|By Michelle Boyles, Managing Editor|
(This article was adapted from Optometric Management, though the Internet marketing principles apply to all healthcare practitioners.)
A recent Harris Interactive poll shows that 80% of consumers today research health information online. But with the wealth of information out there, how do you drive patients to your Web site? And once they are there, how do you get them to make an appointment? This article will tell you the dos and don'ts for putting your site together and ensuring it works for your your hospital, healthcare organization or practice.
Internet users conduct nearly five billion searches every month on major search sites. And while you may not think patients are searching for you, the statistics tell a different story. In the month of June, 8,090 searches were conducted on Yahoo.com for "optometrist, Los Angeles." The chart on page 66 shows that even if your practice is in a smaller town, patients are looking for eye care online.
Savvy, educated patients are more prone to search for health information on the Web. And the more involved the procedure, the more likely a patient is to research it. Stewart Gandolf, M.B.A., partner at Healthcare Success explains, "In marketing, we call this a high-involvement decision. If the risk or cost of a product or service is high, patients are more likely to do secondary research."
There are several keys to a successful healthcare Web site.
However, take care in creating your site. You don't want to overload the patient or make it difficult for them to find what they are looking for.
Keeping it simple is your best bet in several ways. Both of the consultants we spoke with suggest keeping the home page simple. "We recommend people have the location of the practice and the phone number in the upper right-hand corner of the page," says Mr. Gandolf. For example, have a separate page that lists office hours, another page that lists your practice's dry eye services and so on. Mr. Gandolf also suggests you have a strong headline that speaks to the unique benefits your practice offers.
But be careful with the amount of information you include and the way in which you present it
You should also avoid too much flash technology on your site, which appears as splash pages or some sort of animation. "Most Web designers are simply artists. A lot of 'cool' features will actually impede your ability to be found in an organic search," says Mr. Gandolf. For instance, if your practice logo is placed on your site as an image vs. text, it's virtually invisible to search engines. What's more, those flashy bells and whistles can slow down the loading time for your Web site. "People are incredibly impatient on the Internet. You've got literally one or two seconds to grab their attention," says Mr. Gandolf.
"Most searchers never get beyond the top ten search results," says Mr. Gandolf. "In fact, many never get past the first one or two listings." But how do you get your site in the top rankings? There are several methods.
Pay-per-click advertising. These are the sponsored results you see above and beside your search results. You pay the search engine and your site is listed in the sponsored results. "Most search engines have joined major networks headed up by Google, Yahoo and MSN. So, when you contract with each of these, you get immediate access to hundreds or search engines and will be visible to almost all searches," explains Mr. Gandolf. Each network operates differently, but we can offer a few tips for pay-per-click ads.
This method employs tricks to boost your Web site's organic (free) ranking.
Once you've put all the effort into your site, you want to be sure it's working and attracting patients. Mr. Gandolf suggests using Alexa.com. The free Web site provides an instant approximation of how heavily a site is trafficked. You can see how well you're doing, as well as how well your competitors are fairing. "If the results say 'no data,' it's a dead site," he says. Keep in mind, however, the site only provides an approximate number, says Mr. Gandolf, "Take it with a grain of salt."