Google AdWords Policy: Online Pharmacy

Google AdWords Pharmacy Policy

As part of our efforts to help folks understand a little bit more about AdWords Policy and how to plan for changes, troubleshoot policy issues, and understand some of the more complex policies, we’ll be touching on another of the sticky policies today: online pharmacy. AdWords’ Online Pharmacy policy underwent some pretty large changes in the last several months, and even if you’re not necessarily in the business of selling prescription medications online it may be smart to get caught up on how things stand today. Understanding how this policy has been modified is a great illustration of how quickly and how drastically policies can shift, whether they’re seemingly insignificant in scope, or broad, global rules governing millions of advertisers and businesses.

As some of you may be aware, in the past if you sold prescription medications in the United States online and advertised using Google AdWords, you were required to have a PharmacyChecker ID. PharmacyChecker is a third party company who operates a verification program that protects consumers by ensuring websites selling pharmaceutical drugs online are dispensing medications from pharmacies in good standing. It was the responsibility of the advertiser or business owner to obtain the ID from PharmacyChecker, and once this was done they were able to submit it to AdWords in order to have ads approved. Why all the fuss? My guess is that AdWords needed to be able to protect consumers purchasing prescription medications from their ads, but may not have had the resources in-house to take care of this kind of evaluation. Makes sense…so what’s changed? Everything.

  • If you’re an online pharmacy that has a PharmacyChecker ID and was previously advertising just fine on AdWords, when the policy changed you might have found your ads disapproved. PharmacyChecker IDs are no longer required, or accepted for approval of AdWords pharma ads.
  • Instead of PharmacyChecker, AdWords now requires that any websites that allow users to purchase prescription medications online (keep in mind that this also includes pet pharmacies) be accredited by the National Association Boards of Pharmacy VIPPs Program.
  • Additionally, online pharmacies operating in the U.S. and U.S. territories may only target the U.S. and U.S. Territories.
  • There are absolutely no exceptions to these rules (not that there were exceptions previously, but this is worth noting as the changes to the requirements have been somewhat substantial).

Basically VIPPs have taken the place of PharmacyChecker, meaning that any online pharmacy wishing to begin or continue advertising with AdWords must be accredited. If you had a PharmacyChecker ID, it is now worthless in the eyes of Google. It should also be noted that selling pharmaceutical products between different countries is now completely prohibited, and so targeting must be specific and limited. There are other areas of the world that are allowed to advertise online pharmacies using AdWords, albeit the list is limited, and each has its own very specific requirements.

I can only assume that the changes made to this policy affected every single online pharmacy advertiser working with AdWords. That’s a huge number of advertisers, and a huge amount of revenue. With a space as tightly governed and legally sensitive as pharmaceutical drugs, I’m also assuming that the change was legally motivated, and Google likely had to work closely with or align with the FDA. So, as you can see, despite the huge impact that a change like this has on their advertiser base, Google will not hesitate to make sweeping policy changes when necessary–a great reason to periodically perk up and pay attention to what’s going on in the online advertising policy world.

Posted in: Online Strategies, Pay Per Click, SEM

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