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August 2, 2011 » Three Tips For Rare Disease SEO

Having worked on and managed SEO campaigns in disease verticals as large as Parkinson’s disease, depression, and heartburn/acid reflux, I know with hard work that the traffic and conversions are there for the taking. Keyword research, time and time again, presents you with treatment/medication/medicine variations that have thousands of monthly searches. Sites with content dedicated to your disease state are right there in front of you, making the creation of your outreach list easier. Creating quality, relevant content; building links; and climbing up the SERPs (Search Engine Results Pages) will most likely end up in driving more traffic and conversions to your client’s site. Hugs and kisses all around!

Now imagine you have the opportunity to work with a medication for a rare disease. All excited, you fire up your favorite keyword research tools to find that people DO search for Medication X 12 times per month (and for those of you who know the AdWords Keyword Research tool it’s probably more like three searches/month). You then perform a search on the rare disease to see what content is out there—nothing except a Wikipedia article and something from the NIH. Panic sets in, you cry a little in your soup, and you’re now in the fetal position. You realize that content, links, and ranking isn’t going to deliver the traffic and conversion you’re used to. You have to CREATE that marketplace and build awareness of not only the medication, but the disease itself. That’s no small task, but here are three tips to help you on your way:

1. Build your keyword list with paid search

  • It’s cheap and it’s effective. If you have little luck when using your usual keyword research tactics, then use paid search. Aim broad with the campaign and use it to identify some mid/long-tail keywords that your keyword research is unable to provide. My recommendation would be:
    • Use a head term (the disease itself), and run it as a modified broad match on Adwords, and broad or phrase match on AdCenter.
    • Make sure that you have 100% impression share.
    • Run search query reports in AdWords and AdCenter.
    • Identify terms that have search volume and add to your keyword list.

2. Widen your sights—think category

  • Outreach is a HUGE part of SEO for rare disease therapies. Its job is not only to build links, but to provide content and build awareness of the therapy and, in some cases, the disease. The problem here is that there is usually limited content dedicated to these rare diseases to target. Here are some tactics that I use to build my outreach lists.
    • Use the [related:] operator on Google.
    • If you know at least one site or community built around the targeted disease this operator [] will provide you other sites that are topically relevant.
    • Look for category sites
    • If the therapy treats a rare bone disorder, try to identify sites that talk about rare diseases, or bone disorders in general. This approach will widen your set of sites.
    • Use the [related:] operator here, too, once you have identified a few sites
    • Analyze your targeted sites links
    • Once you’ve done the previously mentioned steps, use a tool like Open Site Explorer to identify more topically-relevant sites that link to your targets.

3. Target HCPs

  • A common problem with rare diseases is that they are often misdiagnosed. Naturally, targeting HCPs through outreach would be the most effective way to address this predicament. Here is how I would go about doing this:
    • Identify the physician category (e.g. endocrinologist) that would most commonly treat someone with the disorder.
    • Use a tool like FollowerWonk and search for mentions of their specialty (e.g. endocrinologist) in the HCP’s profile.
    • Mine for mentions of their websites/blogs .
    • Validate the site as a target & add to outreach list.


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