When I was 23, I sat in on a call between pharma advertisers and their client’s marketing team for the first time. I probably understood one sentence in four.

“We need to determine the KPIs for high-decile HCPs.”

“I agree. But first we need to review the ISI now that PRC has taken a look.”

“That’s a good point-we need to make sure the brief summary is ready to go-have they looked    at the PI yet?”

I understood “I agree”. That was about it.

Looking back, the team was too familiar with these terms to realize that I didn’t understand what they meant. But it wasn’t their fault. Pharma marketers and advertisers spend all their time thinking about the terms just like digital marketers spend all their using terms like CTR and conversion rate.

In this article, I want to extend an olive branch. I want to do my best to provide a concise synopsis of digital marketing and the terms that pharma marketers read on reports. And I’ll do my best to explain why they’re important.

The most important concepts are listed below. The more rudimentary terms are available in the pull-down tabs at the bottom.

Words in bold will be addressed, so don’t fret if you don’t understand them when you come across them at first.

Words in italics are worth checking out if you have time but aren’t critical to know.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) & Ranking Strength

  • Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of increasing a site’s ranking strength.
  • Ranking strength is a measure of how likely a website is to show up on the search engine results page for any given
  • Ranking strength is often used interchangeably with domain authority.

Why SEO & Ranking Strength is Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Increasing your ranking strength with good SEO is important because the better your ranking strength is, the more free traffic you will earn. The more free traffic you get, the more profitable your website will be.

Additionally, sites with a good ranking strength don’t have to pay as much per click on platforms like Google and Facebook. For example, if an HCP searches for “cephalosporins” on Google and your brand’s website ranks better for that keyword than your competitors, you won’t have to pay for as much for clicks on that keyword.

This is also true on Facebook, Instagram, and other social platforms. If your site scores well for ranking factors like mobile responsiveness, keyword density, and other ranking factors, then you will be charged less. Your ads will also be more likely to show for users who don’t typically click on advertisements on those platforms.

Ranking strength is the “god stat” of SEO. The better your ranking strength is, the more business you will be able to generate from your online offerings.


  • A keyword is any word on your website that someone might search for on a search engine. Pharma keywords might be a brand name, the name of a disease, a drug class, the prescribing information of a brand, or anything else related to your brand.
  • Keywords aren’t necessarily one word. ‘Pharma marketing’ is a keyword, and so is ‘Digital concepts in pharma marketing’.
    • ‘Digital concepts in pharma marketing’ is an example of a long-tail keyword.
  • Keywords are usually nouns, but not always.
  • Certain keywords are harder to get traffic from than others because some keywords are very profitable to rank for.

Why Keywords are Important for Digital Pharma Marketing:

Including important keywords often in your site’s copy will help your site earn profitable traffic. Ideally, each important keyword has a page about it, and that keyword is included in that page’s H1. It is also important that the keyword is included often enough (at least 2% of the time) on the page.

Organizing these keywords onto pages that offer plentiful information on the subject will help search engines understand that the keyword is the subject of that page. Featuring the right keywords in the right places often enough is the first step towards earning profitable traffic.

Identifying important keywords and including them in website copy before the website copy is approved is critically important. If your medical legal review team approves website copy that doesn’t include your keyword often enough, then your website’s ranking strength for that keyword will suffer.

Organic Traffic

  • Organic traffic is the traffic you get from keywords that you don’t pay for.
  • Increasing organic traffic is the goal of search engine optimization (SEO).
  • High organic traffic is a sign of a healthy website.

Why Organic Traffic is Important to Digital Pharma Marketing:

About half of HCPs use pharma sites for professional information. Of that half, 46% begin their search on a search engine. It’s essential to capture as much of this traffic as possible. Otherwise, you will have to pay for most of your traffic. It’s hard to generate substantial ROI from your digital marketing if you aren’t getting a decent amount of organic traffic. That’s why SEO is so important.

Digital Opinion Leaders (DOLs)

  • Digital opinion leaders (DOLs) are like key opinion leaders, but they are mostly active on Twitter.
  • These HCPs use social media to discuss clinical news topics and advance their practice.

Why DOLs are Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Since half of HCPs don’t go to pharma sites for professional information, you have to reach them elsewhere. Partnering with digital opinion leaders involved with your brand’s therapeutic category is one way to do that.

Unlike other digital venues, you can’t turn a dollar faucet up and down and see success here. These people rarely advertise products because they’re not in it for the money.

There’s no playbook I can offer here other than to remember that honesty and mutual assistance are the cornerstones of successful social media relationships. Help DOLs have productive conversations. Make your brand a resource.

If you do find an HCP DOL that will outright promote your brand for money, don’t do it. Millennials are filling the ranks in healthcare, and we’re well-versed in ignoring social media promotion.


  • Website events are when users take actions on your website that happen between page views.
  • Examples of website events include:
    • Scrolling 75% down a page.
    • Clicking a pop-up ISI button.
    • Submitting a form
    • Downloading a PDF
  • Events aren’t necessarily good or bad, they provide information about sessions in order to provide additional understanding about website traffic.

