Google Ads Pay-Per-Click Advertising Traps for Health & Wellness Businesses

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Planning to use Google Ads to promote your new healthy lifestyle program for weight loss, a “new you” body image, or a “take no prisoners” HIIT bootcamp?

Before you start, make sure you understand the special challenges that health and wellness businesses may encounter when promoting themselves with paid search ads.

Most of our pay-per-click clients come to us after disappointing experiences with general-purpose PPC agencies—firms who usually run Google Ads and paid Facebook ad campaigns for restaurants, salons, auto repair shops, clothing retailers and so on.

What most agencies don’t realize is that PPC advertising for health and wellness is full of traps and pitfalls that other industries don’t have to deal with.

Why? Because our industry, unfortunately, attracts cons, scams, and cheap promises—and Google and Facebook don’t want to risk further regulation and their reputations through association with sketchy health and wellness providers.

AdWords / Google Ads

The Google Ads editorial guidelines for  search and display pay-per-click campaigns seem pretty basic at first. Your ads shouldn’t “shout” in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS, or use weird CaPItaLizaTion, odd pun.ctu.ation, weird s p ac i n g or numb3r5, or s*y*m+b*o*l*s. No exclamation marks! Headlines use title case, but descriptions should use sentence case.

So far so good, right? Not so fast. Here are just a few of the situations where Google Ads PPC advertising can get tricky for health clubs, yoga studios, personal trainers, weight loss programs, doctors and other health-related businesses.

The use of personalized information

No personalized info may be used in remarketing, demographic and location targeting, and other custom audience targeting

Google won’t allow ads that imply knowledge of personally identifiable or sensitive information. You also can’t use personally identifying information in remarketing campaigns, especially to an overly narrow audience. Using sensitive personal info you’ve gathered already to narrow your focus further is a big no-no.

No use of personal info for recruiting for “clinical trials”

You’re generally not allowed to run personalized ads that appear to be recruiting people for participation in clinical trials. Some businesses historically have even labeled giveaways and early program participation offers as clinical trials, when they are nothing of the sort! This strategy has actually been used in the past by programs promoting unapproved or over-the-counter treatments for certain health conditions or diseases, and it’s a no-no. Rather than try to untangle this mess, Google just disallows such ads.

No references to negative outcomes if action isn’t taken

This includes body-shaming and language like “you could be at risk for….” Both are big no-nos. Google doesn’t want to show negative ads because they know it turns consumers off.

No references to personal hardships

This includes personal health conditions, treatments, procedures, traumas, personal failings and personal difficulties of all kinds.

Health and wellness-specific restrictions

Google also restricts:

References to drugs by their licensed or generic names, unless you’re a licensed pharmacy

While your keywords can contain drug names (keeping in mind this may immediately put your ads in the “limited approval – restricted medical” category, requiring further examination and oversight and possibly restricting the audience to whom the ad may be shown), your ad content and the ad’s landing page typically cannot.

For example, an ad promoting lifestyle treatment for Type 2 diabetes whose landing page says “You can probably reduce or eliminate lifelong prescriptions like metformin” will often be rejected unless the advertiser is a licensed pharmacy. In this case, limiting the landing page reference simply to “lifelong medication” is often a better choice.

And that low-T testosterone ad you posted in the locker room? Don’t even try it online.

Addiction treatment marketing

Has your gym or wellness center developed expertise in using fitness programs to help veterans with service-related injuries recover from substance, alcohol or drug abuse?

Google now only accepts addiction treatment ads from LegitScript-vetted addiction treatment centers and counseling practices. You’ll have to choose your ad copy, the landing page content and the keywords very carefully in order to successfully attract these prospective members or clients without veering into forbidden addiction treatment marketing territory.

Promotion of adult-oriented products and services

You’re probably thinking “We’re a health club, not a strip club! We don’t even offer adult-oriented products or services!”

Not so fast! Plenty of fitness businesses offer conditioning programs designed to maximize breasts, booties, or other parts of the male or female body—and promotional images that zoom in on the areas of interest are very common. Moreover, lots of health clubs offer non-surgical spa treatments promoted as beauty enhancements.

If you’re a Google Display advertiser, photos that zoom in on butts, breasts, or genitalia, even when fully clothed, are likely to be rejected, or to be allowed only under certain conditions.

Even as text ads, sexual enhancement products like low-T supplements and drugs generally fall into the same category. Try searching for “low T clinic.” You’ll probably notice that none of the claims address sexual performance other than euphemistically—”Men’s Peak Performance,” for example.

Most are simply objectively descriptive or factual ads, with terms like “bioidentical hormone therapy.” They avoid making any explicit sexual enhancement claims so that their ads can run unrestricted.

Certain weight loss products including hCG

If you search for hCG, you’ll notice that no ads for hCG weight loss appear even though it’s a popular component of weight loss programs offered by some gyms, health clubs and wellness centers.

That’s because Google forbids ads promoting hCG in connection with weight loss. It also can’t be promoted in connection with the use of steroids.

Over-the-counter products which mimic or make equivalent health claims to regulated products

We see this issue most commonly when health clubs, personal training studios or wellness centers want to promote certain nutritional supplements.

Common examples include non-prescription nutritional supplements for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, depression and anxiety, insomnia, and sexual health and vigor.

There are even special rules for advertising the supplement melatonin, depending on the country you’re in.

What you CAN do

Restrictions like these can make it difficult for fitness businesses, health clubs and wellness centers to target prospects who are overweight or obese, in pain, depressed, have negative self-image/body image issues, use a CPAP machine, have trouble walking, are pre-diabetic or have already been diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes—in other words, the largest and potentially most profitable market sectors!

Successful pay-per-click advertising of products and services that address intensely personal health-related matters is both an art and science. These four simple tips will help you get it right the first time:

  1. Focus on a positive message.
  2. Talk about your business, not your customer.
  3. Talk about your products, not their problems.
  4. When using images, show happy, hopeful, empowered people of ALL body types.
  5. Avoid images that emphasize specific areas of the body

Will it be easy? No. Many health and wellness businesses are conditioned to focus on risks, health problems, and negative outcomes—and they lack the marketing know-how to develop unique copy that tells a positive story. The result: superficial fluffy ads that sound just like everyone else.

Yet creating an effective promotional message that connects positively with your audience and speaks to their souls can be one of the most rewarding parts of helping people live healthier, more empowered lifestyles.

It lifts people up, AND it’s good for your business.