3 Search Advertising Challenges for Medical Practices in 2021


Google search ads continue to be one of the best ways to drive low-funnel potential patients to your medical practice. While it’s a proven paid advertising channel, it’s by no means a walk-in-the-park to manage. Google Ads made 63 updates in 2020 so far and we still have the rest of December to go.

3 Search Advertising Challenges for Medical Practices in 2021

In addition to standard challenges (creating a campaign’s structure, writing quality text ads, building a highly relevant keyword list, etc.), there are 3 unique challenges healthcare providers must consider in 2021.

Challenge 1 – Close Variants in Keyword Matching

Google keywords fall into a few basic ‘match types’, or how it “matches” the search term a person uses with the keywords you put into your campaign:

  • Broad Match
  • Broad Match Modified (BMM)
  • Phrase Match
  • Exact Match


In the past, the differences between these types were quite distinct. However, over the years, Google has made them more fluid. In other words, Google has given its algorithm more free rein when it comes to matching keywords with search queries.

This can benefit a Google search advertiser — if the matching is on-point. For example, If you have the exact match keyword [orthopedic spine surgeon Dallas] in your campaign, Google may use this keyword to serve your ad for something similar … but not the exact same: orthopedic spine surgery in Dallas. While it’s not a 100% match, any Dallas-based surgeons would love to win this click.

On the flip side, close variant matching can also get it wrong. Let’s look at another example. Let’s say [sciatica pain treatment clinic] is your keyword, and sciatica pain treatment home is a search you appear for. Is the intent really the same for these? We don’t think so!

Someone looking for a “home treatment” wants articles, blogs, and or videos that provide methods for temporary sciatica relief … at home. If someone explicitly says “clinic” in their search, though, they are looking for an actual doctor.

What You Can Do About Close Variants in Keyword Matching

Proactively create robust negative keyword lists. Do extensive keyword research before you launch a paid search campaign. Look for things to negate, not just things to add. A strong negative keyword list will prevent your ads from appearing for less desirable searches.

We also recommend focusing on nouns and verbs that could disqualify a search. We typically find these words can drastically change search intent.

Challenge 2 – Missing Search Terms in Google Ads Reporting

In the name of privacy, Google recently changed the criteria for how search queries appear in the Search Terms Report (a report that contains actual queries used by Google searchers). Honestly, it’s one of the most important reports in Google Ads.

According to Google, the report now “only includes terms that a significant number of users searched for.” Essentially, this means less visibility into the searches that activate your keywords and potentially spend your budget.

It looks like most advertisers can now expect to only see search terms for about 80% of their campaigns, a huge issue when dealing with more expensive clicks that medical practices have.

What You Can Do About Missing Search Terms in Google Ads Reporting

Instead of focusing too heavily on individual searches, impressions, and clicks, we think it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger picture.

Leverage automated bidding strategies, which focus on a target cost per lead. You’re putting Google’s algorithmic abilities to use here. Google’s automated bidding strategies observe and take advantage of numerous data points — search history, location, time of day, and more.

When we leverage a conversion-oriented strategy, we don’t need to be as concerned with every search term. What we care most about, are the conversion metrics: total conversions, cost per lead, and conversion rate. Ask yourself if the cost per lead justifies the paid search campaign expense?

Challenge 3 – Limitations From Healthcare Data Privacy

Google takes commendable precautions when it comes to protecting users from targeted healthcare ads. The gist of the policy is if someone has conducted healthcare searches and visited healthcare websites, Google does not allow advertisers to target individuals based on that history.

It’s simply not possible to run medical practice remarketing campaigns at Google — regardless of whether you’re bidding on search, display, or video placements.

Additionally, healthcare privacy means Google has a very limited selection of healthcare audience targeting. While audience targeting through Google can be quite valuable if you advertise in the mortgage or automotive industries (as examples), it’s not nearly useful for our healthcare clients.

What You Can Do About Limitations From Healthcare Data Privacy

Use modifiers to bid up or down on things like household income, age, and gender. Additionally, healthcare advertisers can bid up or down according to someone’s device (mobile, desktop, or tablet).

For example, let’s say you run an aesthetics practice that focuses on non-surgical nose jobs. Once you surface the average age and gender of your typical patient, you can implement bid modifiers. This means, in addition to your keyword and geography targeting, you’ll now have an extra layer of demographic targeting.

Your campaign will focus more on the non-surgical nose job searches that are performed by your ideal demographic pool, and less on those that fall outside of the pool.

Wrapping It All Up

As a medical practice looking to grow in 2021, you need to be prepared to encounter these challenges with a plan. In addition to the above issues, PCC is becoming increasingly competitive as more medical marketers shift budgets to digital.

You can’t leave search engine advertising up to an internal team member, or an agency that doesn’t specialize in medical marketing. If you do, it will take more money and time to get your campaigns spending efficiently and return revenue to the practice.

We can help. In addition to a focus on healthcare, our journey-aligned approach to paid media is a proven process that has generated thousands of new patients and millions in revenue because it is organized around the patient experience.

If you’d like some expert guidance on how to address your pay-per-click advertising in 2021, request a consultation or call us.

Picture of Samantha Park

Samantha Park

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