The Best Google Adwords Alternatives For Treatment Centers

As I wrote in early September, Google's partial-ban of web advertising on its Adwords platform has wiped out the ability of many treatment centers to advertise online.

As of the time of this writing, broad keywords like "rehabilitation [location]" still display ads, while others, like variations "rehab", "drug rehab", "residential treatment", "inpatient treatment", and "detox" - the later few keywords many medium-sized centers used to compete with behemoths like Passages or the recently maligned Aid in Recovery - do not.

The game, for those continuing to use Adwords, is now one of "hide-and-seek": Google doesn't publish which keywords are permissible and which are banned, and in past instances of "crackdown", that list has continued to evolve.

That's left many centers looking for alternatives, and me with a small bit of egg on my face: I wrote earlier this year that Adwords was a "mature platform", and, hence, not a risky investment. (Though, to be fair, I recommended centers using Adwords also use SEO.)

We at Admit Scout recommend that treatment centers invest in at least one paid channel, in addition to an SEO strategy. Luckily, as the paid-traffic "tide goes out", we've been using a new approach with our clients.

It has a few advantages Adwords didn't...

  • You have the opportunity to catch potential addicts earlier in the addiction cycle, so you can intervene faster.
  • Instead of competing with the "big boys" (not to mention lead aggregators throughout the ethics spectrum) for calls, you "own" the relationship you build with your prospective clients
  • Unlike Adwords, it's still a relatively uncrowded channel, so you can compete by being smarter and better-branded, and by understanding your audience better

It's a funnel we don't yet have a name for - part email automation, part landing pages, and part Facebook ads, and it's already generated results like these...



Here's how to do it...

Step One - Understand Your Audience

Eugene Schwartz, author of Breakthrough Advertising, arguably the best marketing resource ever-created, talks about the "customer journey".

(In treatment, we're seeking treatment clients to help, not "customers", but the analogy holds.)

Early on, a prospective client has a problem you have the ability to solve. Only he doesn't know it yet.

Later, he's aware he has a problem, but is not yet aware solutions exist.

Finally, he's aware of solutions, and is at the "research" phase, trying to decide among them.

Texting while drinking.jpg

With Adwords, we were catching prospective treatments at the last stage - the "solution aware/research" phase. When someone's actively searching "treatment centers in my area" in Google, he doesn't need any education about his problem, or that a solution exists. He's already seeking it.

That's also what makes the last stage - according to Schwartz - the most competitive. Since catching an addict, or family member, at the "purchase decision" stage, that's where everyone dumped their ad dollars...

...and also why so many unscrupulous actors eventually got the whole thing "shut down".

If you're more skilled at relationship-building, however, you can go where there's less competition: the earlier stages in the "addict's journey".

Unlike Adwords, which only displays ads based on what people are searching, facebook allows you to display ads, content, videos, and more based on what people have publicly "liked", and whether-or-not they've already visited your website.

If you're wondering what that looks like in real-life, here are two examples:


The group to whom we might display ads are "non-problem-aware" people:

As you might discover in Facebook audiences, more than a million people have raised their hand publicly as drinking heavily, in LA alone.

We'll get into exactly what to display to those folks later on, but I'm explaining this to you to demonstrate the potential reach of a campaign like this one.


The second group we'd display ads to are folks further along the journey of realizing they have a problem:

In this group are the people actively seeking information - and, more importantly, support - on beating their addiction, and they've again "raised their hand" through their public affiliations with certain Facebook groups, brands, and public figures

You've probably surmised that some of them, sadly, have already sought treatment and are on the verge of relapse. Many of them could benefit from your help.

Step Two - Build The Relationship

The good news about this subtler-than-Adwords strategy is that you can begin building a relationship with your prospective clients earlier, and can hopefully intervene before they do further damage to their - and their loved ones' - lives.

But how are you supposed to get their attention? Let's look at the approaches a savvy - and conscientious - center might use:

Problem Unaware: Educate, and Help

The "I don't have a problem" crowd may not yet be saying "out loud" that they have a problem, but many of them know it.

Many will respond to helpful information on...

  • Identifying if they have a problem
  • Non-acute solutions to self-manage their issue, before it "spirals out of control"

We recommend two approaches:

Admit Scout's Promoted Post

Admit Scout's Promoted Post

1. "Promoted posts", displaying links to awesome articles. The game here is to give value first, then give readers an opportunity to join your mailing list to learn more.

In this approach, the Facebook ad would link not directly to an opt-in offer or landing page, but to an article, or video. Then, at the end of the article, an opt-in offer.

2. Direct-to-opt-in ads, in which the ad links directly to a landing page with an opt-in offer, like a helpful checklist, in exchange-for-which visitors will trust you with their email addresses.

