Healthcare ad restrictions are rules set by search engines and social media platforms to regulate health-related advertising. Learn effective strategies to navigate these regulations and prevent disapprovals.

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Healthcare marketing can be tricky.

Developing an effective digital marketing strategy and creating ads that don’t violate stringent regulations often feels like an uphill battle for marketers and healthcare professionals alike.

One moment, your ad engages audiences and drives traffic; the next, it’s blocked, or worse: your account faces suspension.

This sudden shift can cause campaign delays and a significant drop in potential patient outreach.

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)

What are healthcare ad restrictions?

Healthcare search ad restrictions are a set of legal and platform-specific guidelines that dictate how health-related services and products can be advertised online.

These regulations are designed to prevent misleading claims and ensure that the advertisements uphold the highest standards of accuracy and ethics.

Key factors of these restrictions include:

  • Legal compliance: You must navigate through a maze of healthcare laws that vary significantly from one jurisdiction to another. These laws often dictate what can be advertised, to whom, and how.
  • Platform policies: There are not only state or federal laws to contend with. Major digital marketing platforms like Google, Facebook, and X (Twitter) have developed extensive policies specifically for healthcare ads. These policies typically restrict the promotion of certain types of medical treatments and pharmaceuticals. For instance, advertising prescription drugs directly to consumers might be prohibited or tightly regulated on some platforms.
  • Certification requirements: Certain types of healthcare ads may require that you have specific certifications. For example, online pharmacies must be certified by Google before advertising.
  • Prohibition of misleading claims: Platforms are particularly vigilant about ads that make unfounded health claims. Ads promoting “miracle” weight loss products or unproven medical treatments can quickly get flagged and removed.

Some industries and services with restrictions

While this isn’t a complete list, if you’re listed on it, you should take extra steps to ensure you’re in compliance with all policies.

  • Dietary supplements
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers/prescription drugs
  • Medical aesthetics
  • Clinical trial recruitment
  • Medical services like fertility treatment and drug rehab
  • Plastic surgery

Why healthcare ads get disapproved

When you know why healthcare ads are disapproved, you can save yourself a lot of time and frustration and make sure your ad campaigns reach their target audience without interruption.

Here are common reasons for ad disapproval in the healthcare sector:

  • Policy violation: Google enforces strict rules to maintain the accuracy and safety of healthcare ads, as do Facebook and other social media platforms. Violations can include unverified treatments, misleading claims, or promoting unapproved drugs.
  • No credentials: Ads may be rejected if they lack proper credentials or verifications. It’s important to display relevant licenses and certifications to establish credibility.
  • Inadequate disclaimers or disclosures: Ads must include disclaimers for claims, such as varying results for treatment effectiveness, to avoid misleading consumers.
  • Language: Specific wording can determine ad approval. Phrases implying guaranteed outcomes, especially within unrealistic time frames, are often disapproved.
  • Targeting: Medical device ads should explicitly state they are intended for healthcare professionals, not direct consumers.
  • Transparency and contact info: Ads without clear, accessible contact details may face rejection. Ensure all relevant contact information is included and up to date.
  • Website quality: A poorly functioning website with slow load times or difficult navigation can lead to ad disapproval. Optimize for mobile responsiveness and user experience.
  • Regulatory compliance: Ads must comply with the healthcare regulations of the target country or region. For example, in Malaysia, testimonials are prohibited.

Pro tip: If your business is in fields like injectables or medical weight loss, consider obtaining third-party certifications to bolster your credibility with platforms like Google.

Why search engines and social media platforms closely monitor and regulate healthcare ads

It’s understandable to feel frustrated about ad issues, but these guidelines and restrictions are in place for a good reason.

These regulations are search engines’ attempts to curb false information from spreading online via their channels. People searching for healthcare information are often in vulnerable positions, with concerns relating to their health or a loved one’s health.

Here are the main considerations these platforms have in mind with these healthcare regulations.

  • Protecting users: Platforms want to prevent ads that exploit users’ emotions, promoting a safe and trustworthy environment. They ensure that health information is accurate, helpful, and credible, such as verifying if a doctor accepts specific insurance or speaks multiple languages.
  • Preventing misinformation: There’s a high risk of misinformation about health-related topics, which can have serious consequences. Strict ad regulations help keep only scientifically supported and verified information in circulation.
  • Maintaining public safety: Ensuring that only approved treatments and practices are advertised protects the public from potentially harmful or ineffective health solutions.
  • Upholding ethical standards: Platforms enforce these rules to uphold ethical advertising practices, especially in sensitive areas like healthcare, where the impact of false advertising can be particularly severe.

