• Practice website and search engine optimisation

    Digital marketing: practice set-up and practice strategy

    Increasingly, patients are researching doctors online and expressing an increased desire to access education and information about their illness or condition online.

    A website is an excellent way to complement your offline marketing and communications.

    Domain name, web hosting and web designers

    These are three important decisions to make in planning your website. Your website needs a domain name - for example, http://GreatDoctor.com.au. There are many companies that sell domain names and many options available. Select a memorable name that relates to your practice or business name. This will make it easier for people to find your website.

    Your website also needs a web host - this is the individual or company who you pay to keep the website online. Web hosts offer different packages (for instance: how many email addresses does your practice need?) and the choice of web host can affect aspects such as the speed that your website loads and its security.

    Unless you have special IT skills, you will also need a web designer. As websites can look dated after a few years it is sensible to schedule upgrades and revisions into your website planning. These upgrades and revisions will prompt you to review the existing content and allow you to improve your website over time.

    Content development

    Regardless of what type of website you have and who creates it, your website requires content. The content creator needs to know what tone and impression you wish to convey. This will guide not just the words on the page but also the layout, choice of images and modules.

    Minimum website content should include:

    • practice logo
    • contact details
    • practitioner biographies with photographs
    • a description of the services you provide
    • frequently asked questions (FAQs).

    You may also wish to include patient registration forms, practice policies, details about consultation costs and patient information about the conditions that you treat.

    Content creation requires sustained and consistent effort to develop a detailed and comprehensive website. Setting up practice is a big task, so be realistic about how much content you are able to write or oversee when planning your online content.

    Search engine optimisation

    Search engine optimisation (SEO) is the art and science of putting websites at the top of the search engine listings, so that more people will see and visit your website. Things that can improve your SEO include:

    • comprehensive and detailed content
    • large numbers of inbound links from other reputable sites
    • having your website in existence for a lengthy period of time: when you first 'go live' it will not be high ranking!
    • submitting your sitemap to Google
    • using internal links to help people navigate your site
    • promoting your content on social media channels to encourage people to visit
    • using keywords that your customers will be searching with
    • monitoring your rankings, traffic and the keyword searches that bring visitors to your site so you know what is working and what isn't.

    Inbound links and web listings

    It is valuable to establish inbound links to your website to encourage referral traffic and to build your website's SEO. Health practitioner listing directories are one option - there are a number of Australian sites that allow health practitioners to submit their contact details including a website address for listing. Social media accounts are further options.

    Digital communication: it's not just one way

    You can elect to create a web presence that communicates outward but does not receive communications inward. This will work for many practices, and some practitioners prefer that their practice not receive email communications from prospective or current patients. Other practitioners and practices find it beneficial to allow two-way digital communication and use social media to market and engage with their patients and wider medical community.

    Email enquiries

    You can encourage prospective patients to communicate directly with your practice via email by putting a 'Contact Us' page on your website. This communication model will not work for all practitioners or practices, but this can have the benefit of capturing enquiries out of hours and freeing up phone lines at peak times. If you provide an email address for inbound communications, it is important that this email address is monitored and that response times are appropriate for the nature of the communication. Consider a web-based enquiry form that clearly states when and how you will respond to a patient or potential patient's enquiry.

    Provision of detailed information online can create significant benefits. This information can lead prospective patients to feel that they have a 'relationship' with the practitioner before the initial consult. A potential risk of providing detailed general information online is that patients may request specific advice to be provided via email before they make an appointment for a consultation. Practitioners should take care not to assume a doctor-patient relationship with a prospective patient via email, by avoiding providing medical advice or treatment information via email.

    Newsletter subscription options

    A newsletter subscription module can also be posted on your website, inviting individuals to sign up for a practice newsletter or updates.

    Additional electronic communications that your practice can consider are electronic practice newsletters for patients or referrers, with a subscription link from your website.