Why Events are Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Web events provide extra detail when it comes to analyzing website activity. Analytics platforms aren’t capable of seeing what happens while a person is viewing a page. They only measure how long a viewer is active on that page, where they go next, and where they came from, and other page-level data. To find out what users do while they’re on a page, you need to create events.

Tracking events can be done with a variety of software, but Google Tag Manager is one common solution. A piece of code is installed on every page of the website. After that, events can be created and configured through Tagmanager.Google.com without needing to install more code on the site. In this way, an entire site can be tagged within a day or two.


  • Conversions are website events that you want users to take.
  • For websites like E-Bay, a conversion is when somebody places an order by hitting the “Place order” button and completing the buying process.
    • In this situation, clicking the “Checkout” button would be an event, because while it is significant, the user might still not convert because they haven’t actually given you money yet.
  • Digital pharma marketing conversions will be different for patient sites and HCP sites.
    • A patient site conversion might be a co-pay card download.
    • An HCP site conversion might be a download of prescribing information or when an HCP orders product samples.

Why Conversions are Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Generating conversions is the goal of digital pharma marketing. A conversion signifies that an HCP or patient has moved as far down the sales funnel as they can online. Getting as many website visitors as possible to convert will produce more prescriptions offline.

However, a conversion doesn’t have any intrinsic value. They have to be assigned value by connecting online conversions with offline sales. To do that, digital marketers need to be able to measure the value of each conversion with attribution.


  • Attribution is the process of assigning value to conversions.
  • To achieve attribution, digital pharma marketers need to assign a unique value to each conversion.
    • For example, each co-pay card that is downloaded might be assigned a random ID.
    • When the co-pay card is used, the ID is transferred into the co-pay claims data that is sent to the marketing team every month.
    • The marketing team can see how many IDs from digital conversions show up, and which marketing channels drove the conversions associated with those IDs.

Why Attribution is Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Obviously, a conversion itself has no value until it creates a sale. If you don’t know how many conversions are leading to sales, you can’t optimize your budget.

Sharing data between sales teams and digital marketing teams is the key to complete attribution. Digital marketers can’t create attribution models without having access to sales data and the means by which it is encoded.

Pharma attribution efforts often fall short because of the number of parties involved. The marketing team, the digital advertising team, the IT department, and even the sales reps need to be involved. But it’s worth it. An effective attribution model increases ROI more than any other digital marketing effort.


  • Remarketing is showing ads to users who have previously visited your website.
    • These ads might be shown on the Google results page, on other websites, via email, and pretty much anywhere you can visit on web browser.
  • It is made possible by placing a tracking pixel on their browser with the help of a tool like Google Tag Manager.

Why Remarketing is Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Remarketing is critical to digital pharma marketing for a couple reasons.

  • it’s an inexpensive way to reach HCPs.
  • The average CPM of Google Ads Display advertising is between $2 and $5. For publications like Healio.com, it can be well over $100. That’s a big difference.
  • Importing targets who have visited your website into Google Ads or Facebook and then showing them ads with that platform is much less expensive than buying a list of targets or advertising on a publication’s website.
  • It offers enhanced personalization. You can create different remarketing lists based on many different criteria:
  • The actions users took on your site (like downloading a co-pay card).
  • How they interacted with an email (tracking pixels can be included on emails!).
  • The amount of time they spent on a key page
    • If an HCP spent a considerable amount of time viewing head-to-head studies without viewing dosing information, you might want to show them an ad demonstrating the adherence benefits of your drug.

Personalizing digital pharma marketing & NPP by creating ads based on the list’s characteristics is very important because HCPs are increasingly bombarded with digital ads. They want information that is tailored to their previous interactions.

Remarketing is critical to advancing an HCPs understanding of your brand story rather than reiterating what they have already seen.

Site Speed

  • Site speed is how quickly your site loads pages or responds to user interactions.
  • Site speed is affected by the number and size of images on your website, as well as background programs (like sliders), the speed of a site’s server, and a number of other factors.
  • A ‘fast’ site will load in under 2.5 seconds for desktop computers and under 3.5 seconds for mobile devices.

Why Site Speed is Important to Digital Pharma Marketing

Site speed is incredibly important for two big reasons.

  • Site speed greatly affects conversion rates.
    • A page that loads in over 5.7 seconds will have one third the amount of conversions as a site that loads in under 2.4 seconds.
    • If your site is slow, you’ll hardly be able to generate any conversions. All the money you spend on getting traffic to your site will be wasted.
  • Site speed is an important SEO ranking factor.
    • When Google and other search engines decide where to rank your site, they look at your mobile site first. One of the most important ranking factors for a mobile site is speed.

So, increasing your site speed will affect:

  • Your organic traffic.
  • How much you are charged per click for pay-per-click campaigns.
  • Your conversion rate (and ROI).
  • Your bounce rate.

