Cancer vs Communication. Helping Advocacy Organizations Win the Battle

There’s an immediate and urgent need to advocate for cancer research and for services for families affected by the disease. Fortunately for patients and caregivers, there are innumerable national and international advocacy groups dedicated to cancer research and support (see a partial list at the end of this article). But each of these groups faces the challenge of fighting through multichannel clutter to reach, engage, and persuade their government, academic, and public audiences. A Google search for “cancer advocacy groups” returned 19 million potential links. To succeed, advocacy groups must apply state-of-the-art communication strategies and tactics.

Searching Patient Advocacy on GoogleFrom the patient’s perspective, advocacy groups provide intuitive, informative content that helps them and their caregivers find and coordinate the best available care. For a family in crisis with a new diagnosis or recurrent disease, answers and solutions must be accessible and at their fingertips quickly and without struggle.

Supporting patient and professional advocates

Advocacy groups have their work cut out for them, which is why Arteric works with them to enhance their digital marketing capacity.

For the second year in a row, I had the good fortune to be invited to lead multiple workshops for advocacy group representatives attending the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Annual Meeting. The 2017 workshop, titled SEO: Exploring the Boundaries of the Possible in Online Patient Advocacy, was designed for staff leaders with responsibilities in digital marketing, communications, and Web channels.

Prior to the workshop, attendees completed a questionnaire about their organization’s online marketing strategy and website assets, including competitor information, to ensure that the workshop addressed each organization’s real-world challenges.

What the audiences learned

Throughout the sessions, the audiences learned best practices and strategies for leading-edge digital marketing, Web development, and SEO. We reviewed each organization’s goals for its Web presence and assessed how effectively its website aligns with these goals. After spirited and insightful conversations, I worked with each organization to help them align their goals with their website tactics and reviewed how to quickly and effectively identify issues that may degrade their sites’ performance in search results. The conversations ranged from YouTube and video search optimization to the implementation of an artificial intelligence (AI)-driven chatbot care navigator.

What I learned

Similarities and differences

These workshops exposed me to a broad spectrum of advocacy organizations — some with 30-page websites that attracted 200 visitors per month, others with thousands of website pages and millions of annual visitors. Their questions were similar:

  • How do we draw more traffic?
  • How can we outrank our competitors?
  • How can we more effectively engage our visitors?
  • How can we make our content easier to navigate?
  • How can we structure and execute on our content strategy?
  • How can we use analytics to decide what kind of content to develop?

The differences lay in each organization’s digital marketing and communication maturity, its available resources, and its vision for how it can best serve its audience. What was consistent was the workshop participants’ commitment and enthusiasm. Their questions drove us to discussions about how to set goals for digital marketing, how to measure progress, what innovative/transformative technologies are available to deepen their engagement, and practical next steps. I was deeply impressed by what small organizations can accomplish with limited resources and how much they’ve learned and progressed from year to year.

Small organizations

I believe that the biggest area of opportunity for small patient advocacy groups is to clearly define their content mission and the measurements they will use to determine if their strategy is working. Then, every 90 days, the group should review both the execution of their content strategy and their key performance indicators, adjusting what they are publishing online based on how well the content is performing. This analysis should be combined with insight mining of their pay-per-click (PPC) performance, search-terms report, and query data from Google Webmasters Search Console. I suggest this analysis because the data often provide inspiration for content that should be published and because Google offers advocacy groups PPC grants based on their status.

Large organizations

I was impressed by the willingness of the exceptionally large and successful advocacy groups to consider new ideas and technologies. Specifically, they have an opportunity to leverage their large content sets (thousands of pages) to build automated/guided experiences for visitors who are seeking answers. Thousands of user-generated discussions about disease, quality of life, and treatment create unique and interesting data sets to train AI. One discussion included the question “Do we hire a team of chat operators to interact with visitors or do we hire a team of chat operators to supervise a chatbot that is being trained to interact with visitors?”

Personally, I find it deeply frustrating to chat with a person online. I send my question. I wait 2 to 3 minutes while the person looks up the answer. I lose interest, switch to another window, waste the operator’s time, and the session dies. I prefer to ask the AI a question, get a pretty good answer, and then have the option to trigger a live chat session if my question wasn’t answered. It’s faster, and I prefer to fail faster.

