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Flu Shots & Symptoms: The Winter 2013 Outbreak of PPC Spending

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It's about that time; we're beginning to move out of the dreaded winter season and into warmer weather and actual daylight after 5 p.m. We all know that the winter can be a challenging time, especially when it comes to suffering from ailments such as the dreaded cold and flu. Even Rihanna recently cancelled two of her gigs due to the flu; now that's a shame.

Around the beginning of the winter season and New Year, companies should really be looking deep into their PPC campaigns, although it can sometimes be a time when PPC concerns may be thrown to the wayside despite potential. Winter is prime time to start effective campaigns and to be sure that they are going to remain that way for the duration of the year.

So, just because you might be under the weather (literally) and it might be pretty cold outside doesn't mean that your PPC campaign should follow suit.

Some retailers, specifically pharmacies, have been benefitting from the sickness that surrounds the wintertime with their clinics and flu shots. Searches for keywords relating to cold and flu season are prevalent during the winter months each year.

A few years back, the swine flu was the newsworthy virus that everyone was fearful of contracting; but it seems to have been taken over by the standard "flu" this year, and even the city of Boston was under a state of emergency in January due to the number of deaths and cases.

Flu shots even became sparse if not non-existent in Boston and other areas, so this fact resulted in panic amidst the public. This was a positive fact for some pharmacies such as CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid who were offering free flu shots and benefitted from this dire need for the influenza vaccine.

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CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid all gradually increased their number of keywords as the winter season approached, in probable preparation for cold and flu season. Walgreens has been employing the most keywords of the three for a long time and has a much higher budget for their PPC marketing, although both they and CVS seemed to increase gradually around the same timeframes. Rite Aid was overall rather stagnant in their keywords.

Pharmacy in-House Clinics: Who is Most Popular?

Pharmacies now have clinics that are meant for individuals who can't or don't want to try to get a doctor appointment and need immediate assistance. While these are available year-round, they are busiest during the winter.

This year, CVS was really pushing their minute clinic services, with the keyword "cvs minute clinic" being searched about 40,500 times per month as of February 2013 and generating 467,000 results. Consumers are also already in the pharmacy when they are being diagnosed, so this is a benefit for sales as well.

Rite Aid's version is called the "NowClinic" and produces almost double the results but searches are minimal. For Walgreens, the "Take Care Clinic" is searched 9,900 times per month and generates 120 million results. So as far as searches go, CVS' Minute Clinic is deemed the winner as a go-to emergency health provider.

Both Walgreens and Rite Aid are currently bidding on keywords that are advertising their own flu shots:

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Walgreens is even including misspellings of their pharmacy such as "wallgreens flu shots", although for the most part these keywords don't receive a significant search volume and have a decent CPC. Rite Aid is using a similar strategy to advertise their flu shots, but is using a more geographic focus:

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While flu-related keywords for Rite Aid also contain their store name, they have placed a larger focus on geographic locations, bidding on keywords such as "flu shots san diego", "flu shots sacramento", and "flu shots seattle".

Bloomberg and the Center for Disease Control give insight into why Pennsylvania-based Rite Aid decided to focus their PPC more on the West Coast; occurrences of the flu began to rise in January, so Rite Aid took that into consideration and modified their PPC campaign accordingly.

CVS, meanwhile, hasn't been bidding on any cold or flu-related keywords.

Flu Symptoms, 2012 vs. 2013

The public also tends to search for specific symptoms that they may have. When a sore throat rears its ugly head, body aches surface, or a sniffle starts, many rely on themselves to try to interpret whether what they have could be the all-consuming influenza virus, perhaps rather than visiting a doctor.

Could it be the flu? Maybe searching for "flu symptoms" can confirm or deny.

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In January 2012, the keyword "flu symptoms" was searched about 74,000 times per month and had approximately 5.8 million results, and the majority of CPC distribution was within the United States.

In February 2012, "flu symptoms " was searched for equally, but results made an extreme jump to 46.6 million, and trends were contained mostly within the winter months of December, January, and February. As historical data shows, there was a big increase in information and results related to the flu between January and February of last year.

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A year later, things changed. In January of this year, the flu was a large concern with 70.2 million results (this was the month that the city of Boston declared a state of emergency, so that likely added to the results).

By February, searches were still around 60,500 per month with results dropping to 49.6 million – so interest and social push took a bit of a dive within a month's time. In addition, although overall results increased since last year, they didn't make such a significant jump between January and February.

One difference that can be seen is that CPC distribution has a bit more of a global reach than it did in 2012. Oh, and apparently the actor Burt Reynolds might be related to flu symptoms in some manner; he's searched for almost as much.

Nonetheless, symptoms of and relating to the flu are of concern to the public and the world year after year, winter after winter.

Symptom Checker

In relation to the "flu symptoms" keyword, have you ever tried typing your symptoms into a search bar? Most of us have, and these checkers can be used no matter what time of the year it is, but for understandable reasons receive a bit more use during the winter months. Searching for this term mostly leads to websites such as WebMD and Mayo Clinic.

Between January and February of this year, a significant change took place for the keyword "symptom checker":

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While CPC distribution was a bit higher in Australia and the United Kingdom in January than in February, the number of results had a massive increase between the 2 months, going from 13 million to almost 400 million. Now that's an upsurge!

There has been a drastic increase in the talk about symptom checkers as a whole, as so many people use them and more have begun to be launched, such as a dental symptom checker by the American Dental Association. Trends also display that they are used consistently throughout the year, with a bit of a rise in the winter months.

Flu Shot Ads

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Ads for the keyword "flu shot" are present for quite a few different websites over the course of the year.

In December 2012, Ask ran an ad that was promoting a service to locate flu shots. Other websites such as the Center for Disease Control have been running an ad that directs clickers to a section of your website that is meant to educate the public on the influenza virus as well as the preventative measure of the flu shot. Other bidders included breastcancer.org, Triaminic, and fluF.A.C.T.S.; all of which promoted flu shots.

The "flu shot" keyword seems to have a bit more of an educational purpose and following than anything. Once again, it can be seen that pharmacies and other retailers who offer flu shots aren't making use of the keyword but are utilizing other methods to advertise their services.

Summary

Winter is on its way out, and so is talk of the flu, colds, and chilly weather (finally). As spring gets underway, it will be interesting to see just how pharmacies alter their PPC and advertising habits; will they create more focus on spring and summer allergies?

In the winter of 2013, pharmacies made impressive use of the flu outbreak that took place, the public attempted to diagnose themselves whether it was for the flu or otherwise, and 12 months made a huge difference in the amount of results encompassing winter-related illnesses.

With April around the corner, will the public begin to increase their searches for springtime conditions? Wednesday, March 20 marks the official start of spring, and with that will unquestionably come variations in PPC, market-wide. What changes do you think it will bring along?


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