The Internets Impact on Dentistry

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Part VI:

What makes a Web site interesting and effective?

The Dental Economics year-long series,"The Internet`s Impact on Dentistry," is proudly sponsored by smileworks.com.

Bill Kimball, DDS

A practice`s Web site should: 1 Enhance the image of the office with an online brochure, 2 attract new patients into the practice, and 3 communicate with current patients to increase recare compliance (patient loyalty) and promote alternative treatment options through great content. A great site does all three through the use of an easily navigable and entertaining design.

Sometimes, however, the "entertaining" category is taken to the extreme, causing some sites to be just plain annoying. This month I`d like to offer some suggestions to keep your site on the "leading edge" by communicating effectively, without becoming "bleeding edge" and irritating visitors!

It can be tempting to add bells and whistles to your site, but there are two questions you should ask yourself. First, is it useful or interesting to your patients? Second, will a majority of your online patients be able to fully utilize the technological wizardry?

I interviewed E.C. Mathews, of DentistryOnline.com regarding what consumers want in a Web site. She shared some tips with me for integrating high-tech features into your site:

- Streaming audio and video are very fun and high tech, but the reality is most people don`t have the bandwidth to properly view these effects. The download times can be excruciatingly slow as well. Streaming video is a powerful visual tool, but it`s one best saved for when more people have Internet cable or DSL hook-ups in their homes and download times won`t be an issue.

- Audio effects are another tempting addition. You`ll see (and hear) Web sites with background music or downloadable audio files. They can be quite effective; however, they can also be distracting or even annoying. As with any technological gizmo, doctors need to consider whether or not audio is pertinent to their site. Is it helpful to your patients? If it`s not necessary, leave it out.

- Features like hit counters don`t really apply to a dental practice`s Web site. Unless the site is an international portal trying to raise banner-advertising revenue or seeking venture capital, hit counters are meaningless. You`re not actually selling your services online. The addition of features is not recommended unless you can see a direct correlation of how they can benefit your patients and help market your practice. Also, consider the potential negative impact of a counter that tells the world how few hits you are getting. The good news for dental offices is that you don`t have to have thousands of hits for your Web site to be great for your practice!

- Consider ways in which you can gather information from your patients, such as online feedback forms, surveys, and contests.

Content is king

Besides your office and contact information, the most important thing you can include on your site is content. The bottom line is that patients are looking for information when they go online. Providing in-depth content - about you, your practice, and dental education - is the surest way to meet your patients` needs online and create repeat visitors.

Your Web site can help you communicate with your patients in numerous ways, beyond simply putting your e-mail address on your site. Be proactive and use your Web site to contact your patients. For example, if your site includes dental health information - such as after-care instructions - send patients an e-mail that includes a hyperlink to the pertinent information on your site. A hyperlink is a word or phrase, usually underlined, that when clicked on, takes the visitor to another page on the Internet. Your patients will be impressed.

How you present your content is almost as important as the content itself. People read Web sites differently than other types of marketing. Make sure your site is simple, clean, and easy-to-navigate. This means a visitor is able to "click" to different areas of your site without scrolling down long pages. Experienced Web surfers are now willing to scroll more, but be sensitive to new users who just want to click around the site. Remember that most of the visitors your site will receive in 2001 have not yet even started using the Internet! Many will still be using their phone line modems at slow speeds to access your site. The most powerful and elegant site is often the most simple.

Make sure your site has a strong sense of structure and organization. Better sites usually have a search function and a site map. I also like to know what page I am on by having the button I clicked remain highlighted while I am on that page. Be sure to use plenty of white space (don`t fill the whole page with text) and avoid fonts that are too small. Excessive capitalization should be left for legal notices in the newspaper! If you`d like to see (and learn from) some less-than-pleasing and/or difficult to navigate Web sites, visit www.webpagesthatsuck.com.

A page full of flashing graphics can be fun (for about four seconds), then they become clutter and make it difficult for your patient to find the information they`re looking for. Keep your site interesting and current by adding/changing the content and or graphics a few times per year. There`s nothing worse than an outdated special promotion on your homepage to tell your audience the site is not well maintained.

Elegant, easy-to-navigate sites with great content are better than lots of bells and whistles! Content is king, so before you add the latest eye catching graphics, make sure you have something informative to say. Keep your site fun to use in a tasteful way. The Internet community (your current and future patients) will thank you for it.

Interactive business cards?

Here`s an interesting marketing idea for your site. Kirk Hans of comdent.com has been putting dental Web sites on the new wallet-size CD ROMs for the last year with great success. These "interactive business cards" can be handed out to anyone with a computer. Kirk suggests using these cards to improve your referral program, re-activate inactive patients, for outside business networking, and of course, direct mail. Visit www.comdent.com for more information.

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