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April 22, 2010 » Next Under the Knife… Pharma SEO

The FDA finally took notice, this past April, of Paid Search when they decided to send out 40 letters to some of the most high profile pharma brands around. One letter that stood out among the bunch was received by Plavix, which in fact was a Paid Inclusion listing (which no longer exists) and not a Paid Search ad. This, in my mind, raises larger concern as to whether or not the FDA realizes what it stumbled upon, and if they will ever take an axe to the fine SERPs (Search Engine Results Page) that we pharma SEOs have crafted over the years?! My belief is sooner or later they will get around to scrutinizing these SERPs, but it shouldn’t be us Pharma SEOs that have to jump through hoops to appease them! It’s my stance that the engines are the ones that are going to have to make a change, and I’m going to show you “how” and “why”.

First, let’s take a look at why the search engines should be responsible for having to change the way the results are displayed. No matter what search engine you use, none are proficient at semantic search. For instance, take a look at the result set returned on Hakia for the search query “how can I treat my heartburn?”. As you can see, the intent of my search wasn’t fully understood, and it appears to simply match the terms in my original query. What this means is that text analysis is still a critical factor when determining what pages/sites to include in a result set. Therefore, including targeted disease-state terms in your titles is still going to make a difference in the success of any SEO campaign. Now I know that not including keyword in a title tag isn’t the only reason a site would/wouldn’t rank for a targeted term, but I’m not the only one that knows it matters (just look at #1 under On-Page Factors)! Along with this, at the Social Media hearings that were held recently, Google already stepped forward and showed examples of possible Paid Search ad formats that would be used in order to abide by the FDA’s rulings.

So what have we learned from this example? The engines have the capabilities to alter their results, it’s now just a matter of them doing it.

As we all know, the engines have enhanced results for different verticals. It’s now time to apply those enhanced results styles to pharma. Although a scalable solution that could be supported by all major search would be optimal, for the purposes of this post I will be giving examples that are engine specific. Here are just a few ideas/examples of what the engines currently are doing for other vertical results, and how they could be applied to pharma:

Bing & Document Preview

Bing has a pretty sweet feature called “Document Preview” which allows for a user to gain some understanding as to what a particular result is all about. As you can see in the above example, AJAX is used to display part of the page’s content (ironically enough, the preview above shows the user the Safety Information) when the user hovers over the result. Currently there is only a way to block MSNBOT from adding the document preview via the <meta name=“msnbot”, content=“nopreview”> meta tag. What this leaves open is the ability to implement a directive that tells MSNBOT what content to actually include in the document preview (I’d imagine it would be a microformat / RDFa that was specific to Bing). This would enable a pharma webmaster to mark up the PI, or whatever content is desired to be included that preview.

Microformats & RDFa for Pharma

This is a more scalable solution, that if adopted by all engines risk information could be included in all pharma results. As you may already know, Google and the soon defunct Yahoo! support microformats and RDFa which help them provide enhanced listings for sites in their indices.


Above is an example of a Yelp result that utilizes the hReview-aggregate microformat. This allows Yelp to provide additional information, such as average star and price rating. This sort of enhanced listing would perfect for pharma SEO because of the fact that is could provide a direct link to safety information and it could be supported by all major search engines. A webmaster would simply have to go in mark up the safety information on a page with the correct microformat and they would have an enhanced listing (obviously this is somewhat oversimplifying the process, but you get the picture).

So, what do you think? Do you feel that it is up to the SEO to simply change how their results are displayed in order to comply by future FDA guidance, or should the engines show a little love and make the SERPs a little more pharma friendly?

COMMENT (1)

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Kevin Loretucci says:
Apr 24, 2010

Very interesting article.

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