In previous posts, I discussed the use of “redirect” URLs in Google adwords for pharmaceutical product websites (see The Next FDA Concern May be the Use of “Redirect” URLs).

This practice is USUALLY forbidden by Google policies: “Your display URL must accurately reflect the URL of the website you’re advertising,” says this policy. “It should match the domain of your landing page so that users will know which site they’ll be taken to when they click on your ad.”

It appears that Google has granted pharmaceutical companies an exception to this policy AND has been doing so for a number of years:

“We just heard back from Google this morning,” said Jeff Hill of MedThink Communications. “Their ‘policy board’ ruled that they will make an exception just for pharmaceutical companies and allow non-branded URLs in paid search ads to be redirected to branded websites.”

“For years it has been standard practice for Google to make this exception for our pharmaceutical clients,” said Eileen O’Brien of Compass Healthcare Communications.

This raises more questions than it answers:

If Google was making this exception for years, how come so few experts knew about this? Many members of the ePharma Pioneer Club that I’ve been talking to, at least, had not heard of this and like Jeff had to call Google to confirm it.

Was Google making exceptions on a case-by-case basis up ’til now, but now is making the exception the rule for ALL pharma?

If some pharma companies were already taking advantage of the exception, why didn’t the 14 companies cited last week by the FDA do it? It’s hard to imagine that not a single one of these companies would NOT have known about the exception to the rule that O’Brien claims was going on for years.

If the 14 companies KNEW that Google would give them an EXCEPTION, then what was their motive in using the brand name in the adwords if they could have used a redirect URL instead? Did they knowingly use the “one-click” rule — which everyone knew was not a rule at all — as an excuse to get an extra bonus by linking the brand name to the benefit WITHOUT including the risks?

Did the FDA know that pharmaceutical companies had the option of using redirect URLs in their ads? If so, the FDA may have said to itself, “These guys could have easily used a redirect URL but they decided to use the brandname URL instead. Let’s show them that we are not dummies and quash this practice right now!”

Many questions…not the least of which is the use of redirect URLs at best a bad user experience and at worst false advertising? That’s a question raised by Robert Kadar of

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