Article Date: 10/1/2008

How to Create the Perfect Web Site For Your Practice
web site

How to Create the Perfect Web Site For Your Practice

Use the steps in this article to create your most important piece of external marketing.

SCOT MORRIS Conifer, Col.

Whether it is finding an address, a restaurant or a medical provider, the Web is a consumer's first stop. Quite simply, if you are not on the Web, you simply do not exist in the eyes of an increasing percentage of the population. Not only will patients use your Web site to find basic information such as office hours, locations and insurance plans accepted, but also to educate themselves on your practice's products and services.

This article discusses both basic and finer points about your presence on the Web, from site creation through to marketing a finished site.

Three steps to site creation

There are three main steps to creating your website: Acquire a domain name, choose a host and design the site. The first two are simple.

1. Get a domain name.

Think of this as your street address on the Web. It is how your customers reach you. There are many extensions (.com, .net, .org, .biz, etc.) but stick to .com and .net as most people look up Web sites using one of these. Keep the domain short, simple, easy to remember, and something that applies to your practice, such as your practice name. This also helps with keyword searches in search engines such as Google. Avoid "cute" abbreviations or weird word spellings unless you have a really well-branded abbreviation. A great place to look for domain names is godaddy.com or networksolutions.com. Domain names cost as little as $10 a year but the most desired ones overall design consistent throughout the entire site or users may think they have moved to a different site.

■ Readability

Keep the site text no more than 600 pixels wide so visitors do not have to scroll horizontally. Most Web users are comfortable scrolling up and down but not left and right. Keep all sidebars on the left or right of the page. Central images, tables, and graphs are hard to follow and often cause a reader to lose their place. The maximum recommended screen size is 800 × 600 pixels. Use contrasting colors for text and backgrounds and keep the backgrounds simple. Keep colored text to a minimum. Text size should be readable so keep it somewhere between 11 and 13 pixels, depending on the text style used. Avoid calligraphy or hard-to-read fonts and keep the capitalization to a minimum. Most importantly, proof read the site.

There is nothing more unprofessional than misspelled words or poor grammar. Is the site easy to navigate? Does it give the necessary information? Take any and all feedback to heart; this may be the only feedback you get.

■ Navigation

All information on your site should be two to three clicks from the home page. Keep navigation bars prominent, compact and ensure that titles are easy to understand. Ideally, the navigation bar should be prominently displayed toward the top of the page or down the left margin. This navigation bar should have all buttons or links present without the reader having to scroll. It should also be present in the exact same form on every page of your Web site. Not only does this give a consistent image, but it also makes it easier for the user to decide where they are and where they want to go. If your site is very large, then consider an easy access drop-down menu that viewers can access to quickly find information.

Remember, the main page is the most important page and should have any and all relevant material that a visitor may want. The homepage link should typically be included in a standard menu bar. If you are linking to another site, be sure that the new site opens in a new window so your site still sits in the background and the user can easily come back to it. Be sure to check the links frequently to make sure they have not changed. When a viewer follows a dead link, he may not come back to your site.

Speed matters.

Graphic intensive sites incorporating complicated flash or music medium are really cool, but if the viewer can't get the information they need quickly, they will be on to the next site (which may be your competitor's). Download speed is more important than graphic content and should never be sacrificed.

Remember these design "do nots." Avoid annoying blinking or scrolling text. Animation and sound not used perfectly are distracting. Drop the pop-ups. There are too many variables in how these images are actually displayed and many browsers block pop-ups. Keep the background of the text one subtle color and never use pictures as a background. Look at wellknown Web sites. Do any of them use these gimmicks? NO! There are certain conventions present in Web design that govern how sites function and how they look. Simply put, an optometric practice should follow those designs.

E-commerce: today and tomorrow

E-commerce is the wave of the present and the backbone of tomorrow. Think beyond purchasing — it is how you run and operate your business. Consumers want to use their time wisely. Oblige them by offering services, which include:

practical features. Job applications, patient history forms, practice marketing calendar postings, on-line scheduling, patient education, and even just gaining basic information are all forms of e-commerce that can be done without a credit card. They all make the patient's visit more efficient and more enjoyable. Companies such as EyeMaginations (www.eyemaginations.com) specialize in patient education content that can be integrated into your existing Web site.

online dispensaries allow visitors to view your frame selections before they ever visit the practice. It allows them an opportunity to shop and make their visits (and your staff's time) more efficient.

How to market your site

Now that you have it done, how you get people to find your Web site? Put your site on every piece of information that leaves your office: business cards, letterhead, stationary, Yellow Page ads, fax cover sheets, referral letters, newspaper ads, and banners. It is as important as your phone number. If people don't know your address, they are not going to find you. Link to everyone and anyone who will let you. Use search engines effectively and pay for right-hand column ads on search engines like Google.

Your professional image

In summary, your Web site is your professional image to hundreds or thousands of potential patients, employees and the community as a whole. It is more important than your Yellow Page ad and may just be the single most important piece of external marketing that you will ever develop.

I have included a simple checklist that you should use to plan your website, design your website and monitor it after it has been completed (figure Website Design Table, above). OM

Dr. Morris serves as the medical director of Eye Consultants of Colorado. He is the operating partner of Morris Education & Consulting Associates, a full-service practice management and clinical education consulting firm. He is also the founder and senior technology consultant for Ocular Technology Solutions, Inc., a technology consulting services.


Optometric Management, Issue: October 2008