Hooking patients with a great website

So much is written about websites these days that it is increasingly hard to sort the wheat from the chaff and work out exactly what sort of approach would work best for you and your practice. This isn’t helped by all the technical jargon which tends to be spouted at will by those with any sort of involvement in website development.

ISPs, FTPs, SEO, meta-tags, flash elements – what on earth does it all mean and how does it relate to your business? So we have put together an authoritative guide to websites for dentists – whether you need one, what to include, and how to make the most of it – and best of all, we’ve kept it


Do you need a website?

In today’s hi-tech environment, there is no doubt about it – every dental practice should have a website. There are 15 million households in the UK with internet access according to the National Statistics Office, which means at least double the number of internet users – and hundreds if not thousands of them in your immediate area. Added to this that the internet is now the second most important source of new patients for UK dental practices – only word-of-mouth referrals produce more new enquiries – and it is easy to see why a website is a necessity for your practice.

What makes a good website?

Opinions on what makes a website outstanding are diverse, to say the least. Your website should be designed to suit and meet your marketing goals and your budget. But as a general guideline, we would recommend the following:

• The design of the website should be in keeping with that of your other practice literature and your practice image

• These days it is preferable to have a few animations included in your website, just to add a little additional interest. Too many, however, can be off-putting

• Keep the main text as short and snappy as you can. As with printed material, it is best to use a professional copywriter to ensure the best results

• Make sure it is easy to navigate, so patients can find the information they need quickly and easily, with the minimum amount of click-throughs

• Most dentists want their websites to be a source of

information as well as a marketing tool. This is usually a good idea, as long as the information is presented in an easy-to-understand, jargon-free manner. Try to avoid gory clinical shots – they can be very off-putting!

• Your website is a great way to build a database of people who have taken an interest in your practice. Make the site interactive (with forms to enter competitions, request further information, submit a dental question, etc) so that you can collect contact details and email addresses for ongoing marketing

• Do have your website designed by professionals – homemade, no matter how well done, usually doesn’t look that good when compared to professional sites.

The techie bits

Website hosting – the actual physical looking-after of all the files that make up your website – is one of those things that often gets overlooked, but it is important that your site is hosted by a reliable company. Otherwise you’re in danger of having a site that regularly crashes, which can be frustrating to people trying to access it and could potentially lose you business.

Hosting is also a very competitive business – you can get hosting deals very cheaply, but you need to read the small print as the cheaper deals can often limit the amount of space your site can take up. They can also make it difficult for more advanced functions to be carried out via your website, for example enabling enquirers to fill in a form online which is then sent to you.

Email is another consideration. It is always a good idea to have your email hosted by the same people who are hosting your website. Otherwise you can end up with all sorts of difficulties, with the two companies each blaming each other for your problems and you stuck in the middle!

Search engines

It’s somewhat sobering to think that you could have the greatest website ever, full of gorgeous pictures, illustrations and interesting information – and yet it might get hardly any visitors.

Why? Simply because the internet is so huge these days. Current estimates put the number of websites at around 170 million, with web pages going into the tens of billions. And that number is increasing rapidly all the time. So with all those websites out there, you need to do something to help people to find yours.

Search engine optimisation (SEO) is generally considered to be the best way of doing this. Put in simple terms, this is the art of getting websites into the top ten results on search engines such as Google and Yahoo, using specific search words. So, for example, if you are a dentist based in Southampton with a special interest in implants, you would want to be high in the search results when people search for ‘dentist Southampton implants’.

This is not the sort of thing that you can do by yourself – you need to employ the experts for help with this. Shop around to get the best deal – these days a good number of SEO companies charge only on the basis of results. This means once you have paid a set-up fee, you only pay if the company succeeds in getting your site towards the top of the listings.

How to set up and run your own website

There are so many options available to those wanting help to get a website up and running that it can prove very confusing. Choices range from cheap and cheerful online services that offer templates which you simply fill in with text and pictures, to fully bespoke, all-inclusive services.

The cheap and cheerful services are tempting simply because it all looks so easy and costs so little. But the drawback is that you end up with a website which doesn’t fully meet your needs, and which is almost indistinguishable from all the others that have used the same service. Which means your website is likely to be much less effective.

We recommend investing in a bespoke website, created to suit your specific needs. To quote the old adage that my parents used to quote on an almost daily basis, if a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. And in this instance, doing the job properly makes it far more likely that your website will help you achieve your goals.

You also need to look at the other aspects – hosting, search engine optimisation, email, etc. Of course it is possible to shop around and find individual providers for each service, and this may well save you a few pounds. However, it will take up valuable time, and we would question the validity of

spending hours of your time to save small amounts of money.

So, we would advise finding someone who can meet all your needs – who can develop a bespoke website for you and provide all the technical support you need as well. You might not save money, but you will save time and potential future problems.

And finally . . .

Once your website is up and running, do make sure that you include its address on all your printed material, and make patients aware of it so they can point friends and family in its direction.

Update it regularly – website design moves on quickly, and after two or three years your website could look dated, which can present a negative image to potential clients.

All being well, you will receive email enquiries from your site – make sure your staff checks the emails regularly (i.e. several times a day) and respond to them promptly.

People expect fast replies to emails, and if you don’t

respond quickly there is a good chance you will lose potential business.

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