Digital Marketing Benchmarks for the Pharmaceutical industry 2020: Lessons from Big Pharma Companies Digital Strategies


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Pharmaceutical marketing project on top 20 pharma companies & their Digital Marketing Strategies: A benchmark report

When Fierce pharma announced the top pharma companies by revenue for 2019,

the No.1 question that came to my mind –

so what are the world’s biggest and the top revenue generators doing in the digital space ?

Importantly how have the top pharmaceuticals worked on their marketing strategies given the current COVID-19 crisis, to increase their website traffic and increase their digital presence ?

So in this article, I decided to do a small research project on the top 20 pharmaceutical companies’ websites.

Do note that this evaluation will be of the Corporate Pharma Websites (not their micro-sites or brand websites).

As an introduction to digital marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, we will learn about the best practices to increase online presence in the pharmaceutical industry. The learning is supported with digital strategy examples of the world’s 20 top pharmaceutical companies.

→ Related Article:  Why Pharma needs to have a digital presence ?

So if you are excited to know how the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies are using DIGITAL TACTICS to improve their DIGITAL PRESENCE and boost their website traffic.

Then here we go !

Pharma Digital Marketing Benchmarks 2020 report. Big Pharma successful digital marketing strategy.


A benchmark report on the digital marketing strategies of the Top 20 pharmaceutical companies


We will do a good in-depth analysis of the pharma’s corporate website traffic,

so that we know how to get traffic to the website fast and find the best way to increase online presence.


Key questions answered in this report on digital pharmaceutical marketing project

>>> How do the top pharma revenue generators compare (rank) in terms of their website traffic ?

>>> Website Metrics Benchmarks for the Pharmaceutical Industry. How successful are the pharma corporate websites in engaging their website visitors ?

>>> Study the pharmaceutical industry’s best digital marketing channels for pharma marketing.

>>> Big Pharma companies best practices in digital marketing strategiespaid vs organic.

>>> What are the top social media channels to attracting website traffic ?

 Big Pharma's Digital Marketing Strategies and marketing metrics- FINDINGS, OBSERVATIONS AND LEARNINGS
The Study Objective for the report on top 20 pharmaceutical companies


And that’s not all…..

Because this is going to be a Pharma Marketer’s Resource Guide for an overview of digital marketing in the pharmaceutical industry, we will also get into understanding some of the fundamental concepts of digital marketing.


Through the Big Pharma companies digital strategy examples, we will learn of –

>>> The trends in a Pharma Website Marketing Strategy and

>>> The common website metrics and the website analytics for a successful pharma site. What are they and what do they mean ?



Top 20 Pharmaceutical Companies Digital Marketing Strategies

Digital Marketing examples to increase online presence:
Learnings based on Observations & Findings



Study objective 1 : Total monthly website traffic to Big Pharma companies’ corporate websites


Website traffic refers to the users on the web that are visiting a website. It is measured as ‘visits’.

Website traffic is the most common way to measure the effectiveness of the online business in attracting an audience. In a way, it helps determine a site’s popularity.


What is a session?
If a visitor accesses one or more pages within 30 mins, it is considered as one session. So basically a session is defined as a group of interactions one user takes within a given time frame on a website. Meaning whatever a user does on the website (e.g. browses pages, downloads resources) before they leave, equals one session.


Top 20 Pharmaceutical Companies
Corporate Website Traffic vis-à-vis their Revenue

CompanyRevenue 2019*
($billion)
Total monthly
website visits^
(Traffic statistics)
1Johnson & Johnson82.11.96 M
2Roche63.541.26 M
3Pfizer51.751.17 M
4Novartis47.45666.13 K
5Merck46.84798.98 K
6GSK43.261.71 M
7Sanofi40.51481.37K
8Abbvie33.27547.25K
9Takeda29.88404.53 K
10Bayer26.591.12 M
11Bristol Myers Squibb26.15857.88 K
12Astra Zeneca23.571.07 M
13Amgen23.36228.68 K
14Gilead22.45716.79 K
15Lilly22.32659.86 K
16Boehringer Ingelheim21.28304.25 K
17Novo Nordisk18.03269.63 K
18Teva Pharma16.8968.12 K
19Allergan16.09146.88 K
20Biogen14.38192.59 K
M = Million ; K = Thousands
Data source: *Fiercepharma report (2019 annual revenue) ; ^SimilarWeb monthly (July 2020)



In the above table, we see J&J having the highest traffic amongst the other pharma companies.

But guess what…

The most popular pharma website (with the highest traffic) is not listed as the Top 20 pharma companies !!

