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Ethical Addiction Treatment Marketing Alternatives to Paid Ads

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Ethical Addiction Treatment Marketing Industry Paid Ad Obstacles - Eminent SEO

Dear Rehab Owners: Beware of Shady Marketers and Lead Generators

I am part of an ethics in addiction treatment group on Facebook. Some of the members are marketers, like me, but most of the members of the group seem to be treatment providers. What they have to say about the shady practices is pretty disturbing, and it goes well beyond digital marketing.

One member asked about the ethics and legalities around addiction treatment marketing, and after reviewing the comments, it was clear that there is still a lot of gray area.

Some acted like all marketing is bad. Others implied that it was how the marketer was paid.

Can You Legally Market Your Addiction Treatment Center?

Marketing is an umbrella term for so many tactics and channels. You’ve got ground marketing, referral partnerships, online advertising, lead generation, traditional and digital forms. You’ve also got branding, content development, local, paid ads, organic, etc. etc.

The problem is all of these are legitimate forms of marketing, yet all can also be easily distorted and manipulated. So, when the law gets involved, they’re not always sure where to draw the line. There is a lot of gray area and the people writing and enforcing the laws don’t always understand the full scope of what’s going on. This leaves a lot of loopholes for anyone looking to scam the system.

Unfortunately, with technology and the law changing so fast, rehab owners can’t keep up with it all. Think about the implications of even owning and operating your own website. Is it safe and secure? Can you be sure your content is medically accurate, even blog posts from years ago? Do your leads go to a HIPAA compliant tool?

Don’t think this matters? Think again.

If you’re making claims and can’t back them up, you’re going to be in trouble. Not just with generating leads, but with insurance companies and, yes, the law.

Certain aspects to what falls under ‘marketing’ can be looked at as illegal. You can’t lie and manipulate. You can’t patient broker, fee split or take kickbacks. If you violate HIPAA compliance, they’ll be coming for you.

Defining Ethical Addiction Treatment Marketing

So, what defines addiction treatment marketing and how can you ensure you’re doing it ethically?

Most will agree that “marketing” is neither illegal nor unethical. To further clarify, addiction treatment marketing is when a treatment business hires an agency or salaried employees to:

  • Create a website with proper SEO and messaging.
  • Perform outreach and networking tasks on behalf of the facility.
  • Utilize digital marketing channels and assets to promote the brand.
  • Run paid ad campaigns to raise awareness and generate leads.
  • Attend conferences, man a marketing booth and network to promote the facility.
  • Educate other providers, such as EAP groups, unions and other potential referral sources.

All of this is legitimate and ethical, assuming you are working with honest people. Where you get into a gray area is when the individuals are also paid a commission based on admissions to the program. Many legitimate marketing positions, where all business is conducted in the light of day, include such incentives.

Many in my ethics group are confused why commission is allowed, but fee-per-referral is not, or is at least frowned upon. There are still hordes of websites and social media pages that seem to be making money from addiction treatment referrals.

Can You Refer Addiction Treatment Leads Legally?

Whether you are a facility owner or not, there are plenty of reasons why you might have to refer a lead to a treatment center. If you are an MD, psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, run EAPs or have some other related affiliation, from time to time you may need to refer clients to an effective addiction treatment provider.

Please note that I am not a lawyer and therefore I can’t give legal advice. However, based on popular public opinion, I can say there are a few things you can do to avoid violating HIPAA and professional codes of ethics:

  • Pre-qualify any treatment center you partner with.
  • Only refer patients to facilities qualified to treat the specific needs of this client.
  • Host and transfer your treatment center leads in a HIPAA-compliant system.
  • Never sell your leads to the highest bidder.
  • Don’t accept kickbacks for patients you refer.

The laws around lead referral seem to vary per state, so if you are in the business of referring leads, you should definitely consult a lawyer and make sure you understand what you can and can’t do legally.

Alternatives to paid ads

Generating Addiction Treatment Leads the Ethical Way Isn’t Easy

I can’t say I don’t understand why so many treatment centers resort to buying leads. Generating your own leads has always been hard. But, generating leads for addiction treatment is harder than ever.

At one point, before Google decided to eliminate the ability for addiction treatment centers to bid on treatment-related keywords, the cost per click on their paid ads had skyrocketed to $100 to $150 per click. This meant that Google ads were altogether too expensive for some of the smaller rehabs.

Alternative forms of marketing, such as branding and social media, can also be expensive and take time to get results. Plus, there are no guarantees. Take Facebook ads for example: After Google crushed AdWords, many rehabs moved to Facebook paid ads. So much for Google’s plan to stop shady rehabs from advertising, right?

Wrong.

Per this post from LegitScript on August 8th, 2018, LegitScript Addiction Treatment Certification Expands to Include Facebook:

“Starting today, Facebook will require LegitScript certification for providers of drug and alcohol addiction treatment who want to advertise in the United States. This partnership follows the official rollout of our program, which began at the end of July after an initial pre-launch phase. Now both Google and Facebook will require LegitScript certification for addiction treatment providers looking to advertise.”

So, now you have to have a LegitScript certification for both Google AND Facebook ads.

Viable Marketing Alternatives to Paid Ads for Rehabs

Here’s what to do/try if you’re a rehab business and not LegitScript certified:

#1: More of What’s Already Working

SEO Client Organic Rankings Growth Chart

Want growth like this? An organic approach to multi-channel marketing can rank your website for thousands of keywords and drive countless qualified visitors to your site and branded assets:

  • On-page SEO
  • Organic Link Building
  • Local Marketing
  • Strategic Blogging
  • Content Marketing
  • Asset Development
  • Branding
  • Outreach and Engagement
  • Email Marketing

#2: Test Other Ad Platforms

YouTube Stat 2018

Google and Facebook are not the only tech giants selling ad space. Why are these other channels of marketing and paid ad opportunities not being more heavily tested? Someone give us a budget so we can test this stuff already, such as:

  • YouTube
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Bing
  • Yahoo

If you do decide to test other ad platforms, just keep in mind that each work differently and may need to also utilize a supporting lead nurturing campaign.

When considering the buyers journey most ads on social platforms will reach buyers at the top of the funnel, or beginning of the journey. These leads can be nurtured into sales with the right strategy, but don’t expect to convert the majority of your visitors from the first touch.

You can learn more about this strategy here: How to Convert Leads into Sales by Understanding the Buyer’s Journey

#3: Get Listed on Relevant Sites

There are numerous high traffic sites that still sell ad space or offer directory listings. Trusted sites, such as PsychologyToday.com, offer brand visibility and referral traffic for a monthly fee.

Our good buddy, Jim Peake, of Addiction-Rep, has a good-sized drug rehab directory list on his site here. Some of the listings are free, but most decent websites want to charge you for valuable real estate on their site.

You do have to be careful about what sites you buy ad space from, however, as there are still so many shady third-party sites that fake their statistics and the quality of their traffic, banking on the ignorance of their buyers.

#4: Everything Else I Already Said Before

I don’t want to be redundant, so if you missed it, I provided some other interesting marketing ideas in my previous article here: Can Rehabs Survive Big Changes to the Addiction Treatment Industry?

In Closing

Unfortunately, there are no cheap solutions or quick fixes here.

Effective marketing requires addiction treatment center owners and advertisers to work together on reaching clients where they are with the right messaging. If Google and Facebook can eliminate your ability to bid on paid ads practically overnight, then your other channels of marketing and lead-generation sources could dry up in the same way.

The key is to diversify, test everything and use a smart marketing strategy that is always focused on what is working NOW … and focused on the tried-and-true solutions that provide long-term gains, like SEO.

See How We Approach Rehab Marketing

Avatar for Jenny Stradling

Jenny Stradling

Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. I started doing SEO and marketing in 2005. I'm a busy mom of four of my own and two step kids (and a grandbaby!). I owe my sanity to my partner in work and life, Chris Weatherall. I love sharing and engaging in business and marketing conversations, and I'm heavy into social media and blogging on these topics. I focus on quality, ethics, strategy, data and getting results. I work with a variety of brands and businesses with a special focus on addiction treatment marketing. I do this work because I care about making a difference.

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Can Rehabs Survive Big Changes to the Addiction Treatment Industry?

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Big Changes To The Addiction Treatment Industry - Eminent SEO

We work with several addiction treatment centers, speak with new prospects weekly and work with other consultants, and across the board, we are definitely seeing a trend. Despite increasing demand, treatment centers are finding it harder and harder to get new patients leaving many to wonder, can rehabs survive the big changes to the addiction treatment industry?

Even after growing a new client’s website traffic more than 40 percent month over month…

Rehab Client Monthly Traffic Screenshot - ESEO…they are still reporting a rough month for admissions and voicing concerns about how the insurance companies are not paying out like they once did.

All Treatment Centers Are Struggling, Even the Big Guys

It’s not just the “ma and pa” centers who are feeling the pain. Big, well-known treatment centers are not paying their employees, closing facilities and filing for bankruptcy.

