Pharma SEO is one of the best investments you can make if you want your brand to have lasting success.

Pharma SEO has a unique set of constraints, however. The aim of this article is to explain pharma SEO strategy and provide you with a few tips for helping your brand get more unpaid leads.

How is Pharma SEO Strategy Different?

In SEO, the gold standard is to craft a site that seen as an authority on your niche by search engines. If search engines trust you then you will rank highly, and audiences will trust you more as well.

It’s a lofty goal. But that is the goal. The aim is to be an authority on your subject.

This can be difficult in pharma SEO for a few reasons:

  1. HCPs and Patients have a large gap in knowledge and require different information about the same topic.

    Because of this, at least two sites are required. Having multiple sites representing your brand hurts ranking equity earned from SEO successes like earning backlinks.

  2. Competitors have a big advantage

Competitors like WebMD and have a big advantage over pharma. These competitors don’t need fair balance text, so they can create pages that are better optimized for SEO.

Moreover, search engines prioritize these competitor sites for searches related to treatment because they are seen as an authority on most health topics. Years of producing content has earned them valuable links from other sites. These links greatly boost the ability of these sites to rank for terms related to your brand.

Despite these disadvantages, pharma SEO is by no means a lost cause. It is still governed by the same ranking algorithms, and you can make these work in your favor.

How is Pharma SEO Similar?

The core pharma SEO components are the same as with any other vertical.

  • Site speed
    • Your site should load in under 3.5 seconds on mobile devices and in under 2.5 seconds for desktop devices
  • User experience
    • Quality content
    • Mobile responsiveness
    • Easy to navigate
    • No broken links
  • Trust factors like using Https encryption and having a privacy policy
  • Site structure
    • Pages have descriptive titles and headers
    • All pages have a defined subject and stick to talking about that subject
    • No two pages talk about the same exact subject in the same way
  • Other sites in your niche link to your site
    • Search engines place a lot of importance on the number and quality of websites that link to your site. The more of these links you can get, the more successful your pharma SEO efforts will be.
      Pharma SEO has the same components as normal SEO, like backlinks and content

Plan Your Pharma SEO Strategy

Let’s examine a typical pharma marketing scenario and how it warrants a common pharma SEO strategy.

The example below is a typical example of why an unbranded site is a great way to grab a sizable share of unbranded searches from established competitors.

The Market Research Highlights an Opportunity

Let’s say that you’re a marketer for a Lyme disease vaccine.

Market research indicates the following about your audience:

  • Your vaccine will be well received by people who have gotten Lyme. These patients are aware of common Lyme disease treatments but are unaware of the vaccine. These patients go straight to their doctor when they are having Lyme symptoms because they are familiar with the disease.
  • There are many people who are living with Lyme disease but attribute their symptoms to lifestyle choices or other conditions that also cause fatigue. However, these patients also go to WebMD and attribute their symptoms to another condition.
  • Many doctors aren’t aware that your vaccine is coming out.

This is a common problem that confronts pharma SEO. There are plenty of unbranded searches to be captured. However, established competitors own the search results for unbranded searches and will be tough for a branded website.

Additionally, patients who are the most likely to want the vaccine go straight to their doctor. If their doctor isn’t made aware of the vaccine, you will miss an entire Lyme season of possible vaccinations.

The Role of the Unbranded Website in Pharma SEO

This is a common SEO problem for pharma marketers. It will be hard to go up against sites like WebMD if you have no backlinks and are hindered by legal requirements right out of the gate.

But, if you can find a way to generate unpaid traffic from these searches, your ROI will be substantially higher than if you focused on paid advertising alone.

Including a third, unbranded site in this circumstance is common pharma SEO tactic. Here’s why:

  • You don’t need fair balance. The pharma content that you produce for your site will rank better because the keyword inclusion won’t be watered down by ISI.
  • Any links your content earns from other sites will go to one website. These links are extremely valuable when it comes to ranking above competitors. Not splitting them up between an HCP site and a patient site is hugely important.
  • Unbranded content is much more social media friendly. Posting content on an unbranded social media profile is often critical to increase your organic traffic.

Regularly producing blog content about Lyme disease (again, just an example) will give you the best chance at capturing as many of these searches as possible. If you can capture a lot of these searches, then you can direct them to your branded sites if they are interested in learning about treatment.

Person searching google on phone

Establish Your Website Structure

If you want to capture unbranded searches with your DSA site, you have to think carefully about its structure. Search engines prioritize websites created around a subject that answers all questions about the subject.

Because of this, you want each page on your DSA site to be focused around an aspect of the subject. People tend to search the Internet for one aspect of a subject and then return later to learn about another aspect. So it’s important that your website is appropriately siloed so that you offer the right information for each search.

The best way to do this is to establish your audience journey and then address each step with a page.

  1. Establish Your Audience Journey

Generally speaking, people don’t go straight from experiencing symptoms to searching for a medication.

  • They might enter their symptoms, learn they might have a disease, and then search for the disease.
  • Afterwards, they might call their doctor and set up and appointment. If their doctor thinks they might have the condition, then an appointment will be scheduled.
  • Before the appointment, the patient is likely to research the condition and its treatment. They might visit a site like WebMD or browse support groups on social media in order to bring questions to their appointment.

