What You Need to Know About Creating a Practice Web Site
A hospital web site can help you educate and retain clients. Learn how to make your site interactive, educational, and fun. Get advice on technical details, content, and keeping your web site updated. See examples from pioneering practices so you can start building your own hospital web site.
What you’ll learn:
What content to include
How to register your domain name
Resources to help you design your site
Ways to make your site interactive
How often you should update content
What can a web site do for your practice?
Educate clients—an online library of your handouts
Provide helpful resources and tips (behavior, training classes, products, etc.)
Improve check-in times by posting boarding, appointment and new-client forms
Help you convert phone shoppers to clients
Provide in-depth information on disease conditions
1. Define the purpose of your web site.
Write a mission statement for your hospital web site. For example, "To provide our clients with the latest healthcare information so they can make educated decisions and choose optimal veterinary care for their pets. To bond clients to our practice through education and 24/7 accessibility to our clinic."
Consider your site one of several tools that you use to communicate with clients, including newsletters, reminders and handouts. Don’t assume that you’ll attract new clients with a web site. Studies show that referrals and location are the top reasons pet owners chose a veterinary hospital. Instead, use your web site as a client retention tool that builds trusting relationships.
2. Set a budget
Like any marketing project, your web site needs a budget. Estimate the cost of software, Internet service provider, web design and marketing. You’ll spend $25 to $35 to register your domain name (www.yourclinicname.com) and pay annual renewal fees. Visit sites such as www.register.com, www.domains.com, www.fatcow.com or www.setupsite.com to secure your domain name. Fatcow.com offers 100 MB of server space and 100 e-mails for $99 per year.
You can choose do-it-yourself software programs such as Microsoft’s Front Page for $169 (www.microsoft.com) or hire a web designer. Ask local veterinarians who have web sites to recommend a web designer, search the yellow pages and contact area colleges. Always check references, view sites they’ve designed and request a written estimate. Read the fine print to make sure you own the design and URL in case you decide to change Internet service providers.
Some veterinary manufacturers offer free web sites to practices, but you must use their template design and can post only limited information. Carefully read the agreement to see what you must give up for this "free deal." Some companies post ads on your site and have e-commerce links. If you’re interested in a free site, visit www.myvetonline.com, www.vetcentric.com and www.networkvet.com.
Other companies charge a set-up and monthly web hosting fees. For example, PetsVetsandYou charges $300 to create your site and $39.95 to $49.95 per month for hosting and maintenance. The site includes a client-education library with 300 articles and handouts and 12 streaming videos on caring for dogs and cats. Other fee-for-service companies include www.petvetsandyou.com, www.pdqvet.com and www.vetconnect.com.
3. Assign a web caretaker.
Designate a staff member as your web master. He or she is accountable for updating information, creating a planning calendar, writing and updating content and answering or forwarding e-mails daily. You may want to form a team to create the site map, plan content and ensure the project stays on schedule.
4. Heavily market your site.
Make a list of ways you can let clients know about your new web site. Add your web address to business cards, handouts, brochures, newsletters, prescription labels, signs, shopping bags and more. Receptionists can tell phone shoppers and new clients to "Visit our hospital online at www.yourhospitalname.com."
Place a computer in your reception area that displays your web site. At the Veterinary Referral Center of Colorado in Englewood, CO, the client convenience center includes a computer connected to the Internet that displays the practice site, www.vrcc.com. Clients can search the site while waiting for appointments. If you use computers in your exam rooms, show your site to clients during an exam.
Hang a banner on your building. When you launch your site, have a sign company create a large vinyl banner that you can hang outside. Passers-by and clients will learn about your new web site.
5. Update content regularly.
Set a schedule and stick to it. I recommend updating your web site monthly because you need to keep clients coming back. Consider "Ask the Vet" e-mail and post frequently asked questions. Feature a "Case of the Month" with radiograph images, descriptions of lab tests and photos of surgery. Post your client handouts online and organize them by categories. Offer a virtual hospital tour, profiles of doctors and staff members and an online version of your hospital newsletter.
To get ideas on content, visit other hospitals’ web sites. You’ll find a list of veterinary clinic web sites by state on www.dvmnewsmagazine.com. Mar Vista Animal Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, offers an online pet library, newsletter, surgery photos, pet adoption and more at www.marvistavet.com. Check out the online appointment form and newsletter for Mandarin Veterinary Clinic in Jacksonville, FL, at www.mandarinvet.com.
6. Make your site interactive.
When clients board their pets at Safari Animal Care Centers in League City, TX, they can pay extra for a "virtual boarding suite" with a real-time Internet camera. While vacationing, clients can visit www.safarivet.com to see their pet in its kennel. Clients also can make appointments and boarding reservations online. Parkway Animal Hospital in Grand Prairie, TX, offers online services, including prescription refills, surgery recovery instructions and medical, boarding and grooming appointments. The site at www.parkwayanimalhospital.com also promotes the hospital’s laser surgery unit.
At Seaside Animal Care in Calabash, NC, Dr. Ernest Ward Jr. offers a virtual hospital tour and photos of clients’ pets at www.seasidevet.com. Dr. Ward e-mails clients when their pets’ pictures are posted and "Seaside Superstars" generates plenty of traffic because clients e-mail their friends, co-workers and neighbors about their pets’ pictures on the site.
Designing a hospital web site can be fun when you follow a plan and involve team members. Stay focused on your mission to educate clients and you’ll enjoy steady traffic to your site—and repeat visits to your hospital.
Wendy S. Myers is the former editor of Veterinary Economics. She owns Communication Solutions, a Denver-based consulting firm that helps practice owners and managers improve client service, marketing, newsletters, web sites and communication tools. She lectures at veterinary conferences nationwide on customer service, marketing and practice management. You can reach her at (720) 344-2347 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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