6 Steps to Create an Effective Display Ad Strategy

While a well-rounded healthcare marketing strategy includes multiple tactics and channels, paid advertising is one of the most direct pathways to your desired consumer. Display advertising, one of the two main subsets within the domain of paid advertising (the other being paid search advertising), is often considered the more “passive” of the two.  

Paid search ads appear at the top or bottom of search engine results pages; display ads, on the other hand, may appear either at the top of the page (known as a banner) or off to one side. Consumers may encounter these ads on any number of websites – and not just healthcare-specific sites. Someone could be idly browsing the news on nytimes.com and come across your organization’s advertisement. Even if they don’t consciously notice it, display ads provide a subtle message that gradually makes its way into the consumer’s mind. 

Consider these statistics:


  • 2015: $26.15
  • 2016: $32.17
  • 2017: $37.20
  • 2018: $41.87
  • 2019: $46.69

Digital display ads are becoming more and more important to digital marketing strategies across all industries. However, healthcare as a whole lags about two years behind other industries in their digital marketing efforts – even though almost 80 percent of Internet users search for health information online. With an effective strategy, healthcare marketers can use display advertising to reach target audiences with relevant messaging on preferred communication channels.

Let’s take a look at 6 steps that healthcare marketers can take to improve their display advertising strategy:

1. Think Programmatically

Traditional ad buying requires the advertiser and the publisher to agree to a certain number of creatives, impressions, and placements before the two parties are locked into a contract. The buyer can’t optimize their campaign until it’s already over – and, more often than not, they’ll find out “that 728×90 banner didn’t do so well!”

Ad buyers using programmatic buying methods can target users across the web and then, mid-campaign, adjust their publishers, audience segments (personas), geographies, or implement dayparting to refine their market as needed. This allows the buyer to spend more efficiently than when their campaign first started. Or as we say in the Evariant Campaign Center, “Optimize!”

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2. Conduct Initial Prospecting

More commonly known as “Geotargeting,” prospecting is a targeting tactic meant to reach the masses. There are no assumptions made on the demographic need for the campaign. Instead, we are simply filling the funnel and our data pools for more in-depth marketing efforts later on.

While predictive modeling is extremely useful for other online and offline marketing tactics, we don’t draw assumptions on our market at the beginning of a display campaign because audiences are constantly changing. This approach is particularly effective for net-new service line campaigns or markets. When we are getting into the second, third and fourth iterations of a campaign, we can confidently identify our audience prior to the effort and avoid prospecting.

Best Practice: Use this tactic to build your audience pools. What kind of people are engaging on your page? How can you better target them for the duration of the campaign? You should also use softer Calls-to-Action (CTAs) on your prospecting ads in order to collect more data in the beginning of a campaign.

3. Employ Data Targeting

Data targeting is a more cost-efficient targeting method for planning a display ad campaign. This tactic uses first- and/or third-party data to better reach a specific, narrowly-defined audience that is more prone to engage with your message. You can choose audience segments that coincide with your offline media (more on that later) or audiences that have engaged with your ads during the prospecting phase.

Best Practice: Tailor or refresh display ad creative based on highest engaged audiences early in the campaign. You can also take this data and use it across tactics. If a certain audience is very engaged on display, can you target them on social? You should definitely try.

Example: Is the home and garden audience responding to your prospecting ads? Tailor the creative in your campaign to more lifestyle home images while targeting users who visit similar sites (the programmatic difference!)

4. Strategically Retarget

This tactic again utilizes the audience-building efforts we discussed in the “Prospecting” section. When launching a campaign, healthcare marketers must ensure that they have something in place to track the users who are 1., Getting to your landing page and 2., Completing the action requested (form submission is ideal) after viewing your display ad. 

We use pixels for both.

This way, you can retarget the users who have previously reached your landing page but did not submit the form – while excluding those who have already completed the action requested: You don’t want to ask somebody to schedule an appointment if they already have. In general, it is best to retarget with a stronger call to action.

For example, if you were offering a downloadable guide the first time around, strive to get the user in for a consultation the second. This second-time audience has already shown some degree of interest by arriving at your landing page before; as such, they’re more likely to react to a stronger message. 

Best Practice: One item that is often overlooked in retargeting is monitoring your frequencies. Nobody wants to overbear the user with ads, especially in a field as sensitive as healthcare. So, make sure you are keeping tight constraints on your frequency caps and refreshing your creative!

5. Optimize for Mobile

Display advertising is growing: Today, Google’s Display network has 90% reach across all Internet users worldwide. With the power of mobile browsing, display ads can reach users not only when working at desktop computers, but on tablets and smartphones, too. This opens up some interesting possibilities for marketers.

However, mobile devices are used more for browsing than converting. Research from SmartInsights found smartphone users convert at one third to one-quarter of the rate of traditional or tablet devices. With the use of call tracking software, though, we are able to see that mobile calls can occasionally comprise up to half of a campaign’s lead count, sometimes surpassing the amount of web form submissions made on a desktop or tablet device.

Best Practice: You want to optimize the second screen experience. Users are doing a great deal of info seeking on mobile devices, so try to provide an educational experience with a softer CTA: “Learn more,” “Download our guide,” or “Attend an info session” are all valid options. Just make sure your landing pages are mobile-friendly.

6. Pair it with Offline (TV)

We’ve written previously about the benefits of taking an omni-channel approach in your media campaign: To summarize, put the prospective patient first and surround them with relevant content to guide them towards the best available care.  

One of the most effective ways to do this is to pair (or flank) your display advertising with your offline media (for example, television). This means using third-party data to target users that are fans of a specific show. When partnering with a health system, we always request a client’s traditional media plan because it allows us to piggyback our ads off of the existing awareness around traditional ones. Have an ad running during the Golden Globes? Create a mobile display ad that targets fans of the channel and awards show.

It’s a simple tweak, but one that is too often overlooked. Watch this 2-minute success story on how one major health system successfully deploys this approach.

Final Thoughts

With a more effective digital advertising strategy, healthcare marketers can reach a larger audience with targeted messaging. Ultimately, relevant healthcare communication online – including a robust, carefully thought-out and tested display ad campaign – can improve patient engagement, satisfaction, and overall health outcomes.

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Evariant provides a leading healthcare CRM solution suite designed to help health systems transform the healthcare experience for their consumers, patients, and physicians. Built on the Salesforce Platform, our solutions foster richer consumer/patient engagement and tighter physician alignment. Powered by cutting-edge data and analytics, Evariant enables health systems to effectively communicate care options that increase revenue and market share, while optimizing network utilization. Many of the top health systems have selected Evariant to thrive in today’s hyper-competitive and rapidly changing environment.