The Long-Tail Internet: An Overlooked Performance Driver for Pharma Marketers

As pharma marketers are placing most of their digital marketing bets on sites with premium health content—and paying a surcharge for it—are they missing an opportunity to gain performance at scale in a cost-effective fashion?

The long-tail Internet, comprised of millions of small websites that each reach less than 1.5 percent of the Internet population, may represent just such an opportunity.

According to comScore estimates, marketers are spending less than a third of their online display dollars in the long tail. This likely occurs because they believe there is nothing to be gained there in terms of reaching their target audience at scale.

Certainly, it’s easy to assume that when consumers have an ailment they will research it on a health site like WebMD. But consumers are not simply the sum of their ailments; they are multi-dimensional people with diverse interests, and that is reflected in the array of content they consume online. For example, when female high cholesterol sufferers are online, they are not only reading about cholesterol management, but also combing long-tail sites such as to find exercise tips. They’re also searching for recipes, managing their finances, checking the weather and doing all the other activities most people do online.

The prescription for pharma marketers trying to reach consumers is this: Augment your reach with the long tail; advertising only on the short-tail Internet—the more popular sites with premium content— is not sufficient. A March 2011 study by Contextweb, based on an analysis of billions of ad impressions, demonstrated the viability and importance of the long tail.1 The report determined that long-tail media can provide up to 15% higher click-through rates on pharma ads, compared to the short tail. A June 2011 pharma digital marketing study found the same long-tail click-through lift for pharma ads running on gaming, health, sports and news content specifically.2 Both studies showed that long-tail inventory not only increases reach but also can perform better and at lower cost.


Long-tail advertising does carry an implicit risk to brand safety. By expanding their reach, marketers are opening their brands to millions of smaller, unfamiliar sites. While all marketers of course worry about brand safety, no marketers are as concerned as those in pharma, who put their credibility on the line if an ad appears on an inappropriate site.

Before marketing automation and machine learning, it was not practical or cost-effective for marketers to verify the safety and quality of every page. Today’s technology, though, has made it much more economical and far easier to do. For example, another study (using Trust Metrics inventory modeling, which combines automated monitoring sources and real-time page-level monitoring) found that of more than 2,000 domains running pharma campaigns (among those covered on a proprietary platform), 99% of them were free of harmful content.

It’s important to remember that the long tail cuts a wide swath, and that pharma marketers, like those in other verticals, don’t want to miss out on reaching their customers. Fortunately, thanks to new technology, that goal is achievable—and without sacrificing performance or brand reputation.

1. Contextweb (May 2011). Intelligence Report: Using Long Tail Sites To Optimize Media Spend. Available at http://blog.contextweb. com/intelligence-report-long-tail (free registration required).
2. Contextweb (June 2011). Intelligence Report: Pharmaceutical Digital Marketing: Go Beyond Traditional Targeting. Available at (free registration required).


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