Websites: A Few Things to Consider Before Choosing a Platform or Website Builder
World Small Animal Veterinary Association Congress Proceedings, 2019
H. Perras
Marketing Consultant and Speaker, Marketing, Montreal, QC, Canada

What importance should be given to your business website? What counts is the professionalism of my team and my services, you might say. It was perhaps the case a couple of years ago when information on the Web was not as interconnected and consumers had less the reflex to refer to it. Currently, studies show 80 to 90% of consumers check online before making a purchase. In 2019, your website is to the digital world what your practice is to your region. To neglect it is to leave room for a competitor. After human resources, website management is one of the subjects that give the most headaches to veterinarian owners.

When I’m talking about websites, I am systematically met with terms referring to performance and complex SEO techniques. To be honest with you, on-page optimization, as it is called, worries me fairly less in veterinary medicine compared to in retail businesses. If we were in the television industry and our two main competitors were Wal-Mart and Amazon, it would be imperative to have a website structured according to best practices. Search with the word “veterinarian” is considered by Google as a local search, meaning that the search engine strongly suspects that the user is searching for a service it will purchase near its search location. It’s the same principle for dentists, cleaners, grocery stores, schools, etc. So, even if a veterinary clinic located 500 km from yours has a better website, you will come up way before them in someone’s search who lives in the neighbourhood. Organic SEO becomes more of an issue in highly populated areas where many veterinary practices engage in fierce competition.

Another observation that tends to calm the panic of website performance: in the last few years, you can feel a wind of change in the importance Google places to its 200 analysis criteria that determine the order of the search results. In 2014, they created a specific algorithm for so-called local searches which has as its cornerstone the information contained in GoogleMyBusiness profiles (the algorithm has a name, it is called Pigeon!). Strategically, Google must remain relevant in its results in order to continue its dominance as a search engine. Should another engine be more efficient, it will be dethroned. So how can an algorithm know if its suggestions of local businesses are relevant? It finds the answer in reviews left by consumers.

So, cues left by users about you on the Web become more important for your search result ranking. The first 3 rankings reap 33%, 17% and 11% respectively of clicks. In light of these explanations, you can then understand that the three factors that will have a critical impact on your ranking in the results are your location, GoogleMyBusiness profile and reviews. To further consolidate their importance, know that veterinary facility searches on the Google Maps app exceeded those on the search engine in all the GoogleMyBusiness profiles that I’ve analyzed.

So, what should you infer when you decide to change your website or create a new one? We must see beyond the performance of the site and especially think about how your site will be a useful tool for your customers:

Content: the majority of websites in veterinary medicine are showcase websites, so they do not offer e-commerce. These are usually easy to create websites, but don’t let a developer decide for you. Think about the tools that your site should offer to help you in your relationship with your customers who forget all the details that have been passed on to them or who don’t want to waste paper:

  • Pre- and post-op sheets for sterilization (spay and neuter)
  • Video demonstrating how to clean the ears of a dog that you have made and put on social media. Same thing for cutting claws and how to walk a dominant dog on a leash.
  • Checklist to prepare for a trip (vaccination, microchip, etc.)
  • Refill prescription drugs

Container (platform) and CMS: There are many platforms. The most popular is WordPress, which accounts for about 33% of the website market. It is the structure that Google understands best and that most experts recommend. On the other hand, its CMS (content management system), the interface that allows you to make changes, is not the most user-friendly. If you opt for a website supported by WordPress, you’ll have to consider training at least one person on your team for modifications or allocate a budget to get those done. Believe me, there are more than we think:
Adding and removing new employees
Changes in opening hours and holidays schedules
Adding or removing new services such as physiotherapy, boarding, grooming
Changing pictures
Blog posts

Photos: if possible, use your own photos! The beautiful pictures that we buy are often used by many other clinics. If a developer chooses them for you, you may find yourself with a picture of a kitten receiving a transcranial injection (you know, those pictures that have been taken by people who know nothing about veterinary medicine). Put smiling team pictures. We want the feeling of friendliness. Also, invest in a Google inside 360 virtual tour.

Texts: in my humble opinion, it is a big challenge which is underestimated. Writing for the Web is very different from writing for print. We must reduce the length of sentences and include keywords. The structure of tags (header) is very important for the readability with Google. The search for key phrases (keywords) that customers use is not a step that the web developer will do for you! I’ve once seen in a text that a microchip is like a GPS. You’ll guess that this was not a member of the team that produced this description of the service!

When veterinarians write their texts, it is often too scientific or medical. We’re talking about solutions (descaling, dentistry) rather than problems (bad breath, pain when the cat eats) in general. An agency that offers ready-made texts is not recommended, Google does not appreciate plagiarism that will then hurt you, as well as the site that contains the original texts. We must find the right one that includes your business environment, pet owners, as well as Web writing. Ask the person to offer you examples of texts that they have done in the past.

To facilitate their work, ask the receptionists to do a list of phrases that customers use most often when calling. Budget for updates. There were the ones for mobility, site security, and download speed. There will be others. Plan the budget and the frequency. With sites such as Wix, these updates are automatic.

Once on your site, it’s in your best interest that potential customers find the information they are looking for quickly (we suggest 10–15 seconds), risking otherwise that they go elsewhere. It is usually your business hours, your address and your phone number that interest them the most. Headers and footers are therefore particularly important, both for users as for search engines. Your locations must be included.

Finally, it is mentioned somewhat, but an interesting leveraging tool is the referencing of your site on other sites called a backlink, when it contains your URL and citations, your mailing address or your phone number. It is a sign of credibility in Google’s eyes to have other companies mention you. Therefore, add your profile on local directories, make agreements with a business partner, etc.

This adds up to several points to think about, I agree! The purpose of this reflection is that you have a website you can be proud and that serves as a tool for pet owners seeking to recall a detail given to them over the phone or during the consultation. Never forget the power of reviews and your GoogleMyBusiness profile. At least, you are completely in control of these two important aspects.


Speaker Information
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H. Perras
Montreal, QC, Canada