Creating a modern practice website from mobile devices to seo
Jeanne S. Holden
is a freelance writer-editor based in Springfield, Va.
Most physician practices are searching for ways to attract new patients. Yet few consider the boost that could be generated by a redesign of the practice’s website.
“The website is a practice’s new front door and lobby,” says Derek Kosiorek, principal with the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA) Healthcare Consulting Group. “Patients should be able to find what they’re looking for and not get lost in odd design elements.”
How can a practice decide if it needs a new website design? Experts say to start an assessment with Google Analyt¬ics or other tools that can answer such questions as “Is our site attracting many visitors?” and “Do visitors scroll or click to other pages?” In addition, close examination of the following elements can reveal whether a redesign could maximize your website’s potential.
Have you ever called up your website from a mobile device? Is it easy to read and use? This is essential since nearly two-thirds of Americans own smartphones and, according to a recent Pew Research Center study, 62% of smartphone owners searched for health information on their phones last year.1 There are two main approaches for making a website mobile-friendly:
Create a mobile site. This is a second version of your main site, simplified to appear and be navi¬gated easily on a smaller screen.
Create a responsive website. Often called a “mobile-first approach,” a responsive design is aimed at providing optimal view¬ing and interaction across devices. As Michael Dobkowski, senior partner and managing director of search strategy and Internet mar¬keting at Glacial Multimedia Inc. explains, a responsive website can be viewed from any device with any screen size and resolution—a desktop, laptop, mobile, tablet, or even an HDTV. When a visitor switches devices, the website adjusts automatically.
“Modern medical website design has transitioned from fixed width to responsive websites,” says Dobkowski. “If your website is not responsive, it is highly suggested as the physician and practice will appear outdated.”
Asked if having a responsive website is better than creating a separate mobile site, Dobkowski was unequivocal:
With a mobile site, updates need to be made on two separate websites, doubling the work. Responsive design reduces maintenance costs and effort, and creates a better user experience by reducing or eliminating any resizing or scrolling needed to view the website on different devices.
ABOVE THE FOLD
To attract patients, a practice needs to pay particular attention to the content appearing on its website “above the fold,” that is, what is seen before you have to scroll. Research shows that visitors click most in this area.
Dobkowski told AE recently that practices’ most important engagement objects should appear above the fold on their homepage. In fact, he said, in a recent study with CareCredit, Glacial found that adding a homepage “Financ¬ing” button increased traffic to that page by 27%.
In terms of ophthalmology practices, Glacial found that when homepages include such objects as “Schedule Appointments” and “How Can We Help You” above the fold, engagement increases tremendously. Dobkowski adds that patient portals keep traffic coming and should be in highly visible locations. Also, he advises creating an exciting “Physicians” page because, after studying 300 ophthalmology websites, Glacial determined that patients will click to get more information about their doctors.
Kosiorek also focuses on essential elements above the fold, recommending a classic design with a header at the top and a menu bar below that. “Don’t overthink it,” he says; background col¬ors can be distracting and big pictures can slow loading speed. Given ophthal¬mology’s unique retail aspect, he says, it is important to promote services like helping patients find the right eyewear. However, Kosiorek warns against dedicating the front of the website to eyewear sold by the practice since that is not why prospective patients are seeking the site.
“The aim of effective navigation is to get visitors to stay on your site and find what they are looking for easily,” says Dobkowski. “Navigation is intuitive if it is in tune with what patients want to do and know.”
Kosiorek agrees that people leave websites quickly it they can’t find what they want. “Look at the website from the patient’s perspective,” he advises. “A clean website with a top or left side navigation bar and clear information about locations (with an embedded map), services offered, a list of physicians, hours of operation, and a prominent phone number works well.” To get visitors to stay longer, he advises including educational materials or a blog.
SEARCH ENGINE OPTIMIZATION
A responsive design with appropriate content also contributes to search engine optimization (SEO), the process of increasing visitors by ensuring that a website is high on the list of results returned by a search engine. Search engines use keywords to rank websites, and medical practice keywords are what patients are searching for. “It’s as simple as whether your site has relevant content,” says Kosiorek. “If your specialty in LASIK procedures is on your website, patients searching ‘Lasik’ should find your practice.”
Moreover, mobile optimization and loading speed are being used as SEO ranking factors. According to Dob¬kowski, Google recently announced that it is assessing whether a website is mobile-friendly and factoring that into search results saved to mobile devices.
What is the actual impact of this change? Summarizing many studies, in June 2015 columnist Jayson DeMers reported that, in general, non-mo¬bile-friendly websites no longer appear on page one search results.2 Modern¬izing a website’s keywords, design, and content will bolster its SEO.
Experts also suggest that practices make sure they are included in online directories of local medical providers and that they promote patient testimo¬nials online. However, Kosiorek cau-tions practices not to fall for businesses offering SEO services for a monthly or yearly fee, saying “SEO is a one-time effort to make sure keywords appear in the metadata and then a matter of keeping content up-to-date.”
Website design is of the utmost importance and should be outsourced, says Kosiorek. It determines whether a prospective patient stays or bounces off a practice’s website. Website mainte¬nance, however, can be an in-house process using a content management system (CMS).
Dobkowski agrees. “Responsive web¬sites can be created with many types of CMS—from WordPress to Drupal or custom systems—and in-house main¬tenance is typically cost-effective,” he says. But, he emphasizes, “major design edits, navigational restructuring, and buildouts of engagement objects are best left to professionals.”
Asked about cost, Dobkowski says a fully responsive redesign ranges from $2,000 to $50,000, depending on a practice’s needs and the quality it wants. But, he says, the return on investment is undeniable. For example, he says Abbott Medical Optics recently released a study showing that more than 70% of people considering LASIK surgery will go to the practice’s website first.
A responsive website conversion is also a great time to review content. It needs to accurately depict your brand. “We are entering a new dawn of con¬tent marketing,” says Dobkowski. “You need to strike a balance between con¬tent volume and content that patients will need or read.”