A well-designed website can be a powerful business driver, and as Chris Sheedy explains, today’s technology means that creating it is easier than ever.
The first question that Dr James Ramsden, managing director of veterinary website specialist Pet Pack, asks a new client is what they want their website to do. What is the single most important purpose of their site? It is a question usually answered with a long silence. Beginning your website development without being absolutely clear about its precise purpose can be a mistake, Dr Ramsden says.
If you don’t know the exact role of your website in your business, it is impossible to measure its success. In fact, without an end goal, there is little sense in beginning the journey of creating a website. The first step then is to agree on the website’s strategic purpose. “This is really important,” he says. “We tend to focus on one thing in developing websites—the number of phone calls that the website can produce for the business. Do some market research. Speak with your customers. Find out what are their main problems and consider shaping your site around solving their problems.”
Various online offerings make the job of creating a website relatively simple. Imagery no longer requires expensive photo shoots—instead many businesses fulfil their picture requirements through free or inexpensive resources such as istockphoto, Shutterstock, Getty Images, or picture accounts connected to their web design service. Those services, such as WordPress, Weebly, Wix, Squarespace and other web development tools, mean that businesses can literally be online with a fresh, new website within a few minutes. But of course, a business should put a lot more thought into their web presence than an existing format.
“The beauty of being a vet is that you are not trying to win a global battle; you are just trying to become the leading vet in your local area,” says Mark Brown, director of custom content agency yourblogposts.com. “If you are doing better than the guy up the road than that is a good thing. People go to see a vet when their pet has a problem. So what are those problems and how can your practice solve them? Understand this and you begin to understand what people might be looking for in your website’s content. Seasonal issues might come into play, such as blog posts about ticks and recommendations for what people should do to protect their pets. Or it might be a blog post about looking after older cats and dogs. You should be approaching things from the customer’s point of view, rather than saying how great you are at your job.”
Blogs are important for a number of reasons. They offer content that can be linked to from newsletters and emails, helping to cement your staff as local thought leaders. Blogs also ensure the site’s content is regularly refreshed, which is essential in keeping it at or near the top of the results list during a Google search. Finally, blogs help to bring your practice to life in front of its customers, introducing the staff and allowing people a glimpse behind the scenes at your practice.
Dr Ramsden agrees that too many vets create websites that talk about how talented they are, rather than giving visitors what they want. This is one of the common mistakes vets make when creating a website. One of the main things that vets currently get wrong with their websites, Dr Ramsden says, is the use of site templates which are not responsive to different screen sizes, meaning the site does not adjust properly on various devices such as phones and tablets. “This makes it harder for people to contact the clinic,” he says.
Others issues include the practice’s phone number not being easily found on the site, and the text on the home page of the website turning people away. “Often the message is all about how great the vet is, and is not actually talking to what pet owners want,” he adds.
For the actual copywriting on the site, Dr Ramsden recommends employing a professional writer that has knowledge of your target market. This is an up-front cost, but it can result in an increase in calls. Another area in which you might consider seeking professional help is in the measurement and optimisation of your site’s performance. “Most people take us on from the beginning, but we have some clients who we consult to,” Dr Ramsden says. “It does require application, but you can certainly do it. Be aware that some expertise is difficult to replicate. For instance, when it comes to Google AdWords, which we use extensively to improve search engine rankings, anybody can do it but to do it efficiently and to generate phone calls at a good price can be tough.”
Brown says utilising experts for certain areas, when creating a website, particularly its writing, can be a good idea. If managed well, a website should become its own marketing platform for your business. “An example we have seen involved somebody producing content that was so good it started generating its own press,” he says. “This was an orthopaedic surgeon who started a blog with stories about how he was treating different patients. Of course, he did not reveal who the patients were, but he did such a good job that instead of him having to send press releases out to the media, he had journalists ringing him constantly.”
Finally, web experts say, it’s important to ensure there is a method in place to measure the success of your website against its original purpose. This may be as simple as using free Google Analytics to check visitor numbers, or a WordPress plug-in to count the number of clicks on a specific button, asking new customers how they first came across your business, or counting the number of calls the practice receives after the website’s launch as opposed to before. Or it could be as detailed as bringing in experts such as Dr Ramsden to put a full measurement plan in place to figure out exactly how much each new customer is costing the business, and how to bring this cost down.
“When it has the right design, the right features and the right content especially on the home page, a website becomes a very powerful tool for the business,” Dr Ramsden says. “Done well, it will double your conversions instantly. Put the right words on the home page of a well-designed website and people will start ringing.”