Creating an Animal Hospital Website
It’s a new year and you’ve decided that the time has come to set up a website for your practice. After all, 97% of people searching for local services begin their search online. There are myriad resources available on the internet and in print to guide you, but setting up your own site involves 4 basic steps.
1. Choose and purchase a name for your website, called a domain name. Typically, this will be the name of your practice with the addition of “dot com.”
2. Select a place to store your web pages, called the website host. There are tens of thousands of web hosts available that sell web hosting for under $10 a month. Most offer additional services, including help creating and maintaining your website.
3. Design your web pages using a template provided by your website host or a website design service. Your website should include at least these elements:
• Home page including contact information, photos of your facility, hours, location, etc
• Staff information page
• Services provided
• Patient photo gallery
• Specials (sales, gift certificates, web specials, etc)
4. Update your website at least once a month.
That Was Easy
Now that you’ve designed your site and thrown it up on a server, you can now get back to your real work, veterinary medicine, and watch the clients—and the dollars—roll in.
Unfortunately, it’s more complicated than that.
Kendra Ryan, PhD, CEO of VetWebDesigners.com, offers these tips:
1. Focus on the point of having a website: growing your practice. “You have to know your audience—potential and existing clients—and direct your site toward them. No one is going to choose your practice based on the CV of your receptionists,” Ryan says. “You’re a vet; you’re kind, compassionate, and qualified. Tell them that in your photograph. Your picture on the staff page should show you holding a puppy, not standing by your desk with a stethoscope wrapped around your neck.”
2. Don’t underestimate the importance of design. To be effective, your site must be easy to navigate and user-friendly. A website that looks amateurish or is written poorly is actually worse than no site at all, Ryan says. Clients think, “If that’s your website, what makes me think that you will be professional working on my pet? I want to know my doctor knows her stuff.”
3. Break down the barriers. It’s common for homegrown websites to underplay the fun of pet ownership. Ryan believes that while animal health care is serious, including lighthearted content like a patient photo gallery or funny videos on your site helps improve communication between you and your clients. Prominently feature pictures of the clinic cat, but resist posting graphic photos of you performing your stellar CCL procedure. “Your goal is not impress other veterinarians,” Ryan advises, “it’s to build your practice.” Update content once a month at minimum. “At Christmas, offer gift certificates. During Dental Health Month in February, offer discounts on dental cleaning and post client education material on your site,” Ryan suggests.
4. You have to get noticed. To keep ahead of every other practice in town, you need to get to the top of search engine results. “Few people go past the first page in a search,” Ryan says. Simply stated, specific words must be placed in your site’s pages that will cause search engines like Google, Yahoo, and Bing to put your website at the top of list of search results. Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical and is becoming more complicated, but thousands of tutorials on search engine optimization are available online.
Is DIY for You?
The evolution of the internet has been mind-boggling, but even newer technologies like tablets, smart phones, and e-readers are changing the game all over again. But hey, you’re smart—if you can perform surgery you’re certainly capable of running your own website! The real question is whether the money you save creating and maintaining your site is worth the time you and/or your staff will need to dedicate to the task.
Kendra Ryan sums up the quandary this way: “Are you a doctor or a computer programmer?” Having a website designed and maintained can be surprisingly affordable because of economies of scale in relation to marketing expertise, graphics design, and SEO expertise. Your time may be better spent writing a client education blog to post on your site or maintaining a presence on Facebook and Twitter.
Ryan says, “About 70% of our business is veterinarians who’ve tried to run their own websites.” The decision is up to you, but a functional, attractive, searchable website is no longer a luxury; it’s a requirement to build your business and serve your patients and clients.