The following article was authored by Vantage Clinical Solutions principal, Tannus Quatre, PT, MBA, and published in the February 2010 issue of Impact Magazine, a publication of the Private Practice Section of the American Physical Therapy Association.
Private Practice Website Essentials: Design, Navigation, Information and Integration
By Tannus Quatre PT, MBA
As with most things of importance, there’s a lot to know when developing an online presence for a private PT practice. And as the relevance of the internet continues to grow for both practices and patients, the need to keep up to speed with a number of essential elements required for good website development is of paramount importance.
This article aims to cover a number of these elements, providing an overview of the aspects of the private practice website that truly matter to you and your patients. Specifically, we’ll look at the areas of design, navigation, information, and integration – each of which play an important role in providing your audience with an online experience that will attract them to your practice and keep them there.
The most important aspect of the private practice website, design is the first element your audience will see, and it will frame the rest of their online visit. Design is the element that engages and keeps visitors on your website long enough to evaluate you as a potential provider, and it is often the first impression that that they’ll receive of your practice. Regardless of your practice size or website budget, the design elements below should be kept in mind when designing your website.
Branding. It is important to remember that your website is an extension of your practice’s brand identity. Make this extension rich with your brand essence through the use of a color scheme and design elements that clearly identify your brand. It is also important to communicate your brand identity through inclusion of key messaging that is essential to your brand identity such as taglines, slogans, and testimonials.
Cleanliness. If you were providing a tour of your practice to a potential client or referral source, you’d tidy it up, right? Ensuring the same of your website is equally as important, and takes an eye for detail. Cut out the clutter of long, bulky descriptions of services, and use ample white space to provide the visitor with an experience that speaks softly yet confidently of your services, without the noise associated with the use of too many words, images, and icons.
Consistency. Because of the quickness through which web pages are browsed, layout consistency between pages is key to providing visitors with a structured, visually appealing experience on your site. Elements of consistency that are important include the location of site-specific information such as site links and navigation bars, as well as page-specific information such as the location of images and content. Using a consistent image size and location of page-specific information will provide the visitor with an experience that is both reliable and easy to navigate.
Second only to design, navigation is critical to the development of a good private practice website. Navigation makes the difference between a user experience that is efficient and productive, and one that is frustrating and leaves the user without the information they are seeking. To ensure fluid site navigation on your website, consider the following principles.
Leverage intuition. When navigating from one page to the next, make it easy on visitors by providing an intuitive navigation scheme that makes sense to virtually everyone. Use classic navigation schemes that are oriented to either the left or top margins, and leverage dropdown menus to provide useful navigation information without requiring extra clicks.
Provide options. Not everyone thinks alike, so providing users with more than one way to get to the information they are looking for is often a good idea. The use of classic navigation (described above) combined with navigation based on your visitors’ reasons for visiting can work well. A visitor that can quickly identify sections for “New Patients” and “Existing Patients” can efficiently route herself to the appropriate section of your website without needing to negotiate through several pages via a classically oriented navigation menu.
Don’t allow users to get lost. “Breadcrumbing” is the term given to providing visitors with constant information about where they are located within your site. A “breadcrumb” is a hyperlinked path that allows users to quickly identify where they are, and allows them to return to earlier stages of the path simply by clicking on the appropriate hyperlink. For example, the breadcrumb, “Home > Services > Manual Therapy” allows the user to know that they are on the Manual Therapy page, which can be found within the Services section of the website.
Don’t show visitors the door. A simple click of the mouse can close your visitor’s browser window and your website becomes history. Don’t make it even easier by placing links to external sites from your website without ensuring that those links open into a new browser window or tab. If you want to link to the APTA website from yours, that’s a great idea – just make sure that your visitor doesn’t leave your site to get there.
Believe it or not, the information on your site is not the most important element of the website. In the absence of good design and navigation, information can be intimidating or confusing to website visitors. This said, information is actually what your visitors are after, and for this reason it’s importance shouldn’t go understated. Below, I’ve outlined some of the most important page sections that should exist within your website, as well as the information that should be present within each.
Home. The home page should form a good impression through clean design and simple, catchy text which emphasizes a high level overview of the benefits that will be gained from your services. Effective home page content will engage the reader, and get them to click through to another page of your website.
About. An about page is important to building the foundation of a trusting relationship with your audience. Visitors that look at your about page will be there because they want to learn more about your company and your staff, so don’t be afraid to leverage your unique characteristics, credentials, and accolades.
