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When I talk about the fact that I have spent a great deal of my SEO career working within the pharmaceutical sector, I like to use a phrase an old colleague of mine once coined in that “it’s like playing the marketing game on hard difficulty”. Pharmaceuticals, you see, is a licensed industry, and with it comes a hugely thick layer of additional challenges, restrictions, required knowledge and red tape. Sometimes, this added layer really does seem to be a bit like whacking up the difficulty level of your favourite video game.

What makes this even more difficult for an SEO-er is that a tricky aspect of SEO for any brand in any industry is that it is a reactive form of marketing. As an exception to pretty much all other types of marketing, SEO success is based on optimising for what people are already saying and asking, rather than what we want them and are telling them to think. In a perfect world, these two things are one in the same – however, in the real world, it is quite unlikely that this is 100% the case.

In Licensed and Restricted Industries (let’s call them LRIs for brevity’s sake), this is taken to an even further degree. In particular, you might find yourself in a position where you are explicitly not allowed to say things about your brand that you know customers do. For example, if you are a licensed medicine brand, you will know that you are not allowed to stray away from your designated license uses in your advertising copy, even if there is a keyword out there that is more lucrative that people do use that product for.

Added to this, legal processes must be followed. Regulatory checks and changes will dilute copy content, and possibly even cause a loss of the intent of what it was for in the first place. You might need to have legal language placed on a website in prominent positions (harming your website’s UX capability), and you might even have to restrict entire groups en masse, thus automatically lowering your ROI in terms of raw organic website visitors.

So, if you are considering an SEO strategy for your brand within an LRI, here are some tips I have picked up along the way to ensure that you get that return despite these challenges:

Do Not Bin SEO Before You Even Start
This is a golden rule. Quite often, due to the hassle and potential extra costs involved, it can be easy to simply believe that SEO is not worth it and to junk the idea of doing it before you’ve even started.
However, dismissing the idea of SEO strategy for your LRI brand is a disastrous move. Before you know it, one of your competitors will have worked it all out and suddenly will have stolen a huge march on you in terms of their SEO – something you have then got to work out to claw back. And think about having to explain that to your boss.

Hold Discussions with Your Regulator or Trade Body Advocate Group
When given a set of regulations to follow, it can be easy to just believe “this is gospel” and follow them blindly – even those rules that are open to interpretation, when actually the regulator (or trade body) that provided them could be more than happy to clarify them or listen to any concerns.
Remember that SEO is here to stay as a form of marketing, and your industry cannot afford to fall behind with it. So, it is in the regulators’ interests to listen to any concerns you may have about regulations restricting it.

Streamline The Sign-Off Procedure
Bureaucracy is an inevitability when it comes to sign-off within a licensed industry, whether it be internal or external. This process can become so cumbersome that it becomes counterproductive, especially if extra costs are involved – so make sure you have a plan in place to streamline the entire process as much as possible. Keep a track of what is in review and, most importantly, understand that things are simply going to be slower than what is ideal. Things aren’t going to be turned around in a couple of days, and that’s fine.

Know That You Will Not Be Able to Make It Perfect
Google doesn’t care about you, your brand, your budgets or whatever advertising restrictions you might have.

This might be harsh sounding advice, but this is an unfortunate truism of SEO in that Google are, ultimately, a for-profit business and will only rank you based on what it believes is the best return for its customers. The fact you might not be allowed to say certain things as a result of legal restrictions will not factor into the algorithm or anything else that it decides to do with your site.

Sometimes, you will be faced with a black and white situation where you will need to turn down the best SEO option for the regulatory option. This is fine, as long as you and all of your stakeholders are aware of the impact – because the fact you needed to do this does not factor into Google’s thinking and it will not give you any leeway!