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New York, NY - Health Dept. Bought Google Ads for Swine Flu Searches to Reduce Calls to 311

Published on: June 3, 2009 11:44 PM
By:  WSJ blog
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New York, NY - When the Health Blog Googled “flu”, we were surprised to see an ad for the New York City Health Department show up at the top of the search results page.

So what’s a public-health agency doing buying search ads? We gave the health department a call to learn more, and got the skinny from Jeffrey Escoffier, director of health media and marketing.

The city, which has continued to close schools as the H1N1 outbreak works its way through town, has continued to get lots of calls to 311, the city’s all-purpose hotline that handles everything from complaints about potholes to questions about parking. And people have continued to show up at the emergency room worried that they might have the swine flu, Escoffier said.

So the department thought buying Google ads might be a way to direct people to the information they need online, to reduce calls to 311 and help people understand when it’s appropriate to seek medical care.


The ads, which started running on Monday, only show up for people in the five boroughs. But they run on a bunch of different searches, including “H1N1″ and “swine.” So far, somewhere around 1,000 people a day have been clicking through on the ads, Escoffier said. He said the price varies by keyword, and couldn’t say how much the city has spent so far.

We asked Escoffier if he thought his boss, NYC health commish Thomas Frieden, should take the idea of buying Google ads with him to his new job as head of the CDC. “It would be a good idea, I think,” he said.

But a moment later he reconsidered. “CDC doesn’t need it,” he said. “Whenever you do a Google search, they show up on the first page.”

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