sued for trademark infringement.  This is not just a cease and desist letter.  This is a competitor deciding they want to take you to court to recoup the millions of dollars that you earned through illegal use of their trademark.  This happens frequently and is not worth the risk.

You might even cross this line inadvertently.  There is an ad feature called DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) that can automatically insert a targeted keyword into your ad copy.  If your ad group includes keywords containing competitor brand names, then an ad with DKI can end up including those brand names even if you don’t write them explicitly into the ad copy.

Prometheus PPC has been involved as an expert witness in multiple such court cases in the healthcare industry.  Trust us — there is no way to hide what you’ve done.  And pleading ignorance will not work.

You must make sure your ads never include a competitor’s brand name.

What You Can Do

So what’s left?  How can you go head to head with your Healthcare competitors in a way that won’t lead to ad disapprovals or law suits? In a way that is competitively above-board?

The way to proceed is to create ad groups containing keywords that include appropriate competitor brand language.  This is fully supported by Google Ads.  While a competitor may not like it, they will have to put up with it (whether or not they run ads themselves).

Users who enter search queries that match on these competitor brand keywords will see your ads.  (Remember: Don’t put the competitor brand names in your ads, and don’t use DKI!).  If they like your message in spite of having searched for a competitor, they might click through, and you will have a chance to win them over.  This is legitimate and fair in the world of PPC.

A few tips to make such competitor campaigns effective:

1) Make sure the competitor keywords match well to a product or service you offer

If a competitor offers exactly your product/service (or close enough), then including “bare” keywords containing only their company name might be narrow enough for you.

But if a competitor offers a range of products/services unrelated to your offering, then be sure to qualify the keywords.  For example, instead of a keyword for ABC Medical, create a keyword for ABC Medical diagnostic equipment.  Else you will waste money showing ads to people who are seeking your competitor but have no interest in what you offer.

2) Narrow your keyword targeting further

Broad Match keywords, even when qualifying terms are added, can often match on non-relevant queries. This again wastes money.  You have two main methods for managing this.

  • Use Phrase Match or Exact Match keywords to force Google to trigger only for more closely related queries.  You might find that the Broad Match keyword ABC Medical diagnostic equipment triggers ads to show for low-relevance search queries like “diagnostic tests” or “medical equipment” or worse.
  • Regularly add negative keywords to exclude terms or phrases that indicate a low-relevance query.  For example, you might notice a large volume of searches for ABC’s “at home” diagnostic equipment, while you sell only to hospitals.  Adding “at home”, or just “home” as a negative keyword will quickly eliminate that low-relevance traffic.

You will want to review the Google Ads Search Terms report for both of those activities.

3) Tailor ads for each competitor

Don’t dump all your competitor keywords into a single ad group with a single ad.  It’s quick and easy, but it will waste money and cost you new customers.

Take time to build a campaign structure that gives you a competitive advantage against each of your Healthcare competitors:

  • Create a separate ad group for each competitor
  • Tailor each ad group’s ads to emphasize what makes your offering superior to the offering of that specific competitor (again, without mentioning them by name)

Is your competitor’s app a daunting all-in-one health monitoring juggernaut, while yours is more limited?  Then don’t talk about your “all in one” solution (you can’t win that argument).  Talk about how your solution is better for women, or focused on heart health, or more streamlined and less expensive.

Is your competitor focused on telemedicine for psychologists, while you don’t have that focus?  Then don’t talk about a service for psychologists (you can’t win that argument).  Talk about how your solution works for any doctor, or how it was built to operate with the systems of any medical clinic.

To make Google Ads profitable, you need a compelling niche focus.  When targeting competitors, you can carve out an advantageous niche for each individual case.

Should You Target Competitors in Healthcare?

That’s a different question.  It’s a question of profitability, and that will depend on the strength and focus of your offerings vs. competitors’ offerings.  It will also depend on how much money they are throwing at their own ad campaigns, driving up click costs.  Because of these variables, the only way to answer this question is to try it and see.  Just make sure to follow the tips above to give yourself the best chance of success.

Do you need help with competitor targeting?

Click here to learn about Prometheus PPC

Click here to learn about Google Ads for Healthcare companies

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Andrew Percey - Google Ads Specialist'

Andrew founded Prometheus PPC in 2012 and has helped grow over 100 businesses through Google Ads advertising. He holds two engineering degrees from M.I.T., where he also hosts digital marketing seminars.

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