To dot.com or not! Part I (of a 2-part series).
While advertising dollars in other industries have recently fallen or failed to grow, as per an article in the Wall Street Journal about a month ago, internet advertising dollars have grown exponentially, thanks to the many means by which to advertise on the internet at a fraction of the cost of print and other media. Google adwords is one example. And the fact that more and more people are searching locally (i.e. using google, Yahoo!, MSN, etc...) to find services, should hint at the fact that having an internet presence is probably key to a practice's survival and growth. Can a practice grow without it? Yes, a friend who is an allergist has grown a successful practice in 2 years without a website for his practice. However, a specialist relies on referrals from established doctors with established patients. A primary care doctor, however, is where the buck begins, so primary care docs have to attract patients by creative and unconventional means. Eventually, word of mouth takes over, but initially, establishing oneself on the map (outside of being the only primary doctor within miles in some rural community) takes creativity. Does primary care have something to learn from more business savvy specialties, like plastic surgeons, dermatologists, chiropractors and cosmetic dentists?
These specialties have prominent online presences. They have fancy websites with a broad description of their services. The fact of the matter is that nowadays, having a website legitimizes the existence of a business (i.e. your practice) in the eyes of the Internet Generation. Personally, I particularly like to check out a business's website before venturing over as a customer. This is a growing trend in this increasingly tech-savvy world. The website is their first taste of your business. A well-planned website saves the browser time in setting expectations. A poorly-made website can be a killer for potential new business. People use them to choose vacations, book airline tickets, find music they like, and explore the world around them. Increasingly, websites have become people's extra set of eyes by which to explore the world around themselves, including the world of services.
Why you need a website:
A website is the modern business' Yellow-page ad. The internet is where people are searching for services. A website is the natural next step in the path towards making your practice more technologically advanced, more automatic, and more friendly and informative to your future tech-savvy patients. On your website, you can really tell potential new patients what your practice is all about so that you attract the right type of patients to your practice. You can provide free public information. You can create links to other informative medical websites. You can feature a full description of the services you provide. You could attach a blog to the website. You can generate a newsletter. You can offer registration forms for downloading to speed up the registration process. You can even create email links for new patients to request an appointment online. By far, it is a better voice for your practice to total strangers than you can provide for yourself, outside of taking good care of your patients so that they go out and talk about you.
Creating the website:
Creating the website is a challenging task. It's much like buying a home and decorating it. You need to decide on a number of things, including a domain name, a company to host your website (where it sits on a master computer for others to access and view on the internet), color, feel, navigation (how to get around the website), what information you want to include (like for example, your address/ hours and your qualifications). Or you could simply hire a web designer and leave it up to them. However, being that your website is a direct representation of who you are, I would personally be involved in its design, look/feel and content. You might even want to have a lawyer help you put a disclaimer together for the website, explaining that the information on the website is not for treatment purposes. Let's face it, you've got to cover yourself from possible litigation in lawyer-happy America.
There are a plethora of graphic designers and companies in the market. You can also select a premade template (i.e. a website skeleton) and work from there. Choosing either may be a difficult task. Ultimately, cost calculations will come into play. You can even design your own simple website by learning html (it's really not that hard). However, for a fancier version that will be appealing to potential new customers, expect to spend in the range of $1500 - 2000 on the low end and up to $4000 - 5000 at the high end. Getting a designer, I believe, is worth the money. Your website, unless you have advanced html experience, will turn out better. And afterwards, you're not going to have the time to maintain it yourself or troubleshoot any problems. Interview several designers/ design companies, compare prices, and ask for samples of their work and even to talk to prior customers.
In summary, in order to create a website you need to:
1) Choose a domain name (i.e. www._______.com/net/org) to represent your practice and see if it's available, then register it. There are many websites that can help you do this. My favorite is Godaddy.com (just because I like their commercials).
2) Choose a company to host your website. (Plenty of these online)
3) Decide on look/feel and how you want it to navigate. This is the point where you should go surfing the internet and find as many doctor websites as possible, comparing them and learning what you like or don't like about them. This will help you zero in on your design.
4) Consider designing a logo for your practice to begin branding its presence in your local community.
5) Decide on the information you want included and start writing it out.
6) Choose a web-designer, or design it yourself after reading a book on designing a website or attending a course if you have the time. In choosing a designer, ask your peers or interview several prospects and ask for a sample portfolio and references.
7) Go live. Make sure the website works on all the internet browsers. (The main ones are Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, and Apple's Safari).
After your website is done. Now what?
So now you're online. You've finally claimed your piece of internet real estate. Hurray! You're done, right? Wrong! Building your website is only the beginning of the game in getting new patients. For those not familiar with internet jargon, there's traffic to your website (a.k.a. "number of hits," "clicks"), number of impressions, search engine optimization, search engine marketing, page-ranking, pay-per-click marketing, and lead aggregators (like LocateADoc.com). Now you have to vie for the piece of online real estate that puts your website in front of potential future patients. And finally, there's another big word and the most important word in marketing: ROI (i.e. return on investment). More on these in Part II of this series.