Article Date: 7/1/2009

Revive Your Practice Web Site
web site

Revive Your Practice Web Site

To stay competitive, make sure your practice Web site is up-to-date. Here's how.

JOHN WARREN, O.D., Racine, Wisc.

One of the tenants of business and marketing that drives my decisions regarding my practice, technology, staff and Internet presence is that my competition is anyone to which my patients can compare me.

Believe it or not, these comparisons go beyond other eyecare practitioners. From the dingy warehouse grocery store to the high-end salon where a patient had her hair and nails done last week, your competition and the experiences to which your patients will compare you and your practice are everywhere. This is never more obvious than when your patients are surfing the Internet for other consumer services, and they decide to visit your practice Web site.

If your practice Web site is comprised of frames of text and a hit counter only, what message are you sending to those patients who expect an up-to-date, attractive Web site?

The bottom line: Having a well-designed and well-executed practice Web site won't guarantee you an increase in patient volume, but it will give your patients one more reason to continue to receive their eye care and other related services from you, while piquing the interest of prospective patients.

Evaluate your practice Web site

To assess your current practice Web site, follow these two steps:

1. Assess your traffic. How much traffic has your practice Web site been getting on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis? How many of its visitors are repeat vs. new? From where are your visitors coming — around the corner, the other side of the world? From where are your visitors coming to your site — search engines, e-mail links you provide, vision plan Web sites?


ILLUSTRATION BY SYLVIE PINSONNEAUX

Having your practice Web site divided into different regions or frames is so five years ago, making it outdated in the Internet world.

Today's Web sites boast a collection of animated links with each link having subcategories, among other interactive features.

The volume of traffic your practice Web site garners is important, but its source is more important. This is because knowing the effectiveness of different Internet or other media promotions of your practice Web site can help you hone your message and its delivery to the appropriate patients. In other words, while it's nice to receive a few hits from China, I doubt they're going to result in an increase in business for my Racine, Wisc. practice.

2. Review its look. The typical look and feel of well-designed and current Web sites has changed greatly through the last couple years.

Five years ago, seeing a Web page divided into different regions or frames, with each frame holding different type of information was common. The top frame was typically the "Welcome" section of the site, the left side usually had contact information and links within the site, and the main body would hold more "meat" about the site.

Now, Web sites are not only a source for information and entertainment, but also for social interaction and actual real-time business transactions. (See "Web 2.0," below.) Current Web sites have an interactive section toward the top, usually in the center of the page. The purpose of this section: To draw immediate attention to the site, get the visitor to stay a while and drive home a central message about the Web site.

Also, current Web sites frequently contain a collection of animated links — typically major categories, such as "Contact Information," "About Us," etc. with each link having subcategories.

For example, an "Our Services" link might include subcategories, such as comprehensive eye examinations, eye disease, LASIK consultations, contact lens professional care, etc., which appear when the visitor hovers his mouse over the individual category.

Further, the main body of a Web page now contains more quality information about the business or organization, such as your mission statement and approach to patient care as well as a brief history about your practice with the links and animated section at the top repeating (possibly with modifications) on each of the underlying Web pages.

Web 2.0
The Web savvy often use the term "Web 2.0" to describe the Internet between the last one to two years. Specifically, the term refers to technology now enabling Web site visitors to interact with a Web site and use it as a tool for business. In fact, entire applications, known as "Rich Internet Applications" (RIA), now function as Web sites. Some examples: QuickBooks Online, facebook, www.salesforce.com and Photoshop Express.
You don't need to turn your practice Web site into an RIA, but using some of the related technology will make it up-to-date, and, therefore, appealing to your current and prospective patients. This related technology:
Animation. Companies are available that provide optometry- and ophthalmology-specific animation to educate patients. This not only removes the necessity to provide the education in the office — which takes up precious time — but it enhances the patient's experience with your practice. This is because they can review the information at their leisure as many times as they want. Also, such animation can provide patients with sales information and presentations on your services.
E-Commerce function. Having an e-commerce function on your practice Web site is an excellent way to compete with online retailers. The fact is that if you can provide the same convenience with competitive pricing, your patients will have less reason to seek their contact lenses or eyewear elsewhere. One caveat: To avoid the dreaded page reload and its accompanying wasted time and loss of engagement, execute your e-commerce function as an RIA.
Up-to-date photos. I doubt you or any of your doctors or staff look the same as you did in 2002, or whenever you last designed your practice Web site. Show the real you, as you appear today.

