Written by Caroline Cox on Jan 18 , 2022

Find out why your healthcare search ads are disapproved and what the content restrictions are on advertising in the healthcare industry.

Here, you’ll find:

  • Healthcare ad disapproval causes
  • Various ad review statuses
  • Healthcare search ad approval tips
  • Why these healthcare ad regulations exist

Healthcare ad content rules and regulations can be tricky — especially right now.

As a result, many in this industry have experienced their online ads hitting snags, like limited audience approval or being disapproved entirely. It’s a frustrating problem without a clear solution, whether you’re the company itself or the marketing agency handling the account.

So, what can be done? It’s complicated, so let’s dive in.

faceless doctor with coat and stethoscope looking at healthcare search ad on phone

Some healthcare-related content can’t be advertised on Google at all. (Image via Unsplash)

Why healthcare ads get disapproved

The digital marketing industry hasn’t been immune to Covid’s far-reaching effects.

As misinformation and disinformation ramped up online, social networks and search engines alike have worked (and sometimes struggled) to separate inaccurate or misleading info from facts on their platforms.

As a result, ad regulations have evolved (and tightened up). This is particularly true for the healthcare and vaccine spaces. If your ad appears to violate one of Google’s policies surrounding healthcare and medicines or “appropriate laws and industry standards,” it’s highly likely your ad will be disapproved.

Pro tip: Some healthcare-related content can’t be advertised on Google at all. While, restrictions vary from country to country, ads that offer prescription drugs without a prescription or feature either unauthorized pharmacies or unapproved substances are banned across the board.

Why Google closely monitors and regulates healthcare ads

Feeling frustrated about ad issues is understandable. But these guidelines and restrictions are in place for a good reason.

As mentioned above, these regulations are the search engine’s attempt to curb false information from spreading online via their channels. People searching for healthcare info are often in vulnerable positions, with concerns relating to their health or a loved one’s health.

Search engines don’t want to host ads that prey on people’s emotions. These rules aim to protect searchers. It’s important to foster trust that the answers surfacing for their questions are accurate, helpful, and credible. (For example, they now let you see if a doctor or healthcare facility takes your insurance and speaks your language.)

The healthcare ad gray area

Some healthcare industry aspects aren’t as established or clear-cut as others. For example, holistic, speculative, and experimental treatment companies may have a tougher time with ad approvals. It all depends on what they’re trying to promote.

Google doesn’t allow ads that promote:

  • Speculative and/or experimental medical treatments (such as gene therapy kits)
  • Cell or gene therapies, regardless of regulatory approval status (such as stem cell therapy)
  • Herbal and dietary supplements with active pharmaceutical or dangerous ingredients
  • Products that imply they are as effective as prescription drugs or controlled substances

But for those trying to advertise in this industry without violating any rules, there is hope! One thing players in this field can do is be thoughtful about landing page content. 

If your landing page (or any pages linked therein) includes content that the search engine could deem problematic, bots may flag it during the crawling process. The result: ad disapproval.

It may be as simple as taking the main header or footer navigation off of your landing pages and including just a link to your homepage instead.

Pro tip: Online pharmacies must have a Google or approved third-party certification to serve ads.

What to do if your healthcare ad gets disapproved

Google seems to be automating more of their processes, including approvals. This means that more ads could potentially get disapproved due to technicalities or minor issues. 

You have a few options if your ad is disapproved. You can:

  • Submit an appeal if you think the disapproval was an error
  • Tweak the ad copy and resubmit
  • Check to ensure your landing page copy doesn’t violate any policies
  • Work with Google on a solution

If the issue is as simple as word choice, you may have better luck after a few copy adjustments. If you need more hands-on assistance, you can try contacting Google directly. 

It’s worth noting here that staffing shortages — which are affecting nearly all industries — have made the process take a bit more time to get resolved this way, in our experience. So even if the ad platform made an error, you may find your ad stuck in limbo for a time.

Pro tip: If your business is medical or medical-adjacent (such as injectables or medical weight loss), you may be able to apply for a third-party certification. These certifications generally have an annual cost, but they can help your offering seem more legitimate in the eyes of Google.

emergency sign on the outside of a hospital

Search engines like Google are working to put rules and regulations in place that help ensure healthcare-related ads are transparent and accurate. (Image via Pexels)

What do different ad approval statuses mean?

Ad statuses aren’t limited to “approved” or “disapproved.” Some ads only get approved for certain countries. Some are approved or disapproved across the board. And others get a different status altogether.

Google ad statuses include:

  • Under review
  • Eligible, Eligible (limited), and Eligible (limited all locations)
  • Serving
  • Approved and Approved (limited)
  • Disapproved
  • Not eligible

Eligible (limited) ads “are limited in where and when they can show,” per Google policy. This status often applies to industries such as alcohol, trademarks, and gambling.

Basically, your ad surfaces for a limited audience. Depending on the content, that could mean it’ll only show to those over 18. The good news: A limited approval status often silos out unqualified leads. This means you don’t have to pay for clicks for clicks that likely won’t pan out.

Pro tip: Ads can also be labeled as Pending, Ended, or Paused when not under review.

The takeaway

Digital ads can be an effective tool for providing healthcare and wellbeing resources. But in the wrong hands, it can also allow bad-faith info to spread and lead vulnerable searchers astray.

Search engines like Google put rules and regulations in place that help ensure healthcare-related ads are transparent and accurate.

To get your healthcare search ads approved these days, you may have to take a few extra steps. But keep in mind that these rules are in place for good reason. Plus, you have actionable steps at your disposal if you run into approval issues along the way.

Caroline Cox

Caroline Cox

Caroline is HawkSEM's content marketing manager. She uses her more than 10 years of professional writing and editing experience to create SEO-friendly articles, educational thought leadership pieces, and savvy social media content to help market leaders create successful digital marketing strategies. She's a fan of seltzer water, print magazines, and huskies.

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