Digital advertising meetingWhen you ask any healthcare marketer about their key goals for the coming year, almost all of them have these three at the top of the list: brand awareness, patient engagement and patient loyalty. And many will rely heavily on digital advertising to help them reach these goals.

Although it may be tempting to begin posting on Facebook, develop ads for your local news site or launch a YouTube channel, it’s important to consider a few things before starting down this path. The best digital strategies involve communicating with your audience when and where they want to be reached. Here are four key decision points that can help you select the right healthcare digital advertising platforms to support your content strategy.

What is your strategy?

When you are considering where to allocate your marketing resources for the coming year, take a step back and evaluate your organization’s marketing strategy. Settling on a key goal can be crucial in helping you determine the platforms to use.

Top ways healthcare patients find healthcare professionals

Google Trends data on how patients find healthcare professionals

If your goal is brand awareness

You may be developing a new brand, a brand refresh, or trying to establish awareness with a new or existing audience. If this is the case, consider using platforms that extend your reach and allow you to target by demographic, geography and interests. Examples include:

  • Social media paid advertising – Platforms like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can improve brand recognition, drive new leads and boost your readership. All of this can ultimately have a positive effect on your SEO. Pro tip: Be sure to drive users back to your site or a custom landing page with content that directly relates to the post they saw, or you may see a high bounce rate.
  • Paid search – Pay-per-click (PPC) digital advertising like Google AdWords can increase your visibility in search results — especially with new customers — and help generate local awareness. According to Google Trends, 88% of those looking for health information start with search engines and 77% of patients used search as the last step prior to booking their appointment. It can also target your ideal patient profile based on age, income or gender. Most patients search for acute and chronic healthcare needs close to home, while specialty care like clinical trials can range in geography. Pro tip: Use PPC to target key phrases including your area to generate qualified local traffic.
  • Paid advertising – When you are developing digital ads and a strategy on where to place them, think about your target audience’s online habits. Looking to make headway with educated 40-60+ men will require a different set of sites than millennial moms. Pro tip: Keep the call to action simple since your only goal is to make them aware of your brand. Drive all ads to a dynamic landing page and track the traffic with UTM codes to see what’s the most successful.

If your goal is patient engagement

With an established brand, patient engagement involves finding ways to get patients to return to your facility and encourage regular interaction. Although you may still use similar platforms as you would for brand awareness, you may use them differently.

For example, you may want to use social media to position your organization as a thought leader. You can do this by routinely pushing out informative content from your blog or newsroom. Also consider sharing physician interviews, videos from your YouTube channel and short animations and infographics that are easy to digest. Pro tip: Make the time to add in the proper descriptions, tags and locations to leverage search so people can find your videos.

You can also use paid search to communicate new or updated offerings.

Retargeting is another solid strategy to convert patients from using one service offering to using multiple. This strategy uses cookies to follow your website’s past visitors and serve up ads to them while they are on other sites. For example, try creating a series of ads to inform current patients about the breadth of your services. Use research to find out what sites to retarget based on your audience’s assumed online habits.

If your goal is patient loyalty

A large part of your strategy may be focused on bringing in new patients, but don’t forget about rewarding your past and current patients. Create promotions that reward them for coming back, booking appointments, referring others or leaving patient reviews. According to Google Trends, “91% (of potential patients) trust ratings and reviews they see about you.” Promoting these in paid social media ads can get you a bigger bang for your buck.

Pro tip: Load your email database into the social platform you’re using, like Facebook, to target current and past customers directly in their feeds. Create specific ads for this audience using a promotion and language that lets them know you value them as a patient.

Who is your target?

When you are considering where your prospects are spending their time online, you can use data to segment your audiences and find the right spaces to reach them based on certain demographics.

Pew Research shows this about social media habits:

In addition, video content is extremely versatile–it can be leveraged in blogs, social media and on your website.


Although it isn’t the only factor, age can be a guidepost when looking at online habits.

  • If your prospects are 29 and under, consider YouTube, Facebook and Instagram. Snapchat also registers with this age range (although the usage tops out around 62% compared to 91% on YouTube, 79% on Facebook and 67% on Instagram).
  • The 30-49 and 50-64 sets have similar social media consumption habits, with YouTube and Facebook dominating at the top and a steep drop-off for Instagram and Snapchat.
  • For all ranges, targeted Google AdWords and retargeting campaigns can be successful because you can customize your site selection based on the age-related demographics each site reports.

Geographic Location

According to Google Trends, 83% of your patients and clients come from a five- to seven-mile radius. When using any social media or digital advertising tools, consider taking advantage of geo-targeting or geo-fencing. These tools let you focus your ads in certain zip codes, cities or states and can give you a huge advantage over your regional competition.


Although the dominant social media platforms for both men and women are YouTube and Facebook, there is data to suggest that women use Pinterest almost three times more than men (42% compared to 15%) and that men prefer Twitter over women.

Although you may be using the same platforms to advertise to both, you may consider tailoring your message based on gender if you are promoting certain specialties like gynecology or prostate screenings.

Data also shows that women tend to make a higher percentage of healthcare decisions and are more likely than men to seek healthcare services online (according to Google Trends), so customizing copy to appeal to a woman could increase visibility and action.

What is your competition up to?

A competitive analysis is an integral piece to developing any healthcare digital advertising strategy. When you’re assessing competitors, make sure you’re compiling a list of the facilities in your target audience’s consideration. Keep the focus local.

When you’ve narrowed down a set of realistic competitors, begin by following them on social media, signing up for their email lists and monitoring their YouTube activity. Do several Google searches using healthcare keywords and phrases to see what organizations pop up on the first page of search results.

You may also want to use an SEO tool to do research on which keywords your competitors rank for, or which keywords they’re bidding on.

Pro tip: To keep the data from getting overwhelming, try writing down the top two or three findings per week about each competitor. This can help you determine what your potential patients are seeing and how you can differentiate your organization.

What about content?

To generate the kind of attention you want, high-quality and relevant content is king. It’s also important to consider the type of content that best fits each digital advertising platform. You can ask these questions while you are developing your content plan:

  • How can you use your content to optimize SEO?
  • What can you curate or repurpose from other internal sources? Are there physician interviews, research papers or news hits that you can gather and promote on other channels?
  • What kind of content does each digital advertising platform support?
  • If you can’t generate the kind of content your chosen platform requires, could you reconsider your approach or find online tools to create it easily?

Although there is a wealth of data to use when you’re wondering how to get started with digital advertising, the most important thing to remember is that you know your patient best. As you narrow in on your goals and objectives, be sure you’re keeping your content focused on who matters the most.

Need a digital strategy partner? WriterGirl has teamed up with many healthcare organizations to develop digital content for multiple platforms. Drop us a line and learn more about how we can help you with your next marketing or communications project.