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Google to Enforce Addiction AdWords Changes Worldwide

Tuesday January 30, 2018

Reading Time: 9 minutes
addiction adwords worldwide ban

Google rarely prohibits an entire industry from advertising, so it came as a surprise when it announced in September 2017 that it would be cracking down on how addiction treatment centers utilize AdWords.

But news broke recently that Google has temporarily halted addiction center ads worldwide after it discovered that questionable referral services in the United Kingdom were earning undisclosed referral fees from addiction centers hoping to acquire new patients. These referral services don’t have to disclose their relationships with clinics unless explicitly asked, and they can earn “tens of thousands of pounds” for a single referral to a luxury rehab center for a month-long treatment program.

Google makes a lot of money on AdWords. Ad revenue alone accounted for nearly 80% of its $36.7 billion earnings in 2017. It’s not likely Google will shut down ads for the addiction treatment industry indefinitely, considering a midsize treatment center can easily spend $1 million a month or more on AdWords, so it needs to implement regulation.

What’s Next for Addiction Treatment AdWords? 
As we first reported in September, Google stopped running addiction treatment ads in the U.S., but the complexity of the issue has led the company to cease all ad activity worldwide. It will start by gradually phasing out ads through a region-by-region process. Whether ads come back is contingent upon Google implementing a safe and ethical way to permit ads while keeping out companies that rely on referral commissions.

The company’s long-term goal is to implement a verification system for treatment centers that want to run ads. For treatment centers that adhere to ethical advertising standards, this shouldn’t be a problem, but those that don’t have reason to worry.

Treatment centers with robust SEO strategies likely haven’t experienced much of a dip in enrollment because the traffic is still there; it’s just now that Google’s algorithm favors local rankings, traffic funnels straight to organic and local listings. More people may get treatment locally instead of traveling, which could have serious implications for centers that bill themselves as “destination” treatment centers and regularly serve out-of-state patients.

Many treatment centers have used Google’s decision as an opportunity to refine their SEO strategy and step up their social media game, which benefits their overall marketing strategy in the long run.

Refine Your SEO Strategy Regardless of Google’s Decision
As of now, there aren’t any real guidelines in place. Some addiction-related keywords, like “intervention”, “IOP” and “counseling” are still getting through. But the decision to eventually enforce rules puts a tremendous amount of pressure on treatment centers to perfect their SEO strategy. You shouldn’t idle while Google refines its process.

There are things you can do in the meantime that will benefit your strategy anyway, regardless of Google’s guidelines, and not be a total waste of resources.

1. Diversify your strategy. Develop a killer plan for SEO, social and backlinking. This is a great practice to get into anyway, and you might not need to spend as much once ads are turned back on.

2. Focus on social and display ads outside of your geographic area. Since it’s all about local search, these types of ads can be used to entice out-of-state clients.

3. Bid on secondary keywords that are running that match your programs and services.

4. Review your AdWords account daily for changes. Google could do testing or temporarily allow specific search terms that might spend your budget.

5. Focus on B2B marketing. We may live in a digital world, but don’t forget about the power of good old-fashioned networking. Reach out to old friends in the industry, make referrals and attend conferences.

6. Always be ethical. Don’t do anything sketchy once ads get turned back on. You don’t want to damage your reputation and ability to advertise by putting on an ad that says you’re located in Florida when you’re actually in Ohio, or an ad that says you have a Christian program when you don’t offer faith-based treatment.

So What’s Next? Our Predictions 
This policy change will have a regulation effect on the market as a whole. Referral agencies won’t be getting as many leads so those leads will dry up, and the treatment centers that were paying for those leads will have to revert to traditional marketing strategies. If numerous bidders/faux centers are blocked by Adwords when they start running again, the overall cost per click may be lower due to less competition. This will be a welcomed consequence, as it reached an all time high in 2017.

