5 essentials for your practice Web site
The days of considering whether or not to have a Web site are long gone. And it's not enough to simply have a Web site, either; rather, your site needs to be impressive. It must represent the quality and excellence of your practice. Think about it for a moment: Where's the first place prospective clients (and employees, for that matter) are going to go if they're interested in your practice? Your Web site.
So what do you think about your site? Is it professional? Are you proud of it? If not, it's time to do something about it. Here are five essentials to include on your site. If you nail these, you'll be miles ahead of many other practices in your area.1. PICTURES
No one wants to click on your home page—or any page, for that matter—and read screens full of text. Since pictures are worth a thousand words, include images depicting the services you offer as well as all the areas within your hospital. Post pictures of your laboratory, surgery, and radiology areas, as well as boarding, grooming, and so on. You can include brief descriptions with the images, but keep the focus on the photograph. (On that note, hire a professional photographer, or at least get someone with some photographic ability to take the pictures of your practice.) Consider posting photos of the veterinarians as well. Since team members change frequently, you might post a team photo that you can update every few months.
2. VIRTUAL TOUR
To take your Web site to an even higher level, create a virtual tour of your practice. Many of the hospitals I consult with have incorporated this feature into their sites and have reported great success. With a virtual tour, current and prospective clients alike can "tour" your hospital by viewing still pictures or video.
Think about it for a moment: Most clients never get past your exam room doors. But with a virtual tour on your site, you can show them firsthand all the services you provide and truly market the quality and excellence of your hospital. Many practices also play their virtual tour within the practice on a digital photo frame or flat-screen monitor mounted in the waiting room or exam rooms. A virtual tour is an excellent way to educate clients about your practice and differentiate yourself from other veterinary hospitals in your area.
Is your site "flat," with just a few static pages, or does it have some flash and sparkle to it? Speaking of flash, Adobe Flash is the software that enables items to move on your screen or to fade in and out of view, which captures Web surfers' attention. Don't know your Flash from your Firefox? Find someone who does, and enlist their help in creating some great animated elements for your site. But be careful here and don't overdo it—an overprogrammed site that loads painfully slowly is frustrating to Internet users.
4. INTERACTIVE FEATURES
Interactive elements on your Web site enable clients to do just that: interact with you or the materials and information you've posted. Some examples: downloadable forms, such as new client forms or boarding admission forms, and features that let clients request an appointment or refill a medication. According to one of the largest online-communication companies in the profession, the service veterinary clients desire most is online appointment scheduling. You could also let your clients view their pets' medical histories online or print out a copy of their rabies certificates. Some practices hold monthly pet photo contests or post new stories or articles on a regular basis to draw clients back to their site every month.
One last online essential for your Web site: a shop site. One of the reasons Internet pharmacies do so well is that they're convenient. Pet owners can get up at 3 a.m., go to their computers, order a product for their pet, and have it shipped directly to their home. If your practice offered the same service via your Web site, that would negate the competitive advantage, or at least equal the playing field. You'd also be able to control the transaction, regulate the price, and make sure this was the proper product for your patient. If you want to compete with the Internet pharmacies and not lose this income, put a shop site on your Web site.
These days, most people go to the Internet first to research products and services. Rather than fight this reality, it's time to embrace the Web and use it to your advantage. Create an awesome, interactive, informative site. The time is now; the rewards are great.
Veterinary Economics Hospital Management Editor Mark Opperman, CVPM, is a certified veterinary practice manager and owner of VMC Inc., a veterinary consulting firm in Evergreen, Colo.