Daiichi Sankyo of Japan with 4.45M visitor is
The Top Pharma Website in the World
(i.e., it is the most visited pharma website)
Website ranking source: Similarweb Aug 2020 data

The Top Pharma website in the World by Website ranking
Screenshot source: https://www.daiichisankyo.com/


>> Pharma Digital Marketing Learning #1 <<

Increasing website traffic could be an important marketing goal for pharma companies.


Competing for share of traffic…

Traffic share

Just as a company with a higher market share is more valued in the physical world,

similarly in the online world…

Every brand owner would want to gain a bigger share of its target customer visits (traffic share), in the digital landscape.

Knowing the Website Traffic, is going to be the fundamental measurement to compare and analyze performance against that of the competitor.

Website Traffic matters for Digital Marketing


The more the website traffic, the more will be opportunities to interact with the visitor.
To help solve their problems,
nurture & convert them into a prospective customer,
and continue to grow the business.

→ Related Article: What makes Traffic an essential component of competition, for pharma in the digital world



Study objective 2 : Website Metrics Benchmarks for the Pharmaceutical Industry

Evaluating a website engagement and website effectiveness

Having high traffic numbers can seem to be pretty impressive. And every business or brand owner with a website is usually concerned about their website traffic.

But here’s the thing –

what matters most is,
The Quality of this website traffic.

Now you would spend efforts in terms of keyword research and paid ads to bring traffic to your site. But this becomes futile if there is a mismatch. (Like an oncology company that has tried to optimize content around the general cold and flu keywords)

If the overall content is not relevant to the reader and you are targeting the wrong visitors to the site – These visitors will bounce off your website within seconds and that is not a good sign.

Pharma will need to ensure they have very targeted website traffic.


How do you identify if “quality” traffic is visiting a website ?

The 3 important metrics that can help you analyze the quality of website traffic are:
– bounce rate,
– number of pages visited and
– website sessions

Here’s what these terms mean –

Website analytics. Website Engagement  Metrics that matter for Digital Marketing



Website metrics benchmarks for the pharmaceutical industry


a. Pharma website benchmarks: Pages per visit

Pages per visit - Pharma website analytics. pharma website benchmarks
Chart 1

J & J seems to high a engagement for its corporate website. With every visitor on an average, going through about 7 pages on the site. Because of which the bounce rate (see below) is also the lowest (36.38 %).


b. Pharma website benchmarks: Bounce rate %

Bounce rate - Pharma website analytics. Pharma website benchmarks:
Chart 2


c. Pharma website benchmarks: Average visit duration

Average visit duration - Pharma website analytics. Pharma website benchmarks
Chart 3



>> Pharma Digital Marketing Learning #2 <<


By studying how the visitors are engaging with the information on the site,

and measuring the visitor’s behavior on the pharma site,

Pharma should strive for high-quality traffic, rather than a high traffic number.


So the website traffic number is just one part of the game.

But what is more important is,
how the visitors are engaging with the pharma site.

This means looking at metrics like the duration of a user’s website visit, and the number of pages visited by the user.

This will give an idea, on the quality of traffic that is coming to the site.

To be successful in achieving high website engagement metrics, pharma marketers will need to know their target audience really well. That is, to offer the right visitors with the right kind of content on the websites.

→ Related: Content Strategy for Pharma: Choosing the Right Content-Type



What is considered a poor quality website traffic ?

When people spend less time on a page and view less number of pages, the bounce rate will tend to be on the higher side. This would collectively imply a low-quality website traffic.


Low number of pages per session
+ Low session duration
+ High Bounce rate

= Poor Quality Traffic Website
(Low-quality content with lower user engagement)

From the above table, Bayer would be a classic case of having low-quality traffic.

They have the highest bounce rate (64.68%), with a low session duration (4 min 54 sec) and low pages per visit (2.44 pages), amongst the other pharma companies in the list.

And the second would be Amgen. Amgen has the lowest session duration (1 min 31 sec) and lowest pages per visit (2.42 pages).


So even if you have a website with a high traffic number, but would have done little to retain them on the site for long.

That means, we have done a poor job of making a positive impression and have not satisfied the information needs of the visitor. Maybe we have lost this visitor to a competitor site.

On the contrary, a longer session duration implies that the visitors have found the content interesting, useful, and informative.

In the above example, Teva pharma not only has the lowest traffic numbers (68 K) – but also fewer pages per visit (2.46 pages) and low session duration (2 min 53 sec)



What is considered a high quality traffic website ?


Now, this should be easy. And we do see many of the pharma companies doing quite well here.

As a marketing goal, we should aim to keep the users engaged and nurture their interest so that they find more relevant information on our site itself.

So a user should ideally stay on your site longer and visit more pages per session.

Even if they visit, just one page on the site – you would want to provide sufficient information and an in-depth article that is solving their needs.
And for this reason, longer sessions indicate more engaged visits. 

