The ubiquity of the Internet in our daily lives is indisputable. Yet many businesses and practices in the healthcare industry are lagging behind in their uptake of digital branding, and specifically, investing in an effective website that is not just reflective of their brand but functions well in today’s competitive online environment.
Websites are essential to any practice. They offer visibility and accessibility to online traffic 24/7, and can help boost professional credibility and meet search needs that could bring new business. With more than 73% of today’s US consumer population spending several hours online researching services before they book, buy, or get in touch, first impressions count, and overwhelmingly, most of those impressions are happening online. So what core characteristics define a successful and relevant website of today?
Mobile Responsive Design
Two-thirds of Americans have a smartphone, and recent research indicates that mobile digital media time now exceeds that spent on a desktop. In 2015, Google made an official announcement indicating that more Google searches were being performed on mobile than desktop in 9 countries worldwide, including Japan and the US.2 The result? Websites today have to offer a consistent user experience, no matter where they are viewed, in order to remain relevant and competitive. Mobile responsive design is an answer to this challenge. It refers to website content that can adapt to any screen size and offer optimal viewing and interaction be it on a desktop computer or an iPhone. With responsive design, content can be read easily, links are clickable, and there are no resizing, zooming, panning, scrolling or long load times that hamper the web experience.
While many practices today are hesitant to invest in an upgraded site that is mobile responsive (mostly because the industry was slower to invest in websites altogether, some of which are only under 2 years old) by not investing in this now is a major missed business opportunity that will impact a practice’s overall digital return on investment (ROI). Patients should be able to effortlessly discover what a practice is about, know how to book their next appointment or order their skincare online with the tap of a button, no matter where they are, or which device they are on.
High-touch User Experience
There are patterns in how successful big name brands present themselves online. Website designs are high spec and clean, even understated, with a condensed number of single-scroll pages. Information is rich but not copy dense. They’re focused and to the point because they have to be.
A seamless user experience (often referred to as UX or usability) is paramount for successful practice websites that want to stand out from the crowd. This is more than just thoughtful, “beautiful” design in the traditional sense, but a smart navigable design that does not force visitors to have to think, wait or search for the information they want. While the average page session (the time a user spends on a given webpage) varies by industry, it can be a matter of seconds. Website content has to be organized, and the actions businesses want their users to take need to be presented clearly. In the case of a dermatology practice, this presents a chance to focus on specialty services with a clear hierarchy of communication and to visually showcase work with before and after pictures to convey service opportunities and results.
Content Optimized for Search
A perennially complicated website subject is search engine optimization (SEO) because it is constantly evolving while remaining integral to successful web strategy. SEO refers to the process by which websites are ‘optimized’ so that they obtain priority ranking (higher up) in search engine results. These queries may be branded (the name of a practice or physician) or unbranded (topical searches such as “top dermatologists in New York City”). This is not to be confused with search engine marketing (SEM), which relates to paid search initiatives (and is not being covered here).
SEO is challenging because of the nature of the search business—The “secrets” to how Google or Bing’s search algorithms rank searched-for content remain just that: a secret. While there is a degree of trial and error involved, experts have been able to formulate strategy-based hypotheses with the support of analytics and testing over time. What has been proven to make a measurable difference is critical to any SEO strategy:
- First, building an effective website that follows the first 2 points in this article: optimized design that is sensitive to the user experience and is mobile responsive. In April 2015 Google publically announced that its search algorithms would start to penalize websites that were not mobile responsive.
- Second, effective websites should be optimized so that search engine “bots” can crawl and read the site, understand what it is about, and match it with relevant queries. This can be done by adding proper meta descriptors, alt image tags, page titles and keyword rich content. A common mistake is to ‘stuff’ content with keywords, but this is not recommended. Instead, creating compelling content that integrates keywords relevant to your practice and industry, yet still reads well, is key.
- Finally, a strong content marketing strategy and linking structure are vital. Many websites incorporate a blog, a media section or their social networks as an example. This helps in 2 ways: It links outside sites to the website, indicating to a search engine that the website is well connected and ‘relevant’ (for lack of a better word), and it signals to the search engine that the website is regularly updated and new information is being shared. In other words, visitors won’t find dead content or outdated information when they visit.
Whether a practice is about to launch a new site or optimize an existing one, it is crucial that they approach their communications and marketing goals strategically: what is it they want to achieve (eg, book more patient appointments), and how do these goals align with potential visitors’ expectations and needs while visiting the site (eg, to learn about services or understand a practice’s point of difference)? By working with a team that can help them define their strategy, organize and enrich their content, outline their key calls-to-action and presents all of this in a well-designed, responsive and user-friendly format, practices will be far ahead of the competition and able to hold their own in the online marketplace.
1. PWC Consumer Research, Multichannel Shopping. Understanding how US online shoppers are reshaping the retail experience. PWC Consumer Research website. https://www.pwc.com/us/en/retail-consumer/publications/assets/pwc-us-multichannel-shopping-survey.pdf Accessed Feb. 24, 2016.
2. Bosomworth D. Mobile Marketing Statistics compilation. Smart Insights website. http://ww.smartinsights.com/mobile-marketing/mobile-marketing-analytics/mobile-marketing-statistics/ Accessed Feb. 24, 2016.