7 Medical Website Mistakes

How to avoid the most serious pitfalls in planning and creating a effective practice website.

Virtually all successful practices have a successful Internet marketing strategy keyed to their website. The reason is simple: The internet has become the tool of choice for the majority of patients in healthcare decisions and especially in selecting a provider.

Unfortunately there are also a ton of healthcare businesses and practices that don't have a first-class online marketing tool. Their site isn't effective, or worse, it is barely functional. This adds up to missed opportunity and unfilled growth potential.

If you don't have a website—or if it's time to take a critical look at your tired, gen-one version—here's a roundup of critical mistakes to avoid when creating, or re-creating, your website:

No country for D.I.Y.

Before we begin: Don't even think of doing your website yourself. D.I.Y. is for backyard gardening and has no place for Internet marketing if you want professional results. Given this basic ground rule, the list of web-making mistakes that we've seen over the years is incredibly long. But help is on the way: Here are the top 7 mistakes that are guaranteed to do a lot more harm than good.

1. Lack of clear goals and visitor path to action. Clearly define exactly WHAT you want the website visitor to do as a result of having visited your site. For nearly all professional practices, the goal is for the visitor to make an appointment, or at least call for information. Hold that thought.

Yes, you'll need to differentiate from the competition, persuade the visitor that you have the answer to their needs. Inform, yes. Convince, yes. But detailed "patient education," rapport building or lessons in office administration are best done in the office.

Everything about your site— "the visitor experience"—needs to move the visitor from "looking" to "doing." Your CONTACT US information should be available, obvious, inviting, easy and encouraging.

2. No focus = no message = no results. Build your site for a specific target audience and create content to speak to their needs (and how you can answer those needs.) Sure, you do lots of things in your practice, but don't try to say everything to everybody. Understand exactly WHO you are talking to and maintain that focus in terms of content, graphic design, functionality, structure and many other details in good web design. It helps to know who your typical patient is, and to make an effort to speak to that demographic.

3. Poor structure and navigation. Getting around on your site should feel easy, natural and intuitive. Don't let the mechanics of navigation become a barrier to communicating the message. Sites that are complicated, easy to get lost in, difficult to find important information, or difficult to get back to the main page will drive visitors away in frustration. Consistency is a plus to ease of use; when menus and navigation appear at the same place on each page and links are obvious. And while good aesthetics and graphic design are important, website design that is too flashy, technically overdone or underdone, or too slow to load is likely to be a loser.

4. Believing "If I build it, they will come." Most visitors, usually 80% or more, will arrive at your site using a search engine (like Google, Yahoo, etc.), so you need to build a site that search engines will recognize. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a sophisticated blend of art and science that begins with the design, construction and content of the site itself, and makes the site highly visible and easily found by Google and all other internet search engines.

The Dos and Don'ts of SEO would fill a large book, but your site needs targeted keywords and phrases, well-written and relevant content that is search engine friendly, utilizes proper and appropriate Meta tags, title tags and keyword tags. Caution: there are ethics and rules in this game, and using unacceptable techniques, such as hidden text or doorway pages, can result in being banned by the search engines.

Search Engine Optimization is a fundamental part of online marketing, and unfortunately it is commonly (and tragically) overlooked.

5. Making the website a marketing orphan. This is not a "set-and-forget" project. Plan your website to integrate with other marketing activities and vice versa. The classic symptoms of this are not including your web address in correspondence, brochure, business card or newsletter; or a website that looks different from your branding message. Find ways to tell your patients and prospective patients about the site, follow-up immediately with inbound email or phone messages, and maintain the site with content updates and appropriate refinements. This is a serious player in your overall Marketing Plan.

6. Believing your website is a technical project or a graphic arts example. In planning and creating your website, understand that above all else, it is a professional marketing communications tool. It absolutely needs to be technically correct (but not geek-trick driven); and it needs to be graphically appealing (but not an artistic expression alone).

Plan to communicate a compelling, benefit-laden message that differentiates you and your practice. Understand that the visitor has a need...and your site explains how you can provide the answer to that patient need. In that process, you'll also build trust, establish credibility and entice response.

7. Ignoring site and visitor analytics. Every website keeps and reports detailed statistics about visitor traffic (how they found you) and site activity (what pages did they see; how long they stayed). These web analytics are included with your hosting service or available free or low cost. Don't ignore them and learn what they can tell you about improving site effectiveness or fixing weaknesses. This is near-real-time feedback about your prospective patient's actions and response to your website. Study this data regularly; it can shape expectations and measure results, and it's vital to making SEO and marketing decision