How to Fix an Underperforming Healthcare Web site

Mark Whitman, for HealthLeaders Media , June 25, 2008

Everyone knows that having a Web site is absolutely necessary in today’s healthcare industry, but did you know that only three out of every 10 Web sites launched are a success? Too often, the culprit is a simple lack of understanding of exactly who the audience is and what they want to accomplish online—a very costly mistake. An underperforming Web site can be a huge drain of time, resources, and money, and can even send the wrong message to your patients and physicians. So it’s best to fix it now, before any more money flies out the window.

The most successful brands don’t just do one thing well online, they do a lot of things well online—seven things, in fact. Want to join them? Then ponder these principles for Web success:

1. Be visitor-centric. Identify the right audience and focus on delivering the information they are seeking, not just what you want to tell them. If time and budget are limited, and they usually are, use your resources to get the audience and messaging right first. If you are speaking to both physicians and patients, create two separate sections to address their different needs.

For the patient site, speak their language. Avoid medical jargon and offer information in languages they speak. Also, provide an option for larger fonts for customers with poor vision. Then consider ways to build loyalty and drive repeat visits by creating online support communities, helping patients and families connect and support each other. If you are not certain what is most important to your audience, study social media conversations such as healthcare blogs and message boards.

It’s also smart to build long-term relationships by making it easy for visitors to request and opt in to receive more information. Be sure to adhere to HIPAA guidelines on patient privacy.

Once you’ve gotten visitors to opt in, work with the information you have collected. Use visitors’ names and send them personalized e-mails about the specific topics they are interested in.

2. Build in results drivers. What do you want your Web site to accomplish? Web sites can capture prospective patient contact information, improve the patient experience, streamline booking appointments, increase physician referrals, recruit staff members, enhance employee communications, and much more. Build the site to fully support these needs, and you can bank on a measurable return on your investment.

3. Integrate all marketing. It’s Marketing 101—your online presence, offline marketing, advertising, PR, sales, and community relations should all work in unison. Establish a consistent brand image and key messages to tie together your brand’s messaging, look, and feel, no matter where you are communicating—online, on a billboard, or on the operating table. Also, if your healthcare facility has multiple brands, then make sure the Web site conveys a clear brand for the facility as a whole, but also conveys the unique brands for the heart center, cancer center, etc.

4. New tools. It’s the Web; there will always be something new going on. Take advantage of new media such as podcasts, blogs, videocasts, and RSS feeds to share information with physicians and educate patients. Track and analyze social media such as bloggers and discussion boards to learn what topics are most important to your users and how specifically they are talking about these topics. This is real-time, cost-effective marketing research. Monitor social media to keep tabs on your reputation and to help determine how and when you should engage in the discussion.

5. No billboards in the desert. The Web is not a field of dreams. Just because you build it doesn’t mean anyone will come. Build your site with search engine optimization in mind, then get your message out and advertise where your audience is. Consider establishing microsites on unique URLs that relate to your facility’s specialty and link back to your main Web site. Search-optimize your online press releases by prominently mentioning your URL in the lead. Check your position in Google, Yahoo, MSN, and AOL for your key search terms. If you are not coming up in the top page of results, you are likely missing significant opportunities to grow your audience.

Also, search engines love blogs and RSS feeds. Not only are they highly trusted by consumers, but this social media content is highly indexed by search engines. Consider hosting a blog that provides advice and information and offering RSS feeds with news and tips.

6. Build in business efficiencies. You might be surprised how much time can be saved by streamlining communications with partners, vendors, customers, clients, employees, and contacts online.

From patient intake and billing to managing resumes and the hiring process, a Web site can do much of the heavy lifting in everyday business activities. Intranets can do the same internally by connecting a medical facility with multiple offices and acting as a sounding board and idea incubator for employees. Utilize Web content management practices to make the publishing of information more timely and cost-effective.

7. You are never done. So, how is your site doing? Remember principle No. 2? Are you achieving the results you anticipated? What are your traffic trends? Where is your traffic coming from? Where are visitors spending their time? Are they doing the things you hoped they would do? Monitoring and analyzing your site traffic will help you make informed decisions on how to continually enhance your Web site.

Most importantly, do not make the fatal mistake of sticking with a site that doesn’t perform simply because you think too much time and money has already been invested to go back and change it. After all, if you bought an expensive new car and it stopped running, you’d get it fixed, right? Do not let your Web site just sit in the driveway and rust. Even the worst Web site can be turned into a profitable venture.

Mark Whitman is vice president of digital at Northlich, a Cincinnati-based brand consultancy. He has been the strategic architect for clients in many different industries, including The Ohio State University Medical Center in Columbus.

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