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Seven steps to setting up your Web site
Knowing your practice should be online and getting your practice`s Web site on the Internet can be a big leap for many doctors. Lack of knowledge about the process, fear of technology, and concerns over the time investment can all be barriers to taking that first step to getting your practice online. But if you follow these seven simple steps, you can get your practice hooked up to the Web and start reaping the benefits of the Internet immediately.
- Planning your site
The very first step to getting your practice online is planning your Web site and determining its purpose. Deciding on the purpose of your new Web site will help you map out the content and features you want to include.
Many dental Internet pioneers reveal that the purpose of their site was to advance their high-tech image. "I wanted to position myself as an office on the cutting edge," says Dr. Les Prasad, of North Attleboro, Mass. Dr. Debra King, of Atlanta, Ga., agrees: "We just wanted to make sure we were keeping up with technology." Just having a Web site address printed on your marketing materials and a site presence of some kind will fulfill that purpose.
Other doctors went into the venture with definite expectations about generating new business. A select few were pleased with the results. "In 1999 we had roughly $100,000 in production solely by people who found us by surfing the Net. And this did not cost one penny past the hosting and initial design costs," says Dr. Tom Orent, of Framingham, Mass.
For this model to be successful, you will need to submit your Web site to all the major search engine portals. You should also invest in local online business directories and in some of the numerous fee-for-listing "find-a-dentist" search engines available today. The challenge is balancing the cost of marketing your Web site with the response you will get.
Perhaps the most powerful reason to put your practice online is for internal marketing - improving communication with your existing patients and prompting referrals. Dr. Barry Freydberg, Skokie, Ill., subscribes to this model for his Web site: "We`re using it more as an internal marketing tool. I don`t see people moving to our city and finding us on the Web as the main reason for having a Web site."
Studies have shown that a large percentage of patients would like to communicate with their existing doctors online. In fact, a Cyber Dialog poll last year found that 50 percent of all online users would like to access their own doctor`s Web site. Forty-eight percent would like to communicate with their doctors via e-mail. If you decide to meet the online needs of your patients and use your Web site as an internal marketing tool, it is vital that you keep that purpose in mind as you create your Web site. It is also advisable to subscribe to a provider of patient education materials. Such services can provide your patients with constantly updated and relevant dental health content, keeping them educated, informed and coming back to your site.
- Choosing an ISP
Before you can put your practice online, you must choose an Internet Service Provider. This is a service that connects you and your staff to the Internet. Direct dial providers such as AOL and Prodigy provide Internet services for millions of consumers. However, they are currently limited to modem-to-modem connections that are slow for the business environment. In the future, these providers will be able to increase their bandwidth capabilities so that full multimedia services will be deliverable. In his new book, Clicking Through, A Survival Guide for Bringing Your Company Online, Jonathan Ezor explains that "Bandwidth [is] the size of the electronic pipeline through which information flows in and out of your Web site. The higher the bandwidth, the faster your site will operate."
Digital Subscriber Lines (DSL) are the best current solution for high-speed connectivity. Costs for a DSL range from $50 to $200 a month, depending upon the bandwidth capacity. One DSL line can handle Internet and standard phone connections, using a router that splits it among several computers and phones. "We have a high-speed DSL line in the office," says Dr. Tom Hedge of West Chester, Ohio, "and in every operatory we can pull up our Web site or other sites during the visit."
- Selecting a host provider
Your next task is finding a "home" for your Web site. A Web hosting service will provide that home by holding your Web site pages on their server.
The cost for hosting services varies, but usually depends on the amount of storage your site takes up, and the amount of service the host has to provide for you. Providers may charge as much as $100 per month, although some provide free hosting services.
Ask the host provider the same question you ask of Internet service providers: How much bandwidth do they have? If they have limited access to the Internet and host several Web sites, there is a chance your patients will not be able to access your site during peak usage periods.
- Selecting the site name
Selecting a name for your Web site is a bit like choosing a catchy 1-800 number: make sure it`s memorable, and make sure no one else has reserved it.
Many doctors obtain a Web site address that includes their name, or the name of the practice. A notable name can be a valuable commodity in the Web game. If you want a unique name that belongs directly to you (like www.drmarksmith.com), reserve it with a domain registration site such as Network Solutions (http://www.networksolutions.com) or Register.com (http://www.register.com). You can search their database to see if your desired name is available and then register the name for your use. The cost is $70 for two years.
Companies that offer free Web design and/or hosting will often offer a free Web site name as well. Your Web site name will appear within their domain name, such as: www.DrMarkSmith.DentistryOnline.com or http://www.DentistryOnline.com/DrMarkSmith. You will save money on the registration, but the consumer will have to type in a longer Web site address.
- Creating a site map
A Web site map is an outline of the different sections included on your site. The purpose of your Web site, as determined in the first step above, is the launching pad for the site map. The map allows you to envision the verbiage you`ll need to create, and what images are needed. Should you hire a Web programmer, the site map is a necessary tool that gets you both on the same page.
As you examine other doctor`s Web sites, you`ll notice there are some common sections that every dental practice site should have. They include: "Our Office," "About the Doctor(s)," "About the Staff," "Our Services," "Office Hours," "Map & Directions," and most importantly, "Contact Us." The option to contact the office, via e-mail and/or phone, should be available on each and every page of your Web site. This feature is the lifeline between you and your patients.
