In today’s interconnected world, having an online presence is fundamental to building a brand. Without a website, you risk losing a significant amount of business—one survey reported that 85% of consumers find local businesses online. While on the other hand, simply having a website isn’t enough. These days, your website is often your practice’s “first impression” to potential patients. An outdated, poorly developed, or badly designed website will turn off visitors and undermine the positive message you’re trying to send.
An attractive, informative, well-built website is essential. But, where do you begin? What should you watch out for? What should you do to ensure not just a great end product, but a successful online property that supports your business for years to come? This article aims to help you navigate choosing the right website vendor—the most important decision you’ll make for your website.
Getting Started with Your New Website
When building a website, the cliché “easier said than done” applies perfectly, even if you’re simply redesigning an existing site. There are dozens of decisions to make and details to work out in the process of creating a website, most of which require specialized expertise to execute. Most businesses don’t have the capability to design, develop and maintain a website with in-house resources, so the decision is made to find a vendor to meet those needs. With the wide variety of website vendors, developers, designers and editors seeking your business, it’s critical to do your due diligence in selecting the right vendor to meet your unique needs.
We’ve created a list of five major pitfalls to avoid when choosing a website vendor, tailored specifically to the needs of medical practices making this important decision.
Pitfall #1: Ignoring a Company’s Reputation and Expertise
Failing to consider a vendor’s experience and reputation may sound like an obvious blunder, but it’s often all too easy to dismiss expertise in favor of lowball pricing, convenience, or other reasons.
Looking into a company’s history can reveal a great deal about the experience you’re about to have working with them. What’s their track record? How committed are they to research, innovation and future web growth? What do their current clients say about them, including their responsiveness to ongoing maintenance needs? Answers to these kinds of questions provide insight into the vendor’s reliability and their commitment to client care.
As a medical practice, your needs are different from those of other businesses building websites. Choosing a website vendor who has experience with the unique priorities of a medical practice website, like the importance of educational content, and appropriate, user-friendly images, for example, can make an incredible difference in the ease of the development process and the success of the end product.
In the interest of time, you may be tempted to work with an individual rather than a larger firm or group to develop your website, thinking that the process will be streamlined by working one-on-one. However, we recommend you do your research before signing on with an individual freelancer, as it’s very rare to find someone capable of handling all the visual and technical elements required to create and manage a website at the quality level you’d desire. Also, there is a risk of loss should the individual prove to be unreliable in the future. With something as important as your primary online web property, it is valuable peace-of-mind to know you’ve partnered with a professional company that’s trustworthy and reputable.
Pitfall #2: Agreeing to Bad Technology
You may assume it’s the vendor’s job to determine the right technology to use to build your website, and leave all decisions to the “experts.” While it’s true that you’re paying in part for the vendor’s expertise in technology, it’s important to make sure they’re headed down the right path based on industry best practices before committing to them as your vendor.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions and expect intelligent, logical answers—just as you’d expect from a mechanic explaining how he’s going to fix your car, for example. If the vendor can’t explain the basic technological approach they plan to use in a way that you can understand, it may be an indicator of future communication issues. Here are some examples of tech questions to touch on:
How do you incorporate search engine optimization (SEO) into your websites?
Good answer: “We make sure to include unique, high-quality content relevant to the terms you want to rank for. We also use the latest web coding standards so search engine spiders can easily crawl and index your website. Our SEO experts have built a platform that is SEO-optimized and avoids any black hat tactics. You won’t find any keywords stuffing here!”
How important is content to building a website? I like a more visual approach— can we focus more on images than text?
Good answer: “Visitors respond well to compelling visuals, but adding strong content is important, too. Without content, or with content displayed as part of an image rather than actual text, search engines can’t “read” what your website is about. This will have a negative effect on your SEO rankings. I’m confident we’ll be able to strike a good balance between engaging visuals and informative, succinct content.”
How will I be able to add content that is specific to my area of business and my patient’s needs?
Good answer: “We have built a platform that makes it easy for your practice to update and add content. We even have a library of content you can utilize on your site to engage and educate patients.”
