Healthcare marketing is one job that is never done. There are always new campaigns to create and launch. New tricks to master and roll out. And new targets to chase down.
The pressure that comes with seeing a return on your healthcare marketing investment can be intense. No wonder some marketers succumb to the temptation and venture to the dark side in search of a shortcut to success, more leads or an advantage over competitors.
Ethics is rarely black-and-white. There’s a spectrum – a bit of gray. What’s unethical to one healthcare marketer might be acceptable to another. We have pulled together some great examples of unethical healthcare marketing. The idea is to highlight different ways healthcare marketers can slide right through the gray and into the black when it comes to morals and ethics.
Unethical Healthcare Marketing Example #1: Dabbling in Black Hat SEO
“Black hat SEO” is a term used to describe tactics designed to trick Google’s search algorithm. The aim is to cause your website or digital content to rank higher in search engine results than they deserve. Here are some of the common black hat SEO tactics:
- Paying for links to critical pages on your site
- Hiding spammy keyword-stuffed content so only search engines can see it
- Using forums or blog comments to plant links back to your website
- Stuffing keywords into alt tags, title tags and other areas Google looks at
- Using clickbait headlines that have no relation to the content on the page
Mostly, Google’s algorithm is way too smart for these petty tactics. Still, many healthcare marketers dabble in ethically questionable SEO tricks. Though there are guidelines and free advice available about Google’s search algorithm best practices, almost every healthcare marketer has experienced his or her share of head-scratching moments when they break the rules to make their websites rank higher.
What are the consequences of black hat SEO?
Often, success with black hat SEO tactics is short-lived and comes at a price. If you incur a penalty, your pages could be pushed so far down in search results that nobody will ever find them. If you are planning to rely on Google for a significant share of your organic traffic, that could be catastrophic.
Unethical Healthcare Marketing Example #2: Sharing Fake Reviews
Ranking higher for your target keywords is an excellent way to attract relevant traffic to your medical website. But if you want to convert leads into patients, nothing beats 5-star patient reviews. If your existing patients like your services enough to review them, it can provide the social proof new patients need to visit your practice.
The problem, however, with online reviews is that they are often anonymous. How will new patients know if these reviews are genuine?
What are the consequences made-up reviews?
There are plenty of examples of medical practice brands resorting to creating and sharing fake positive reviews in a bid to attract more patients. For practices trying to mitigate negative reviews, posting fake reviews may seem like a quick fix for improving online reputation. However, this strategy is bound to backfire. Your patients will smell fake reviews in no time.
By faking an online review, you are trying to dissuade potential patients who are using review sites to size you up against their expectations. If you are unable to deliver to the same service level as portrayed in the fake reviews, your patient satisfaction graph will quickly drop, and you will end up with much more negative feedback from unmet expectations.
Unethical Healthcare Marketing Example #3: Misrepresenting Competitors
Some healthcare marketers avoid black hat SEO tricks and posting fake online reviews because of their morals. Others don’t like the idea of getting caught. Then there’s a nefarious bunch of marketers who use their mastery of healthcare marketing tactics to damage a competitor’s brand image.
Such unethical marketers can run black hat SEO tactics on the competitor’s website and then report to Google. They can create profiles on relevant review sites and pepper the competitor’s medical practice with negative patient reviews. Or they can post reviews that are so sparklingly positive that they look like fakes.
What are the consequences of misrepresenting a competitor?
Black hat SEO can damage your medical website. Posting fake reviews can damage your online reputation. But a planned campaign designed to hurt a competitor will go beyond unethical healthcare marketing. If you are caught, the fallout wouldn’t just be irreparable harm to your image, but it could also land you in court.
Unethical Healthcare Marketing Example #4: Making Stuff Up
Healthcare marketing is a creative and challenging profession, but there are limits to jazzing up your campaigns. You will never be allowed, or accepted, for mining the personal data of your patients to drive the creative for your promotion. Using patients’ personal information is a strict no-no.
What are the consequences of using restricted information?
You might be forgiven for thinking such campaigns in which you casually use a patient’s picture or name or any identifying information are harmless. But medical practices – even start-ups and local ones – are tightly regulated by HIPAA laws. As a medical practitioner, it is your responsibility to ensure that any protected health information (PHI) you are collecting from your patients is safe. Privacy violations can result in severe consequences, including hefty penalties and even jail time.
To wrap things up, we have put together some handy takeaways:
- Black hat SEO tactics can help you in the short term, but a ranking penalty will have a devastating impact on your website as well as your online reputation.
- Patient reviews are an integral source of social proof and can help attract more patients. However, if you are caught posting fake reviews, you will have to face severe public embarrassment.
- Using black hat SEO tactics and posting fake reviews for your competitors is not only unethical but also illegal in some states.
- Tapping into trending content topics has excellent potential for connecting with your target audience. But if you get this wrong, your target audience may laugh at you and question your professional ethics.
Healthcare marketing is all about taking risks and being creative. However, making stuff up is a bad idea. You are in a highly regulated industry, and the consequences could be more severe than negative press and scathing tweets.