Adding patient education content to your site is also vitally important. A Web site without content is just a glorified Yellow Pages ad. Patient education content can include articles, photographs, dental health guides, and an online patient education newsletter. An online "Flash introduction," which plays like a video tour of your practice and staff, is a dynamic way to profile your practice online. You may also include sections like: "Financial Arrangements," "Request an Appointment," "The Doctor`s Continuing Education," "Patient Testimonials," "Doctor`s Published Articles," and more.
- Writing site content
If you`re not a strong writer, make use of a staff member or outside consultant with good writing skills. You can also subscribe to a dental internet content provider who will ad patient education content to your site for a monthly fee.
Writing for the Internet is similar to other professional writing, with some important differences. Web site copy should be much shorter, more punchy, and easier to scan than traditional brochure copy. Consumers do not want to scroll through pages of text. They want quick copy, bullet points, and the opportunity to click through to a different page for more information.
- Creating your site
You know what you want on your Web site - now how do you actually create it? Programming is the answer; it isn`t as daunting as it sounds. The options range from doing it yourself for free to hiring a Web design firm for a hefty fee. Choices can be tailored to fit the needs and budget of any dental practice.
Dr. Hedge, a real Internet pioneer, designed his own site and used a computer-savvy college student to do the programming. "I decided that it was time to have a Web site," says Hedge, "and I laid the whole thing out on a big Web site map." The young computer whiz used Front Page, a Web site building software program, to create the site for Hedge, who came up with materials and design ideas for his site by reviewing other Web sites. "I gave him the Web site map, along with design direction, and he converted it to HTML, the Web programming language."
Others used free offers from Internet companies whose goal it is to get all dentists online. "For most doctors, it`s a great first step," says Hedge. "I can`t believe that, with a free Web site offer, there aren`t 150,000 sites out there."
Dr. Keith Collins, of Vancouver, Wash. agrees: "We have plenty of advocates lining up to offer cost-effective and free resources for dentists to advance their practices through the Internet," he says. "Our dental suppliers want us to succeed. DentistryOnline.com wants us to succeed. "
As prices for Web creation and design go down, many doctors are turning to designers to create their sites. This trend is booming throughout the small business community. In Clicking Through, author Ezor explains, "Fewer business owners are do-it-yourself Web site designers. Most companies turn to contractors, such as advertising agencies or dedicated Web shops, to design and build their Internet presences."
Dr. Orent has a caveat for doctors considering their programming options: Remember the limitations of each. "I think they should be very careful about trying to save a buck and doing themselves more harm than good," says Orent. "You can spend from zero up to many many many thousands of dollars on your site. The last thing I would do is have my brother, mother, friend, old buddy, or staff member, who`s good with computers and has a Web writer package, design my Web site.
"The second to the last thing I`d do is hire a programmer who`s really good with HTML code, and has no idea about marketing. The third to the last thing I`d do is to hire a programmer that has HTML code and marketing, but has no idea about dentistry."
For Orent, the ideal situation is a programmer who can cover all those bases. "Find a great Web designer who understands marketing, HTML and the Web intimately, and also understands professional and dental sites," he says.
Now is the time to get online
If you`re still having reservations about whether or not you should launch your Web site, just listen to a handful of doctors who are currently online - some for a few months, others for a few years. "Two years ago I was telling dentists to get online. Learn how to surf, get as Web savvy as you can, read all about it. My prognostication was if they`d get savvy with it, and know how to use it, there will come a time in the future that they`ll want to use it," says Orent. "Now I`m telling people that time is immediate, if not yesterday."
"In 1997, I remember thinking, `Why would I need an Internet site for my dental office?` Within one year, my mind certainly changed," says Hedge, whose site has been up since February 1998. Collins not only sees the value of marketing his practice with the Internet, but also knows the use of the Internet will become the norm in patient education and practice management. "Progressive dentists have the opportunity this year to bring the Internet to every room in their dental office for a variety of purposes," he says.
"The information technology is here now and it is here to stay," says Prasad. "And if we don`t change and adapt, not only will we be left behind, but we will be missing the most exciting possibilities, which really are limitless."
Orent sums it up with conviction: "The risk factor is so incredibly low, to get out there, have a Web site, have a presence," he says. "If we had a way to put my two hands into this article and reach out through the paper, grab the dentists who aren`t online yet and shake them and say, `You`re not listening-do it yesterday!` This is not a project for 2001. Reap the benefits. The upside potential is terrific. If I`m wrong, your investment was minimal, and risk limited."
If you would like to contact Dentistry Online, Inc. to discuss this contents of this article, call 800-683-5409, or you can e-mail the participants:
- Barry Freydberg, DDS, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Keith Collins, DMD, email@example.com
- Tom Hedge, DDS, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Debra Gray King, DDS, FAACD, and Daniel King, JD, CPA, email@example.com
- Tom Orent, DMD, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Les Prasad, DDS, email@example.com
Web Site Check List
x - Quick-loading
x - User-friendly
x - Interactive
x - Inviting colors
x - Active searching
x - Easy to navigate
x - Keep video and pictures to a minimum
x - Font sizes must be readable
x - Keep clinical slides to a minimum
x - Not too much flash!
x - Audio track is acceptable
x - Online appointments should be available
x - Include a"Rate the visit" feature
x - Include your e-mail address