More and more companies are taking their marketing online — but not all of them are seeing desired results.

One popular marketing technique is the search ad. You’ve seen these before: they show up at the top of search-engine results, with “Sponsored” next to them. This advertising approach has come to surpass the once-popular static banner ads. Since Google alone processes 3.5 billion searches per day according to Internet live stats, search ads seem like an ideal way to get your brand in front of Internet users.

But do search ads work for urgent care marketing?

Finding the Benefits of Search Ads

Some researchers examined data from Ebay and found that buying ads on a major search engine did not make a significant difference in the website’s traffic. This prompted Michael Luca, an assistant professor at Harvard Business School, and Daisy Dai, currently a professor at Lehigh University, to look deeper into the issue.

They designed experiments to use on Yelp.com, which sells its own search ads to small businesses. Luca and Dai attempted to determine whether small businesses got more customers when they purchased ads that put them at the top of Yelp search results.

The researchers chose 7,210 random restaurants that had never purchased Yelp advertising. They designed free ad packages for each business, tracking the results for three months. Turns out, the issue is a little more complex than just asking whether search ads work or not.

Restaurants that had ads up during the study got 25 percent more page views overall than those that did not. Yelp users also requested directions to these restaurants 18 percent more often. Once the ads disappeared, so did these differences. Search ads definitely can have a positive effect on businesses.

What Is Still Unclear About Search Ads

The original research mainly observed ad clicks and user engagement. The results are less obvious when it came to translating those clicks into dollars. Luca notes that they also requested sales data from a portion of the restaurants in the study and compared their sales to ad clicks. They found that, in general, sales gains were higher than ad costs.

Fortunately, digital marketing makes it easier for even small businesses like urgent care clinics to track the results of their ad campaigns. “Internet advertising has made experimentation much easier and allowed for better measurement of the impact of advertisements,” Luca said in a response to comments in Harvard Business Review.

So why did the earlier study of Ebay have such different results? Luca suggests that EBay is such a familiar brand that it would already be a search term, rendering a search ad irrelevant. Yelp users, on the other hand, may have searched for a type of restaurant, not the restaurant itself. Search ads, therefore, may be best for driving awareness of less familiar brands.

How to Use Search Ads in Urgent Care Marketing

Smaller, independent urgent care centers may use search ads to distinguish themselves from larger health systems. For example, a person may run an Internet search for “flu symptoms” instead of going to the emergency department. An ad at the top of those search results could encourage that person to visit an urgent care center they were not otherwise aware of.

Using search ads as a part of an urgent care marketing strategy also can help urgent care organizations raise awareness of the less common services they offer. For example, a parent looking for a place to get their child’s sports physical may find their local urgent care center in the search results.

The bottom line? Search ads are a viable option for urgent care organizations of all sizes, as long as you are using them wisely.

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