WebMD focuses on content, social media as users flock to mobile

By Jonah Comstock
09:21 am

WebMD Health ServicesThe next big step for WebMD will be to start to move WebMD and Medscape content beyond their home websites and out onto social media sites, CEO David Schlanger said in the company's Q2 earnings call.

"In the digital ecosystem it's become clear that people are using social platforms as means to do more than just connect with their friends and family, but really as destinations to find information and consume information," he said. "So we want to make sure that WebMD content is discoverable and can be consumed on the social platforms. That’s an important strategy to make sure that we grow deeper engagment with our existing users and bring in more users to using WebMD and Medscape as content sources."

Schlanger said that the content will sometimes send users back to WebMD or Medscape (where advertisers can reach them) but sometimes the objective will just be to strengthen ties with users and make potential new users more aware of the brand. Early partnerships connected to this strategy include WebMD's content partnership with Walgreens and an upcoming joint project with Sports Illustrated, which WebMD has partnered with for a three-part editorial series called "The Comeback".

WebMD has had a good quarter, with revenue increasing 6 percent to $143.3 million and adjusted EBITDA increasing 7 percent to $40.5 million, Schlanger said on the call.

"During the quarter, our audiences grew strongly as WebMD and Medscape continued to demonstrate their leadership as the preeminent sources and brands of health information and tools for consumers, physicians and other healthcare professionals," he said. "Traffic to the WebMD Health network reached an average of 212 million unique users per month, and generated 4.12 billion page views for the quarter, increases of 18 and 19 percent respectively when compare to the prior year period."

Mobile continues to be the main way that users engage in WebMD content, and in fact usage has shifted further toward mobile in the last year. Thirty-nine percent of WebMD traffic this year came from a US smartphone, 24 percent from a US personal computer, and 7 percent from a US tablet device. Thirty percent was international. As of May 2014, for comparison, 34 percent of traffic came from a US smartphone, 30 percent came from a personal computer in the United States, 9 percent from a US tablet, and 27 percent from devices outside the United States.

Schlanger said the shift is a result of new mobile users, rather than a drop-off in PC or tablet users.

"Unlike many other sites, our growth in smartphone traffic has not come at the expense of larger screen traffic. Our traffic on PC and tablet has remained consistent with prior year levels," he said. "To put the size of our audience into perspective for you, the latest monthly comScore data indicates that we are the 28th largest web property in the US across all industry verticals. Within the health vertical, we are the market leader by a wide margin."

Meanwhile, on the physician side, Medscape averaged approximately 7 million physician sessions per month, an increase of approximately 14 percent over the prior year period. Around 635,000 registered US physicians are active on Medscape each year.

Schlanger also mentioned that medical and pharmaceutical innovation, and the shift toward personalized medicine, will benefit WebMD because it provides a targeted advertising platform for niche therapies.

"It’s an exciting time within healthcare, thanks to innovation happening across the pharmaceutical industry, particularly with the approval of new therapies that treat conditions and in some cases even cure diseases that were previously incurable," he said. "... And many of these are specialty products where digital marketing is an integral part of their marketing strategy, because they are generally very expensive therapies that treat complex conditions affecting small patient populations. That makes targeted efficient marketing campaigns such as those we offer a critical component to their success."

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