Elements Behavioral Health, the rehab center that operates the very well-known Promises Malibu that treated actress Lindsay Lohan and singer Britney Spears, filed for filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last month.

In the spring of 2016, Solid Landings didn’t have the resources to keep fighting the city of Costa Mesa, California. So, in a settlement agreement, Solid Landings agreed to shut down 33 sober living homes. Fifteen closed immediately. Just last month, they filed for federal bankruptcy protection.

The FBI raided Sovereign Health last year over patient allegations of insurance fraud. This year, employees are speaking out and even filing claims against the company, saying they are not receiving their paychecks and that no one is being forthright about why.

Why the Addiction Treatment Industry Is Hurting

If you are in the rehab business, you probably saw this video. If not, this might bring some quick clarity:

Despite its intentional focus on poking fun at the treatment space, this video actually hits home in a lot of ways for people familiar with the industry. And… it’s sad.

John Oliver may have not gotten all of the points right, but he touched on many issues that really reveal why the rehab industry is in the state it’s in now. For example:

  • Shady practices
  • Lack of regulation in the industry
  • Insurance fraud
  • Misguided ownership

But, that’s not all…

Google has made rehab advertising and marketing harder than ever.

  • It decided to make SAMHSA No. 1 organically for literally every single addiction treatment-related keyword. Although, just today, we are noticing other sites like Rehabs.com are now coming up in the No. 1 position for some terms again.Google Search Results Addiction Rehab Centers - ESEO

How to Survive Big Changes to the Addiction Treatment Industry

Stay strong, treatment providers. To keep your addiction rehab center afloat during these rough waters, pay closer attention to these five areas:

Evaluate Costs

Knowing how much to spend on operations, overhead and marketing is key to any successful business. However, in the addiction treatment space, there are specific operational pitfalls you can easily avoid by carefully reviewing your internal processes for lead follow-up, staff retention, ground marketing and other non-clinical-related costs.

Align Sales and Marketing Goals

Too many addiction treatment centers rely on the marketing team to provide results. However, marketing is only part of the sales funnel. And if a business expects marketing to perform, the sales team must work hand-in-hand with the marketing team.

Learn more: How to Build an Aligned Sales and Marketing Strategy

Diversify Marketing Efforts

Having been in digital marketing for more than 13 years now, we have seen how unpredictable the internet can be. Because of its volatility, we have always been a strong advocate of multi-channel marketing. What works today can, quite literally, be gone tomorrow, so you should NEVER rely on one source of marketing.

Invest in Branding

So many forms of advertising are built to force the buyer to continue to pay for ads indefinitely. Some platforms wait until you are dependent on their ability to direct clients to you to then jack up the price and force you to pay to get the same leads you once got for a fraction of the price. However, with branding, you are investing in yourself – and this always pays off in big ways long term.

Track Everything

The beautiful part about digital marketing is everything is trackable. The data can tell you where your audience is, what content they engage with, what questions they have, what their likes and dislikes are and so much more.

With the right tracking metrics in place, the data can also tell you which marketing channels are producing leads. And, when the admit team gets involved and provides admission data, we can even report back on which marketing channel produced the admits – and develop strategies that focus on the campaigns that convert the best.

Eminent SEO - Marketing ROI Report

Is the Face of the Addiction Treatment Industry Changing?

With so much bad press, it’s no wonder individuals who are struggling with addiction are hesitant to go into treatment. After watching that John Oliver video, any family member would be right to question the clinical services, price and ethics of any rehab they are evaluating. Who wants to spend tens of thousands of dollars on treatment that might not even work? Tough sale.

The treatment center space is going to have to undergo a complete overhaul – including YOUR brand. You might offer a world-class treatment program, but if you continue to market it as you always have, you may be left in the dust.

The old methods of addiction recovery are already getting replaced by new concepts. Now is the time to evolve with the times. Here are a few of the innovative business models and ideas we think you’re going to start to see a lot more of:

Medically Assisted Treatment

Although medication-assisted treatment isn’t necessarily new, how treatment centers look at it and consider using it is evolving with the opioid epidemic. MAT is no longer simply the model for methadone and Suboxone clinics who supply a daily dose of the medication indefinitely.

Instead, with prescription drug addiction, there is a whole new set of pain medications that one must taper down from in order to be prescribed a different drug for pain management. Because of this, treatment centers should consider offering an MAT program and marketing it to EAPs.

