ImproMed, LLC. Logo
Issue: 66 - Jun 15, 2014
Investing in Your Web Site
By: Michael LoSasso
Shamrock Direct Media

With today’s number of social media sites, it can be easy to forget the one and only internet property over which you maintain total control - the anchor of your online existence - your practice website. The website is not as new as the latest social media buzz, and many veterinarians view it as a necessary evil; something to be created and not considered again, just another expense. However, your website, like hiring employees, should be seen as an investment rather than an expense. In fact, you can think of your website as an employee, but this one is special. She works 24/7, never asks for time off, pulls an amazingly low salary yet will follow your instructions without hesitation, every time. Most hospitals I know would love to have an employee that fits this description!

Your practice website should be a tremendous asset to you and to your clients. Done incorrectly, though, it can also be a major liability. When clients have to wait for images to load, cannot find the information they are looking for, or find "holiday boarding specials" from Christmas in June, it hurts the practice image. We’ll discuss websites in terms of focus and content (both the "what" and the "how").

Focus

With respect to the company website, one of the largest mistakes made by businesses (both large and small, big business gets this wrong, too) is the basic message on the website. Like your other marketing efforts, your website is not about you - it is there for your clients (and prospective clients). It is there as an easy-to-use tool, a way for your visitors to get the information they came for quickly, without having to click too many times or struggle to figure out where you might have hidden certain information. As you can probably already imagine, this concept affects not only affects the wording on every page, but potentially the layout of the site itself.

Take-away: your website is for your clients, not for you. 

Another factor that has become important over the last few years, with the rise of the smartphone, is not “who” is accessing your website, but “how” - mobile web browsing continues its exponential increase, and websites need to either be constructed with this in mind, or an alternative needs to be available.  

Content - the “what"

If you remember to focus your website on your client’s needs, the “what” becomes a little easier to determine. Remember, you don’t want your clients to understand your hospital and how it functions, you want them to understand how your hospital can help them and their pet…

There is some information that is common to most veterinary practice websites (or should be), and this information should be either on the first page, or on an easily found, clearly labeled sub-page, or both. This includes:

  • contact information (address, phone number, email address)
     
  • hours of operation
     
  • location/map
     
  • information about your doctors and staff

Some other things to consider having on your website:

social media - if you are active in social media, make it easy for your clients to follow you! Links to your social media sites are easy to add; you can also add streams from Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. 

articles and blog posts - articles and blog posts (essentially the same thing) are a great way to provide information to your clients, as well as increase your desirability in the eyes of the search engines. If you write 2-4 articles a month, you have already formed the basis for a monthly newsletter.

patient portal - if your practice management software supports a “pet portal,” clients can use your website to learn about their own pets, such as when the next scheduled service is due.

photos - pictures paint a thousand words! A “pet of the month” photo is great way to unite your internet properties - the same photo that is featured on your website can be posted on Facebook (or even used as the profile or timeline photo), tweeted, and placed on the “Pets of the Month” board on your practice Pinterest page, as well as featured in your e-newsletter. 

A critical component of the “what” is timeliness. If you started your blogging attempt 3 years ago with the best of intentions, but your last post was in 2012, that page probably needs to be removed. Any feature that you add that requires a change, such as blog posts, or a “pet of the month” picture, needs to be changed consistently and on schedule. Put it on your calendar!

Take-away: keep your website current!

Content - the “how”

Don’t worry, this is not an HTML tutorial! However, how you get your message out can make as much impact as the message! I examined approximately 200 practice websites in preparation for this article, and here is a list of dos and don’ts for you to consider before you give this employee (with so much potential) her annual review (and please, please look at your website more frequently than that!)…

Do use lots of white space! Cramming a huge amount of information together on the page makes it hard to read and understand.

Do use large text! Use at least 14 pt fonts, for increased readability. There are successful internet marketers that won’t use less than 16 pt…

Do make sure your navigation is clear. “Cute” names for pages may seem like a good idea at the time, but these can cause confusion, and confusion causes people to abandon websites.

Do use video where it makes sense!

However…

Do NOT use large images in your header or under your navigation! For people with slow connections, this can make the page take an unbearable amount of time to load. Realize, too, that just because you look at your browser with a newer monitor doesn’t mean everyone does - I saw several websites whose header image took up 75% of my vertical space! You cannot afford to spend that much of your online real estate on your logo (or some piece of stock photography).

Do NOT use inverse video. Yes, designers think that white text on a dark background looks cool, and maybe you do, too. It is more difficult to read, and your clients already have a short attention span - don’t give them another reason to leave your site.

Do NOT clutter the space! Just because there is empty space on a page does not mean you need more content on that page. If you have a page that contains a huge amount of content, consider breaking it into smaller pieces (subpages).

Do NOT have a blog page when your most recent post was 18 months ago, or, worse, there is nothing there! Please remove that page from your navigation bar!

You may have heard practice management consultants recommend coming “through the front door” of your hospital every now and then, and seeing your hospital with fresh “client” eyes. That’s good advice. Consider doing the same for your website - you (and your staff) should individually visit the website, thinking like a client (or prospective client). What works, and what doesn’t. What needs to be added, and what needs to be updated or removed.

Websites are not billboards! If you update your website frequently, your clients (and the search engines) will notice! The only thing your clients will notice faster is a website that is completely out of date.

If you keep it current, and design (and write) it with your clients in mind, your website can be one of your most effective marketing/relationship tools.