A few simple tweaks can make your website a lot more appealing to potential clients. By Daniel Warren
How do you use your website to capture attention without appearing too desperate? It’s a tricky question to answer for veterinary clinics, who need to balance a lot of messages about thweir brand: that they’re caring and serious, but also contemporary and professional. And of course, you’ll need some nice photos of dogs and cats. But when you do that, your site looks pretty much the same as every other vet.
According to Mark Brown of specialist agency Engage Content, those elements that people sweat over—the logo, the colours, the stock-library photos of pets—are the wrong thing to focus on.
“No-one is coming to your website to see your logo,” he says. “Your logo and corporate colours are not going to grab someone’s attention.”
There are two ways to capture attention, Brown says. One is by being entertaining. The other is by being useful.
“That’s not new information,” he says. “But many people, including marketing experts, misunderstand it. They think being entertaining means being a clown or a shock jock. And they think being useful is making how-to videos. Neither of those extremes are true.”
Being entertaining involves creating an emotional connection, he says. That could be laughter, but it could also be many other things. You can create an emotional connection by showing someone who loves their pet. Other pet lovers will respond to that immediately.
Being useful involves creating an intellectual connection. Useful information has a practical application. But that doesn’t have to be immediately practical. It’s useful to know when flea and tick season is starting. It’s useful to know characteristic behaviour of certain breeds of dog.
How to make your website useless
Because a website is often the last thing a clinic thinks about, many follow a generic template. “Many vet sites open up with a home page that has your address and number, and a photo of your waiting room with no-one in it, or a picture of a dog,” says Brown. “It might have a widget with a Google map showing where you are. The colour scheme is probably ‘medical’-looking—lots of dark blue and white.
“And it probably has a long list of all the equipment the clinic has. If you’re really sophisticated, there may be a video tour of the surgery.”
He adds that the vet probably paid a fortune for that video five years ago. And the only people who have watched it are the staff and their mums.
While it’s more common nowadays to have a blog on the site, it is often hidden somewhere in the ‘about us’ menu and hasn’t been updated for months.
“You may well be very happy with this website, because it talks at length about you and your practice,” says Brown. “But it doesn’t talk about pets. It doesn’t talk about potential problems you can solve. It doesn’t talk about patients. This type of home page is sending a clear message. It’s saying, ‘Book an appointment or get lost’.”
Tweaking your website for clients
According to Brown, fixing a site like this first involves looking at the information you’re presenting ‘above the fold’.
“The phrase ‘above the fold’ is an old newspaper term that has been adopted by web designers,” he says. “Clearly, there is no fold in a webpage. Back in the days of newspapers, you put enormous effort into getting catchy information on the top half of page one. That way, when the newspaper was folded in half, it was still showing your most attractive headline.
“On the web, it means getting your most appealing information into the top half of the page, underneath your brand name and navigation menu.”
Sell your knowledge, not your services
Your most appealing information is your knowledge, says Brown. Not your office. Not your location. And definitely not your equipment.
“You showcase your knowledge in your blog,” he says. “You don’t have to have your blog as the front page of your site. But you should have a sliding menu above the fold which points to the three latest posts on your blog. It should be set to update automatically every time you update a blog post.
“The very nature of the content you should be blogging about should create some kind of connection with potential visitors. They will be far more interested in what you know than what your waiting room looks like.”
Use images in every blog post
Another truism of web design and blogging is you should always use pictures on every blog post. “Images capture our attention more quickly than words,” says Brown. “They don’t have to be amazing images taken by a professional photographer—although that doesn’t hurt. They just have to be images that illustrate stories.”
Images are also good for creating an emotional connection with readers, he adds. So if you are writing a blog post about, say, orthopedics for pets, use an image of a happy pet. Not an X-ray image of a broken leg. You want a positive emotional response. Not a negative one.
Capture email addresses
When people talk about capturing attention, or capturing an audience, they focus on the words ‘attention’ and ‘audience’. But at least as much attention should be paid to the word ‘capture’, says Brown. “It’s not enough to be in front of an audience,” he says. “Implied in the word ‘capture’ is getting permission from that audience to keep communicating with them on a regular basis.
“If you are asking people to come back to your website regularly, it just makes sense to have new information on the top of the home page. Otherwise their first thought upon returning will be, I’ve been here before. There’s nothing new here.”
The standard way to capture visitor information is with a pop-up form that they can fill in to get a newsletter. The email newsletter is your vehicle to get them to return. Your latest blog posts are the bait to get them back.
Then make a basic, regular newsletter that offers the first paragraph of your latest blog posts with a link back to those posts that will draw those visitors back to you.
With these few simple changes—a slider on the home page; regular blog posts; illustrations on every post; and an email capture form leading to a regular newsletter—you can make your website immediately more interesting without appearing desperate.
“It is interesting because you are thinking about your patients and their families. Which, by the way, is what your patients are also thinking about,” Bown says.
Get rid of that photo of your practice or your empty waiting room now. If people want to see the building, they can book an appointment.