An overview of Google Ads healthcare advertising policies

Google has a very comprehensive set of healthcare advertising regulations. Here’s a summary of the key points:

  • Certification requirements: Advertisers must obtain certification to promote prescription drug services, including online pharmacies and telemedicine. They determine whether an advertiser is promoting such services based on several factors, such as ad content, website, or app, as well as the products or services on offer.
  • Licensing information: Over-the-counter drug (OTC) ads must include the relevant license numbers.
  • Geographic targeting: Ensure your ads target only the states or countries where your products are legally permitted.
  • Landing page compliance: If your website contains non-approved drugs or supplements, use a standalone landing page for approved products to avoid ad disapproval.
  • Restricted products: Google provides detailed examples of restricted products, such as:
    • Prescription opioids
    • HIV home tests (unless FDA approved)
    • Animal-related drugs
    • Birth control
  • Certification for health insurance: You must be certified by Google to advertise health insurance coverage, with the exception of government advertisers, who will be pre-approved.

Pro tips for Google healthcare ads

  • Get certified: Obtain the necessary certification for prescription drug services.
  • Stay transparent: Include license numbers and ensure ads target allowed regions.
  • Stay current: Regularly review Google’s healthcare advertising policies as they get changed and updated fairly frequently.

An overview of Meta’s healthcare advertising policy

Meta’s healthcare advertising policies differ from Google’s and can be trickier to navigate.

They emphasize user safety and positive messaging. Here’s a quick summary of the main things you need to know.

  • Avoid negative self-perception: Ads for appearance-related healthcare products must not imply negative body image or medical conditions. Examples of Restricted Content:
  • Avoid suggesting that users need to lose weight with your product.
  • Don’t imply that users have a medical condition like eczema.
  • Regular policy updates: Meta frequently updates its healthcare advertising policies, so it’s vital to review their guidelines regularly to ensure compliance.
  • Stand-alone landing pages: Like Google, Meta may require standalone landing pages if your website mentions restricted drugs, supplements, or treatments.

Ad Copy Guidelines:


  • Use positive, uplifting images of healthy individuals.
  • Keep copy focused on general health benefits.

Do not:

  • Use “you” in ad copy (e.g., “Do you have eczema?”).
  • Include “before/after” photos.
  • Show images with excessive skin exposure.
  • Feature heavy individuals struggling to exercise.

Pro tips for Meta healthcare ads

  • Use positive messaging: Focus on positive health outcomes and avoid direct references to users’ conditions.
  • Stay up to date: Regularly check Meta’s Transparency Center for updates on health and appearance guidelines.
  • Reach out to support: Consult Meta’s support team to understand specific ad or landing page disapprovals.

The gray area in healthcare ad restrictions

Some aspects of the healthcare industry 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:

  • Prescription drugs: Google generally prohibits the promotion of prescription drugs in ads, particularly if they are marketed directly to consumers.
  • Unapproved pharmaceuticals and supplements: Ads for pharmaceuticals and supplements that have not received regulatory approval are not allowed.
  • Speculative and experimental medical treatments: Treatments that are considered unproven, experimental, or speculative, such as certain gene therapies or stem cell therapies, are not permitted in ads.
  • Products or treatments with misleading or unsubstantiated claims: Google does not allow the advertising of products or treatments that make misleading, false, or unsupported health claims.
  • Substances of abuse: Ads promoting substances that can be abused, such as recreational drugs, are strictly prohibited.
  • Products mimicking controlled substances: Advertising for products that imply they are as effective as controlled drugs or prescription medications is not allowed.

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 removing the main header or footer navigation from 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

Handling healthcare and disapproval can be frustrating. However, approaching them with a calm head will help you navigate the process and minimize downtime.

1. Automated approval processes

Problem: Many platforms, including Google, are leveraging automation for their approval processes, which can lead to disapprovals due to minor issues or technicalities.

Solution: Submit an appeal through the specific platform’s process. Clearly articulate why the ad should be reconsidered. Back up your appeal with any supporting documents or explanations to clarify any misunderstandings and resolve the problem quickly.