In the above example, we see, that maybe Novo Nordisk, is providing more valuable content to its readers. So though the pages visited for Novo Nordisk seem to be just 3 pages/visit, the time a visitor spends on this content is the longest. Which makes me curious to check out their site !


So to evaluate the website effectiveness,

You should look into comparing all the three metrics, to get a better picture of the websites’ engagement.

Note: Average duration is a good measure of the time a visitor is spending on a website. And in the above ‘average visit duration’ chart 3 and ‘pages per visit’ chart 1 – the figures do seem to be quite on the higher side as compared to other industry data.
As we have no ways to prove it otherwise (unless we get the google analytics data, which is only private to the website owner). So I would view this data and figures to only do a relative comparison with the other pharma sites (rather than looking into the actual figures) – just to get an idea on the performance of a good pharma website.


Study objective 3 : What are Big Pharma companies’ top digital marketing channels (or their top traffic sources) ?


Time to figure out where this traffic is coming from – for each of the Top 20 pharmaceutical companies.

That is, what are the different marketing channels that seem to be working for a pharma company and see how their digital marketing strategies are shaping the entire industry’s marketing mix.

But first, let us get clear on how the different traffic sources (channels) are categorized:

Different types of Traffic Sources for Pharma site





The best marketing channels generating traffic for the pharma industry leaders

Top 20 pharmaceutical companies - best digital marketing channels for pharma
Chart 4


By monitoring the marketing mix we come to know of the digital channels that work best for pharma sites.


>> Pharma Digital Marketing Learning #3 <<

The top traffic sources for Big Pharma companies are Search and Direct, followed by a good share from Referral sources.

But the fact of the matter is, in today’s times – pharma cannot ignore Social Media and Email.

So, instead of relying on just one source, you should always plan to diversify the traffic sources.

It helps to have a healthy marketing mix for attracting website traffic.


Let us learn more about the role of each of these channels.

>>> Search: To drive traffic to its website, Big Pharma companies’ digital marketing strategy is highly focused on Search. This is the best kind of traffic that you can attract to a website because it is extremely targeted. It is based on SEO and keyword research. (We will discuss more on this in the next section).


>>> Direct Traffic: The Big Pharma is also getting a large number of direct traffic. This means that people are reaching for these sites by directly typing the web address on the google search bar. (Note: If they had clicked on ‘pfizer.com’ link on Facebook that would be termed as social traffic).

Point to note: These are leaders in the pharma industry. They are well-known, and with good brand equity, and it is but natural for them to get direct traffic.

But for the other mid-size to smaller pharma companies that are not well-known, investing in search traffic will be the right way to go.


>>> Social Traffic: Social Media matters and it is time for pharma to be active on social media. In the above chart 4, we do see a proportion of the traffic coming from Social Media.

Social media has become an important platform, that Pharma cannot shy from anymore. Here are a few of the many reasons why pharma needs to be on social media –

>>> 31% of healthcare professionals use social media for professional networking.

>>> 54% of patients are very comfortable with their providers seeking advice from online communities to better treat their conditions. 

>>> Over 40% of consumers found information on social media affects how they take care of their health 

>>> Social media is people’s top choice for customer care, with 35% of people opting for social media over traditional customer service avenues like the phone (16.1%), email support (19.4 %), or in-person (5.3%)


So I guess, you get the point.

The statistics make it very clear that social media is a must for pharma marketers wanting to connect with their customers, in today’s times.

With Social Media becoming the preferred method of engagement, every pharma company should consider social media as an important part of its marketing strategy.

It surely gives a big competitive edge if used well within the industry guidelines.


>>> Email Marketing: You may have noticed that the email has a small proportion in the overall pharma’s marketing channel mix (in the above chart 4).

But to what I can gather is –

This market report is on the corporate pharma websites. But email is going to be an important digital channel for the brand-specific websites. Driving health care professionals and users through the brand’s efforts on email marketing campaigns.

So we cannot devalue the importance of email marketing. Because it is highly targeted and the most personalized channel as compared to the other channels in the marketing mix.

>>> Referral sources: Now this concept, would seem to be quite new to those not acquainted with digital marketing.

But it is quite a powerful way to boost one’s reputation and authority in the online world. And we do observe that all the top pharmaceuticals have a huge chunk of their traffic coming from referral sources.

Getting traffic through referral sources means that you are getting visitors from other high authority sites (that are ranked better than your website on Google).

So if sites (like Medscape, Healthline, Pubmed – nih.gov, cdc.gov, who.int, or health.harvard.edu) reference about something on your website (for example a study published) and then include your website link on their site – the value of YOUR website increases.

This helps in improving your ranking on search engines, in a big way. Let us see how –

Example explaining a referral traffic Source.