This is the typical “E-patient” journey. It will look different for every brand depending on the condition it treats. But the point is that, increasingly, patients are becoming more involved in the treatment process.

Put in some time reviewing market research or visiting existing information providers and find out how patients move from awareness to treatment. It will pay off.

  1. Perform Keyword Research & Group Keywords By Intent

In pharma SEO, you want your branded and unbranded web presence to be configured so that they are a resource for your audience throughout the treatment process.

In order to do this, you have to know which keywords and sites patients visit at each step of the process.

The problem is that you have multiple sites and audiences but only one keyword list. So, you have to come up with a list of keywords that are related to each site based on the information that the user is looking to find based on their query.

Let’s use the Lyme disease vaccine example again. When conducting keyword research, you discover these keywords have high volume:

  • “Why am I always tired”
  • “Conditions that cause chronic fatigue”
  • “Chronic fatigue Lyme disease ”
  • “Lyme disease symptoms”
  • “Lyme disease treatment”
  • “Risk factors for Lyme disease”
  • “Lyme disease vaccine”
  • Finally, you have your branded searches.

You can see pretty clearly that each of these keywords represents a user at a different step of the treatment process.

  • The keywords at the top of the list are searchers who aren’t sure what they’re looking for, they just know they have a problem.
  • The keywords towards the bottom of the list are characteristic of higher level of awareness.
  • Branded searchers have a high level of knowledge but still need information about a potential solution.

In pharma SEO, it’s important to organize keywords into groups that have the same intent. If you do this, you will know the most important subjects that need to be addressed on your site. Then, you can create pages that are focused and answer searches with a specific intent.

  1. Create Pages For Each Intent Category

 Let’s use the Lyme searches as an example of how you would create pages in order to address searcher intent.

  • The first two queries were searchers looking for reasons for their fatigue. These people may have Lyme, or they might not.
  • In order to make this a quality page, it has to cater to everyone who might search for these terms. If the page simply talks about Lyme disease and its symptoms, then you will get a lot of people leaving the page since they know they don’t have Lyme. And that doesn’t make for quality content.
  • It’s also important for this page to be a quick read. The intent of the searcher is to find possible reasons for their symptoms. Because of this, the best way to format this page in a bullet or table format providing concrete causes of fatigue.
  • It also helps to tag the answers with appropriate structured data to give the page the best chance to appear as a snippet on the search results.
Related health conditions search snippet shows scrollable conditions that might cause fatigue

Studies show that pages that show up in the snippet position get as much as five times more traffic

Repeat this process for all keywords related to your brand. Allocate unbranded keywords to your unbranded site and branded searches to your patient or HCP sites.

Mapping out your sites in this way will force you to match searcher intent with keywords so that you don’t duplicate content on the same site or confuse search engines with similar content on two sites.

  1. Decide How You’ll Target Branded Searches

Even though your unbranded site can do a lot of the heavy lifting, it’s important to make sure that your patient and HCP sites are tailored to meet the needs of searchers. Visitors to these sites are extremely important to capitalize on.

However, both audiences are likely to use the same terms in their searches.

Here’s a little trick for planning how to target branded keywords.

  1. Pick an HCP seed keyword

    Take a branded search that you are pretty sure is being searched by HCPs. Searches about prescribing information are a safe bet.

  2. Find Related Keywords

    -Google the keyword.
    -Look at the bottom of the search results page and find the “Related searches” section.

    Searches related to 'enbrel prescribing information'

    The related searches section is based on historical searches from people who have searched for the term. It shows keywords that users tend to search for based on their browsing history.

  3. Cross-Reference Related Keywords

    -Take these suggestions and cross-reference them with your branded keyword list.
    -Find which keywords fall into which category and group them together.

  4. Create Content Based on Each Category

    You know what to do next—address their intent with pages.

    -When doing so, remember that search engines are very good at assessing a page’s vocabulary and format when showing it for keywords with a certain intent
    -So, for example, you can help your HCP site show up for HCPs if you feature academic terms in your page’s structure. A page title with the term “{brand} Efficacy Studies” is quite obviously different than a search like “Does {brand} work?”.

Differentiating content based on intent will help search engines direct searchers to your patient or HCP site better.

Pharma SEO Content

In our series on pharmaceutical social media, we talked about the importance of regularly posting content. In pharma SEO, content is arguably even more important because of the established competitors your brand has to compete against for unbranded traffic.

The pharma SEO benefits of producing content aren’t just limited to your website. If you regularly produce content on your unbranded site’s blog, then you can also post it to a social media account for your drug or medical device.

This will help grow your community because your content will be available in more locations.

But first, you have to plan and write your content.

Using Related Keywords for Pharma SEO Content Ideas

When developing pharma SEO content, your starting point is up to you. You could look at competitors’ content or you could brainstorm with your team. You can also enter your keywords as Google searches and look at the “People also search for section” we talked about earlier. Each important keyword might have different related searches around it, and all of those could be blog articles.

Or, you can look at the “People also ask” card if there is one.

