Around September of this year, Google placed new restrictions on advertising keywords related to searches for addiction treatment. This had a tremendous impact on addiction treatment centers around the country that relied on Google AdWords campaigns as their primary digital ad source.
In fact, word on the street is certain centers have been hit so hard they are cutting staff, selling their facilities and even going bankrupt.
Why Did Google Crack Down on Addiction Treatment Ads?
As a long-time addiction treatment marker myself, I have watched the recovery industry evolve over the last 12 years. Over that period of time, I have seen a lot of shady marketing practices in general. I mean, a ton.
However, what has become even more alarming over the last few years has been shady (sometimes even illegal) addiction treatment center business practices. I even recently wrote a blog post directed to addiction treatment centers as an open letter on what NOT to do: Dear Addiction Rehab Owners.
Those of us who preach ethical marketing saw this coming and said it would happen. Overnight, Google decided to stop selling ads for a giant number of “addiction treatment” related search terms, including “rehab near me,” “alcohol treatment” and thousands of others.
Imagine the SHOCK around the country as the $35 billion addiction treatment industry discovered its primary lead generation source was practically shut off overnight.
Google told The Verge in a statement:
“We found a number of misleading experiences among rehabilitation treatment centers that led to our decision, in consultation with experts, to restrict ads in this category. As always, we constantly review our policies to protect our users and provide good experiences for consumers.”
Isn’t This a Loss for Google?
Uh, yes. Some of the top-searched rehab terms were going for $100-plus per click! We know addiction treatment centers that were spending millions of dollars a year on Google ads alone.
But, you know what a bigger loss is? The 570,000 people who die annually from drug and alcohol use every year in the United States. According to National Institutes of Health drug facts, that number breaks down to more than 480,000 deaths related to tobacco, about 31,000 due to alcohol, nearly 22,000 due to overdose on illicit (illegal) drugs, and close to 23,000 due to overdose on prescription pain relievers.
If those deaths don’t shock you, let me give you something to compare that too. This is the list of the top 10 causes of death in the United States every year:
- Heart issues: about 630,000 people die of heart disease annually
- Cancer: a source of roughly 596,000 deaths annually
- Chronic lower respiratory disease (a collection of lung diseases): 147,000 deaths
- Accidents and unintentional injuries: 136,053 deaths
- Stroke: 140,323
- Alzheimer’s disease: 110,561
- Diabetes: 79,535
- Influenza and pneumonia: 57,062
- Nephritis and nephrosis (kidney issues): 49,959
- Intentional self-harm (suicide): 44,193
If you combine alcohol and drug related deaths, we are talking about 90,000 annually. Doesn’t that place substance abuse and addiction number 7 on the list?
People are dying! And, the saddest part? They are dying because they aren’t getting the help they need.
Although this stat is outdated (real-time stats on this stuff are hard to find!), the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found only 10.9 percent of the individuals who needed professional substance abuse actually received it.
We can do better. We MUST do better.
How Can Addiction Treatment Centers and Marketers Do Better?
Unfortunately, this crackdown wasn’t rolled out based on the legitimacy of the facility or its advertising agency, like the organic rankings have been. This change impacted all treatment centers and their marketing agencies, legitimate or not.
It’s not fair, but Google never claimed to be fair. One bad apple might have not ruined it for the rest of us, but a LOT of bad apples did. And you know what? Good.
You heard me.
I’m tired of shady business practices. I am tired of seeing the greed in this industry. I am tired of getting calls for “grey hat” marketing practices from treatment centers who still think they have to trick Google in order to win.
I am tired of finding misinformation on legitimate sites (yes, I see you spammy rehab marketers and your regurgitated, ill-researched content). I am tired of seeing zero value being placed on quality and ethics. I am tired of auditing digital brands only to find crap.
Wake up, addiction treatment providers and marketers! This is not why we do business. We MUST find a way to do better.
