Health brands are wise to take advantage of all that digital marketing can offer them—as long as they stay within the rules. While digital ad platforms have plenty of policies governing how brands may use their services, health and pharmaceutical advertising are particularly sensitive and complicated. That means PPC platforms have additional hurdles that these advertisers must clear.
Last week, we wrote about the breadth of health policies on social media ad services. This week we’re focusing on paid search platforms—a much more consolidated field. Let’s take a look at the health advertising rules Google Ads has in 2024, as well as what policies there are on Microsoft Ads.
Main Google Ads Health Advertising Policies
Health in Personalized Advertising
Google’s Personalized Advertising policy is a major consideration for health brands that use Google Ads. The overarching rule is intended to prevent brands from advertising sensitive topics to specific users in ways that feel invasive and diminish user experience.
This rule addresses health specifically in the Health in Personalized Advertising section, which forbids advertisers from using Google Ads to deliver personalized content related to:
- Physical or mental health conditions
- Products, services, or treatments intended to manage chronic health conditions
- Health problems “associated with intimate body parts or functions, which includes genital, bowel, or urinary health”
- Invasive procedures including cosmetic surgery
It’s important to note that, even though it’s called the “Personalized” advertising policy, these rules also apply to targeting potential caretakers of those who may be experiencing a covered health issue.
The Personalized Advertising Policy, outside of its Health subsection, also forbids advertising that:
- Highlights personal trauma or abuse
- Creates feelings of negativity through things like body shaming or suggested negative outcomes if a user doesn’t take a certain action
These last two can also be key for health providers—even if they offer counseling services to help overcome past trauma or weight management services to help people feel healthier, they must advertise these in ways that do not violate the stated policy.
Healthcare and Medicines Policy
Google’s Healthcare and Medicines policy dictates what health and drug information can and can’t be advertised, and also what brands need to do to be eligible to advertise certain products and services. It covers a number of relevant areas, like:
- Google requires online pharmacies, telemedicine providers, and addiction treatment services to apply for and receive LegitScript certification in order to advertise on the platform
- Google requires insurers to be certified with G2 in order to run Google Ads
Clinical Trial Advertising, Experimental Treatments, and Gene Therapies
- Google forbids clinical trial recruitment ads in most countries, but the US, UK, and Canada are not among them.
- Google forbids promotion of “speculative and/or experimental medical treatments” as well as cell or gene therapies, with limited exceptions
Prescription Drug Terms
- Google again limits the advertising of prescription drugs in most countries, but not the US, Canada, and others provided they have proper certifications
- Businesses can use the drug terms in their ads and landing pages without certification, but may not bid on the terms if they don’t have it
- The list of monitored drug terms can be found here
- Google also provides a list of unapproved substances, most of which would not be a concern for legitimate health providers
It’s important to note that, in late 2023, Google updated the language in its Healthcare and Medicines policy to better clarify what types of online health providers would be subject to these rules
Microsoft Ads Health Policies
Though not nearly as prominent of a paid search platform as Google Ads, Microsoft Ads is still an excellent PPC service that many health brands may be interested in using to reach their particular audience. Like Google Ads, however, it also has specific policy guidance for health brands.
Restricted Content: Pharmacy and healthcare products and services
Microsoft has an overarching health advertising page that lays out specific restrictions for each country around the world. Its policies are generally more broad than Google’s. For instance, while Google will allow advertisers in some countries, including the US, to advertise for clinical trial recruitment, that’s entirely outlawed on Microsoft Ads.
Likewise, the language is broad elsewhere. Microsoft’s policy states simply that “Ads related to sensitive health conditions targeting consumers are not allowed.”
As of 2024, other noteworthy Microsoft Ads health policy takeaways include:
- Like Google, Microsoft requires pharmaceutical sellers must receive LegitScript certification, although they will also accept accreditation from the National Association Boards of Pharmacy (NABP)
- Also like Google, brands are not allowed to advertise in ways that create the impression of direct health targeting—using language like “your condition” or “your symptoms.”
- Claims and content of weight loss products and services are heavily restricted
- Prophylactic advertising is widely forbidden
- Like Google, Microsoft also has a list of disapproved healthcare products and supplements.
For a full understanding of how Microsoft’s health advertising policies differ from Googles, it is important to review this policy on the Microsoft Ads site.
Platform-Compliant Health Advertising
With so many legal and platform-based regulations in place for health advertisers, it’s vital that they do their diligence to ensure they are not creating ad content that is liable to be disapproved. Remember, this is not a comprehensive list, and it’s important to review all available policies before launching your digital ads program.
For help building a vibrant and effective health advertising strategy for your brand, consider partnering with an expert health marketing agency that knows the ins and outs of these policies and can resolve errant disapprovals that occasionally sometimes occur in this nuanced field.