Should you just forget your website and channel all your marketing efforts and dollars into social media? Probably not, say the experts. By Daniel Warren
You could be forgiven for thinking there’s no point in maintaining your own website. Two decades after the internet roared back to life after the dot.com bubble burst (remember that?), the web has come to be dominated by a handful of companies: Facebook, Google, Netflix, Amazon, Microsoft and Apple. Think of the apps you use every day—chances are, the ones you use most are owned by one of these six companies.
In the meantime, you’ve invested thousands of dollars in a website for your veterinary practice. Hardly anyone goes there, and it exists in your faint hope that one of those giants will drop a few crumbs of web traffic in your direction. Why bother? Why not just chuck it in and set yourself up as an Instagram influencer?
Not so fast, says Mark Brown, director of Engage Content. “It’s surprisingly hard to determine how much actual web traffic goes to each website,” he explains. “It’s actually impossible to even know how many websites there are at any given time. But there has been a lot of work done on this topic by a networking equipment company called Sandvine.”
The reason Sandvine’s statistics are considered trustworthy is they create the networking hardware and software that runs the internet. And as of mid-last year, Sandvine estimated that those big six companies account for 43 per cent of all internet traffic. “So 57 per cent of traffic on the web goes elsewhere,” Brown adds. “The majority is still heading off to the millions of smaller websites that make up the internet.”
Not having your own website, he says, is like not having your own clinic because some big companies own more buildings. “So the first, and most important, reason for maintaining your own website is because it’s yours. No-one can close it down, steer traffic away, or boot you off it.”
Unlike social media, where all those things can happen.
Why social is anti-social
According to Rob Johnson, co-owner of YourBlogPosts.com, social media like Facebook or Instagram is a lot of fun, but it is not a replacement for your own website. The three main differences between a social media site and your own website are:
1. You don’t own your followers—the social media site does;
2. You are interrupting people with your messages while they’re doing something else; and
3. You don’t have any meaningful contact details for your business.
“One of the big traps of social media is vanity metrics,” Johnson explains. “Vanity metrics are numbers that don’t mean anything beyond their face value. So someone called Fred Jones may have clicked ‘like’ on that post you put up—but how many other posts has he liked? How close is he to your surgery? Is he liking your post because of its content, or because you added a cute cat picture? All those answers are impossible to know.”
You can post nothing but funny cat videos on social media, and get thousands of likes and followers. But that means nothing if they don’t come to your surgery. All it means is those people have liked something you’ve posted.
“Also, think for a minute about how your Facebook or Instagram page works,” he adds. “People don’t go there and look at all your posts. Your posts just pop up sometimes in their own feed. If you want to be sure a certain number of your followers will definitely see a post, you need to pay extra to boost the post.”
Johnson is keen to point out he isn’t saying you shouldn’t have a social media presence. “I’m saying you should use that social media presence for one main reason—to attract people to your website.”
Staking your claim
According to Mark Brown, the three reasons why you should have your own veterinary website are:
- To own your own piece of cyber-land
- To create a trustworthy source of information for pet parents
- To build a relationship with those clients when their pet isn’t sick.
“At the moment, the time you’re most likely to meet a pet’s parent is when you’re least likely to be able to build a relationship with them,” he says. “They are stressed and upset because their pet is unwell. You are focused on diagnosing the problem and making the animal better.
“The most you can leave them with are a good impression and some instructions, which they may or may not follow.”
Having an online source of information they can go to when they’re calmer makes sense. Your own website can be a source of positive information. If you have knowledge or expertise in exotic pets, for example, you can share that on your site. Or share information on pet behaviour. Not necessarily behaviour when they’re sick, but also behaviour when they’re well.
“The more positive and good information you can share, the more reasons people will have to visit you,” he says.
Best practice for vet websites
If all your website does is give your contact details and a description of who you are, people have no reason to visit more than once, Johnson adds. Regularly creating interesting, engaging content gives them a reason to return. It also gives you a reason to stay in touch with them. And it indicates to search engines that your website is active, so they are more likely to send searchers the link in a search-results page.
“There are many cheap and easy forms you can find online that will give people the option of leaving their name and email address. Posting to social media to amplify your content is also time-consuming. But there are apps like Coschedule and Hootsuite that make it much, much easier to do.”
If you use those options, you’ll find the easiest work is maintaining your database. Because all you’re doing is keeping a record of people who have opted in to hear from you. Which makes the whole process of marketing yourself far more enjoyable.