2. Ad copy or content issues

Problem: Your ad copy or landing page content might not comply with the specific platform’s policies or contain problematic wording.

Solution: Thoroughly review and revise your ad copy and landing page content to make sure they align with platform guidelines. Resubmit your ad after making the necessary adjustments to the language and content.

3. Landing page non-compliance

Problem: The landing page linked to your ad does not meet the platform’s compliance standards.

Solution: Ensure your landing page fully complies with the platform’s policies. This might involve removing non-compliant elements, adding necessary disclaimers, or simplifying navigation. Reassess all content for any banned terms or misleading claims.

We asked HawkSEM Lead Strategist Katie Blatman for some examples of what might not meet compliance standards.

“Let’s say you run a med spa that offers injectables,” Blatman says. “If you have Botox on your landing page or website, even if it’s not mentioned in an ad, your ad could get disapproved since Botox is a brand name.

“Same with Restylane, Juvederm, Kybella, and other brands. Just to be safe, stick to injectables or botulinum toxin, etc., to speak about the services and benefits.”

4. Need for direct resolution

Problem: Some disapproval issues might be complex and not easily resolved through standard procedures.

Solution: Contact the platform’s support team directly for assistance.

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 ads 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.

You may also see your ads labeled as health in personalized advertising.

“Personalized advertising means any type of advertising that uses first-party data you’ve collected for audiences, usually for remarketing purposes,” says Blatman. “For example, email lists, past website visitors, non-converters, past converters, etc.”

She goes on to explain that, in most cases, ads will serve fine. “You’ll just see the ad approval status as approved (limited), so Google is a little more selective on who it shows ads to,” she says. “For example, no one under 18 would likely see an approved (limited) ad.”

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

Other platforms, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, X, and TikTok, also have their own separate and slightly different ad statuses. Here are some examples.

Facebook ad statuses include:

  • In review: The ad is being reviewed by Facebook’s automated or manual processes.
  • Active: The ad is currently running and eligible to be displayed.
  • Scheduled: The ad is approved and scheduled to start serving at a later date.
  • Paused: The ad is currently not running but may resume if unpaused.
  • Disapproved: The ad violates one or more of Facebook’s advertising policies and will not be served.
  • Learning: The ad is collecting performance data to optimize its delivery.
  • Completed: The campaign or ad set has ended, and the ad is no longer serving.

LinkedIn ad statuses include:

  • Pending Review: The ad is awaiting review by LinkedIn’s compliance team.
  • Active: The ad is live and currently being displayed to the selected audience.
  • Paused: The ad is stopped but can be resumed at any time.
  • Rejected: The ad has been disapproved due to non-compliance with LinkedIn’s advertising policies.
  • Completed: The campaign has ended, and the ad is no longer serving.

Best practices to keep in mind

Advertisers and providers should work together to ensure their ads and landing pages follow best practices. The following are some you should keep in mind.

Protect private data

It’s important not to use any identifiable patient health information in your ads or targeting. Blatman explains, “If you do, expect hefty HIPAA violation fines. Meta got into big trouble a couple of years ago because its pixel used identifiable data.”

She told us one of her clients is particularly concerned about this. “One of my clients uses FreshPaint as a data scrambler to ensure any data can’t be tied back to an individual person,” she says.

“This is an extreme example, but if you can identify an individual’s IP address and see which keyword they converted on, that could be a HIPAA violation.”

Get the required certifications

If you’re a drug and addiction facility, CBD merchant, or other healthcare retailer, you should get certified with Legitscript or NABP. If you’re an insurance agent, you’ll need to be certified with G2.

Know if your product or service isn’t allowed

Some products and services aren’t allowed or are restricted in some countries. You need to know if you fall into this group before you start advertising.

For instance, advertising anabolic steroids simply isn’t allowed but melatonin can be advertised in the United States and Canada.

Know restricted terms

When writing copy for your ads and landing pages, review the list of restricted and prohibited terms, products, and services. Make sure these don’t appear in the copy or on your website.

Meta special ad categories

Choose the special ad category you fit into if appropriate. Trying to get around these categories will just get your account suspended.

The takeaway

Digital ads can be an effective tool for providing healthcare and well-being resources. But in the wrong hands, they can also spread bad-faith information 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. Looking for some help along the way? We got you.

This article has been updated and was originally published in January, 2022.

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