How to Transform Your Hospital Website Into a Marketing Machine That Attracts PatientsOccasionally we encounter a hospital website that was created on the mistaken belief that “if you build it, they will come,” to borrow a line from Field of Dreams. The marketing plan for attracting patients falls woefully short of expectations because “set-it-and-forget-it” isn’t a plan, and that simply doesn’t work.An effective website—one that consistently produces measurable results—is often the online front door of an institution. It’s usually the first point of encounter for patients, prospective patients, families and friends. The challenge is to build a “front door” that is welcoming, engaging, interesting and most of all provides answers for visitor questions about your facility, service lines and physicians. And that’s not an easy task.In fact, online marketing that profitably attracts patients from the Internet relies on a carefully crafted plan with a professionally designed website as its cornerstone. To transform your hospital website into a top performer, consult this list of important tips:Prioritize your audiences and website objectives before you begin. Before anything else, identify, in detail, the people you want to reach and what you want the site to achieve in reaching them. Content is more important than pretty. The words, ideas and information presented in a website have the greatest importance. Being visually interesting is valuable, but don’t allow the graphic elements to overpower the visitor experience… or substitute for strategic messaging. Write effective, response-driving words in a friendly, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand style.Design for usability first. Although the public is generally familiar with the Internet, the function and usability of each page should be naturally apparent. Aesthetics should complement usability, and the site visitor should never have a question about how to navigate.Avoid marketing by committee. Every hospital—regardless of its size—has many missions and messages. Inevitably there are competing agendas about purpose, emphasis and content. Attempting to address every possible special interest will accomplish nothing. Consider rotating home page images, for example, to speak to a range of interests without widespread clutter.Make Search Engine Optimization (SEO) an integral part of every page. SEO is not an after-the-fact process or step. The techniques that affect how a site or page is likely to rank among organic search results need to be considered first… and applied to each and every page.Drive traffic to your site via advertising. In addition to attracting visitors to your hospital website via SEO/organic search, use a precision-designed plan of online advertising, including Pay-Per-Click ads, Display ads, Facebook ads and other tools that connect with target audiences.Create—and regularly update—content that is both social and search friendly. Step one is to enhance online visibility with fresh, interesting and authoritative content—frequently. (Old, stale pages are subordinated in page rank.) Next, present engaging content that is easily found and shared via social media formats, such as Twitter, Facebook, etc.Make online scheduling possible. Increasingly, patients expect a website to be more than the fundamental “brochure-ware” of the distant digital past. The moment that the site content delivers the answer to a prospective patient’s needs is the ideal time for that person to immediately schedule an appointment for a particular department, provider or service line. Increasingly, hospitals provide instant access to direct appointment booking, and those that do have a distinct marketing advantage.Allow patients and prospective patients to communicate with your hospital online. The best site content is that which will open the door for visitors to dig deeper. They will have questions, want to make an appointment or simply want the added assurance that comes from connecting with a live person. Use the website as a gateway for next-step connections via confidential email, online chat, patient portal and/or immediate phone callback.Use calls to action, and provide offers where possible. The pages of a hospital website should always provide the visitor with clear and obvious direction as to what action they should take next. A compelling call to action should be present and prominent and should (as appropriate) provide an offer to the visitor as added encouragement.Unlike in the Field of Dreams story, it’s not enough to simply build the baseball diamond (website). In the world of hospital marketing, it’s the hospital website that is built well that will effectively attract new patients to your facility.