Services. Your services page(s) should be detailed and accurate, reflecting the actual services rendered by your practice. It is common to break this section out into subpages which are dedicated to each service offered by your practice, however be sure that you have enough engaging, relevant information to dedicate to each if you will organize your site in this way.
Payment. Payment options are on everyone’s mind these days, and providing your visitors with a list of accepted payers and methods of payment will help to eliminate unwanted surprises during the office visit. It is also a good idea to include your practice’s financial policies in this section, providing an opportunity for your patients to understand their financial responsibilities following their care.
FAQ. Especially among small practices, an FAQ section is commonly underused, leaving visitors with questions that sometimes result from holes or omissions in a website’s content. The FAQ acronym is widely regarded by online users as a place to go to see what questions visitors have had, and to get answers to these questions in a simple, Q & A format.
Forms. Long viewed as an enhancement to the private practice website, the ability to download necessary forms and documents has become an expectation of most visitors to PT and medical websites. A common reason for clients to visit your website in the first place, the ability to download forms from your website is simple to accomplish, and can save you hours of administrative time in the office over the course of a few months.
Testimonials. The easiest and most effective piece of your marketing efforts comes directly from your patients’ mouths, and should land directly on your website. It costs nothing to elicit positive testimonials from your patients, and should cost the same to upload that valuable information onto your website. Don’t miss this effective and easy opportunity to allow your patients to speak on your behalf online.
Promotion. As consumers, we are programmed to be on the constant lookout for products and services that are new, unique, or specifically relevant to our lives. The ability to efficiently add and change promotional items on your website that display relevant service offerings is an effective way to attract interest from your visitors.
News. You might not be aware of it, but news about your practice is actually of interest to your visitors. News about your recently hired receptionist to the addition of your new sports performance service belongs on your website in plain view of your audience. For those that are interested in the information, this will engage them further, and for those that aren’t, the mere mention of news surrounding your practice will shed your practice in a relevant, dynamic light.
Contact. The ultimate objective of a good website is to generate enough interest so that your office will be contacted by a potential patient or client, resulting in additional patient volumes and care provided. To facilitate this, your contact page should include a simple online form that visitors can fill out in less than 30 seconds as well as maps and driving directions to your practice location(s).
As much effort, time, and money as you sink into your website, it’s important to realize that there is an entire world out there that exists beyond your website, and tapping into this world can be a lot easier than you think. Applying some of the web integration principles outlined below will open the door to a whole new world of web traffic and potential clientele.
Social media. Social media sites such as Facebook® and Twitter™ are engaging hundreds of millions of online visitors worldwide. It is likely that regardless of your practice location, residents in your area are using these tools to connect with others. By connecting your website to these online networking portals, you can easily showcase your relevance with today’s technology, and have the opportunity to engage with your clients and community in a way that distances your practice from competitors.
Keyword advertising. The use of advertising dollars in a way that targets your specific audience segment is now possible through the use of keyword advertising. By placing targeted ads next to keywords that are relevant to your audience (“physical therapy,” “your city,” “injury,” etc.), you can capture some of the online research that is going on in your market, converting it to traffic on your site and patients in your practice.
Blogs. You may read blogs, you may write blogs, but have you ever used a blog to drive traffic to your website? It turns out that blogging can be one of the most effective strategies for driving relevant traffic to your website, simply by blogging about topics that are rich in keywords that your audience is searching online.
Online listings. Did you know that information about your practice exists among a number of popular online directories located on the internet? Sites such as Yahoo!® Local, Google® Maps, and Bing™ contain information about thousands of businesses online, including yours. By properly maintaining these listings, including working links to your website and positive reviews from your clients, you will truly leverage the power of these sites as a potential traffic source for your practice.
Search engine optimization (SEO). Perhaps the most complex principle to understand within the development of an effective online presence is that of search engine optimization (SEO). SEO is a topic that cannot be fully be detailed in this brief overview; however the use of proper website coding and content management in a way that optimizes the placement of your website in search rankings (Google®, Yahoo!®, etc.) will go a long way toward facilitating traffic to your website.
With all that is available online to the private PT practice, it’s important that practice owners take the simple steps necessary to use this technology to attract and retain clientele. The principles outlined in this article are intended to be used as a starting point from which this can be accomplished, regardless of practice size, specialty, or budget.
Article reprinted from the November 2009 issue of Impact, with permission from the Private Practice Section, APTA.