Getting Noticed On The
to online resources to make your practice Web site more attractive to visitors.
BY JOE DYSART
It's easy enough to spend money creating a cutting-edge Web site, but getting people to actually stop by is the real challenge to making it worthwhile. Without proper promotional efforts, optometric Web sites could just languish in cyberspace as little more than technological testimonials to their Web designers.
Get ready to get set
So how can you avoid this fate, and get your site noticed on the World Wide Web? Put together an arsenal of promotional tools that you can implement the moment your site goes live. This way, you're ready to go as soon as the site goes live. I'll talk about some basic strategies that you can implement to catch the eyes of any Web site passer by.
Once your Web site is up and running, you'll want to stimulate some awareness among the current Web surfing population. Consider renting or buying a consumer e-mail list to promote your site to inquiring minds. This is probably one of the easiest although maybe one of the most expensive ways to promote a Web site and company services on the Web.
Essentially, you rent exposure in a Web-established company's e-mail customer distribution list. Often, that company recommends via e-mail that its customers visit your Web site, and will sometimes include a discount coupon for goods or services at your site.
Get the crowds running
You can pick and choose from many different services to provide to your site visitors. The following are just a few suggestions that will draw the direct interest of potential patients.
- Meet the press. Probably one of the most overlooked opportunities that's available when you own a Web site is a virtual press center. Increasingly, journalists are turning to the Web to search for stories and develop new ideas, and there's no reason why any practice with a Web site should pass up an opportunity for free media exposure. To start out, simply post a few press releases about your practice in a "press center" section.
Press centers are also beneficial to potential patients because they can learn more about you and your office and what services you have to offer them.
- Everyone wants to be a winner. You can also start your own online contest or give-away. A tried-and-true traffic generator in the bricks-and-mortar world, online contests do the same for Web sites, as well as glean valuable demographic data about the people who visit your site.
- Can't pass up a bargain. Regularly posting online coupons also helps attract site visitors. This is another old economy bricks-and-mortar solution that works just as well, if not better, on the Web.
Offer coupons online for easy printout, or periodically deliver them directly to visitors' e-mail inboxes. The advantage of e-mail delivery is that patients don't have to make an effort to search for the coupons.
Don Ratty, O.D., offers a discount coupon on his site (www.rattyreber.com), as does August Optical (www.augustoptical.com). To get ideas for your own site, check out these two.
- Keep in touch. While you have potential patients at your site, get them to sign up for an e-mail newsletter. The beauty of this promotional tool is that it's much less expensive to produce and distribute than in the hardcopy world. You can even experiment for free at sites such as Topica (www.topica.com) and Egroups
For a more in-depth appreciation of just how popular e-mail newsletters are on the Web, visit Liszt (www.liszt.com). It tracks more than 90,000 newsletters and mailing lists currently circulating the Net. This is another good place to see what information other companies, practices and organizations include in their newsletters and how they put them together.
You can also sign up for University Vision Clinic's e-mail newsletter at www.universityvision.com.
- Trade-related directories. You won't want to miss getting posted in the myriad optometry-related Web directories that have sprung up all over the Web, such as: Accessible Visionlinks Ophthalmologist and Optometrist Directory
(www.visionlinks.com) and Optometrists Network
Directories serve a similar function to that of search engines, which you'll read about shortly -- they help Web cruisers get to the sites they're seeking more quickly.
- Through the grapevine. As in the paper world, no promotion is more valuable than word-of-mouth advertising. Another good tip you might want to consider is adding a "recommend this site to a friend" button to your Web site. Visit Arnold Eye Center
(www.arnoldeye.com) to see how they offer this option. While you're there, see what else the site has to offer -- an e-mail newsletter, eye quiz, information on eye conditions and more.
"We've found that the Web has been a great starting point for patients exploring laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis (LASIK) surgery for the first time," says Andrew McCoy, regional director for Lasik Plus. He continues, "Many of our patients who use the Web first researched the concept of LASIK surgery online and ultimately visited us."
- Team up with others. It's also a good idea to exchange links with as many non-competitive Web sites as you possibly can. Seattle Eye M.D.s' site
(www.eyemds.net) links with its local Seattle Chamber of Commerce to help drive more traffic to its site, as does ClearVision Laser Centers
- Catering to special needs. If you practice in an ethnically diverse community, you may want to consider offering your visitors access to your site in multiple languages. Nothing flatters a new U.S. immigrant more than a Web site rendered in his or her own mother tongue.
- Report breaking news. Optometrists with the deepest promotional pockets also might want to offer a branded news ticker. This is probably one of the more innovative and sophisticated Web site promotion strategies used on the Web today.
Essentially, companies contract with professional news organizations to create a "news ticker" that resides on a user's computer and pops up on the screen when news breaks. With every pop-up message, the logo of the company sponsoring the news ticker is displayed.
Rev up the engines
No promotional strategy is complete without search engine positioning or listing your site with a popular search engine so it's among the first links returned in a keyword search. As I mentioned earlier, this form of promotion is similar to
optometry-related Web directories.
Search engine positioning is considered an art form on the Web, so you may want to consider seeking the services of a Web positioning firm if you want to seriously enter the search engine listing wars. The following are the different routes you can take to position your Web site with a search engine.
- Paid help. The Web Hitman (www.webthemes.com) is a Web-positioning firm. For $795, it'll guarantee that any site it lists will appear in the top 10 links from one of the Net's Big 8 Search engines (Yahoo!, Excite!, Alta Vista, Web Crawler, Hot Bot, Now!, Northern Light Search and Planet Search). Other Web Hitman services include press releases, e-mail advertising, banner campaigns and more.
You'll find other Web positioning firms by visiting www.searchenginewatch.com.
- Do-it-yourself with a little help. You can also list your site with hundreds of search engines for free at Virtual Promote.
(www.virtualpromote.com). A superb information clearinghouse on Web site promotion, Virtual Promote offers links to more than 500 sites that'll help you with search engine listing.
Another option is to use a software program such as Web Site Traffic Builder by Intelliquis
(www.intelliquis.com). Traffic Builder automatically registers your site with more than 900 Internet search engines and will automatically put your business in the appropriate category for each search engine.
Plus, you can use the software to check your site's position on the Net's eight most popular search engines. A similar program, WebPosition Gold, by FirstPlace Software
(www.webposition.com), focuses on getting your site placed high up on the Web's top search engines.
Reward for your effort
When you have it all put together, one other way to draw interest to your site is to get it noticed with an award. Garner more exposure by entering Web site contests. Try to get judged by one or more of the many cool Web sites of the day or week. Sites deemed worthy of an award receive a graphic blue ribbon to post on the site.
Awarding services also usually provide a free link to the winning page from its own home page -- a perk that can generate thousands of visits to a Web site, says Charles Sayers, a U.S.-based Internet marketing consultant.
Jim Wilson, the Webmaster behind Virtual Promote says, "Keep in mind that most people who'll be surfing to your Web site don't realize the relative difficulty of earning different awards. All they see is that some people thought your site was good enough to win an award. Go ahead. Apply for everything."
Opportunity for improvement
As you can see, the resources for creating an attention-getting, world-class Web site are out there waiting for you. Check out the other optometrists' sites and other resources mentioned in this article for ideas to increase the number of visitors to your site.
Keep in mind, the more visitors your site gets, the greater the possibility of your accumulating new patients through their interest in what you have to offer, as well as their word-of-mouth referrals.
Optometric Management, Issue: August 2001