Last week Google announced it will limit paid search advertising on addiction treatment/rehabilitation centers in an effort to protect consumers from deceptive or unfit providers, as well as lead aggregator sites that sell consumers’ contact information to the highest bidder.
A recent AdGooroo study found that alcoholism was the #3 disease by paid search ad spend, generating $22.4 million on just 7 keywords on U.S. Google desktop search from August 2016 through July 2017. In addition, drug addiction ranked 12th, with $7.7 million in desktop paid search ad spend on 10 keywords during the same period. In both cases, the majority of ad spend was centered on substance abuse programs such as rehab centers.
To better understand substance abuse rehab advertising on Google, we examined U.S. Google desktop text ad activity on 157 substance abuse treatment-related keywords from August 2016 through September 2017.
In limiting addiction treatment/rehabilitation advertising, Google may be giving up significant revenue. In total, we found $78.1 million in ad spend on the keyword group over the 12-month period.
It should be noted that it is possible this figure is artificially high due to the presence of 501(c)(3) nonprofit groups among the advertisers, since 501(c)(3)’s are eligible to receive $10,000 of in-kind advertising per month via the Google Ad Grants program.
It’s not possible, however, to ascertain exactly how many 501(c)(3) organizations are among these advertisers, short of investigating every one of the 3,514 advertisers who we found sponsoring the substance abuse treatment keywords in our study. We did find 658 websites among the keyword sponsors with a .org suffix, which is favored by charitable groups such as InTheRooms.org and SmartRecovery.org, both of which are 501(c)(3) and are among the most clicked advertisers on the keyword group we studied.
In practice though, any organization or individual can use the .org suffix when registering a domain. As an example, the website of another of the most clicked advertisers on the keyword group, Pennsylvania- and Florida-based addiction treatment provider Caron, is Caron.org, even though it is not a charity organization.
The top substance abuse-treatment keyword during the period was ‘alcoholic anonymous’, which generated more than $16.4 million on an average cost per click of $8.51. Three other alcohol abuse-related keywords made the top 10 ranking, including ‘alcohol withdrawal’ ($2.3 million), ‘alcohol detoxification’ ($1.6 million) and the similar ‘alcohol detox’ ($1.5 million). The other 7 keywords in the top 10 were centered on rehabilitation treatment facilities, including ‘rehabilitation center’ ($4.9 million), ‘drug rehabilitation’ ($3.6 million), ‘rehab center’ ($2.8 million), ‘substance abuse treatment’ ($1.5 million) and ‘drug rehab’ and ‘drug rehabilitation centers’ (both $1.4 million).
Expensive Treatment Drives a High Cost Per Click
The average cost per click for all 157 keywords was $19.26, with the average CPC for some keywords more than tripling that figure. For instance, the most expensive term we found was ‘drug rehab in florida’, for which 380 advertisers paid an average of $64.99 per click during the 12 months studied. Advertisers are willing to pay high amounts to acquire potential addiction treatment patients because the revenue potential is so high; inpatient treatment centers for alcohol and drugs can cost several hundred dollars per day for a 30-, 60- or 90-day programs.
The substance abuse-rehab category is extremely competitive in paid search advertising. We found an average of 300 advertisers sponsoring each of the 157 terms we studied during the 12-month period. The average for the Top 10 keywords by spend was even higher, jumping to 389 advertisers per keyword. For comparison, other categories that are extremely competitive in paid search had far fewer competitors per top 10 keyword during the period, including health insurance (an average of 178 advertisers), auto insurance (an average of 165 advertisers) and online dating (an average of 138 advertisers). The revenue potential of a stint in rehab is again a likely driver of the high number of advertisers competing on the keyword group, as is the fact that the category is made up of many local providers.
Lead aggregators, treatment facilities and nonprofits made up the majority of advertisers on the substance abuse treatment keywords. AidInRecovery.com, a “referral service” that matches people with addiction treatment centers, was the top advertiser, capturing 16.5% of all clicks on the keyword group during the 12-month period, followed by AddictionToSobriety.com (6% click share), InTheRooms.org (5.5% click share), TheWatershed.com (4.3% click share) and SmartRecovery.org (3.4% click share) rounding out the top five.
Standing out from the rest of the advertisers was the cable TV network A&E, which ranked 6th with a 3.3% click share on the substance abuse treatment keywords. The network used its sponsorship of the keyword group to promote free online episodes of its “Intervention” reality series at AETV.com.