The Bracken Blog 

How to Approach Online Advertising for Your Life Science Business

A Hand-Curated Bundle of Goodness

Advertising is a great add-on to any digital marketing program as a means to increase awareness, site traffic, and lead generation volumes.

Many teams ask us to help them with online advertising, and in response, I always send them this document I’m now sharing via this blog post.

Perhaps you know a lot about PPC and social advertising; maybe you know very little. Either way, I think it’s always best to start at the fundamentals, understand the options out there, your goals, and then think about all the logistics of an advertising campaign. With that in mind read along as we break down:

  • Which advertising networks you should consider using

  • 2 common methodologies for generating leads from online ads

  • What reporting infrastructure needs to be in place to successfully optimize an ad campaign

  • Overall plan of attack for an ad campaign

  • The variables you need to know about your business before getting started

Thinking through these items, in conjunction with working with a team that understands online advertising best practices, will set your next advertising campaign up for success.

Advertising Networks 

Google Ads


This is Google’s flagship pay-per-click (PPC) advertising network. Users can create text ads that appear at the top of Google search results, based on keyword “bids”.

How it Works

Google’s system runs an automated “auction” to decide which advertisers’ ads show up, as there are often many advertisers bidding on the same keywords. This auction multiplies a quality score (the measures of the relevance of the promotion to the bidded keyword) by the advertisers bid (the amount they are willing to pay for a placement of the ad on that keyword) to create a score that determines which bidders come out on top. Advertisers are then charged by the number of clicks their ad receives.

Common Results

Results vary, widely. Because the equation for the Google auction is [Quality Score x Keyword Bid = Performance], advertisers can often acquire low-cost traffic on highly targeted keywords. However, performance on non-targeted keywords can produce expensive results.

In a niche like clinical research, it’s often difficult to gather enough traffic within a cost-per-click (CPC) threshold to rely on Google Ads as the only network in an ad program.

Google Display Network


Google’s Display Network (GDN) has access to millions of banner ad placements of varying dimensions across the internet. Advertisers can use GDN to advertise on these placements.

How it Works

GDN works on the same interface as Google Ads. Users can upload visuals of pre-determined dimensions, and bid on keywords for the placements. The system analyzes text on web pages to determine what the content on that page is about, and conducts the keyword auction accordingly. Users can choose to advertise by CPC or Cost-Per-Impression (CPM) terms.

Common Results

Creating visuals for GDN can take a lot of work, and the rate the ads get clicked on are low, but they can generate low to medium cost traffic.

Adroll Retargeting


Retargeting is the method of using cookie tracking on your site to target internet users who have already visited your content before. Adroll is the most popular platform to setup retargeting campaigns, but other networks allow you to do this to, including GDN, Facebook, and Linkedin.

How it Works

Advertisers are provided a unique line of code to place on the header HTML of their website. This is used to “tag” internet users when they come on the site. Then Adroll will use a display network, or Facebook, to serve and advertiser’s content on other web sites. This is often described as “following someone around the internet”.

Common Results

Retargeting is expensive. This is effective for ecommerce brands in the case of shopping cart abandonment, or business with high average selling prices and a short sales cycle. In business cases where the advertisement is a few steps removed from what drives revenue, retargeting does not always produce a positive return on investment. Another downside: prospects sometimes describe it as annoying.

Facebook Advertising


This is the platform advertisers use to place content on Facebook user’s news feeds, on the right-hand side of the FB interface, and Instagram feeds.

How it Works

An advertiser creates “audiences” based on targeting criteria, and bids on the audience. The audience targeting can get quite sophisticated, ranging from geographic area, language, and interests, down to family size, purchasing behavior, income, and more (Facebook partners with data-mining companies that have access to credit card databases to uncover this info… creepy, right?). Advertisers have control over the image, headline, supporting text, and URL attached to an ad.

Common Results

If advanced targeting techniques, Facebook advertising can produce highly targeted and low-cost traffic. Getting to this point often requires an initial experimentation period to understand what style of ads and targeting produce desirable results. We break down this experimentation period in the “Plan of Attack” section of this post.


Twitter Advertising


Advertisers can pay for tweets with attached images to appear in search results on Twitter, and in users’ twitter stream.

How it Works

Similar to Facebook in how advertisers create audiences based on targeting criteria, then set thresholds for ad placements. Twitter serves ads accordingly. Advertisers can also target specific hashtags or handles.

Common Results

Twitter advertising is expensive for business-to-business scenarios. However low-cost and targeted traffic can be generated from advertising around industry events (advertising on #DIA2017 would be an example)


Linkedin Advertising


Linkedin has several advertising solutions, 4 of them listed below:

Sponsored Content

This program allows advertisers to appear in user’s home feed. In this program Linkedin favors blog-style content with imagery over content pointing to a services or product page.

Sponsored InMail

Have a long personalized message appear in the messaging inbox of professionals meeting your targeting criteria.

Dynamic Ads

Often focused on generating company page followers, or applicants for job listings, these ads use user data. Such as “your contact Joe recently followed Example Brand (with picture of Joe and brand’s logo in the advertisement.

