Substance Abuse BLOG

Months after Google stopped advertisements about addiction treatment centers on its AdWords service, the search giant is now approving new ad placement applications as long as they have LegitScript certification.

Google Ad Ban on Addiction Treatment Centers

Addiction treatment centers were banned from running Google ads early in 2018, which includes search ads, website ads, and similar adverts on third-party apps. The decision was based on numerous reports of exploitation and rampant abuse by third-party companies. Primary causes of strict regulations around addiction treatment centers advertising include:

  • False advertisement of third-party lead generation providers
  • Turning over the collected information for a fee to rehabilitation centers

Placing of such ads may sound like a big help to those who need assistance in addressing drug addiction concerns. However, the shady deals and unauthorized distribution of private patient information were things that Google execs weren’t comfortable with.

However, after several months of looking into this problem, Google has finally agreed to resume advertisements by introducing a new certification process for rehabilitation and addiction treatment facilities called LegitScript.

What is LegitScript?

LegitScript is a third-party firm whose role is to verify and monitor online pharmacies. It is the sole service that is recognized by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy (NABP).

The company has been endorsed by the NABP to regulate search engine advertising programs, payment processing companies, domain name registrars, social media companies, and other online platforms. This is designed to ensure that they operate in compliance with appropriate healthcare laws and regulations, and to prevent the illicit or illegal sale of unregulated health products.

LegitScript is an appropriate authority that can easily sanction online pharmacies should they be found violating the laws governing proper health care. Similarly, LegitScript works hand in hand with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in monitoring and investigating Internet pharmacy websites.

LegitScript not only looks into pharmacies that may be selling illegal substances; the company also reviews ad placements which may threaten consumer privacy.

How To Obtain LegitScript Certification

Google confirmed that ads for addiction treatment will resume by July 2018, but the new scheme for approval will involve a two-step process that needs to be followed upon issuance of certification.

Obtaining a LegitScript Certification means that you are given the right to participate in online advertising, e-commerce, and payment processing programs.

  • Addiction treatment providers may contact LegitScript and will need to fill out an application to be certified.
  • By July 2018, all LegitScript-certified addiction treatment providers may request certification by Google through a form that will be published in the future.

Importance of Securing a LegitScript Certification

A sad reality is many treatment centers operate with ill intentions, and the requirement to obtain LegitScript Certification is the first step in weeding out illegitimate practices to protect consumer rights. 

Here are some reasons why a LegitScript certification is advantageous:

  • Since LegitScript is the only independent certification organization recognized by Google, addiction treatment centers are assured that their marketing campaigns won’t be penalized (assuming, of course, that you follow Google ad placement guidelines).
  • Not everything you see on the internet may be true. By being LegitScript-certified, you make yourself stand out from the rest in terms of authenticity. As a result, people think of your addiction treatment center as a legitimate source, which eventually earns the trust of your prospective patients.
  • You get to work hand in hand with a trusted Google partner.

Who Qualifies for LegitScript Certification?

Obtaining LegitScript certification prevents costly interruptions or disturbances to your Google ad campaign. Therefore, if you are any of these health facilities and providers, you may need to secure your LegitScript certification before your advertisements are published by Google:

  • Any website or merchant that provides information about alcohol treatment or addiction facilities, online drug or alcohol treatment other than at a private residence or non-clinical setting
  • Any website, online forum, or merchant that does not offer treatment for drugs or alcohol, but helps to initiate interactions between non-professional members engaged in recovery
  • Any website, chat feature, telephone number, or call center that provides remote assistance or information to individuals in recovery and people who may be seeking information about addiction and/or addiction treatment

How Does LegitScript Work?

If you represent a healthcare provider or addiction treatment center and you’re planning to run your ads on Google, you need to follow these steps in order for you to be LegitScript-certified.

  1. Apply for a LegitScript Certification by filling up this form.
  2. For the first three months, 30 applicants will be accepted while others will be on the waitlist.
  3. Once you have become certified, you will receive an update saying that you may start running your ads on Google.
  4. There will be an ongoing monitoring all throughout the program.

As part of LegitScript’s evaluation, treatment centers should meet 15 criteria, which includes a criminal background check to insurance verification, as well as documented policy or procedure that signifies that the center is committed to best practices implementation, effective patient recovery, and continual improvement.

The evaluation process usually takes about 10 business days, after which a follow-up through Q&A will be done. The whole process may run for about 3-4 weeks, depending on the responses to the questions, the complexities of the business models, and volume of applicants.

