Out of the Box|20/12/2011

Hospital websites: focus on the who, the what and how much

Everyone I talk to is either rebuilding, redesigning, reconfiguring, repurposing, or rebranding their hospital website. I spend a lot of time looking at hospital websites and and I’ve come up with some conclusions.  Observations really.

The first is that hospital websites generally fall into two camps.  Those designed by an internal committee that does not understand web, and those designed by an external developer that does not understand healthcare.  Sites designed by an internal committee tend to be information heavy and talk a lot about centers and departments, while sites designed externally focus more on design and features but can sometimes look and feel like a pachinko machine.

The second is that hospital websites are overly complicated because everyone wants to get involved, or worse yet, has to get involved.  It’s a scrum of ideas, interests, timelines, practicalities and impracticalities all fighting for pixel dominance. The hospital website is viewed as a project rather than a marketing channel, and after months of delays someone finally says, “Just get the damn thing up”.  Ahhh…the battle cry of hospital administrators (and Viagra users) everywhere.

Hospital websites. Focus on the who, the what and how much.

The third is that the purpose of the hospital website is not fully defined or articulated before the redesign starts. What the site is supposed to do is far more important than what it looks like or says, but more often than not that gets twisted around.

The last is that more and more hospital websites are being designed around search engine optimization (SEO).  This is a double edged sword.  SEO is important, particularly if you want your site to attract visitors through organic (Google, Bing, Yahoo) search, but overdoing this makes the site feel, well…cheap.

Over the years, I’ve developed or worked on over 50 websites, mostly in the medical field.  I’ve made all the mistakes mentioned above.  To develop any website is a challenge, but to develop a hospital website you need the patience of Job, the wisdom of Solomon and the endurance of Achilles.

If you are redesigning your hospital website, keep these pointers in mind.  I cannot guarantee you will be mobbed by by throngs of new visitors, but it may make the ones that use your site a little happier.

Focus the bulk of your hospital website content on what, who and how much.

The most common mistake I see in hospital website design is that they ignore what people REALLY want to see.  A lot of real estate is spent of talking about their centers and departments and photographs of doctors pointing at machines or X-rays.

I believe people want three things when visiting a hospital website.  One, they want to know what you do.  As in, ‘do you treat migraines’ or ‘do you offer skin laser treatment’.  They have a problem and they are looking for a solution. Two, they want to know about your doctors.   If I am considering using your hospital, I want to know your doctors are vetted, trained, skilled and experts in their respective fields of medicine. Three, they want to know how much things cost.  I know it’s crazy, but they do.  Patients are consumers and consumers want to know how much things cost.

That’s it.   It’s not a lot.   How you DO those three things and do them well is another blog post.

Be clear what you want to get out of the visit.

So, what do you want to get out of the site?  The most common answer: traffic.  Hospitals tend to look at visitor traffic as the indicator of success rather than visitor activity.  Personally, I would rather have 100 visitors to my site do something than 1,000 visitors to my site just rummaging around like a used clothes store.

A hospital website is an incredibly powerful tool to glean data about who is visiting, where they are from and why they are using your site.  Some of that data comes from Google analytics, but the better information comes from things they do while on your site, like booking appointments, signing up for newsletters, responding to surveys, asking questions.

My philosophy is simple.  A visitor can browse all they want, but when they want something from you they need to give a little in return.

If you want action, ensure there is a call to action.

Call now.  Book now.  Enquire now.  Download your free copy now.  How many times have you seen these prompts on websites?  I am assuming more than you care to count.  There’s a reason — they are trying to sell you something or at the very least engage you.

A call to action allows you to gauge interest and gives you details about user profiles, patterns and preferences.  If your doctor finder doesn’t have “make an appointment” button, then how can you track interest in that doctor or the profile of patients looking for that doctor?  You can’t.

Your site is dynamic, so play around with it.

How often do you revisit your hospital website? Often, rarely, never?

If you fall into the ‘rarely’ to ‘never’ category then you may want to think again.  Websites today are built using content management systems that should allow you to move pieces around.  Online marketers have this down to a science, and know that by changing a word, a color or the position of something on the site, they can significantly impact its usage.   They call this “split testing” and by using two versions of the same website they can evaluate which is more effective.  Google, the master of the web universe, rules when it comes to testing and retesting.

Stop thinking of your hospital website as a glorified electronic brochure, and more as a tool for research, intelligence and action.

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