Finding yourself on the Web

It's a common scenario. A new patient asks, "Can you give me directions to your office?" The response? "Just check our Web site." Almost all businesses today have Web sites.

Paul Feuerstein, DMD

It's a common scenario. A new patient asks, "Can you give me directions to your office?" The response? "Just check our Web site." Almost all businesses today have Web sites. Looking for products or services? Search the Web.

Companies have entire departments for creating, updating, and maintaining their Web sites. Can dentistry afford this service? An informal survey of dental offices with sites shows an investment of $500-$8,000 for development and up to $10,000 per year for maintenance, hosting, and related advertising. Although this can be construed to be part of a marketing budget, it appears to be out of the reach of many dentists - or is it?

Free Web sites

The do-it-yourself nature of many practitioners have led them to build their own sites. Any member of AOL, for example, gets free space for a Web site (keyword "hometown"). I made a site in seven minutes for this column. There are instructions and templates to have you up and running in no time. You can view it at http://hometown.aol. com/drpaul/myhomepage/ business.html. But that is one of the problems with this system - a complex address.

You can build a Web site with a program such as Microsoft Front Page, or directly online with AOL or one of many other sites. Homestead.com is one of the best sites, which not only has the building blocks, but also hosts the site at no charge. (Actually, you need Internet access through AOL or an ISP, so you have to pay someone a monthly fee.)

Your own Web name (domain)

Instead of a long address, you could have your own unique name. Most of the clever dot-com addresses are gone, but chances are you can still get your own name.com. In order to get your name, you must first find out if anyone else has it. There are many ways to do this, but I will give you my favorite. Go to www.yournamefree.com and enter the name you want. It will search and let you know if it is available, and, if not, suggest alternatives. For this exercise, I looked up dentaltechcolumn.com, and found it to be available. For a fee of $70 (at press time this site was offering a $10 discount), I can own that name; however, the name itself is not a Web site.

My next step would be to compose a Web site, either by myself or by hiring someone. Once that site is completed, it has to reside somewhere on the Web - it can't live in my computer, as no one could access it. I have to find a "hosting company." There are many with fees from $10-$100 per month which will copy my Web site onto their computers, and attach my name (dentaltechcolumn) to it.

However, there is still a free way to do this. We have just made a site on AOL (or Homestead). Just as you can have "call forwarding" on your phone, there is "Web forwarding." We already have the name at yournamefree, so by following the directions on the site, this new name will direct people to the long AOL name above. Now you can type in www. dentaltechcolumn.com and be invisibly sent to the AOL site, with a much easier name to remember.

Find me on the Web

Here is the real issue: When consumers are looking for a service, they use search engines to find the sites. The clever method above will not be effective in being found. If you publish your Web site address in local ads, phone books, and office giveaways, the patients of the practice - or others who see it in print - will easily find you.

In order to be found in the popular search engines, you must register the domain name with each of them. You can do it yourself one by one, or go to sites such as Addme.com, which will go to 25 search engines at no charge (Yahoo! not included), or go to pay services where it will cost a few hundred dollars. Then, of course, you have to continuously update the submissions and modify some required search code words.

If you follow some of these ideas, you are on your way to setting up your office Web site. After struggling, you may decide to hire a professional company that understands dentistry to do the work for you. An upcoming column will look at this option.

In the meantime, begin looking for your new domain name - have a contest among your staff members, or even your patients. Also start searching the Web and see what others have done. Contact them, compliment them, and pick their brains. Flattery will get you everywhere.

Dr. Paul Feuerstein installed one of dentistry's first computers when he placed a system in his office in 1978, and he has been fascinated by the technology ever since. For more than 20 years, he has taught courses on technology throughout the country. He is a mainstay at technology sessions in New England, including annual appearances at the Yankee Dental Congress, and has been a part of the ADA's Technology Day since its inception. A general practitioner in North Billerica, Mass., since 1973, Dr. Feuerstein maintains a Web site www.computersindentistry.com and can be reached by e-mail at drpaul@computersindentistry.com.

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