Evaluating GlaxoSmithKline’s COPD Unbranded Website

This past summer GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) launched a new, unbranded web portal for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). GSK believes that the new COPD.com goes far beyond what the company previously offered.COPD Screenshot

“Our previous site was pretty basic and didn’t have the tools,” Darielle Ruderman, Senior Director of Repository Consumer Marketing at GSK told MedCity News. “It wasn’t as engaging. It’s also different from other websites because this is patient testimonials.”

The site, which was designed by Havas New York, also allows users to personalize their experience with the option to create “My Page,” which saves all the features and materials that are of interest to them. Users can also create their own COPD plan and get tips to help them follow through on it. Other materials include how to find support from others with COPD, family members and caregivers; tips to help manage daily life activities; and advice on how to develop a better relationship with your doctor.

“This is not about sales, it’s not about our products, even though GSK is a leader in respiratory care,” Ruderman also told MedCity News. “This site is about helping patients with COPD. We wanted to give patients encouragement and tools and better resources to better manage their disease.”

PM360 asked two pharma marketers not involved with the site—Elizabeth Elfenbein, Partner at The CementBloc and Jim Lefevere, Director, Global Digital Marketing at Roche Diagnostics—to evaluate how well the site accomplishes these goals and if there is anything other companies can learn from the site.

Does the site offer anything beneficial that would attract or be useful for its target audience?

Elizabeth Elfenbein: Yes. COPD.com contains a lot of education that is appropriate as an introduction to the COPD condition. Readability is suitable for a wide audience. The areas of content that stand out are the “Be Inspired” section, which focuses on patients’ stories about overcoming their COPD, the “COPD Plan,” and the “Tools” that are helpful for living with COPD. We know that people trust their peers for information more than their doctors. So listening to other patients’ stories can help patients with COPD accept their condition and move forward with better habits.

Jim Lefevere: This is an interesting example because COPD is a condition that can take a toll on the patient and have a negative, long-term impact on quality of life. In this regard, I think the site does a good job of balancing facts about COPD with smoking cessation information and encouraging stories from others afflicted. 

Is there anything that makes this site unique for a disease awareness/education portal compared to others you have seen?

Elizabeth Elfenbein: In the “Take One Step” section, goals are embedded with real-time stats in each area from Managing COPD to Finding Support to Activities to Health & Wellness and lastly to Home & Habitat. You can literally see engagement with content. And that can be influential.

Are there any areas of the site that are lacking or could be improved?

Jim Lefevere: Strategically, in a hub and spoke digital marketing model, an unbranded site can have a role along with branded sites, social presence, etc. In this regards, a lightly branded site can be used to build awareness and familiarity with a disease state while garnering some halo effect from the minimal branding. Using www.semrush.com, it appears that the COPD.com site ranks in organic and paid search. However, there doesn’t appear to be any correlating activity with social channels, which I would think is a gap in their strategy to reach people with COPD considering that some 65% of adults 50-64 are on social media (Pew Internet Research).

Elizabeth Elfenbein: There’s a lot of good, fundamental information on this site. It offers a solid introduction to COPD, but it could do more to speak to the audience on a human, emotional level.

It’s critical to consider the needs and habits of the typical visitor to your site—to “walk in their shoes.” Because patients with COPD tend to be older, sites that serve this population should reflect the research by the National Institutes of Health on older Americans. Although it is commonly accepted that the fold is dead, older adults still find it challenging to use websites that require a lot of vertical scrolling and that include horizontal design elements that can be mistaken for the end of a page. Similarly, these users tend to prefer open navigational layouts and pages without additional navigational elements.

Personalization and customization drive deeper engagement with digital media. On COPD.com, lasting value is promised by enabling users to pin the content they find interesting to their personal page. This is an attractive idea, but the execution does not offer the flexibility that a user might expect, because the pinned content is added in its entirety and is ordered by the site structure.

Behavioral modification content obviously must extend over a patient’s treatment journey. It’s not a “click to complete” sort of experience. Goal setting should be reinforced through multi-step or multi-day activities to ensure better uptake and better patient outcomes. By partnering with providers of recipes and exercise content, COPD.com could offer greater personalization and long-term value.

Following best principles in site development for SEO and accessibility could improve the SERP ranking of COPD.com. Currently, the link to the site appears only on page two of the results when searching “COPD” on Google, so promotional tactics have to work harder. It should be possible to improve that ranking by tailoring the page descriptions and titles to the content on the page, as well as by creating descriptive metatags for images and including machine-readable transcripts for the videos—both of which also really help users with vision or hearing impairments.

What should other companies learn or take away from this site when it comes time to design their next disease education portal?

Jim Lefevere: Companies know this type of unbranded, disease-state website has a role in an overall digital marketing strategy. The question they must ask is: Can an unbranded site garner and sustain patient interest long enough to really have a measurable impact and can that impact be quantified?

Elizabeth Elfenbein: First and foremost, any site needs to be simply designed and easy to engage with. It should be user-friendly and demonstrate that it understands its audience. We must remember that content is critical; however, it’s all in how the content is served up to the end user. Patients are human beings and require understanding and care. The tone of content should speak to them with empathy and be easy to understand.


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