Asking The Internet Expert
In an effort to provide you with some further insight on this topic, I interviewed Brandon Mayo of www.doctorsights.com. Mr. Mayo is a Web designer who works with doctors on updating their practice Web sites. I think you'll find his experience in working with eye doctors (optometrists and ophthalmologists) very useful.

Q. What's the most common feature request that you get from doctors who are looking to update and rebuild their practice Web site?
A. Most doctors know that they want a more professional-looking interface — one that doesn't look like it was done with basic HTML (the language used to create Web pages). The information that they are displaying is usually pretty good, but the manner in which it's displayed is often not executed in a manner that looks professional and up to date.
We are also frequently asked about the ability to allow patients to schedule their own appointments. The problem with this feature is that it would either require duplicate schedules that have to be kept in sync or in tight integration with the Web site and the practice management system. These limitations have prevented most doctors from offering this function on their Web site.

Q. What is the single biggest mistake that you see on most existing O.D. Web sites?
A. Putting too much information on the landing page [i.e. Home page], which makes the page [look] too cluttered and confused. A Web site should be pretty intuitive to visitors and easy to find the information that they are looking for.

Q. Should the existing Web site be used as a starting point, or is it better to start from scratch?
A. Very few Web sites are "useless." Much of the content is good. It's the delivery and display of the information that are organized or executed poorly. Much of the old content can be imported to the new site, just with a different look and feel.

Q. How do you feel about Web 2.0, and how do you try to integrate interactive Web capabilities into your designs?
A. Animation and interactivity are good ways to keep visitors engaged with the site. Animations and other "active" features need to be in balance and not "cliché," however. Items that have worked well include:
■ Affiliations, such as the American Optometric Association, on the front page [i.e. home page], which cycles through logos/links
■ Animated menus
■ Really Simple Syndication (RSS) news-feeds
■ Interactive history and other patient intake forms
■ Google Maps
■ Blogs/Twitter feeds

Q. Do you recommend that doctors track their visitors and if so, how?
A. There are several good analytical tools available, such as Google Analytics and Get Clicky, among others. All help track where users are coming from, how long they stay, which pages they visit etc. All of this data helps tune the site content and display, allowing visitors to tell you what they find interesting and what they respond to.

Rebuild your practice Web site

Once you have created what I call the "hard content" for your practice Web site, the hardest part of your job is done. The hard content consists of ocular disease info, info about your staff/doctors/office, services and products you provide, etc. You can repackage this information — possibly with minimal change — for use on your new, up-to-date practice Web site.

You may need to create more pages on your new site to have a way to share all this information without making the pages too cluttered or busy though.

For example, consider an "intermediate" page for your services, which breaks the information down into separate pages for eye exams, diagnostic testing and contact lens services. This way, patients won't be overwhelmed by the information, and they'll see related information on each page.

Finally, to differentiate your updated practice Web site from the rest, look around the Internet at sites that you find enjoyable to visit, and consider how you can use elements of those Web sites in your own.

If you choose to personally take on the task of making these changes, consider using tools, such as the old-school FrontPage (Microsoft Windows), the more recent programs of Microsoft Expression Web and Sharepoint Designer (Microsoft Windows) or iWeb 3.0 (Macintosh), to make the project less technical.

If, however, you don't feel comfortable doing it yourself, or time is an issue, you can hire a professional Web designer.

My advice: See whether you can find someone who has knowledge in eye care, as having this person oversee the new look of your practice Web site can greatly speed up the development cycle.

When you get right down to it, an up-to-date Web site can help you grow your practice and improve patient retention. An outdated one, however, can do just the opposite. So, get to work on this project as soon as possible. After all, you don't want your patients to see the 2002 you when you and your practice have obviously evolved since then. OM

Dr. Warren is in private practice in Racine, Wisc. You can e-mail him at jwarrenod@gmail.com.


Optometric Management, Issue: July 2009