Other Digital Marketing Terms

The terms in the accordion below are more granular, but are still important to know. I will update the list occasionally or by request.

Bounce & Bounce Rate
  • A bounce is when a user enters your site and exits your site without viewing another page afterwards.
  • Bounced sessions count as having a session duration of 0:00
  • Typically, the lower the bounce rate, the better.
  • A call-to-action is text on your website that tells users to perform an action.
    • “Buy Now,” “Subscribe to Our Newsletter,” “Contact a sales representative,” or “Schedule an Appointment” are examples of calls-to-action.
  • Calls-to-action are usually buttons that help users complete conversions.
  • Placing a call-to-action in the right place will help you get more conversions.
Click-Through Rate (CTR)
  • How often people who view an ad click on it.
  • Calculated by dividing clicks by impressions.
    • Clicks/impressions.
Conversion Rate
  • The conversion rate is the percentage of sessions during which a conversion has been completed.
  • The higher the conversion rate, the better.
  • Increasing a site’s conversion rate is part art and part science. Factors that can increase conversion rate include:
    • Increasing site speed.
    • Improving the placement of your call-to-action (CTA).
    • Reducing the number of clicks it takes to get to a conversion.
    • Improving mobile responsiveness.
    • Much more.
Cost-Per-Click (CPC)
  • How much you are charged per click.
  • Calculated by dividing clicks by ad spend.
  • Cost-per-click depends on the amount of competition for a keyword or ad unit, as well as the quality of the ad.
Cost-Per-Thousand Impressions (CPM)
  • How much it costs to earn 1,000 impressions.
  • CPM is calculated by taking the ad spend and dividing it by the number of impressions you have earned and then multiplying the quotient by 1,000.
    • (Ad spend/impressions) x 1,000
Cost-Per-View (CPV)
  • How much it costs to earn a video view.
  • Calculated by dividing ad spend by the number of views earned by the campaign.
  • The most common place this metric is seen is in reports for Google Ads Youtube campaigns (a.k.a “Trueview” campaigns).
Direct Traffic
  • Direct traffic is when a user directly enters your site’s URL into their search bar.
  • Direct traffic is also:
    • Users who visit your site via a bookmark.
    • Server side redirects
    • Traffic from social media apps
    • Traffic from offline documents like Microsoft Word and Excel.
Referral Traffic
  • Referral traffic is traffic that comes from other websites.
Engagement Rate
  • Engagement rate is a social media metric. It is how often users “engage” with your ad.
  • Engagements are shares, likes, or comments on a social media post.
  • Engagement rate = (Shares + Likes + Comments) / impressions
Mobile Responsiveness
  • Mobile responsiveness is how your website changes its structure and styling for mobile devices.
    • A common example of mobile responsiveness is when the top menu bar of a website becomes a hamburger icon Hamburger Icon on mobile devices.
  • Mobile responsiveness is important because it is an important mobile ranking factor.
Ranking Factors
  • Ranking factors are website properties that search engines consider when they decide which websites should be prioritized on search engines.
  • Examples of ranking factors include:
    • Website speed
    • Mobile responsiveness
    • Links from other websites
    • Technical SEO (Keywords, Meta Data, structured data)
    • Regular Content Production
    • Website security (http vs. https)
    • Browsability
    • Local SEO factors (if the search has location-specific terms)
Tracking Pixels
  • A tracking pixel is an HTML code snippet with a unique identifier that is placed on a website visitor’s browser.
  • To place these pixels, Javascript code is installed on a website. This code can be configured with tools like Google Tag Manager and be told which pages should have pixel be conferred upon visitation.
  • Leave the technical stuff to us. All you need to know is that tracking pixels are necessary for remarketing and the personalization of non-personal promotion.
  • A session occurs when someone accesses your site and views a series of pages.
  • The session starts when the first page is loaded and ends when they leave or are inactive for a predetermined amount of time (usually 30 minutes).
Session Duration
  • Session duration is how long a session lasts.
  • Session duration is calculated by using time stamps, which are logged when each page is viewed:
    • The first page view has a time stamp of 0:00.
    • The second page view’s time stamp is equal to the amount of time that the user spent viewing the first page.
      • So, if a user spent thirty seconds viewing the first page they browse, then viewed the second page, the time stamp that is logged upon loading the second would be 0:30.
      • Subsequent time stamps are calculated by adding the amount of time that the user spent viewing the most recently viewed page to the time stamp of the page view before the most recently viewed page.
    • The session duration is calculated by using the time stamp of the page that was viewed before the exit page.
      • This is because no time stamp can be taken when a user exits a page since no page view is logged and thus no time stamp can be sent.
    • So, if a user viewed the first page for thirty seconds, and then the second page for thirty seconds, and then exited the site, the session duration would be counted as 0:30.
    • Bounced sessions have a session duration of 0:00 since no second time stamp is collected.
  • A website user is an individual person who visits your site one or more times.
  • When a user visits your site, their visit is logged as a
  • Users might have one session, or they might have many—it depends on how many times they visit your site.