Because nothing should stand in the way of a physician’s engagement with breaking news, clinical content, and pharmaceutical brand messaging, now is the time for advertisers and their communication vendors to enable HTTPS on their sites.

HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP—hypertext transfer protocol. HTTP and its secure brethren, HTTPS, are the standard for the exchange of content and information on the Internet.

Unnecessary Worry?

Let’s be honest. When we have our pharma, device, or medical communication hats on, we sometimes forget that doctors are people. People aren’t eager to have their identify stolen or have strangers eavesdrop on their conversation. HCPs (who are people, remember) also do not want their communication with medical websites to be observed, monitored, modified, or compromised.

In the simplest terms, HTTPS provides healthcare professionals with more confidence in a website’s privacy and security.

This is enough reason to switch to HTTPS, but there is a practical argument too. All medical communications professionals want their content engaged by HCPs. If a physician is Googling a disease, we want our content to be at the top of the results. Browsers like the 800-lb gorilla Google, and others, incorporate HTTPS into their algorithms. HTTPS websites rise to the top of search results while non-secure sites fall. CMI discussed the impact to search ranking in a recent white paper.

Both factors emboldened us at Healio.com, a medical website that offers HCPs clinical news and education, to prioritize the switch to HTTPS even though we knew it would be difficult and require significant resources. It should come as no surprise that we like our content to be engaged. Our advertisers also want their ads seen often and by real, live human beings.

Going HTTPS made sense but how did we accomplish our transition? First, we involved all stakeholders in our digital content. This is not just an IT effort. Editorial, Ad Operations, Marketing, E-commerce, and others had important roles. We met as a group to inventory assets, see where they are served, and plan the process to move to HTTPS compliance (see Sidebar).

Healio’s Chief Technology Officer, Linda Baker, said the challenge was not in redirecting the pages to secure HTTPS servers, that’s easy. The difficulty was in the hundreds of thousands of assets served on multiple content delivery networks (CDNs). All of those needed to be duplicated and served via a secure connection. Even one single asset served from an unsecure location would break the secure connection. Plus Healio.com needed to find a technical solution to handle the transformation behind the scenes without interrupting the daily workflow of getting content posted to the site, nor interrupt the pages being viewed daily by our HCP users.

This was a long process—that stretched many months—with some bumps along the way but we are now fully HTTPS and seeing the benefits of that effort accrue to Healio.com.

Should Marketers Care About HTTPS When Choosing Where to Advertise?

Of course, just as they should care if a publisher can properly validate their audience, if they want to be found in search, or if they care about brand safety.

Without HTTPS, advertisers leave the door wide open for a person with the right technical know-how to change everything about the ad being served. A hacker could even go so far as switching one ad to a different ad or even a competitor’s ad.

In January 2017, Wired reported that half of all websites were encrypted with HTTPS. Unfortunately, medical websites, including medical publishers, lagged then and now. A quick review of the top 10 oncology advertisers found four of their websites are still not HTTPS secure. Many well-known HCP web destinations, representing significant ad inventory, are not secure either.

How does that translate into value to marketers? A Manhattan Research Study conducted by Google showed that 84% of physicians use search daily for clinical information and the average number of searches per day is six. In addition, a more secure site means less malicious attacks that raise non-human traffic (NHT). Both benefit pharma and device marketers.

Pharma, device marketers, and their agencies should consider HTTPS—and do so now. It matters for driving engagement, it matters for security, and ultimately is matters for getting your message across to HCPs in a reputable environment. It is worth the effort.

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