When creating a social media presence, many businesses overlook the importance of a well functioning website.
Consider your website the fundamental reservoir of all of the information about your veterinary practice. If someone wants to know about your doctors, staff, services offered, location, etc., the website has it. Unlike a Facebook page or Twitter feed, the website is controlled and owned by your business, and you can manage it as you please without worrying that some change in usage rules or platform design will make your page obsolete.
In social media platforms, we are only valued guests who must adhere to the rules of the host. If you depend on Facebook for all of your online needs, and the platform suddenly goes away or becomes unpopular, then you will be left in a lurch. Another consideration is that the social media universe is composed of several dominant platforms and not everyone is on all of them. Some users are on Facebook several times a day and ignore Twitter, while others are avid YouTube viewers who rarely visit their Facebook accounts. The one thing everyone does, however, is visit websites.
There are seven essential elements of a successful website. Your website developer will be able to help you with each of them.
Learning to Love SEO
We all live in a Google universe, so a main goal for your website is to make it easy for people to find your site, and by extension, your business. When someone searches the words “equine veterinarian” in your area, you want your vet business to be among the top few results of the Google search page. Rarely do people click on to the second or third page, so if your business isn’t on the first page of the search results, you might as well not exist. There are several methods to ensure top search results, but the most important ways are using SEO terms, links and fresh content.
SEO terms are words or phrases that people use when searching on a particular subject. The more these appear in your website content, the better the chance that Google will find you. For example, common terms used when searching for equine veterinarians could be equine vet, horse veterinarian, equine lameness, hoof abscess or horse dentist. Your webpage developer will be able to help you find the catch words people use to search for you and can suggest ways to incorporate them into your content.
Another Google search parameter looks for websites to which others link. This is an indication of popularity and Google ranks popular sites more highly. One way to get other websites to link to you is to reciprocate—have a section on your website that links to other sites. You can link to local equestrian businesses, farriers, hotels, restaurants, stallion stations, etc. Make sure you tell these businesses that you have them on your website so they are more likely to link to you in turn.
The last essential element needed to help your website come up high on search results is fresh content. Google recognizes new web content and considers it a sign of a popular and current website. This is one reason why blogs are helpful. Adding a new blog once a month, or preferably even more often, will help your website achieve a higher ranking. Another thing you can do is include a “News” section that is updated daily or weekly with news about your business, the industry and the local horse community.
Easy to Navigate
Nothing turns off a website visitor more than a confusing interface with numerous sections scattered about the page. Instead of having several links for every service and treatment, think of simplifying your presentation. For example, have a “Services” link that has drop-down menus for all of your services instead of listing every single one independently on the screen.
Avoid having too much content on the home page. The more visitors have to scroll down, the more likely they will leave the page. Try to have the main things you want the world to see on the initial screen view before scrolling is needed, and you will be much further ahead. When looking for a web page developer, look at other pages they have designed to see if the home pages are clean and uncluttered.
Call to Action
Your website should have goals that can be reached through calls to actions. It is not just a source of information. It can also be used to encourage potential clients to sign up for your newsletter, call in for an appointment or follow you on your Facebook page. Regardless of your purpose, make sure there are calls to actions on your page to trigger people to act. These simple steps help to make your page engaging instead of static.
It is in the nature of veterinarians to detail what we do. We are taught this in school and we are expected to be very thorough in our written medical records and papers. This is a surefire recipe to bore your website visitors, so use photos to promote your services with short descriptive paragraphs to support the picture.
The recent rise of social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram prove that photos grab the attention of digital users. If you need to have a lot of detail about a procedure, make the full text document a clickable option. Give a brief description and then have a link to another page with more information.
Your website creates an opportunity for visitors to find and click on links to your Facebook page, YouTube channel, Twitter feed and any other social media platforms you employ. Also consider placing “share” links on each page of your website so visitors can transfer information that they find interesting to their own social networks of choice or to an email. This is a great way to leverage the social reach of visitors to distribute information to a larger audience.
Increasing numbers of people are using tablets or smartphones for their online searches. It is estimated that, by 2014, the majority of Internet usage will be on mobile devices, so now is the time to start making your website mobile friendly. In essence, your web developer can simplify the interface of your website to make it easier to use on a smaller screen. Make sure your mobile-friendly site has the most important elements front and center, such as appointment setting and contact information.
Google has a wonderful service called Google Analytics. It allows you to understand every action that happens on every page of your website. Some of the simple things it can tell you include how many of those clicking on your site are new visitors, how much time they spend there, and from where they exited the site.
There are many, many more insights available. The good news is that this is a free service, so make sure your web developer adds the Google Analytics code to each page on your website. This information is essential for understanding what is working and what isn’t on your website so that you can make informed decisions about adjustments that will optimize the user’s experience.
Consider your veterinary business’ website to be a long-term investment that attracts new clients and ensures the loyalty of current ones. More people will interact with you online than will ever pick up the phone to call your business, so an excellent website is the first thing on which to focus before spending a lot time on a Facebook page or Twitter feed. Get your foundation right and the rest will be much easier.
In the next issue of EquiManagement, we will discuss how to pick a website designer for your business.