Focusing its health content on building deeper connections with younger users has helped put Healthline within reach of rival WebMD.
Since overtaking Everyday Health a year ago to become the second most visited healthcare facility, Healthline has outpaced its competitors, growing 56% year-over-year in the 12 months to October. That same month, its network recorded 72.7 million unique visitors.
Rivals WebMD and Everyday Health saw much weaker gains over this period. But a newer competitor, Dotdash’s Verywell, has grown faster, rising from the 10th to the fourth most visited site.
MM&M sat down with digital health publisher CEO David Kopp to find out what’s behind Healthline’s growth, the evolution of its advertising mix and its future plans for the network.
MM&M: You have experienced a noticeable growth in traffic over the past two years. Help us put this into perspective.
DK: Healthline.com for September reached 53 million visitors in the United States, and the Healthline property reached 67.5 million. Healthline.com is up 65% over the past year, while WebMD is only up about 9%. We expect these growth rates to continue, which means we will overtake WebMD next year and be the largest consumer health website. For the coming year, we expect the site to grow around 30% year-over-year. From a user reach perspective, we expect to be in the 70 million unique user range.
MM&M: Healthline property (which includes sister sites like MedicalNewsToday, acquired in 2016) became one of the top 50 digital media properties in August, according to comScore, and Heathline.com added 20 million more visitors compared to the same period last year. What do you attribute the growth to?
DK: The main reason for our double-digit growth rate is the quality of our content. We spend a lot more money on every piece of content we create. We begin the process of researching the topic and understanding the user and patient experience because [health is] not purely a clinical experience. We’ve also really doubled down on wellness and nutrition, a category that’s grown around 150% in traffic over the past year.
MM&M: Have viewership gains resulted in revenue gains?
DK: We don’t disclose our advertising revenue, but we can reveal that we’ve grown our revenue by more than 20% per year over the past six years as we grew our audience from around one million users per month to more than 50 million users per month. Our revenues are up overall, and for virtually all advertisers and brands.
MM&M: What can you tell us about the typical Healthline visitor?
DK: One of the obvious quantitative differences when looking at comScore data is that Healthline users are younger. If you look at 45 and under on Healthline, we’re significantly over-indexing compared to others in the top five. It’s because our content attracts…users who care about their health. These are the users that pharmaceutical advertisers want to reach, because they are the ones who will participate in their own care and partner with a physician.
MM&M: The online media industry is currently challenging, given a digital advertising market dominated by Google and Facebook. How do you compete?
DK: We have 150 specialist medical reviewers and are able to update content more frequently. We have the most rigorous medical review process in the industry. This year, we will spend more than $10 million to create and update the latest, evidence-based, and compassionate health content on the web.
Health media is also a very important advertising market. And due to regulatory complexity and the high bar for consumer privacy, this is a category where we make a better partner for endemic advertisers than the more programmatic/self-serve offerings from Google or Facebook.
MM&M: What about the relationships you build with users?
DK: Our definition of quality is connecting deeply with the users we try to help and letting them be part of their own journey and our health content. The result is better content that is more useful and resonates more with advertisers.
For example, when comments from our HIV community on Facebook suggested that certain aspects of our content, and health content in general, had inherent biases and misconceptions, we called in patient advocates. to discuss how to change our language and approach to content. The result was 400 articles updated, and over the course of the year we saw that updating resulted in approximately 30% more usage of that content.
MM&M: What is your advertiser mix?
DK: We see about half of our advertising revenue coming from the pharmaceutical and life sciences industry, a quarter from other healthcare companies and a quarter from non-healthcare companies.
MM&M: Are you looking to diversify your sources of income?
DK: We believe that our high quality content is of crucial importance and should be free for users. Relevant advertisements and sponsorships allow us to invest in the creation of this content, while providing advertisers with exposure to the right users.
MM&M: What new ad formats and types of content are advertisers finding appealing?
DK: Some of the most popular and recent categories are video programs, educational articles, real patient stories, and shareable content. We do a lot more social products, where we embed programs – like Instagram stories, Facebook live events, and short video stories – that allow us to share videos socially.
Social video is increasingly important. We currently run over 80 campaigns for pharmaceutical advertisers that contain social extensions such as patient influencers, Facebook Live events, Twitter chats or social promotion of sponsored content.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.