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We’ve all experienced the most modern of exercises in frustration: Trying to pull up a website that has not been optimized for the mobile experience from a smartphone.
Whether the text is so tiny that it’s impossible to read or the website takes way too long to load, the result is the same-a highly unsatisfactory user experience. In this day and age, 64 percent of Americans own a smartphone and 62 percent of smartphone owners used their phones to look up health information within the past year. Chances are good that if a dentist hasn’t updated the practice website recently, his or her patients -and prospective patients-experience this exact nuisance.
When considering a new dental practice website-or an update to an existing one-it is important to keep two important audiences in mind: Search engines and patients/prospective patients. Search engines help get the practice website in front of the eyes of prospective patients, and patients and prospective patients alike need to be able to navigate seamlessly throughout the website once they arrive. It’s a delicate balance indeed to build a site that is both technically sound and user-friendly; however, here are five key ways that dental practice websites can help satisfy search engines and patients alike.
Focusing on mobile
On April 21, 2015, Google made a significant update to its algorithm. In support of the search engine giant’s push toward mobile, Google began rewarding websites that are mobile-friendly, effectively punishing those sites that have not made the change.
What is a mobile-friendly site? Simply stated, it is one that loads properly and is user-friendly for those who access the site on any mobile device. With growing trends of Internet users choosing to access the web from their smartphones, tablets and even wearable technologies such as the iWatch, it is more important than ever to have a website that displays properly across all devices.
A website designed even 36 months ago may not utilize responsive web design, the current preferred method by which a website is built to be mobile-friendly. Just two years ago, the industry standard for web developers was to essentially create a separate mobile version of an existing website.
Today, responsive design streamlines the process by making sure the desktop website will be user-friendly across all devices. Google has recommended responsive design for years, and with this latest algorithmic update, it has now all but required it of any company that seeks to have its website rank on a search engine results page (SERP) for any search conducted on a mobile device.
To see whether your practice website passes Google’s mobile-friendly sniff test, visit https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/.
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User-friendly web design
While it is important to play by Google’s rules when it comes to web design and search engine optimization, it’s also imperative to keep the user-the dental patient-in mind. According to a Sesame Communications study published in 2014, 40 percent of time spent on the Internet is done so using mobile devices; a 2015 study indicates that number increased to 55 percent in just one year’s time. And 97 percent of dental patients prefer to click rather than call the practice for information. If prospective patients are unable to navigate around the practice website from their phones or tablets, they are more likely to leave the website without contacting the office, resulting in countless missed patient opportunities.
Make it easy for patients to view the website when they are on the go. Elements such as the office’s location, contact information, directions and patient testimonials all need to be quickly accessible to maximize a patient’s online experience.
And, while making the shift to mobile is an essential first step to designing a modern dental website, it is not the only important component. Here are four additional features needed to take a dental practice website from good to great:
Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, says “a brand for a company is like a reputation for a person.” A dentist’s or dental practice’s brand sends a message to the community of who the dentist and team are and the value they have to offer their patients. As such, the brand needs to be professionally designed by a graphic designer who is experienced in logos and branding, as well as consistent across all marketing materials, both online and offline. Make sure the same practice name, logo, tagline and color schemes that appear on brochures and business cards are also utilized on the practice website.
It’s no secret that many patients have anxiety about visiting the dentist. Because the website is often one of the first impressions new patients may have of the practice, make sure the impression they get is a positive one. Incorporating videos into the practice website helps familiarize patients with the dentist, office and staff before they ever make their first appointment, helping to minimize any initial nervousness. Plus, video boosts a website’s SEO by providing search engines with exactly the kind of original, engaging and relevant content they are looking for.
Speaking of content, there is no better way to produce a steady stream of original content than by having an on-site blog. Consistently updating the website with new blog posts on a weekly or even monthly basis ensures fresh content is added on an ongoing basis. This gives patients a reason to return to the site and gives dentists the opportunity to stay in touch with their patient base in between appointments.
Blogs also deliver a source of fresh, timely information that Google and Bing want to provide their users, resulting in higher search engine rankings for the website.
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Social media and online reviews
Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram help connect dentists with patients, both old and new. Social media gives dentists a chance to create richer patient relationships, building loyalty among current patients while allowing prospective patients to learn more about the practice-all while driving traffic to the website. Activity on social media also signals to search engines that the practice website is valid and relevant to users, boosting credibility and online visibility at the same time.
Similarly, online review sites continue to be a powerful way of improving a dentist’s online presence.
While having patient testimonials on the website itself is a good idea, having links to external sites like Yelp, Google and Healthgrades is a good way to build third-party validation as far as search engines are concerned. And reviews posted on external, third-party websites tend to carry more weight than testimonials on the practice website as they are perceived to be more organic and less likely to be filtered or manipulated by the dental practice. Incorporating links on the practice website to social media profiles and patient review sites (and vice versa) also helps to validate the dentist to both patients and search engines alike.
If upgrading the practice website seems overwhelming, don’t worry! Web design isn’t taught in dental school so it’s certainly not expected that dentists should know how to do this themselves. There are trusted dental industry vendors such as Sesame Communications (sesamecommunications.com), WEO Media (weomedia.com) and Officite (officite.com) that make for great partners.
And remember, upgrading the practice website with modern features and functionality helps put practice information at your patients’ fingertips-and keeps the office on the forefront of modern dentistry in your patients’ minds.
About the author
Naomi Cooper is president and founder of Minoa Marketing and serves as chief marketing consultant for Pride Institute. She is a respected dental marketing consultant, author, speaker and opinion leader who co-teaches Pride’s marketing course, The New Rules of Dental Marketing. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and blogs regularly at minoamarketing.com. Follow her on Twitter (@naomi_cooper) or “like” Minoa Marketing on Facebook at fb.com/minoamarketing. For information on upcoming courses, call 800-925-2600 or visit prideinstitute.com.