Pitfall #3: Forgetting the Importance of Optimizing for All Types of Mobile Devices
In a recent seminar, Google said they have seen a 500% increase in mobile searches in the last two years. Even more astounding, for the year 2014, the number of mobile devices that are actually in use is expected to surpass the number of people on earth with 7.7 billion mobile phones and tablets compared to 7.1 billion people.3 Statistics like these point to the question: How does your website look on a small screen?
While essentially everyone agrees that the mobile experience is important, not all website vendors treat it the same way. There are different types of mobile adaptations for your website that you should be aware of; while the terms may sound interchangeable, they represent very different products.
• Mobile-Friendly Website. This is the minimum best-practice option recommended by most industry authorities. A mobile-friendly website displays and generally functions accurately, whether viewed on a desktop, phone or tablet, although it will likely be shrunk down on smaller screens.
• Mobile Optimized Website. Building on mobilefriendly features, mobile-optimized websites will reformat themselves if they identify that you’re accessing the site from an established list of mobile devices. Reformatting includes larger “thumbfriendly” buttons, optimized content and images, and enhanced navigation that displays important information (like contact info) more prominently
• Responsive Design Website. With the most advanced mobile option, responsive design websites elegantly orient themselves not based on the device or browser type being used, but by the size of the screen. This gives a high degree of flexibility and allows the most consistency between the desktop and mobile experience. Responsive websites tend to perform better than mobile-friendly and mobileoptimized websites, from both user experience and conversion standpoints. They are also considered the most “future-proof,” since the design presented is more naturally determined by the screen size rather than a fixed list of devices that are ever-changing.
The best mobile option for your website will depend on your needs, but ultimately the most important thing is to remember to include mobile in your initial website plan.
Pitfall #4: Not Considering Ongoing Website Maintenance
Imagine this: your dream website is launched, everything looks fantastic, and you couldn’t be happier. But after further examination, you find a typo, or want to add a new staff photo, or need to change your office hours. Who is going to handle making the changes?
Ongoing maintenance of the website once it has been launched is a major variable that should be clearly defined before work is begun. Possible arrangements include:
• The web vendor’s hybrid support system allows you to make changes via a client back-end system, or a support member assists you in making updates.
• The web vendor’s support team handles making edits you or your staff submit to them, including design, content, new development and system maintenance.
• The web vendor hands over the reins once the website is complete and you have full control—and responsibility—for any future changes needed.
Clearly, there’s a wide variety in how ongoing maintenance can be handled. There are benefits and drawbacks to each scenario, but the most important thing is to determine what you want and whether your vendor will be able to provide that level of service for you before entering into an agreement with them.
Pitfall #5: Focusing on Price Alone
While you should certainly have a budget for your website, focusing on price alone can be shortsighted in the long run. The information presented above should help you understand just how many variables are present in building a website, and some of these are probably higher priority for you than others. Make sure you carefully read and review what’s included in the quote your website vendor provides before dropping your eyes to the dollar sign. You may be getting more for your money than you think. Or, you might be getting ripped off. Here are some things to watch out for:
Hidden fees. Are certain aspects of the design or development process subject to additional fees, or is the quote all-inclusive?
Custom vs. Template. Are you paying exclusive design rates for what is really just a template? On the other hand, are you paying top dollar for a fully customized website when a templated option may be more in line with what you have the time and resources to manage?
Ownership. Once launched, what elements of the website will you personally own vs. “lease” from the website vendor? For example, the website’s domain name.
Mobile friendly. Is a mobile option included in the quote, or does that cost an additional fee? Is the design responsive?
Regardless of your preferences, make sure you’ve clearly defined your needs and project outcomes, and that the agreement you make with your website vendor reflects them. When in doubt, get it on paper.
Finding Your Perfect Web Vendor Match
The number of decisions and elements that go into developing a website can seem overwhelming. The reason why choosing the right website vendor is so important is because if you find the right one, the process is suddenly made very easy. So, do your research and be selective. Your diligence will pay off in a smooth development process, beautiful end product and business-building tool that will support your practice for years to come.