The Department of Health (DoH) has spent more than £2.7m in advertising on Google in the past year, it has emerged.
Using the internet search engine’s pay-per-click AdWord service, the DoH spent £2,720,457.11 between 1 February 2009 and 31 January this year, health minister Phil Hope said.
Adwords are the "sponsored links" that appear at the top of the page when a user searches for a particular term. Clients pay Google each time the link is clicked.
The DoH paid for 21,939 “active search terms”, he revealed, but said that revealing the exact search terms could put the DoH at a future competitive disadvantage.
"Details on which Google keywords have been bought for use is commercially sensitive; in particular the collection of the keywords the department has paid for on NHS Choices is estimated to have taken approximately one year to complete," Hope said in a written answer.
The aim is to get to consumers before private health firms or companies do. For example, if a user searches for "stop smoking" on Google, the first sponsored link is for NHS Choices, with the other two for nicotine patches.
The department claims its anti-smoking marketing puts two million smokers in touch with NHS cessation services each year.
A spokesperson said: "The Department of Health's campaigns are designed to deliver better health, whether this is to help people change their behaviours to protect their long-term health, to signpost people to NHS services, or to encourage healthier lifestyles."