Since Google has decided to enforce this policy internationally, it might be an indication that it’s further along in preparing a solution than we thought. We expect them to announce the details of the new verification process within the next two to six months, which will likely require scanned copies of your licenses, so get them ready now.

After nearly two decades in business, we’ve seen Google go through its fair share of changes to make its processes and policies more ethical. The company’s decision provides further motivation for addiction treatment centers to upgrade their digital strategy. Contact Webconsuls if you’re interested in getting it done right.

Reading Time: 8 minutes
SAMHSA freeze

The federal government has suspended a database that gives health care professionals access to more than 400 programs and resources that prevent and treat mental illness and substance use disorders, The Washington Post reports.

SAMHSA’s National Registry of Evidence-based Programs and Practices (NREPP) serves as a database for hundreds of mental health and substance abuse programs that have been independently vetted by a third party and employ evidence-based practices. It’s primarily used by people seeking treatment programs for themselves or loved ones, as well as mental health and addiction professionals.

Officials announced that the contract with the third party has been terminated and the database will be run by the National Mental Health and Substance Use Policy Laboratory, or Policy Lab. According to one agency spokesperson, the Policy Lab will take an even more stringent approach to vetting programs, but specifics about how it will work, when it will launch and what it means for the programs that are already included in the database are unknown.

The Policy Lab was established under the 21st Century Cures Act in 2016, which requires the government to provide information about about evidence-based treatments and created a new assistant secretary for mental health and substance use position at SAMHSA. According Elinore McCance-Katz, the nominee for that position, the Policy Lab’s primary function is to regularly review programs and identify the ones that are not evidence-based.

The decision has many mental health professionals and members of Congress outraged. Some fear that making the vetting process “in-house” could politicize it. The lab will also award grants to state and local governments, nonprofit organizations and educational institutions to develop evidence-based interventions.

“NREPP is one of the most important tools we have. Nobody has a financial stake,” said Catherine Tucker, president of the Association for Child and Adolescent Counseling. “It’s an impartial, nonpartisan, trustworthy source that represents thousands and thousands of hours of work.”

What does this decision mean for mental health and addiction treatment centers?

Many are wondering why, after 20 years, the contract was terminated, especially on the heels of the Trump administration’s decision to declare the opioid epidemic and public health emergency.

Since the Department of Health and Human Services froze the NREPP database in September, approximately 90 new programs have been reviewed, but are not available to the public. It’s also unclear whether this decision impacts only the NREPP database, or the SAMHSA Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator too. Both databases will remain online as the agency works to restructure.

Treatment centers that are currently listed will stay there–at least for the time being. But centers that want to apply for review won’t be able to. It is unclear if it’s also unclear how the required evidence-based aspect of the 21st Century Cures Act will be put into effect. With the future of the database pending, how will the government disclose which treatments are evidence-based and which are not?

Webconsuls has more than a decade of experience in the addiction treatment space and has encouraged treatment centers to get listed on the SAMHSA/NREPP database, even going as far as guiding centers through the rigorous application process. Getting a coveted .gov link is like hitting the internet jackpot, and search engines reward the treatment centers who have them.

In the meantime, treatment centers should ensure they have a strong inbound link strategy by culling inbound links from other reputable online directories to improve search engine authority. Look for databases that verify facility licenses and are more legitimate, such as the Psychology Today for treatment centers and therapists.

If one thing is clear, it’s that there is still a lot of uncertainty surrounding this decision. While it’s important for addiction recovery centers to be listed in a database as reputable as NREPP, if this decision has taught us anything, it’s that nothing is for certain. That’s why it’s imperative for treatment centers to enhance their authority by ramping up their own SEO strategy.

Webconsuls has specialized in digital marketing for the addiction treatment space for more than 15 years. With us, there is no learning curve. We know the unique nuances of this industry, which databases and directories are worth your resources and how to use them to your advantage in your digital marketing strategy. Contact us to learn how our brand experts and digital marketing services can help you improve your strategy, and stay tuned for updates on how the Policy Lab moves forward with this consequential decision.