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The complicated world of healthcare retargeting

Written by Jack L

What is retargeting?

Retargeting (or remarketing) is an advertising strategy that can help keep you on the radar of website visitors once they leave your site. On average, only 2-3% of users will convert on their initial visit, retargeting helps to convert the other 98%.

Chances are you’ve been served an ad somewhere online that feels like it was tailored just for you. Perhaps you’ve visited an online store and spent a few minutes looking at a pair of shoes and then over the next few days you see that same pair of shoes being advertised to you across a number of other websites. That’s retargeting.

How does retargeting work?

Retargeting is a cookie-based technology that uses simple code to “follow” users around the web once they’ve left your site.

When you place this code (commonly called a pixel) on your website, you can serve ads to visitors who leave your site without converting, encouraging them to convert at a later date.

Remarketing helps to reduce wasted advertising spend by ensuring your ads are aimed directly at users who have already shown an interest in your services or products.

Challenges of healthcare retargeting

The world of healthcare retargeting can be a difficult one to navigate and it’s essential that you operate within ASA, GMC and BMA guidelines.

Any ads you are running must not include any content that could imply any prior knowledge of personal medical information.

Imagine you are experiencing some worrying symptoms, you search online and decide you may have men’s health issue. You might then decide you need a test so you start searching for a relevant clinic in your local area.

The last thing you’d want in this situation is for your family computer to be bombarded with facebook ads about your condition. This is why it’s important that any messaging in your ads is generic, referencing only a brand, healthcare facility or particular department rather than a specific condition or treatment.

How can I utilise retargeting without violating Google or Facebook regulations?

Both Facebook and Google are extremely sensitive about healthcare-related retargeting so you’ll have to get creative with your copy. Any ads you are running should draw attention to your business’ expertise in a certain department, without specifically referencing any health condition. For example, if a user visits a healthcare site looking for some information on cardiology and leaves without converting, any subsequent ads they are shown should highlight the main USP’s of the cardiology department, rather than mention heart disease symptoms, even if they specifically visited a heart disease page.


Boasting over two billion monthly users, Facebook has the potential to be a very lucrative avenue for your company’s ad campaigns.

A smart way of utilising retargeting whilst avoiding running into problems with regulators is to segment your users off into specific lists depending on which pages they initially visit (for example, a prostate cancer symptoms page on your site). You need to create a custom audience of ‘people who visited specific web pages’ and use the rules ‘URL’ and ‘contains’ to type in a unique part of the landing page URL.

The ads you display to these users will still have to be generic and avoid treatment or condition-specific language but you can make the content of landing pages allude to those specific conditions or treatments (such as a PSA test).

Another creative way to utilise Facebook retargeting within the guidelines could be to use a video testimonial of a patient who has received treatment and is happy to share their success story. You need to make sure you have the patient’s permission but provided they allow you to share their personal journey, you shouldn’t be at risk of violating any rules or regulations.


There are a number of channels within Google that you can utilise for your remarketing campaign.

If you make use of videos on your website or have a YouTube channel, Google remarketing can target any users who interact with them. Including clear call-to-actions in your video content will help point users in the right direction.

Sharing a list of your customer’s email addresses with Google’s Customer Match tool will allow you to target adverts towards them. This can be particularly useful for targeting specific segments of your customer base, such as high value clients.

You can then optimise the performance of this customer match ad campaign by integrating email analytics to target audiences with specific ads based on how they have interacted with your emails. For example, if you have a group of email recipients who only open your emails when a discount or offer is mentioned in the subject, your ads should reflect this. Linking your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts is essential to ensure you’re targeting your ads based on actual website activity insight rather than guesswork.

Google Display Network is an element of Google Ads that involves the display of visual banner ads or text on advertising-supported websites. Through these ads you can promote your services to users browsing any of the websites which display your ads. GDN allows you to promote your business and increase impressions without the user having to actively click on your ad. You can tailor your ad to only appear on web pages containing certain keywords related to your ad, which will help to concentrate your ad campaign towards a more relevant and qualified audience. As effective as this form of advertising can be, Google disapproves any form of display advertising that focuses on personal hardships, such as health. This includes:

  • Physical or mental health conditions and diseases
  • Products, services, or procedures to treat or manage chronic health conditions (including over-the-counter medications and medical devices)
  • Health issues associated with intimate body parts or functions
  • Invasive medical procedures, including cosmetic surgery.
  • Disabilities, including content that is oriented toward the user’s caretaker.

It’s important to note that the healthcare industry is one of Google Ads’ restricted industries, with several policies in place to restrict the promotion of healthcare-related content. Don’t let this scare you off exploring Google as a retargeting tool but be mindful of the guidelines at all times.

Be strategic with your ads

It’s not in your best interests to retarget every non-converting user that visits your site. Not all of these users will be looking to make use of your business’ healthcare services, many of them will just be conducting research, perhaps for a study. For this reason it’s beneficial for you to only incorporate retargeting on the conversion-oriented pages of your website. Pages about treatments, services or specific clinicians are more likely to indicate a higher degree of intent to purchase, so tailor your ads around these pages, making sure they have a clear call-to-action to contact your business and make an appointment.

There is always some risk in retargeting that your target will see you as “stalking” them with your ads. The higher your frequency cap, the higher your risk of negative perceptions. Yet, too little frequency can limit the effectiveness of your campaign. It’s a delicate balance.

Sequential retargeting

With sequential retargeting, previous website visitors are taken through a series of ad experiences. Rather than seeing the same ad repeated ad nauseum, they will be taken on a visual journey which shows them a range of ads in a very specific order.

Sequential retargeting is a very useful tool, as not only does it keep the content fresh for the user, meaning they are more likely to engage with your ads, but they can be “drip fed” the information that could prove the difference between a lost conversion and an enquiring patient. In a world where people are constantly scrolling through social feeds expecting to see new and exciting content, it’s important you’re able to stand out.

It can also help you nurture any prospective clients by guiding them through any concerns they may have about using your services. You could have an opening ad that spreads a bit of brand awareness followed by an ad sharing a testimonial about how the treatment was painless before a final ad prompting a call-to-action such as ‘Book an appointment’ or ‘Sign up now’.

Despite the many hurdles and red tape that you need to carefully navigate, retargeting can be hugely effective and should be an essential element of any healthcare organisation’s marketing strategy. For more information on how you can start to integrate remarketing strategies into your organisation’s marketing plan, get in touch with our healthcare marketing experts today.

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