If You Build It, Will They Really Come?
THE CASE FOR LEAVING WEBSITE DESIGN AND MARKETING TO THE PROS
When a prospective patient Googles ?dentists? and a zip code, is your website among the first listed? If it is, what are the chances that this casual ?surfer? will make an appointment? And can she make the appointment using her smartphone? If you still think a dental practice website is a luxury, think again. Today?s patients are more likely than ever to search online for a dentist, making a well-designed, up-to-date website a marketing necessity. But while most dentists have jumped on the website bandwagon, many continue to rely on first-generation renditions that appear dated and fail to meet the ever-changing needs and expectations of discerning healthcare consumers.
The Professional Edge: Avoiding DIY Pitfalls
More than ever, your website provides would-be patients with that all-important first impression of you and your practice. When you?re trying to promote a high-quality, high-tech practice, the last thing you want is a site that conveys an outdated, low-tech message. A tech-savvy staffer might be able to design a website with the basics, but today?s healthcare consumers (and their technology) demand more. Dental practice websites are all about conversion; namely, the ability to transform a web surfer into a patient with an actual appointment. And the websites most likely to do so have a range of features and capabilities best left to the professionals.
Search Engine Optimization. While dentists should be wary of anyone who promises that their website will appear first on Google or other search engines, a content-rich, search engine-optimized site is more likely to appear high in a visitor?s search results. Today, on-page optimization (key words, H1 tags, etc.) is only the beginning, and a highly technical function known as site match protocol is responsible for ?deciding? in what order various websites appear in a given search. The protocol considers a wide range of factors, from key words and domain name/site location validity, to the last time the site was updated and the number of incoming links. Even if you?ve heard of site match protocol, you probably have neither the time nor the inclination to learn its complexities. On the other hand, website design companies have the expertise and technology to build such optimization into their platforms, and to make the changes in response to the constant tweaking of optimization algorithms by search engines like Google. Some companies go a step further, and offer advanced on- and off-page optimization to, for example, target patients seeking a particular service in a particular geographic region.
Going Mobile. Being competitive also means having a website that can communicate with virtually every type of technology, and mobile devices such as smartphones are changing the way people interact with the Internet at a staggering pace. In fact, some research suggests that 35% of all Internet searches are now conducted via smartphone, with mobile searches expected to overtake desktop searches in the very near future.
Website design and Internet marketing company ProSites founder and CEO Lance McCollough cautions that mobile Internet technology ?is not your desktop site on a mobile phone. It?s a different medium that requires faster loading times and other ?thumb-friendly? features best left to the experts.? Visitors to websites not properly optimized for mobile technology may be frustrated by a less-than-favorable experience. Social Media. ?Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter provide another opportunity to spread the word about your practice, and in a highly interactive manner,? says Officite president Glen Lombardi, who adds that a practice?s social media footprint has a direct impact on a sites search engine visibility.
The Bottom Line
If all of this sounds overwhelming, consider that companies specializing in creating sites for dental practices offer a wide range of options, from templates and ?predesign? formats to fully customized sites, allowing practitioners to do as much or as little of the work as they choose. VivioSites customers can, for example, select from 30+ fully optimized, mobile-compatible template designs. ?We do all the hard work up front,? says marketing manager Anthony Giovine, ?and dentists can then customize the sites to meet their needs and make the sites appear quite unique.?
In general, customers pay a one-time setup fee, which varies depending on features and customization, followed by a monthly fee for hosting and maintenance. And there?s more good news. A template-based website can be launched almost immediately, and features added gradually, and even the most customized of sites can be up and running in weeks.
When selecting a professional, be sure to look for someone who interviews you thoroughly about your vision and provides you with multiple options. Equally important is the ease with which you and your staff can edit and add to the site and the support you receive in doing so. Giovine notes that VivioSites clients can edit their websites as easily as they would ordinary Word documents, and Lombardi explains that Officite?s Doctor Portal tool is designed specifically to enable quick and intuitive content updates.
Stay Ahead of the Curve
Once your site is up and running, your web presence will need to be managed, with consideration given to everything from reputation management (monitoring online reviews) to setting up insider directories. Websites evolve constantly, and quickly become out-dated unless someone monitors and responds to every change that comes down the pike. The best design companies have procedures for continuously and automatically updating all customer websites both silently and seamlessly.