Using SEM for Healthcare Awareness with #SpreadTheHealth

Using SEM for Healthcare Awareness with #SpreadTheHealth

Advertising rarely promotes the things we need. Often, ads promote the things we want: a new Lexus, an iPhone X, a Squatty Potty.

But sometimes ads promote things we really need. Like health care.

The Department of Health and Human Services invests in advertising during the annual healthcare enrollment window to remind Americans to enroll for insurance. That promotion budget was cut by 90 percent this year. Yes, 90 percent.

Ad agency Barton F. Graf called on advertisers and creatives to supplement the lost funds with their own decentralized campaigns. To date, the #SpreadTheHealth campaigns boast a reach of nearly 80 million people leading up to today’s December 15th enrollment deadline.

Some really clever campaigns have emerged, as is often the case when budgets are tights and marketers are passionate.

#SpreadTheHealth SEM Campaigns

We use the tools they have. Boxers use their fists, footballers use their feet, and search marketers use their SEM platforms. I am a search marketer so I ran ads on Bing and its partner networks to serve 11,000 ad impressions and learn some fun(ky) things in the process.

Campaign Format

One is especially cognizant of cost-per-clicks (CPCs) when it’s their personal credit on file. Unable to (comfortably) compete with healthcare-related search terms, which have CPCs that range from $5 to $50, I targeted informational queries free from much competition.


My ads aligned with upcoming holidays. For example, a user remembers Thanksgiving is on a Thursday but can’t remember the date this year, and searches for “When is Thanksgiving?” I did the same thing with Hanukkah and Christmas.

Here’s a full list of my keywords.

  • what day is christmas
  • which day is christmas
  • how many days until christmas
  • which day of the week is christmas
  • when is hanukkah
  • which day is hanukkah
  • when does hanukkah
  • what date is hanukkah
  • what date does hanukkah
  • which day is thanksgiving
  • what day is thanksgiving
  • what day of the week is thanksgiving
  • which day of the week is thanksgiving
  • when is thanksgiving

Campaign Results

The ads generated 11,112 impressions with 215 clicks during the month that they ran in November and December. That’s an average click-through rate (CTR) of 1.9% — not shabby for an ad that (1) answers users’ questions in the ad copy and (2) is arguably irrelevant.

Christmas ads were rarely served and never clicked, while Hanukkah ads had the highest engagement.

Ad Group Impressions CTR Avg CPC Avg Pos Cost
Hanukkah 6,059 2.7% $0.21 1.4 50
Thanksgiving 4,903 1.1% $0.19 3.1 $35
Christmas 150 0.0% $0.0 3.4 $10

Keep in mind that these ads had a $0.35 maximum CPC and ran on Bing and it’s partners where rates ($) are typically more efficient than Google’s Search Network.

Campaign Lessons

I learned several fascinating things. Most surprising, the ads served across 50+ websites that are part of the Bing network. These received the most impressions.

  • Bing and Yahoo!
  • searchencrypt.com
  • lycos.com
  • duckduckgo.com
  • airfind.com
  • ask.com
  • netfind.com
  • rockettab.com
  • a.xtopoly.com

Searchencrypt.com? Netfind.com? Seriously, these are real sites? And, more importantly, who uses them?

That might not matter. It might be the case that ads served more often on these, uh, tertiary networks because they do not have a Knowledge Graph-like experience that answers simple questions at the top of the page. In a way, that’s the role that my ads played for users.

For example, here’s a snapshot of Bing’s search results.

You can see the difference on the types of sites that commonly served my ad. Here’s a screenshot of my ad outranking Amazon. No big deal.

Or here’s the (now infamous) Searchencrypt.com.

The differentiated user experience, at least in part, contributed to much higher engagement rates on tertiary sites than Bing. While Bing had a CTR of 1.0 percent, Searchencrypt.com was nearly 7 percent and Duckduckgo.com was nearly 9 percent.

Feel-good Moment

These lessons cost me $45. Only $45. Hopefully the ads also #SpreadTheHealth by reminding at least one of the 11,000-something users who saw the ads or one of the 200-something users who clicked on them to enroll in health insurance for 2018. That would be $45 well spent.

Andrew Garberson

Andrew Garberson is Director of Digital Marketing Strategy at LunaMetrics in Pittsburgh, PA.
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