The pricing structure is divided into a one-time application and a recurring annual fee. This means that for as long as you intend to run your ad campaign, the annual fee will be deducted from your credit card. The application fee is non-refundable.

The certification pricing is on a per-facility basis, as follows:

Number of unique facilities

Application fee per unique facility

Annual fee per unique facility

1 to 9

$995

$1,995

10 to 24

$945

$1,870

25 to 49

$895

$1,745

50 to 99

$845

$1,620

100+

$795

$1,495

(Source: LegitScript)

This program is currently open to providers of alcohol and drug addiction treatments in the U.S. only. Google ads for addiction services outside the U.S. are currently not allowed in Google.

LegitScript certification ensures that all addiction treatment centers that appear on the search engine results page (SERP) employ fully-trained, licensed professionals who are compliant with local laws and best practices. Treatment facilities that appear on Google ads provide clear instructions and commitments regarding the services that they offer to patients.

Can a consultant or PPC agency help to regain credibility?

In any kind of business, there is a need to have someone look into how the business should be able to compete in the market. This kind of work is not just done by anyone but an expert in this field. Getting your business back in terms of online reputation is something that needs to be worked on.

Despite the setback that Google’s earlier pronouncement has caused on the marketing plans of addiction treatment centers, it also serves as a wakeup call to implement legitimate and organic ways to promote the business.

PPC agencies or SEO consultants can definitely help a treatment center get its ad campaigns up and running again. However, some strategies may need to be adjusted (and some even thrown out the window). In other words, addiction treatment facilities need to make use of other techniques – other than Google Adwords – to promote their companies.

Here are some sound techniques that SEO experts and PPC agencies may implement on your next addiction treatment marketing campaign:

  • Avoid using direct drug terms in your ads, such as "alcohol", "marijuana", or drug metabolites like "THC" or "mAMP".
  • Strengthen your website SEO.
  • Start a blog to keep your site content fresh and to keep online users engaged.
  • Use social media to promote your company.
  • Provide an excellent ad copy that will result in a high conversion rate.
  • Create a landing page like this one that can easily encourage online visitors to become customers.
  • Create a campaign that will get optimum exposure.
  • Set up your business listing through Google My Business.

Additionally, negative publicity or image may be reconstructed by hiring reputation management services. The process will include creating a more intimate environment among customers where they can see the authenticity and sincerity in your company website.

Google Ad Treatment Center Policy Changes

The opioid crisis has become difficult to address in affected individuals and families, particularly that the recent Google ad policy changes have complicated search results when they try to search for particular keywords related to rehab and drug treatment.

According to a New York Times article in September 2017, Google said that has “started restricting ads… when someone searches for addiction treatment”. Google mentioned that there are certain rehabilitation centers advertising through Google AdWords that do not provide the quality care that addicts need to successfully overcome their disease. Because of this, Google stopped selling ads that were related to those search keywords.

These types of ads have not disappeared completely, though. Google Trends data show that the drug rehabilitation searches remained consistent. As soon as the search engine company banned addiction treatment center adverts, the number of rehab-related searches has dropped by a whopping 96 percent, based on data from 29 rehabilitation centers that advertise through Google AdWords.

Search Keywords Affected By The Ad Ban

While certain keywords such as “drug rehab” have had some limitations when being sought using the search engine, it has been found out that Google is more lenient on keywords related to keywords such as “treatment” or “addiction”. Using the keyword “counseling” was discovered to be unaffected; as a result, the number of ads using this keyword more than doubled in number.

Google’s ad policy on treatment centers is likely to exempt complex and long-tail keywords. Whereas, “substance abuse” are ineligible for ads, using “drug abuse” or “alcohol abuse” are very much common.

There is a bit of complication in finding the right keyword that should go out and reach people who are seeking for the help that they need, but searches about different kinds of substance abuse are being treated differently.

Therefore, there is a need to be precise about what you are searching for. Instead of plainly searching about “substance abuse”, a more specific keyword phrase will be preferred.

Final Word

As the entire world continues to battle drug addiction and substance abuse, it’s good to know that big companies such as Google are set out to make online information as accurate as possible. After all, it has the ability to control the placement of ads, making sure that the addiction treatment companies advertising through Google Adwords are offering real, legitimate, and effective strategies to help patients get out of substance abuse. By requiring LegitScript certification from treatment facilities before they can run ads on Google, online users are assured that they’re not shortchanged or scammed into fictitious treatment strategies that are only after their money and not their recovery.