Information provides knowledge, and the route through which that information flows becomes incredibly valuable when used by enough people. Such is the case with search engines today, especially Google. As a way to capitalize on that flow of information, Google created a way for people, organizations and businesses to advertise directly in search results – a platform they call AdWords.
Since a high percentage of people turn to Google to search for drug and alcohol rehab centers, many facilities around the country have been paying millions of dollars to the search giant to run their ads and generate calls for people who are seeking help. Most of these ads are run by legitimate treatment centers offering their services, but on occasion they are run by larger call centers that route people to the highest bidder, not necessarily to a place that is the best fit for their needs.
Given the recent FBI crackdown on shady drug rehabs, lab companies and sober living homes in South Florida, there has been mounting tension to make more of an effort to clean up those parts of the industry. This has led to new legislation being passed in Florida regarding “patient brokering” that is picking up steam elsewhere around the country as well. Toss in some complaints from families, other treatment providers and advocates, and Google decided to take action as well a couple of weeks ago by shutting down the ads for thousands of addiction- and rehab-related search terms.
Although there are are still many terms available for advertisers, Google’s actions have been met with mixed reviews. On one hand there are thousands of people who are then directed more to regular organic search results, which may or may not yield a better outcome for them. On the other hand there are many treatment centers and call centers who have seen a dramatic drop in the number of calls they now receive since a good portion of their ads are now prohibited.
Is the landscape better for consumers, which is the result Google is trying to achieve? Possibly. At first glance, yes. However, there are also some very good rehab centers that were highly dependent on AdWords to drive their marketing programs and are now suffering to the point of likely financial ruin. What seems to be the consensus among most treatment providers is that something had to be done to reign in the blatant dollar-chasing, but that hopefully Google comes back to open up those keywords again through a process of vetting licensed rehabilitation programs.
One thing is certain – our country is in dire need of more treatment options for people. Oftentimes they don’t know where else to turn, and the limited availability of beds or other access remains a serious issue during the overdose epidemic. People must also be given more methods of finding appropriate treatment programs that fit their needs.