Developing a Clinical Trial PPC (Pay-Per-Click) Budget for Patient Recruitment Campaigns

ppc strategy

Here’s how CROs and sponsors can use Per-Per-Click (PPC) to boost enrollment, while staying within the allotted budget.

 PPC describes a type of digital advertising, or patient outreach, that allows marketers to create ads that appear on top of Google’s search engine results pages (SERPs). For clinical trials, these ads target active and engaged audiences who are already searching for healthcare or medical treatment. What’s more, “pay-per-click” means that CROs and sponsors don’t actually pay until a potential patient clicks on their ad — making PPC an efficient way to boost clinical trial patient recruitment and enrollment.

While the value of paid search is clear, setting up a PPC campaign involves managing many moving parts. One particular area that can be challenging for CROs and sponsors is establishing a monthly budget.

Because budget is dependent on a variety of factors — evolving goals and available funds, for instance — the plan should be flexible and include a range of estimates. This is important when we consider that some clinical trial sites will perform better than others, and, in order to optimize the spend (and ultimately the return on investment (ROI)), PPC activities must be carefully managed, reported, and modified accordingly. To aid with budgeting efforts, here’s how CROs and sponsors can use historical data to develop a cost-effective paid search budget, and reach new potential patients for their clinical trials.

The Value of PPC for Clinical Trials

As a crucial part of any successful patient recruitment campaign using digital marketing, PPC can help speed up the enrollment process. It’s most effective when implemented before a trial begins or immediately at the start (once respective sites are initiated), but can also be rolled out on a shorter timeline to help boost enrollment numbers.

Unlike posting flyers or advertising in a local newspaper, paid search targets audiences who are already looking for medical information or treatment options, the truest form of active, engaged patients. Strategies can be built to narrow audiences further through segmentation strategies like negative keywords (filtering out terms that don’t convert), and dayparting (tweaking bids according to time of day or day of the week).

Studies show that 53% of patients find out about clinical trials online, making digital patient recruitment marketing a primary, cost-effective strategy, not an extra to be tacked on at the end as a “rescue” strategy. When executed properly, PPC can truly make or break a trial’s recruitment success. But first, CROs and sponsors need to establish their goals and set a paid search budget.

How Much Does PPC Cost?

Setting the right budget depends on identifying a clinical trial’s unique goals, such as trial/brand awareness, lead (“patient inquiry”) generation, or patient recruitment and enrollment. Once the goal is clear (i.e. “we need to recruit 20 new patients in the next month, paying no more than X dollars per patient”), CROs and sponsors will need to work with their patient recruitment vendor to determine how much traffic is required to meet that goal.

In order to do this, it’s important to establish an estimated conversion rate. Marketers should look at historical data on Google Analytics to evaluate past performance and get a sense of how traffic will convert in the future. Studies that have never utilized  a PPC campaign before should look at their website’s general conversion data and estimate from there.

If a trial’s average conversion rate is 2%, for example, CROs and sponsors can input that number into a simple formula to build their PPC budget:

traffic required to meet your goal = patients needed / conversion rate

traffic required to meet your goal = 20 patients / 2%

traffic required to meet your goal = 1,000

By inputting the goal of 20 patients and the conversion rate of 2% into the formula, CROs and sponsors can see that they will need to reach 1,000 users in order to convert the right number of patients. However, it’s important to keep in mind that this formula generally provides a low estimate, as targeting active and engaged patients is likely to improve the quality of site traffic. This in turn should raise the ad conversion rate, which means a lower budget may be required.

But traffic is only part of the PPC picture: the next piece is determining how much each of these impressions will cost. Predicting cost-per-click (CPC) generally begins by examining historical data from previous PPC accounts. If a study is in early phase, with no previous campaign data, Keyword Planner on Google Ads can be utilized to gain key information. While this tool provides a useful benchmark, it’s important to remember that actual CPC is influenced by a variety of factors including the specific type of study, geography, ad quality and other, study-specific critical variables.

Once CROs and sponsors have determined a CPC estimate, they can multiply that by the traffic required in order to build their total budget. So, if a trial determines that their average CPC is $5.00, then the formula would read: 

traffic required * estimated CPC = total budget

1,000 visitors * $5.00 CPC = $5,000

While this number provides marketers a good sense of what to spend on PPC advertising, it’s also important to include a range to account for error and other factors that might cause budget changes.

Next comes the bidding process, which is an important factor in determining ad placement on SERPs. Automated bidding has become more popular in the past couple of years, especially as the algorithms are becoming more advanced. However, manually setting a bid is often the best option for marketers who are just getting started with PPC campaigns.

It’s important for CROs and sponsors to keep in mind that the bid doesn’t necessarily determine the amount each advertiser will pay. The actual cost is determined by a variety of factors, including the competition and the quality of the ad. Google can overspend a PPC budget for an individual day, but it won’t go beyond the average daily budget times 30.4 over the course of the month.

Executing a PPC Campaign

Going through the above exercise can help to build the right budget to ensure that enrollment and budgetary needs are met. With a few simple steps, CROs and sponsors can determine how to effectively reach their recruitment goals and avoid overspending.

CROs and sponsors looking for guidance in establishing a PPC campaign, and the tools to effectively manage the entire process, may want to consider working with a patient recruitment firm that specializes in digital marketing. A patient recruitment firm with specialized, digital marketing experience in clinical trials and the medical industry is essential to help sponsors and CROs reach the right patients, and to meet their enrollment goals on-time, and on-budget.

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