"Re-marketing" allows you to display the second category of ad to only those who have already seen the first. By the time they see a direct-to-opt-in ad, they already know/trust you a bit.

You're also educating the "clickers" about the scope of their problem. Someone who thought he was searching for hangover cures might gradually realize he has a genuine drinking problem, after reading your content.

Problem Aware: Be "There To Lend a Helping Hand"

To the second category of addicts, you can display at least two categories of posts:

1. Content related to staying sober. As above, it better be great, but the payoff is if a prospective client reads an article or views a video that helps, he'll trust you. As above, you'll give such readers an opportunity to opt-in with their email addresses.

2. Ads similar to what you'd display on Adwords, only with more finesse. People aren't on Facebook actively searching for rehab centers as they would on Google, but many pay regular visits to pages on staying sober. If they've got an acute problem - let alone if they already know you - many will be receptive to a gentle offer for confidential help.

Step Three - Go "Bespoke"

When I was in direct-response marketing, I often liked to use the analogy of Nordstrom, or a car dealership, to describe a "bespoke" level of service.

For treatment, a doctor's office, or hospital is perhaps a better analogy...

  • Some visitors have immediate issues, and are looking for immediate care
  • Others have non-acute issues, and want consultation/advice
  • Still others are researching an "in-network" physician
Make your website act like a human receptionist

Make your website act like a human receptionist

You would't give the same service to all of them. That's why you have an admissions staff to determine which level of care each entrant needs.

With our outreach to potential addicts, it's no different. But how do we differentiate amongst the categories?



By automation. Here's how:

1. Anyone visiting an article/content page gets an opportunity to opt-in with his/her email address at the end.

Offers can vary from "want to get more helpful tips like this one?" to "worried you have a problem? Get our 5-minute checklist".

2. Visitors to certain articles, along with visitors to the direct-to-opt-in pages (and obviously visitors to the "acute" ads), will get an opportunity to speak to a representative on the "thankyou" page immediately after giving their email addresses.

"Your guide is on its way. Want to speak to a representative now? It's free and completely confidential."

That's where you'd display your phone number or a "click to call".

But here's the kicker, and it's the thing hardly anybody's doing...

3. Visitors who don't immediately pick up the phone will receive "bespoke" levels of follow-up, as follows...

  • Non-problem-aware folks can receive emails with more helpful content, with gentle opportunities to contact you if they ever have a problem.
  • Problem-aware, and "actively searching" people who don't pick up the phone on the "thankyou" page can receive something like the following sequence: a few gentle offers to get on the phone (it's free, verify your insurance, etc), then helpful information on staying sober and/or managing their condition, with gentle opportunities to contact you.

Here's why the third step is the most important: it's the single most powerful step to build relationships with people who don't need/don't believe they need your help yet, but who will down-the-road.

With Adwords, you were relying on standing out, to a complete stranger, from all the centers with huge budgets.

With our strategy, they already know you.

Ok, So What About The Results?

Let's look at the results a typical campaign could produce.

Below is a screenshot of the leads we produced for our client, in around six weeks, for around $4000 in ad spent.

Conversion rates from a real treatment campaign

Conversion rates from a real treatment campaign


The red-tinted cells at the top are leads we considered insurance-qualified. Specific policies have been hidden.

In six weeks, for around $4000 in ad spend, our campaigns produced ten (10) insurance-qualified leads, among a total of 30 form-submission leads. (Not including a few calls.)

In order to count as a verification-of-benefits, a center needs to complete a conversation with a given lead, and the purported insurance needs to check out.

An average we've observed is something like 40-50% of the insurance pre-qualified leads turn into VOBs. We increase the conversation rate in two ways:

  • Disclosures and "consent gateways" on the forms
  • Follow-up protocols that we agree to with our clients

This may come as a shock to centers used to "buying calls"; a channel from which it often takes 20 conversations before a single one has qualified insurance.

What clients receive from us is far-more-curated.

Let's imagine the ROI of such a campaign:

$4000 in ad spend

Ten insurance qualified leads

4-5 conversations

Our clients tell us they admit between 1/3 and 1/4 of their VOBs

What's more, we typically see the cost-per-lead come down continuously during the first few months of a campaign, so the cost of the initial leads is different from the eventual cost-per-lead.

How To Win With Paid Traffic

Long-story-short, we're still offering Adwords management to our clients.

But for those concerned by the recent crackdowns, we hear you.

The Facebook funnel I've described above has both lower competition than Adwords, and less likelihood of fraudsters ruining it for everybody - it's just much easier to scam "red hot" Google-searchers, while Facebook lends itself to trust building.

Think this might be a fit for your center?

If you're ethical, and effective, and if your clients rave about you, we'd like to work with you.