To give you an example, from the above ‘traffic sources’ chart 4 –

Example of referral traffic to a pharma site
Screenshot source: https://journals.lww.com/plasreconsurg

Allergan website has the largest proportion of their traffic coming from referral sources. About 10 million monthly clicks come from just this particular referring page



Study objective 4 : Big Pharma companies’ best practices in digital marketing strategies


How is Big Pharma optimizing its website for Search Traffic?

Search traffic are visitors who reach your website by clicking on a link through search engines like Google or Bing. And this traffic to a website can be gained from both paid and unpaid efforts.

That means there are basically 2 types of search traffic – paid search traffic and organic search traffic.


Curious to know,

What is Big Pharma companies’ digital marketing strategy for getting search traffic ?

Is it Paid or Organic ?


Let’s find out !

Comparison of Big Pharma - Organic search traffic vs paid search traffic. Digital Marketing strategy in Pharma
Chart 5



>> Pharma Digital Marketing Learning #4 <<

ORGANIC TRAFFIC is the most important part of a successful pharma digital marketing strategy.



>>> Organic search traffic – These are visits to a website from the search engine that have come via a natural search on Google. They are unpaid rankings.

And it is by far the best type of traffic you can have. It results when a website gains in Google rankings. This is by having a well-optimized website for SEO (search engine optimization). 



>>> Paid search traffic – Means buying traffic using paid ads. They are paid rankings (meaning purchasing or bidding for a keyword to get the prime position on search results).

These visitors have come to a website by clicking on a link in an advertisement.

Example of a Paid Search Ad
Example of a Paid Search Ad

The biggest paid ad platform is Google ads. And the most common type of paid search ads is the PPC ads (pay-per-click).

Now a business would compete to increase the visibility of their ads by paying more for their ads or keywords, to appear at the top of search results (prime position).

This will be either to increase brand awareness or target relevant audiences for specific products.



Explaining the difference between Organic Search and Paid Search Traffic with a pharma example

Explaining the difference between a Pharma Organic Search and Pharma Paid Search Traffic.
emonstrating organic search term – ‘cough syrup for diabetes‘ on the left &
paid search term – ‘Robitussin‘ on the right


From the above visuals, Robitussin (on the right) – is seen to have a paid ad for the keyword “Robitussin” and it has thus come on top of all the organic search results.

Also for another keyword phrase like “cough syrup for diabetes” (on the left) – Robitussin has a featured snippet as shown. A featured snippet is a prime position in the organic search result and is a result of good SEO strategies.



Study objective 5 : What are Big Pharma companies’ top Social Media Channels (their Social Media Mix)


This is surely getting very interesting to know.

We have already discussed the importance of social media marketing for pharmaceutical companies, in the above section.

Now let’s check out,

The most popular social media channels for the top 20 pharmaceuticals in the world

Social Media Mix - best social media channels for the Top 20 pharmaceuticals
Chart 6


>> Pharma Digital Marketing Learning #5 <<

Linkedin is the top social media communication channel for pharma corporates followed by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter

J&J, GSK, Abbvie, Novo Nordisk, and Novartis are the companies having the largest share of Linkedin usage

Lilly, Boehringer Ingelheim and Teva Pharma use Facebook extensively.

Allergan is the only company with a large proportion of its social traffic from YouTube, as it is Twitter for Gilead


Another quick note, Reddit seems to be an interesting social channel that is picking up.

8 out of the Top 20 pharmaceuticals have Reddit as an important channel in their social media mix.
Reddit is a social platform, where users share content by answering specific questions in niche-specific forums (called as subreddits). The communities value and encourage rich quality discussions.

Amgen, Gilead, Bayer, and Pfizer are the companies with the largest share of Reddit


The report on Digital Marketing in the Pharmaceutical Industry project


The key takeaways from the report on digital pharmaceutical marketing project

  • Increasing website traffic could be an important marketing goal for pharma companies.

  • But pharma should strive for high-quality traffic.

  • The top traffic sources for the Big Pharma companies are Search and Direct, followed by a good share from Referral sources. Pharma cannot ignore Social Media and Email.

  • ORGANIC TRAFFIC is the most important part of a successful pharma digital marketing strategy.

  • Linkedin is the top social media communication channel for pharma corporates followed by Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.


WRAPPING IT UP

I hope you enjoyed my ultimate guide to Digital Marketing in the Pharmaceutical Industry.

I learned a lot about Digital Marketing through insights from Big Pharma companies’ digital strategies.

For those interested, this research was based on data procured from SimilarWeb’s digital market intelligence platform. 

And now I’d like to hear from you:

What’s your #1 takeaway lesson from this study ?

Or if you have a question, leave them in the comments below.



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Digital Marketing Benchmarks for the Pharmaceutical industry 2020: Lessons from Big Pharma Companies Digital Strategies

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