Designing a website for a solo medical practice

Originally published by Ho Sun on January 29, 2011:

My website is scheduled to go live next week.  In this day and age, I think it’s absolutely crucial for your practice to have a web presence.  Although ophthalmology is heavily dependent on the aging population, I think it’s naive to assume that this demographic does not go online.  If you think about it, anyone who was in their 40s when the internet came onto the scene would be around 60 years old now.  I’ve read online that 40% of the senior population or about 20 million people use the internet, of whom most use for the purpose of looking up businesses, finding directions, researching health issues, or reading the news.  Especially for me, since I’m in the Silicon Valley, I would imagine the majority of senior citizens will be online.

Also, a website is probably one of the most cost-effective advertising strategies.  You also might want to consider creating a Facebook page, blogging, or using Google AdWords as well.  For the purposes of this post, I’m just going to go over my website development.

As you already know, the first thing you need to do is to register a domain name.  I registered mine on GoDaddy.com for $20 a year.  Since most ophthalmologists in my area don’t have a website, it wasn’t too hard for me to find a domain name I liked.  I ended up going with http://www.sceyes.com. I also registered http://www.santaclaraeye.com as well. Obviously, I didn’t want to use http://www.santaclaraophthalmology.com since  no one knows how to spell “ophthalmology.”  Sad fact is, some people don’t even know how to pronounce Santa Clara either.  I’ve had one telemarketer last week pronounce it as Santa Claree.

Given this fact, I wanted my domain name to be as short, simple, and easy to remember as possible.   I wanted to minimize the number of characters people had to type, and to avoid any characters that required the shift button.   I also didn’t want to use any part of my name either because I’ve learned over  the 31 years of my life that people have problems pronouncing and spelling my name.  Since I’ve lived with my name my whole life, I personally don’t think it’s too complicated, but I’ve heard people call me everything from “Chu,” “Chow,” “Cho,” “Sun Ho,” to any other combination you can imagine.  So, http://www.sceyes.com it is.

Even if you’re years away from opening your practice, it might not be a bad idea to register all your potential  domain names ahead of time, which only costs $10 to $20 per year per domain name. Since I own http://www.santaclaraeye.com as well, I’m considering linking it to my website also.

As I’ve said time and again, I’m as computer illiterate as one can get, so I ended up using http://www.ihealthspot.com at $999 for a 10 page website, with required web hosting for $99 per month.   I also paid an extra $500 to have a mirror site created in Korean.  I wanted to keep my website as simple and as straightforward as possible, and these guys did a fine job for the price.  You could choose to spend more money on animations, interactive media, or a virtual tour guide, but I feel like you’re just more likely to confuse people or to test their patience with these superfluous features.  Your website may not even end up being compatible with certain platforms because of these extraneous options.

Overall, I’m happy with their service.  I like the design layout and everyone was prompt and friendly.  Most of our communications were through e-mail or Go to Meeting conference calls.  Prior to our initial meeting, I completed a questionaire detailing my backround information and practice description.  During our meeting, we went over the design and content I wanted for my website.  One of their writers used my questionaire to create the website’s content, but did an absolutely horrible job with it.  It was fraught with grammatical errors, and I could tell that a good portion of it was a cut and paste job from my questionaire.  I still didn’t mind because I had originally planned to rewrite everything myself anyway.  Although the writing style and structure was pretty bad, I had a nice skeleton from which I could start.  Obviously, I had to write all the Korean content myself.  Well, actually, I ended up using an online translation service for $100 for half the content, for which I ended up editing much of it as well.

I also paid $450 for iHealthspot to design my logo.  I wanted my logo to look simple also, with an abstract picture of an eye incorporated into my practice name.  I think it looks cool.

The options and prices for website development go all over the place.  For example, my good old practice consultant wanted to charge me $3,300 for the same 10 page website.  Although cheaper upfront, I think iHealthspot gets you through their monthly web hosting charges, which is fine by me. I’d rather have lower upfront costs that will let me hold onto my cash a bit longer through my startup phase. So, shop around.  If you can find a friend to make one for you, even better.

One feature you MUST have for your website is the ability to edit or customize on the fly.  One friend told me of a company that spent $40,000 on its website only to find out that they couldn’t alter any content without paying someone by the hour.  iHealthspot’s platform is nice in that I can edit my website however I want any time.  The editing system they use is very similar to blogspot’s, so it’s very easy to use.

Check out my website when it goes up.  Although it’s nothing fancy, I think it will get the job done.  Hopefully it will convey to patients who I am and the services I offer before their attention span runs out in a minute like mine does for most websites or as yours has by now.

Note: Ho Sun redesigned his website to make it look nicer in 2015. The designer is the wife of an oculoplastics surgeon in our google group. Multiple friends have used her design and are very happy with the results. If you’re interested in having her design your site, go to: http://www.designbyklee.com/

Howie’s tips:

This is a very important post, as your website is arguably the first “face of your practice” and your most important part of your advertising. Being the procrastinator I am, I actually waited until I opened doors to get my website up. Most people would view this as a big mistake, because google uses the age of your page for search rankings. In the end it didn’t matter, but I would advocate getting your website up and live at least four to six weeks before you open doors.