My day with our advocacy partners reminded me about the breadth and depth of the challenges that they face, as well as the need to provide a variety of tailored solutions to their problems. It inspired me to think deeply about how we can do more with less and about the symbiotic relationships among consumers, advocacy, and brands. I was reminded that our healthcare system relies on a balance of partners — and, that patient advocacy and professional advocacy are essential in connecting stakeholders to the health information patients need to live longer, healthier lives.

Lending a hand

Working with advocacy groups that educate patients, caregivers and professionals is a privilege, but it’s also a natural fit for Arteric for two reasons:

I’m pleased that Dr. DeVita feels that the medical community is gaining the upper hand on cancer and that we are moving toward a world free from cancer; but for the foreseeable future, people affected by cancer will need advocates on multiple fronts. Arteric will continue supporting these organizations. If you want to join the effort, check out the domestic and international advocacy groups listed at the links below.

Push your digital engagement to the max

For two decades, Arteric has developed digital marketing strategies, websites, mobile apps, and Web applications that drive growth for healthcare brands and advocacy organizations. If you’d like me to lead a workshop for your organization, or if you would prefer to schedule a 15-minute conversation to discuss how Arteric can maximize the impact of your digital communication programs, please contact me at 201.558.9910.

Cancer Support Advocacy Groups


  1. The growth of the cancer e-patient and their thirst for control. The growth of the cancer e-patient and their thirst for control. info. January 2014 survey. Blog article available at Infographic available at Accessed July 9, 2017.
  2. Katz B. Launch planning in a new customer reality. Decision Resources Group. Page 12. Available at Accessed July 12, 2017.
  3. DeVita VT, DeVita-Raeburn E. The Death of Cancer: After Fifty Years on the Front Lines of Medicine, a Pioneering Oncologist Reveals Why the War on Cancer Is Winnable—and How We Can Get There. New York, NY: Sarah Crichton Books, 2015.
  4. Cancer Statistics. National Cancer Institute Web site. Updated March 22, 2017. Accessed May 17, 2017.
  5. World Health Organization Web site. Updated February 2017. Accessed May 17, 2017.


Blogs Don’t Draw Traffic, Content Draws Traffic

Blogs Don't Attract Traffic, Content Does

Recently, I delivered the second in a series of webinars for patient advocacy groups on how to increase traffic. The title of the webinar was Breaking Through the Clutter to Inform Your Audience. This webinar focused on content marketing and content management for patient advocacy.

The presentation covered fundamental content marketing ideas, such as:

  • Alignment of the corporate mission with the editorial mission
  • Alignment of the editorial mission with key measures of success
  • Technical content management and production guidelines for search engine performance

My main thrust was to provide a set of guidelines for evaluating the audience’s content-marketing maturity and evolving their content strategy. My hope was that they would be emboldened to make the hard decisions necessary to focus on their niche and to improve the depth and quality of their content so that they can achieve greater audience engagement.

After the presentation, I was asked,

Do blogs help advocacy organizations drive more people to their Web site, and if so, how?

A nice jargon-filled answer that breaks the rules of content marketing is:

“Yes, a narrowly targeted blog that has high-quality, semantically dense, holistic content and has installments published on a regular basis and that is supported by a multichannel promotional effort will draw traffic and engage the audience.”

However, I think that the question may miss the mark. A blog is a publishing channel. It is a technology and thus will not draw traffic on its own. The choice to use a blog to distribute your organization’s content should be made only after you have developed a content-marketing strategy that includes longer-form content that is published on a temporal basis and after you’ve decided that you will leverage other channels, such as social media, video, or offline events to promote the blog. Blogs don’t draw traffic, content draws traffic.

“Blogs don’t draw traffic, content draws traffic.”

After we ponder the question a bit, it becomes clear that we need to answer some fundamental questions. I want to share some of our thinking on how we approach content strategy.