Display Ads

Similar to GDN or Google Adwords ads. These are images or hyperlinked text that appear in various locations in the Linkedin interface.

How it Works

Advertisers can target users on criteria such as location, job title, industry, seniority, and more.

Common Results

Linkedin advertising is often expensive, but can produce highly-targeted traffic. Therefore positive ROI can be achieved. It is similar to Facebook Advertising in that you should prepare an initial experimentation phase to figure out what targeting, and content-type combinations produce desired results.

Syndication Networks


There are several syndication networks out there that will take your content and directly generate leads for you.

How it Works

Often via “related content” widgets on blogs, email campaigns, or display placements these syndicators own.

Common Results

Syndication networks usually have starting costs at $65 per lead, which goes up as you limit the targeting. If you use a syndication network, ask to use of suppression lists to make sure you’re not generating repeat leads for your business. These leads’ performance later in the sales process widely vary.

Lead Generation Road-Map and Methodology

There are many different frameworks to help with advertising, such as programmatic marketing or journey based advertising. For now, we’ll discuss two main processes for using the above advertising networks to generate leads.

1.       Direct via a Lead Generation Page


2.       Indirect via a Blog Post That’s Optimized for Lead Generation


Point to consider:

  • The black arrows represent a conversion point. Cost Per Lead (CPL) rates of an advertising program can be improved by changes in the advertising method, the landing page, or the structure and CTA placement in a blog post.

  • Because Google Adwords, “quality score” is used to calculate CPC, creating different landing pages for different keywords will produce a higher quality score, lower cpc, and overall lower CPLs.

  • Before conducting an ad program, optimize all web assets in the lead generation process.

  • When a direct lead gen method is used, the bidding on a placement can be about 4x as high as an indirect placement.

  • Advertisements for blog posts often get much higher engagement at a lower cost and usually produce leads at a cost similar to a direct program

  • The secondary benefits of an indirect model include higher traffic volumes (therefore more brand exposure), and blog subscribers.

  • Almost all of the ad networks mentioned can use tracking pixels installed onto your website to optimize for the goal of your choice such as impressions, clicks, lead page views, or form submissions.

Reporting Infrastructure

Effective online advertising requires a meticulous reporting infrastructure. This is so we can analyze exactly what is producing high and low CPLs, which part of the lead generation process is creating a bottleneck, and adjust our bidding, budget allocation, and content structure in real-time. There are often 4 separate aspects of a single ad to track:

  1. Ad headline

  2. Supporting text

  3. Image (when applicable)

  4. Keyword or audience

We will want to try different combinations of all 4 to find the best performing combinations and eliminate spend on poor performing combinations.

When doing an indirect lead gen model, we will also want to try multiple combinations for a single blog post.

In practice, if we would like to promote 5 blog posts, there might be 5 headlines, 5 possible images, and 5 keyword groups or audience targeting techniques to use. In this example, there would be 625 possible combinations to track in a single ad network. (5x5x5x5=625)

This looks like a lot, but with the proper reporting infrastructure it is manageable, and we will quickly eliminate poor performing combinations to focus on the few that drive results.

We will use the ad network and URL parameters tracked in Google Analytics to collect the data. We will track all data in a web-hosted spreadsheet.

We also need a way to collect lead volume information with URL parameters. Most forms generated by marketing tools such as HubSpot, Marketo, Eloqua, and others are able to do this easily.

In the spreadsheet we will track the following metrics:

  • Ad spend

  • Ad impressions

  • Ad clicks

  • Pageviews

  • Ad leads

  • Cost-per-click (CPC)

  • Cost-per-pageview

  • Cost-per-lead (CPL)

Plan of Attack

  1. Decide on ad networks we want to use initially. More ads and ad networks produce more data, and more chances of success, but each ad and ad network used also requires more setup and maintenance.

  2. Decide on overall budget, CPL goal, and CPL threshold. We can discuss further about calculating a good CPL threshold.

  3. Optimize the lead generation process. This will involve making changes to blog text, blog structure, landing page, and landing page structure.

  4. Run low-cost experiments to as many pieces of content and on as many ad networks as possible

  5. Review metrics to label each ad in each network as a loser, potential winner, and winner. Eliminate the losers and reiterate.

  6. Once we are confident we know which ad, ad network, and targeting combinations will produce leads within our threshold, then we introduce more budget.

  7. If we produce leads under goal, we can introduce more experimentation into the process


Variables to Uncover Before Getting Started

  • Overall advertising budget

  • Overall lead volume goal

  • Overall cost-per-lead goal

  • Cost-per-lead threshold (This is the maximum we’re willing to pay for a lead, and anything producing a CPL above the threshold will be immediately eliminated)

    There you have it. As the title suggests, all this information should be gathered for your approach. Once the advertising and analyzing actually begins there is a whole other set of skills based on advertising and reporting mechanics to employ.

If you would like to talk over your advertising plans with a marketing expert, and find opportunities for improvement in an upcoming campaign, schedule a free consultation with us!


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