You should reserve your domain as well as similar names (goodyeareyes.com to redirect to your page as well as goodyeareye.com for example). A shorter domain such as sceyes.com is better than santaclaraeyes.com because the former is easier to read to patients over the phone. You should build a skeleton website ASAP because I hear google takes length of existence of your site into consideration.  You could just put a placeholder page with directions to your office and your biography stating “opening in February 2019.”

In our google group we have had people design their own website, paying nothing. Some common platforms are Wix and WordPress (we use WordPress for this blog). We have also had other people pay tens of thousands of dollars to design their website. If you’re doing lasik or elective cash pay procedures, I agree your website should be fancier, but spend your money wisely.

The way I got my best bang for the buck was to speak with about four or five other ophthalmologists to see who they used for their website design. I then google their sites to see how high they ranked. One friend only paid $700-800 for his website. Despite his satellite office was the only ophthalmologist in his town, he was ranked in the fifth page. I decided to pass. I asked each company for examples of the websites they used, and examined them carefully to make sure they were easy to navigate and when I googled them that they ranked high (google say “OB GYN in Durham, NC” with the chrome incognito browser which isn’t influenced by your previous searches).

Be careful when you choose your company as many of them overcharge you or the price is higher than what is initially quoted. Ask to speak with at least three or four satisfied customers as references.

I settled on a company that ironically was the same one that Ho Sun had originally used as his consultants. They did do a excellent job designing my website, and other people on our google group have used them and are happy with their designs. They charged about $2800 for their basic website design. I also pay $300 annually for hosting. A fancier website with more pages would have been about $3500. Some companies I spoke with wanted to charge me $10,000.

Every single patient that I saw my first month (about 75) found me through my website. So it basically paid off for itself my first month. Patients comment that they like my website and its design. Check it out at www.goodyeareye.com.

However, I can’t recommend this company because of their fee policies. Others in our google group who have used them agree with me that they try to nickel and dime overcharge their clients. For example, when I simply asked for a quote on how much they would charge to design a mobile website, the charged me just for a quote! That’s like my office charging a patient just to quote them the cash pay rate for cataract surgery. Unlike what Ho Sun states above, I have my company make changes for me and pay them to do it, but it’s usually just once a year so the fee is minimal.

A few years ago google decided to penalize sites that weren’t mobile optimized for search rankings:

https://support.google.com/adsense/answer/6196932?hl=en

http://mobilemarketingengine.com/google-demotion-with-no-mobile-website/

Here’s a link to test your site, plug in your domain name to make sure it’s mobile friendly:  https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly

Since even in an incognito mode chrome search my website ranked high, and my website still looks reasonable on my iPhone, I opted not to shell out the $900 for a mobile website. If I were a new practice, or in a area where I wasn’t as visible on the Internet, I might have felt differently.

Your phone number and address should clearly be in first page. I’ve seen people in our group who don’t have it up. That’s probably first thing people look for, and the most important reason to have a website.

The first page you need as many keywords as possible. I list all the towns in my drawing area (Goodyear, Avondale, Buckeye, Phoenix, etc) so when someone searches Buckeye AZ eye doctor I show up. If you are in a big city like Philadelphia you might want to say “serving Center city and Rittenhouse square” depending on where your practice is.  I mention the words “eye doctor” and “ophthalmologist” and “cataract surgery”. I also list conditions I treat. Since I’m a solo practice, I also have a quick intro and picture of the doctor which I paid $50 to get professionally taken on the first page. More personal touch. My name is definitely on the first page for search engine purposes.

My patient center has new patient forms. We tell people to go there to fill out before they come in. Maybe 1/4 to 1/3 or so actually do but this is more clicks on my website, which helps with SEO, and saves time, for people who forget to bring in med list, etc. As an aside, my front desk lady tries to send the forms via first class mail to patients who don’t have a computer or printer, and encourages them to fill it out when she phones to confirm appointments the day before. It makes my clinic flow better and more predictably.

This page also has my insurance list which I tell referring coordinators to utilize. Note at the bottom I even write some of the plans I’m out of network for, trying to make it easier for them.

It is nice to have a page with directions to office. You should also include written directions on how to get to your office, and refer patients to your website when they ask for directions. It helps to have google maps on your page. I put my phone and fax on this page, as well as on other pages on my website.

You should also have a biography page that describes your background and training, and maybe a personal sentence or two about your family or hobbies.

Many folks also have links to the patient portal as well as a link for credit card payments, or online booking for patient appointments. My website does not have any of these features. If you do your website has to be https not http; you need to buy some extra security certificate. Other websites will have patient reviews integrated into their website. Some plastic surgeons put before and after pictures on their website, some lasik surgeons put videos of themselves explaining the procedure or testimonials from happy patients.

Some companies want to charge for SEO (search engine optimization). This can range from $150 and up per month. I don’t know of anyone in our group that pays for SEO and finds it useful. My opinion is that if you get patients to click on your website for directions to your office and new patient paperwork, that will organically increase traffic. I believe that instead for paying for SEO, a better return is made by buying google ads. I previously paid $500-700 per month, but have now shut it off. Registering your practice with Google places (this takes a week or so because they send you a postcard to verify your address) also helps improve search engine rankings.

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