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Website Content: What Healthcare Marketers can learn from WebMD

WebMD suffered a serious blow this week. But whether it will cripple the company or not remains to be seen.

WebMD the health-information website

It turns out that highly commercialized content is one of the charges leveled against the health-information website. Critics and users alike have complained that the company is a ‘drug pusher’, putting out content that steers consumers towards drugs manufactured by advertisers such as Eli Lilly.

But social media also hurt WebMD:

Although they receive over 107 million unique visitors each month, and total traffic of 2.24 billion page views in the third quarter of 2011, WebMD revenues fell about 10% to  $20million. Experts and trend strategists suggest that consumers are turning to other sources for medical information i.e. social media.

In fact a recent survey from health-care research firm National Research found that:
“96% of the nearly 23,000 consumers it surveyed use Facebook to gather information about health care, with 28% using YouTube and 22% using Twitter. Hospitals, health-care providers and private insurers also are seeing social media as a tool to engage consumers.” 

WebMD’s content malfunction

Despite having some great resources such as symptom checker, a medical dictionary and Pill Identification Tool there are some content issues that make it less user-friendly:

  •  The site has become tougher to navigate. Numerous ads and banners make for a more noisy and distracting environment.
  • Too much content makes it confusing for users to quickly find what they’re looking for. E.g. Searching for a migraine solution is like searching for a needle in a haystack – should one start with symptom checker, Health A-Z or Health Conditions?
  • The site desperately needs to be re-designed so that it is more focused on consumers rather than advertisers.
  • Outdated content is an issue. Case in point – on the Expert blog ‘Recent Posts’ are dated October 2011 (as of this writing).
  • Given that more people are using the Internet to gather information about their healthcare needs, I think not having a live doctor online to answer questions and give general advice is a missed opportunity.

Healthcare marketers take note

Given the high expectations that consumers have for relevant and engaging content, healthcare organizations have to think long and hard about the way they communicate on their websites.

Providing relevant and easily accessible content is no longer an option. Healthcare marketers will need to review and analyse their website content to figure out if their sites are meeting visitor’s needs and offering applications and features they add value to users.

What are your thoughts? Do you think WebMD’s content is showing signs of poor health? Speak your mind 🙂



  1. They are most definitely showing signs of poor digital health. They definitely need to hire someone to manage their content better (recent posts in October last year???), and to rework their User Experience. The website needs some REAL work, and they better scramble fast to fix this mess.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hi Dustin,

      Yes the ‘recent’ posts dating back to October were in the Experts blog. Of course they also have other blogs that have more recent articles, but that oversight on one of their blogs does (as you say) show signs of poor content health. And of course you’re right about having a content manager to oversee all aspects of their website. This is also a good practice for all brands that use content to attract customers.

  2. It’s not just WebMD, I’ve warned several major medical news publishers about their advertising taking over content. When you look at what’s above the fold – at minimum 70% of the content should be unique and engaging, but the current practices of publishers is 70% ads while there’s a narrow column in the middle for the actual content.

    In this review, there were 6 medical news publishers. They all responded with the same message, “the medical communications and pharmaceutical advertising companies (the ones that actually decide about placement of ads on websites) have no problem with this as long as they get more eyeballs on their products” – Some publishers even stuff 2-3 ads FROM THE SAME PHARMA COMPANY on the page to count for 2-3 ad views.

    And most of the content is crap anyway. Written hastily and without much thought.

    • Anonymous says:

      You’re so right Simon. I believe that 2012 is the year that content marketing will make a big mark (look at the direction Coca Cola is taking). And if medical companies don’t do something about the content they’re putting out there, many of them will learn the same lesson that WebMD has.

      It’s interesting that you mention their main objective being ‘eyeballs on their products.’ What they’re not willing to hear is that as soon as consumers feel they can get more interesting content elsewhere, these websites will quickly lose the very eyeballs that they covet.

      But continue the good job you’re doing in educating them on the importance of good content. It’s just a matter of time before they come around.

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