Start by putting your clients first. Start by laying out a clear goal and mission. Start by agreeing to do things ethically. Start by working with other industry professionals that care about getting results AND are passionate about making a difference.
The only way your brand stands a chance in the long run is to do things the right way. Otherwise, it will catch up with you. It always does.
What Should You Replace Your Addiction Treatment AdWords Campaign With?
As a multi-channel marketing agency, we have always suggested a custom brand and marketing strategy for our addiction treatment center clients. There is no single marketing channel that will ever supply any business with all of its leads indefinitely, especially when you consider the ever-changing digital landscape.
Typically, our addiction treatment center clients will have a campaign that includes several tactics and digital channels of marketing:
- Quality Website Design and Images
- Professional Landing Page Optimization
- Technical Website SEO
- Optimized Content and Meta Data
- Website Blogging
- Brand Asset Development
- Organic Search Engine Marketing
- Local and Geo-targeted Marketing
- Social Channel Management
- Paid Social Ad Campaigns
- Newsletter and Email Marketing
- Testing, Tracking and Custom Reporting
We may also supplement with Google or Bing paid ads, but we have never relied on them. Why? Too expensive, higher cost per admit and lower conversion rate than the organic channels.
However, if you have recently been hit hard by the Google AdWords “rehab” related keyword restrictions, here are some channels you can explore:
Social Paid Ads
Yes, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and even Snapchat can generate addiction treatment leads when done properly. Facebook and Instagram ads are killing it for our clients right now.
It’s not a quick fix, but utilizing custom landing pages, gated assets and email campaigns with smart, automated workflows can have a big long-term impact on your brand reach.
It’s not just “local marketing” anymore. Google gets to decide what search queries are considered local and which ones are not. You must optimize your website and ad strategies for the geo-targets you want to rank for. (Looking for more? Ask us about geo-fencing.)
We can talk about video for days, but I’ll just say this: videos are valuable assets for your brand. But, not all videos are created equally. A well-researched video strategy can drive the entire marketing campaign. 2018 is the year to invest into video.
Website and Social Chat
A surprising number of treatment centers think online chat won’t work for them. Well, I am here to tell you something: it does work, and I know because I see the conversions from our client chat campaigns. If it isn’t working for you, you’re doing it wrong.
When you are in an industry that is known for false advertising, illegal patient brokering and bidding wars, it’s imperative you take the time to A) put ethical business practices into place, and B) hire a company who can guarantee they are doing the same.
If you need an agency that understands the addiction treatment industry and cares about quality, ethics AND the bottom line, give us a call. Let’s make something special together.
Too many rehabs place EVERYTHING in the hands of Google. That’s just a bad strategy to run your company’s online presence based on the whims of pay to play.
Exactly!! Never put all of your eggs in one basket. Multi-channel marketing is the ONLY way to stay ahead of the game.
Great article. What is needed for successful marketing changes so fast, and changes in different industries quickly as well. You definitely have to stay ahead of the curve and make sure that you are focused on the future, and setting yourself for what you will need a year from now, or 3 years from now. If you only focus on what works right this moment, it will always feel like your strategy is racing to keep up.
Spot on Zach. I think a lot of businesses are only looking for quick wins and instant results. But, unfortunately in order to do so they take shortcuts and cannibalize their own longer-term strategies.
Putting all your eggs in one basket is a terrible business plan.
Jenny, you are a beacon of hope. Thanks for standing up for ethics and quality.
I am somewhat surprised, but relieved that Google is willing to lose that kind of revenue for the sake of people’s safety and health, who were being misled..
Thanks Chris! I have made it my personal mission to stand up for quality and ethics. Someone has to, right?
The thing with Google is so complicated. I am absolutely certain there is more to the story. They haven’t exactly been the most ethical company themselves at times, but regardless of the real reason behind it – it had to be done. These spammers are out of control and this isn’t about money anymore, too many people are dying.