With expert website providers, marketing gurus and SEO experts practically knocking on our exam room doors, you must be diligent to avoid the pitfalls that will land your veterinary practice in the litter box of lost websites and ruin your return on investment. So how do you build a better veterinary practice website? Here are six steps to build a best-in-practice website and save you from becoming a victim of the not-so-honest and difficult-to-understand website industry we have to navigate to keep our doors open and attract new clients:
1. Own your own website. Period. There are some short-term benefits of providers of templated websites. Rental sites have a low upfront fee, and practice managers need not spend a ton of time and resources coordinating with professional photographers, designers, programmers and more. But look beyond the basic marketing pitch and you will find the negative aspects can far outweigh the positives.
Rental templates can hurt your practice’s growth. These websites typically have content that’s identical to all of the other websites the provider has created for thousands of other practices. Search engines recognize this as duplicate content and can penalize you for it, making search engine optimization (SEO) challenging, even for the sharpest search engine optimizer.
The cost, though often presented as affordable, actually ends up biting you in the rear. When you pay monthly or quarterly fees for a rental site, you will eventually pay more for a site you don’t even own, when you could have commissioned a custom SEO-friendly site you own in the first place—with no ongoing incremental fees.
2. Choose portability for your website. Or be prepared to pay the consequences.
Many website providers will create their own unique content management systems (CMS) and promote this as a custom upgrade to you, one that isn’t cookie-cutter. In this instance, you do want cookie-cutter. These proprietary systems make it harder for you to leave your provider. But if you build your site on a popular open-source CMS, such as Wordpress, you can move your site to another hosting provider and any website designer can work with the site. If your provider goes out of business or you no longer like them, you don’t need to start from scratch and abandon a site you already paid for.
3. Opt for responsive web design. A mobile-friendly site is a must, but don’t get a mobile site. What you’re looking for is responsive web design.
There are many advantages to a responsive design over a native “app” or a mobile site that live on a different web address than the desktop site. With responsive design, a practice has a single website and therefore only has to maintain and optimize one site at a single URL and update content to a single website. This makes sure users will find you on mobile devices without having to wait for data that will turn away mobile users—especially if they have a weak 4G signal. I’ve found that as much as 40 percent of traffic on veterinary practice websites comes from mobile devices.
Since search engines penalize practices for duplicate content—content identical on separate websites—unique content doesn’t have to be created for both a mobile site and a desktop site with responsive design. Therefore, responsive sites are more SEO-friendly, meaning these sites are more efficient for content creation and rankings in search engines.
4. Use the content you built up. You paid for it, after all. Mobile sites you view on your phone don’t deliver enough content for a potential new client to make a decision about choosing your practice. Mobile sites typically are bare bones and only provide name, address, phone number, a brief paragraph and a call to action. Mobile searches are a high percentage of website traffic. Why should you lose the ability to show off your practice and your team to those users?
5. Don’t lose your existing rankings when you switch sites. Many web development companies focus on aesthetics and design with little regard to SEO. I’ve often consulted with practice owners who lose their search engine rankings after they get a new website. A common reason is that the design company didn’t redirect their old website addresses to their new ones.
For example, if you had a page that ranked for “Canine Acupuncture” in Google that lived at yourpractice.com/we-do-canine-acupuncture and the new company copied that content to a new address, such as yourpractice.com/canine-acupuncture, Google will no longer be able to find that content and will remove it from the search results. In this example, you lost your ability to rank for “Canine Acupuncture.”
Be absolutely sure that your marketing partner is telling Google that the old pages are at new URLs. You can do this through the combination of creating redirects in the back-end of the site and informing search engines of the change by submitting a sitemap. While this may not be as crystal clear to you as how to interpret a CBC, asking your potential provider this question gives you a leg up on negotiations and makes them believe that you know what you’re talking about.
Don’t want to bother with all of this? You should. The last thing you want is a new website that nobody can find. In this case you might as well call your old Yellow Pages rep. (See 5 questions to ask a potential website designer for more.)
6. Focus on content. You can have a fantastic practice website, but without content to be indexed by search engines, your website won’t do what you need it to do: engage your current clients and attract new ones.
Content creation is time-consuming and expensive, so it pays in spades to be efficient and organized. Plan ahead so you can consistently publish quality articles, social media posts, press releases and newsletters.
Having so many publishing channels means that no single team member can create content and publish it. To coordinate your team, a content editorial calendar is the best practice. A content editorial calendar should break down tasks by ownership of task, deadline and channel, such as social media, newsletter, website, press release and so on.
The most successful practices I consult with plan a minimum of a two-month lead on their content strategy. Use collaboration tools such as Google Docs (docs.google.com) to assign, monitor and collect completed content. Use this free web content calendar with sample ideas to get started.
Most practice owners now realize they need a cutting-edge website to compete, but technology is ever-changing and it’s hard enough to keep up with CE, much less decipher the confusing technospeak. So take the time to educate yourself on these simple steps to stay on track for a litter-free website.