Questions related to

This is similar to the “Related searches” section but focuses on questions rather than short keywords.

A quick search around the keyword “Lyme disease prevention” yielded several ideas for content.

  • The “Lyme disease rash” related search suggests that people might need help identifying the rash. A short post with rash pictures and explanations of how Lyme rashes aren’t always a bullseye.
  • You can write a piece of blog content to answer the “How can you prevent Lyme disease naturally?” question.
  • The “What are the chances of getting Lyme disease from a tick?” is excellent territory for an infographic that shows the percentages of Lyme disease cases by population from state to state.

Check Support Community Content

We talked about this tactic in our pharmaceutical social media content article, but it is just as relevant here. Social media and patient support websites are great places to find content ideas.

Social media is full of places to get content ideas. If you have competitors, then you can look at their profiles and find out which content got the most likes.

Reddit is also a great place to find content ideas. Reddit is a social media network centered around user-created communities called ‘subreddits.’ There are subreddits for world news, politics, video games, fishing, crabs eating fruit—pretty much anything.

And, of course, there are many subreddits for health conditions.

For example, the r/MultipleSclerosis Reddit community would be great place to find ideas for a multiple sclerosis brand. The ease of sorting focused content around a specific condition on the platform means that it is easy to find the topics that got the most traction.

After visiting social media, you can look at patient support websites and find out how they have written content in website form. This might give a good idea of how to adopt content for your blog vs. your social media profile.

Audience Personas for Pharma SEO Content 

When planning your pharma SEO content, it helps to think about your audience and generate personas for them. Establishing a typical customer, their personality, and their medical situation will allow you to place yourself into their shoes and write more thoughtful content.

Here’s an example of a typical patient persona for our Lyme disease example:

Persona: Repeat Lyme patientWoman smiling at camera

Name: Judy

Location: Lakeville, Minnesota

Age: 45

Job: Teacher

Hobbies: Gardening, fly fishing, golf, biking

Medical History: Judy has gotten Lyme disease twice in the past three years and has missed multiple weeks of teaching each time,

Informational Needs: Judy is not aware that there is a Lyme vaccine. She needs to be made aware of the vaccine so that she can request to be vaccinated by her doctor.

Role in Pharma SEO Strategy: Since Judy’s hobbies regularly place her in an environment in which deer ticks are common, she is routinely at risk for Lyme disease. If she can be made aware of the vaccine, she might ask her doctor to vaccinate her.

Building out this persona will help you relate to your audience in your content. For example, Judy would probably appreciate it if the “Natural Lyme Disease Prevention” content gave her tips on how to protect her from getting Lyme disease while gardening.

The more you think about these personas, the more your content will speak to its audience. And that will give you a great chance of building a community around your brand.

Build Off of Your Existing SEO Content

Ranking for unbranded searches via pharma SEO is hard enough, don’t make things harder on yourself. Spend time some time on improving your content if you can.

Find What Worked Best

Look at how it performed on social media—what was the engagement rate? Did the post earn shares and new prescribers? How do these metrics compare to benchmarks? It’s just as important to focus on poorly performing content as it is to focus on good content.

Digital analytics can play a big part in this.

Set a page view timer on all of your blog pages and find out which pages had the longest dwell time. Read the comments and find out what resonated (or didn’t) with your audience.

The more time you invest in your pharma SEO content, the more it will pay off.

Explore Good Content from a New Angle

Once you have identified your best pharma SEO content, find out what worked about it so you can produce better content in the future.

One way of doing this is to embed a simple form on your content that asks people if they enjoyed it. After submission, they can select a reason why they liked it or didn’t like it from a list. This will give you actual data on good content and possibly even a few answers as to why it was good.

If people want to hear more about the topic, then you can develop a social media survey to find out what people want to hear about.

Social media surveys are also a good way to get ideas for more content. A survey with a list of options and the opportunity to leave custom feedback is a surefire way to come up with lots of new ideas.

Repeating this process from time to time will keep your content fresh and help you avoid covering the same topic too much (which is also bad for pharma SEO).

Leverage Your Pharma SEO Content

Promote Your Content

Good pharma SEO will boost your content’s visibility, but even the best content needs to be promoted.

Promoting your content is necessary to increase your community beyond your existing followers. In our article on pharmaceutical social media campaigns, we discussed some of the best ways to promote your content.

Sponsoring Content

If you’re looking for a low-investment option, you can sponsor your content on social media and via native advertising. This is a scalable option that doesn’t require a high degree of involvement. It’s more important to focus your resources on making good content than it is to simply promote it more heavily.

Influencer Partnerships

If you are looking to rapidly grow your community, then consider partnering with influencers. Influencer campaigns can be extremely effective, but they do require a higher level of investment. One good partnership can drive a huge level of interest.

Reach Out to Other Websites

Reaching out to other websites in your niche and asking them to link to your content is a tried-and-true SEO technique. These might be patient support networks or blogs written by individuals; if they are authorities on your subject, they might be interested in linking to your content. This will expose your content to new audiences, and any links you earn will greatly boost your pharma SEO.

If you’re interested in this option, I encourage you to visit our social media campaigns article we listed above in order to learn more.

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