My B grade to Google on early test of its stem cell clinic ad ban

As of October 1, Google was supposed to have banned ads for unproven stem cell clinics and products. This was according to their own new policy.

Google ads policy, stem cell therapies
Google ads policy change will allow educational ads for unproven stem cell therapies.

How’s that going?

How’s this new Google approach to unproven stem cell marketing working out in the real wild world of the web?

To test it, I did over a dozen common searches that in the past would bring up first or second-page results on Google containing several ads for unproven stem cell firms.

Overall, for more than half of the searches I did this week there were no Google ads for unproven stem cell clinics. So that’s good. However, there were some problem areas. Let’s break it down search by search term for a representative sampling.

  • The first search I did was for “stem cells pain” that used to bring up many clinic ads. While there were no page-one search results ads, on page two unfortunately three ads for stem cell clinics were present. Hey, Google, you need to work on this one. The other problem immediately apparent from this first search was that right at the top of the page results, while not an ad, was the website for a common and unproven (in my opinion) stem cell clinic brand called Regenexx. If Google filters ads for unproven stem cell clinics but allows clinic websites to rank at the top of the search, they may not have achieved that much.
  • I next searched for “stem cells autism“, which also used to bring up unproven clinic ads. I found zero ads now. Good job, Google. But again the top search result was for a stem cell clinic website so that’s bad news for consumers.
  • The third search was for “stem cells arthritis“. This was a big test because that search used to bring up many clinic ads. This time there were zero ads. Also, the top search result was not a clinic. Full credit to Google on this one.
  • The next search was for “stem cells cerebral palsy“, which came up with clean search results too.
  • Searching for “stem cells knees” or “stem cells shoulders” was less positive. These searches produced several ads each for unproven interventions including for Regenexx. For “stem cells shoulders” a Regenexx website was also the top search result, which while not an ad, basically serves the same purpose. Since Regenexx is typically FDA-compliant, but again in my view its offerings are not proven safe or effective, should Google’s ad ban apply to it too? It seems so, but I’m sure opinions will vary on this.
  • There is a lot of interest from male consumers in trying to improve their sex lives by addressing erectile dysfunction or by enlarging their manhood. I’ve covered this before on The Niche. In the past, clinics had many ads showing up on Google searches in this area. How about now? Searching for “stem cells penis” or “stem cells erectile dysfunction” produced many ads for unproven offerings including both stem cell-related and unrelated offerings.
  • Searches for “stem cells stroke“, “stem cells COPD“, and “stem cells baldness” produced no stem cell clinic ads, although that last one did produce iffy ads for baldness treatments unrelated to stem cells.

Overall, these examples give you a general sense of Google’s mixed outcomes from its unproven stem cell/cellular therapy/gene therapy ad ban. Their overall grade so far is a solid B, but I expect over time they improve.

It’s unclear why Google hasn’t been able to filter unproven stem cell ads in some areas but is doing well in others.

Even unrelated to advertising per se, my little experiment also highlighted how the Regenexx brand has clearly done its homework on what’s called “search engine optimization” so that its webpages rank very highly. It is probably also getting a lot of web traffic, which kind of feeds back positively on the rankings of its webpages.

Note that while I logged out first before doing the searches mentioned above, I imagine somehow Google might still have some memory of my interest in stem cells. Each person’s searches for these and other related kinds of search terms will yield somewhat different results. Using a desktop (as I did) versus a mobile device may make differences too.

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