Questions to Shape Content Marketing Strategy

  • What is our corporate mission?
  • What is our editorial mission?
  • What are our most important goals? (fundraising, engagement, volunteerism?)
  • For whom we publishing for?
  • What do we want our audience to do?
  • How will we know whether we are being successful? What should we measure?
  • What is our budget?
  • What resources can we commit to publishing? Over what period of time?
  • Do we have the expertise to create the content at a sufficient level of quality and depth to compete and rank?
  • Have we looked at the sites listed in the search results that we are targeting?
  • Is there really a need in the market for us to publish on this topic?

If you use melanoma as an example, your answers may sound like this:

Our mission is to publish medical information about melanoma for patients and caregivers.  Our goal is to educate people on the prevention of melanoma and, in the unfortunate event of a diagnosis, to guide people to the most effective available treatment, so that they can stop the progression of their disease and possibly achieve remission.

Our corporate and editorial missions dictate that engagement is our most important goal. So we measure and analyze time on site, number of pages viewed, and unique visitors.

We have a sophisticated budgeting process and have an established annual budget that supports multiple content team members. So we organize the team’s effort and investment to advance toward our written goals.

Finally, there are no other Web sites publishing content with the quality that we will achieve on the topics for which we have the deepest expertise.

While this scenario is an ideal example, achieving this level of finish is a lofty goal that most advocacy groups will not reach.

Creating the Content

Answering the questions above will create the foundation needed to determine your effective strategy.  We decided that our most effective strategy will be to identify topics that would benefit our audience and provide enough information if articles are at least 1200 words long.

Example Image of What 1200 Words Look Like
Effective content for a patient advocacy blog should be roughly 1200 words.

We will ignore the technology as we develop the articles. Then we can put the information on the platform that best suits our strategy. The articles will be highly structured so that sections can be broken up into lists, quotes, infographics, and paragraphs that can stand together or on their own, depending on how we disseminate the content.

Image of well structured content
Structured content is a strong quality signal.

The final draft of each article that we produce, should be written by a professional writer and edited by professional proofreader. The content will be supported by infographics that help convey important information.

Now that the content has been developed we must identify the optimal channel.

Our avenue for publishing may include any of the following: our Web site; our blog; a traditional journal, periodical, or news outlet; an allied publication; a video; a podcast; or a webinar.

Possible channels for distributing content.
Possible channels for distributing content.

Promoting Your Content

To maximize your investment, you must plan the timing of your published content and sharing of your content with news cycles, seasons, or relevant current events to increase traffic.

Once we choose the outlet and the ideal publishing date, we plan our social media and promotional strategy. Social promotion may include teasers to Facebook and Twitter. Making the most out of the content, we also publish the infographics to Instagram or Pinterest.

This effort creates awareness of the article with our audiences and key influencers/connectors.

In order for us to understand which channels are best, we actively monitor their performance.  Our future focus will be on the most productive channels. We will ignore the unproductive channels.

Durable content is created that remains relevant for readers is called evergreen content. When articles fall into this category, we will repeat the promotional efforts every few months or in response to currently trending topics.

Reusing evergreen content will significantly increase the ROI/ROE per article. We can even substitute an old article into the cycle if there is a shortage of topics to publish about.

The key idea is that we created a content asset that can be used in many different ways. We broke it down into reusable components, we published the main asset on our blog, and we used the component pieces across promotional channels to draw the audience into the main asset. We measured as much as we could, and we evaluated the results in the context of our editorial mission and our corporate mission. Through this process, we gained important insights, which then inspired new content and helped to direct our future investments.

Competitive Advantage in Content Marketing

This example is very sophisticated. Fewer than 4% of nonprofits report achieving this level of planning, integration, and execution.

Image Results of Non Profit's Self-Assessment of Their Content Marketing Maturity
Source: 2016 Nonprofit Content Marketing Trends—North America: Content Marketing Institute/Blackbaud/

This is great news. It means that you do not have to be perfect at content marketing to compete and win your audience. Your organization will be measured along a continuum of content-marketing maturity, and your operational excellence will vary over time. If you take the time to answer the questions I listed above, your performance will likely improve significantly and you will outperform your competitors. You will achieve greater ROI and improve on your key measures of success, whether they be engagement or fundraising.

“Just start, and then build the momentum.”

My advice is to just start, and then build on the momentum. If you are not sure where to start, call Arteric. We will be happy to answer your questions and help you evolve your content-marketing strategy in order to advance your goals.