December 5th, 2019

What Sponsors and CROs Need to Know About iOS 13 and Mobile Ads


Apple’s iOS 13 means changes for Facebook and Google advertising. Here’s how the updates will likely impact patient outreach for clinical trials.

Over the past decade, sponsors and CROs have relied on geolocational data to optimize the clinical trial recruitment process. Since trials are often limited by location, the most cost-effective approach is to display mobile ads only to users in a specific region or area. Geotargeting also enables sponsors and CROs to learn about the areas and facilities their audiences frequent, making it easier to connect with current and potential patients.  

Geotargeting is also an effective way to reach physicians and healthcare professionals at relevant conferences or to advertise clinical trials where certain conditions and symptoms are more common. For instance, a study for a new allergy medication may want to market in areas with a high pollen density.   

However, the launch of Apple’s iOS 13 may cause dramatic changes for clinical trials that rely on geolocational data. While apps were previously able to track users through their mobile activity and Bluetooth use, now users will be able to “opt-in” to data-sharing. Users will receive “requests” from apps to access their information and regular updates about which apps are tracking them and where. This is likely to cause more users to opt out, and limit the amount of data sponsors and CROs can access.

What the iOS 13 Means for Patient Outreach

With these new updates, the iOS 13 will likely diminish the amount of geolocational data available to clinical trials. The move is a response to growing public concerns about privacy and data collection in the wake of Facebook’s Cambridge Analytica scandal. Apple’s new updates encourage users to take active notice of who is collecting their personal data and why.  

Patient outreach strategies will likely be impacted by these changes, but it is not yet clear to what extent. Users are increasingly concerned about privacy, but they are also approaching data sharing with a more sophisticated understanding of its purpose. For instance, a report from SmarterHQ found that 86% of American consumers are concerned about their privacy, but 90% are willing to share their data for a more personalized ad experience. In fact, 72% will engage only with personalized marketing messages. 

Nevertheless, even if many patients are likely to “opt-in” for a more personalized ad experience, sponsors and CROs should be prepared for dramatic changes in the digital marketing landscape. 

Mobile Strategy Without Geotargeting

So how can sponsors and CROs continue to reach the right audiences for their clinical trials? With geotargeting opportunities becoming more limited, having a robust mobile optimization strategy is essential. 

Mobile devices are now the main source of digital content, and sponsors and CROs should be aiming to diversify and optimize their patient outreach efforts. It’s crucial that landing pages and websites are quick to load – especially on mobile – and include one-step CTAs that are easy to complete. Further, sponsors and CROs should ensure that all relevant site addresses on Google and Yelp are updated, so that patients in the area looking for clinical trials can find accessible locations. 

Making Use of Location in SEO and Social Media

In addition to refining their mobile strategies, sponsors and CROs should make the most of SEO tools to attract patients in the area. Users often search for results “near me” or near a specific location when looking for healthcare services. By employing long tail keywords, such as “insomnia clinical trials near me,” sponsors and CROs can ensure that relevant clinical trial investigator sites turn up.  

Having a tailored Facebook strategy is also important to increase clinical trial visibility in specific geographical locations. Keep in mind that merely being close to patients is not enough. Factors like recommendations by friends and family and number of page and post likes also determine Facebook search rankings. Therefore, sponsors and CROs should take the time to post frequently on social media to solicit feedback and regular user engagement. 

To prepare for the full impact of Apple’s iOS 13, sponsors and CROs will need to experiment with new methods to reach patients. By focusing on mobile optimization, SEO, and social media, sponsors and CROs can ensure that their patient outreach campaigns produce results even with more limited geolocational data.