Read more: Why Your Treatment Center Needs to Offer MAT

The Bridge Device

After working with Jim Peake of Addiction-Rep on messaging for The Bridge Device, we are convinced that medication isn’t the only way to change the way our brains work. The Bridge Device is a gentle neuro-stimulation system (NSS) device that attaches to specific points on the earlobe.

The Bridge is generally worn for four to five days while the patient undergoes detox. The device is reportedly reduces the pain of withdrawal and detox. Patients also say the process is comfortable and goes by quickly.

Telemedicine Rehab Service

One of the obvious problems regarding addiction treatment is providing an affordable option to meet the growing demands of lower-income residents in urban and rural areas. Patients may have a hard time finding transportation to their treatment provider. Additionally, trained health care professionals may be hard to find in certain areas.

Because of this, we predict a rise in telemedicine in the addiction treatment space. Counselors can communicate with patients via video calls and other digital communications. Even if you don’t offer “digital rehab,” you may end up considering remote patient monitoring and alumni follow-ups.

Rehab Community Sites and Pages

Online addiction recovery communities have sometimes earned a bad rep. In fact, The Verge recently put out this huge exposé on Facebook Addiction Support Groups and how the predatory behavior runs rampant there. Although I agree, and have seen the scams with my own two eyes, I still found myself defending the concept to the Addiction Treatment Ethics Group I am in on Facebook.

“The thing is,” I said, “there is a right way and a wrong way to do everything”. I then went on to explain that a group, page or website is not in the wrong as long as what they offer is not misleading.

It’s not unethical to offer community support or even refer to your own treatment center, as long as you don’t trick or lie to the individuals seeking help. And, it’s not illegal unless you SELL the leads. Community sites and pages provide a unique value to the web, and I think we will be seeing even more of them.

Cannabis for Addiction Treatment

Harm reduction is a known strategy for treating addiction, and it begins with acceptance. This philosophy aims to help those that would otherwise be unwilling or unable to simply quit. The intent is to progress into a less and less negative situation.

Some addiction treatment centers are now using medicinal cannabis in detox and as a maintenance protocol for severe addictions. Not all treatment centers will embrace the use of cannabis in harm reduction. But for those that do, there will be a market for those that want to maintain sobriety from a drug by using a less harsh drug, such as cannabis.

In Closing

If you work in the addiction treatment space, it’s time you took a close look at the direction this industry and going and how your brand will fit into the future of treatment. Are you ready to evolve with the changes, or, will your treatment center end up as just another rehab closing its doors?

As one of my favorite business authors, Tom Peters, says, “Evolve or die.”

Thomas Peters Quote Improvement Constant Change - ESEO

Avatar for Jenny Stradling

Jenny Stradling

Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. I started doing SEO and marketing in 2005. I'm a busy mom of four of my own and two step kids (and a grandbaby!). I owe my sanity to my partner in work and life, Chris Weatherall. I love sharing and engaging in business and marketing conversations, and I'm heavy into social media and blogging on these topics. I focus on quality, ethics, strategy, data and getting results. I work with a variety of brands and businesses with a special focus on addiction treatment marketing. I do this work because I care about making a difference.

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Shootout at the IG Corral: How Black Hat Marketers Cheat at Instagram

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Bad Dotcombres Black Hat Marketers Cheat Instagram - Eminent SEO

If all those totally historically accurate movies about the Old West have taught us anything, it’s that job security was not a major issue for sheriffs and their deputies. A near endless supply of cattle rustlers, masked bandits and stagecoach robbers seemed to flow through every town across the American frontier.

Today, ethical, “white hat” digital marketers face a similar challenge in keeping up with their “black hat” counterparts, especially as black hat practitioners develop new ways to cheat at Instagram and on other popular social media platforms.

In my last post, I provided an overview of white hat vs. black hat SEO strategies in a discussion about ethical SEO practices. I explained how white hat techniques are used to organically boost engagement, and how black hat experts prefer using short-sighted workarounds that can cause considerable harm to a client’s web presence.

The very same “bad dotcombres” now have the barrel of their six-shooters aimed at Instagram. Black hat social media is a reality that must be accounted for if organizations wish to improve engagement on Instagram without getting penalized as a result.

How Bad Dotcombres Cheat at Instagram

Keyword stuffing, hidden text placement and spammy blog content are common examples of black hat strategies used to game search engines, but these techniques are less effective in making an impact on Instagram.

Black hat social media professionals have developed their own approaches to working around Instagram’s user guidelines to boost likes, views and followers.

