Googles New Policies For Addiction Treatment

And How They Affect Digital Marketing Efforts

Ever since the Affordable Care Act was put into effect, there has been a massive boom in the addiction treatment industry. It seems everyone wants a piece of the pie and for some the desire for financial gain is far greater than the desire to help those suffering from addiction. This results in taking advantage of addicts in most vulnerable stages of recovery. In Florida laws have been implemented that aim to stop patient brokering and California appears to be next up.

Last month, seemingly in response to this article from The Verge published 9/7/2017, Google decided to restrict ads for queries related to addiction treatment. The article explains how people find large lead gens through search ads and end up in the hands of whichever treatment center will pay the lead gen the most for the patient. The Verge paints a nefarious picture of the part Google AdWords plays in the marketers scheme.

Google has massive influence in the way products and services are marketed online. Their decision to cut all ads overnight is having a ripple effect throughout the addiction treatment industry. Treatment center operators are left with little insight into what google’s new policies mean for their centers. This article aims to answer the major digital marketing questions facing treatment centers.

Saving Face?

Google claims its goal is to make sure those seeking treatment through their search engine only see ads from reputable organizations. Google says it wants to stop deceptive advertising practices when human lives are at stake. This effort will take some time to complete, but so far we have very little information on what will come of Google’s decision.

It seems as though Google’s intent has changed, because not long ago, google was actively courting treatment centers to market with AdWords with no regard to the quality of care provided to the end user. Window To Recovery has no opinion on Google’s motives although this sudden change of heart has an interesting chronological correlation to negative PR resulting from the article.

According to Bloomberg a midsize addiction treatment center can ‘easily’ shell out $1 million per month for AdWords. I don’t know what a ‘mid-size’ treatment center looks like but here in California a 24 bed residential treatment center (RTC) is considered pretty large. Regardless of where Bloomberg got their numbers, it has not been uncommon to pay over $100 per-click to rank for competitive term like rehabs near me. The cost per acquisition is high and the playing field is tilted toward large lead generators that have trained sales professionals at call centers ready to link an addict with the highest bidder with no regard to the quality of care and user experience.

pasted image 0 3& The Current Environment

Currently the ads for the highest converting search terms are simply turned off. Google appears to be restricting ads for more and more queries relating to addiction treatment as time goes on. Last month, after Google’s decision, you could still advertise on the results page for queries including addiction help, addiction rehab and painkiller rehab, among many others. Today a quick Google search reveals you cannot advertise for those terms. Google is doing more everyday to restrict more terms.

Rehab Centers

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/18/2017 at Window To Recovery headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA. There are only organic results

If you look around can find ads for addiction treatment on the results page for queries that include abnormal combinations of words that people rarely search for.

treatments substance addiction

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/17/2017 at Window To Recovery headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA

There are some queries that are not too obscure that still have ads. The only problem is that these phrases typically convert at a low rate, because the people that type these terms rarely end up in treatment. We found this search page for addiction services that still had ads on 10/17/2017.

addiction services lead-gen

This is a screenshot of a search performed on 10/17/2017 at Window To Recovery headquarters in Costa Mesa, CA. The arrows point to lead generators.

The pages that do have ads are for low-converting terms, mostly dominated by large national lead-generators. In fact, Aid in Recovery (in the results in the image above from 10/17/2017) was the main offender named in the article that this all sprang from.

Advantages of usingAd-Words Logo

The advantage of being able to advertise on search results pages is that the user types a specific keyword which gives unprecedented insight into user intent. Never in human history have we been able to target consumers based upon exactly what they are looking for, right when they are looking, until now. Most browsing sessions start on a search engine and google gets the vast majority of the market share. According to netmarketshare.com, Google gets 78.78% of the search traffic globally as of September 2017.

Search Market Share

This is market share data for September 2017 obtained from netmarketshare.com

According to data directly from Google 60% of people who end up in rehab start with a Google search. This makes Google AdWords the furthest reaching and most effective paid advertising available, and unfortunately legitimate providers can’t advertise on it right now. What we are left with is extremely high competition on the other search advertising programs like Bing and therefore,  extremely high CPA.


The people looking for treatment are still starting their search on Google, they are just left with organic results rather than paid results. A quick google search for almost any rehab related query results in large national conglomerates ranking in the top results. No AdWords? No problem. They are able to rank organically because they  have the resources to do so. In organic results they have a map of nearby businesses which can be hijacked by scammers and in many areas there are no nearby treatment centers.

What This Means

What Google has done up to this point has had no positive effect on those seeking treatment and has had an overall negative effect on the business owners that are actually trying to help people. Google may have no ill-intent and actually wants to help but it really doesn’t matter. Google has so much influence that whatever they decide has huge implications for our entire industry.  Treatment centers are marketing services that have the potential to save countless lives and the only thing they have been able to do is make it so treatment centers can’t advertise on their search page. This move has routed people to the same high pressure lead-generators that they were trying to stop from advertising. After asking for evidence that organic search results were still getting users to call-centers, a spokeswoman for Google provided this statement.

We are deeply committed to delivering useful and relevant search results to our users. A site’s ranking on Google Search is determined using hundreds of factors to calculate a page’s relevance to a given query, including things like PageRank, the specific words that appear on websites, the freshness of content, and your region.

Google has teamed up with a non profit organization called Facing Addiction to develop new policies for addiction treatment. Google has yet to comment on how they intend to handle advertising for treatment centers in the future, referring all questions to Facing Addiction. From what we can tell, Facing Addiction seems like a great organization. They are a non-profit that seem to be working hard to promote ethical business practices. This could be wonderful news for ethical treatment centers and their patients in the long run and we sure hope it is. For now, Google’s move has no benefit to anyone. Stay tuned for updates.

%d bloggers like this: