Focusing its health content on forging deeper bonds with younger users has helped put Healthline in arm’s reach of rival WebMD.
Since overtaking Everyday Health a year ago to become the second-most visited health property, Healthline has outpaced its competitors, growing 56% year-on-year in the 12 months to October. That same month, its network logged 72.7 million unique visitors.
Rivals WebMD and Everyday Health saw much smaller gains during that time period. But a newer competitor, Dotdash’s Verywell, grew more quickly, rising from 10th to fourth-most visited site.
MM&M caught up with the digital health information publisher’s CEO, David Kopp, to find out what’s behind Healthline’s growth, how its ad mix is shaping up, and his future plans for the network.
MM&M: You’ve had some notable traffic growth the last couple of years. Help us put that into perspective.
DK: Healthline.com for September reached 53 million visitors in the U.S., and the Healthline property reached 67.5 million. Healthline.com has grown 65% in the last year, while WebMD has only grown about 9%. We expect those growth rates to continue, which means we will pass WebMD next year and will be the largest consumer health website. For the coming year, we are expecting the site to grow around 30% year-over-year. From a user reach standpoint, we expect to be into 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 additional visitors vs. the same time last year. To what do you attribute the growth?
DK: The biggest explanation 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 start the process of researching the topic and understanding what the user and the patient’s experience is like, because [health is] not purely a clinical experience. We have also really doubled down in wellness and nutrition, a category which has grown about 150% in terms of traffic over the last year.
MM&M: Have viewership gains led to revenue gains?
DK: We don’t disclose our ad revenue, but can disclose that we have grown revenue by well over 20% per year for the last six years as we have grown our viewership from about one million users per month to over 50 million users a month. Our revenue is up overall, and across virtually every advertiser and brand.
MM&M: What can you tell us about the typical Healthline visitor?
DK: One of the obvious differences quantitatively when looking at the comScore data is that Healthline users are younger. If you look at 45 and under on Healthline, we substantially over-index against others in the top five. That’s because our content attracts…users who are leaning into their health. These are the users that pharmaceutical advertisers want to reach, because they’re the people who will participate in their own care and partner with a doctor.
MM&M: The online media business is a difficult one at the moment, given a digital ad market dominated by Google and Facebook. How are you competing?
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’ll spend over $10 million on creating and updating the most current, evidence-based, empathetic health content on the web.
Health media is also a very strong ad market. And because of regulatory complexity and a high bar for consumer privacy, it is a category where we make a better partner for endemic advertisers than the more programmatic/self-serve offerings of Google or Facebook.
MM&M: What about the relationships you’re forging with users?
DK: Our definition of quality is about deeply connecting with users who we are trying to help and letting them be part of their own journey and our health content. The result of that is a better piece of content that is more helpful, and that resonates more with advertisers.
For example, when feedback from our HIV Facebook community suggested that aspects of our content, and health content at large, had some inherent biases and misconceptions, we convened patient advocates to discuss how to change our language and content approach. The result was updating 400 articles, and over the course of the year, we saw that updating drive about 30% more usage of that content.
MM&M: What is your advertiser mix?
DK: We see about half of our advertising revenue come from pharma and life sciences, a quarter from other health companies, and a quarter from non-health companies.
MM&M: Are you looking to diversify revenue streams?
DK: We believe that our high-quality content is critically important and should be free to users. Relevant advertising and sponsorships allow us to invest in creating this content, while providing advertisers with exposure to the right users.
MM&M: What are some of the newer ad formats and content types advertisers find appealing?
DK: Some of the most popular and newer categories are video programs, educational articles, real patient stories, and shareable content. We are doing a lot more social products, where we build into programs–like Instagram stories, Facebook live events, and short video stories–allowing us to share videos socially.
Social video is increasingly important. We are currently running over 80 campaigns for pharma advertisers that contain social extensions like patient influencers, Facebook Live events, Twitter chats, or social promotion of sponsored content.
This Q&A has been edited for clarity and brevity.