Some of the most widely adopted black hat Instagram strategies include:

Buying Instagram Followers

In recent years, Instagram has updated its algorithms so that individuals with more followers enjoy wider visibility among Instagram’s user base. Sites that guarantee followers (via spam accounts) in exchange for cash have become extremely common. Black hat digital marketers can use these sites to rapidly ramp up a client’s number of followers.

Using Bots to Fake Engagement

Many black hat social media adherents recommend automated follow-unfollow programs to save their clients the legwork required to boost engagement on Instagram organically. Instagram has begun to crack down on these websites, however, so the future of this strategy appears limited.

Joining Instagram Pods

A “pod” refers to a group of Instagram users who agree to regularly like, share and comment on each other’s posts. Some digital marketers may use pods to guarantee that their clients receive (the appearance of) substantial weekly organic engagement.

Paying for Guest Posts

One popular way for Instagram users to expand their audience is to be featured on a popular blog as a guest poster. Unfortunately, many accounts with numerous followers now actively offer guest posts for a price, effectively charging fellow users for an exposure opportunity. Some black hat digital marketers encourage their clients to take advantage of these services in lieu of tailoring content to an existing audience.

To summarize the four major ways some marketers and individuals cheat Instagram, check out the following infographic and share it with your followers:

Instagram Black Hat Tactics Infographic - Eminent SEO

Instagram Marshals a Response

Google has already responded to several attempts by users to game their algorithms, and Instagram is now taking steps to limit the effectiveness of black hat tactics on the platform. As Instagram’s efforts to control black hat strategies become more aggressive and its algorithms grow more sophisticated, it is only a matter of time before these techniques actually hurt the users who deploy them.

For example, Instagram has recently taken action against the most popular services used to automate accounts and gain followers. Sites like Instagress, Archie.co and Robogram, once widely used to mimic organic user engagement, have been shut down upon request from Instagram. Organizations that took advantage of these sites, especially at the insistence of a black hat digital marketer, are now forced to develop new strategies for consistently attracting followers.

Furthermore, black hat social media professionals that are used to purchasing followers may soon be in for a rude awakening. As recently as 2014, Instagram preformed a network-wide purge of spam accounts, with special attention paid toward accounts used to boost follower numbers.

Celebrities like the singer Akon lost significant chunks of their Instagram followings after the spam purge, suggesting that any brand that relies on fake followers may see its perceived influence evaporate overnight the next time Instagram decides to cut down on spam accounts.

Cut Black Hat Social Media Off at The Pass

Wanted Black Hat Instagram Flyer - Eminent SEOWant to stop bad dotcombres from peddling their wares at your wagon wheel? Understanding black hat social media tactics, as well as how to spot unethical digital marketers, is still the best way to keep your brand’s Instagram presence on the straight and narrow.

Here are a few tips for finding a digital marketing expert that can enhance your social media presence organically. An ethical digital marketer will encourage potential clients to:

Beware Unrealistic Expectations

Social media success takes time. Hard work and intentional research is necessary to identify a brand’s audience, develop a strategy for engaging these users, and convert these interactions into followers and regular engagement. It is unlikely that digital marketers promising thousands of followers in a few days are gaining these followers in line with Instagram’s rules of service.

Understand Instagram’s Evolution

As a platform, Instagram has made changes again and again to its user experience. In the past, social feeds were populated by content that was posted most recently. Today, content that appears in a user’s feed is curated based on Instagram’s impressions of what each user finds most interesting.

An ethical digital marketer will be familiar with these recent changes and can recommend social engagement strategies that reflect the next stage in Instagram’s development.

Recover Existing Opportunities

Just because a company’s Instagram engagement has mostly been driven by automation doesn’t mean that the results of this approach are worthless. There are times when artificial engagement gets a brand closer to his desired audience.

This strategy, however, is not built for the long term. An experienced, ethical digital marketer can help companies make the most of black hat results and convert those short-term gains into long-term successes.

Opt for White Hat Social Media Practices

Still have questions about black hat social media, problematic SEO practices or finding a digital marketing expert you can trust? At Eminent SEO, our mission is to make this type of information as accessible and easy to understand as possible. Revisit or bookmark our blog for the latest news and advice on properly enhancing your brand through social media and search engines.

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Remy Albillar

As a content writer at Eminent SEO, I specialize in producing high-quality copy for a long list of digital mediums, including websites, emails, blogs and social media. I got my career started right out of college producing SEO-driven content for a marketing agency based in Tucson, AZ. I’ve since worked as a copywriter within numerous industries. I’ve written the first half of a personal memoir and earned my master’s in Creative Writing from Emerson College in Boston, MA.

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