Seven mistakes dental practices make when creating a Web site

Sept. 1, 2009
The Internet has become the tool of choice for prospective patients in making dental and other health–care decisions.

by Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch

For more on this topic, go to and search using the following key words: Web site design, Internet marketing, goals, Stewart Gandolf, Lonnie Hirsch.

The Internet has become the tool of choice for prospective patients in making dental and other health–care decisions. But there are a ton of practices that don't have a first–class online marketing tool, and that's a missed opportunity and lost revenue.

If it's time to take a critical look at your tired, gen–one version, here's a roundup of the big mistakes to avoid in getting your Web site done (and what to do instead).

Don't even think of doing your Web site yourself. D.I.Y. is for backyard gardening and has no place in Internet marketing if you want professional results. Given this basic rule, here are the top seven mistakes that are guaranteed to do a lot more harm than good:

• Lack of clear goals and visitor path to action. Clearly define exactly what you want the Web site visitor to do. Usually, the goal is for the visitor to make an appointment, or at least call for information. Hold that thought.

Yes, you'll need to persuade the visitor. Inform, yes. But save detailed patient education or lessons in office administration for later. Everything about your site — the “visitor experience” — needs to move the visitor from “looking” to “doing.” Your contact information should be available, obvious, inviting, easy, and encouraging.

• No focus = no message = no results. Don't try to say everything to everybody. Build your site for a specific target audience. Understand exactly who you are talking to and maintain that focus in content, graphic design, functionality, structure, and other details.

• Poor structure and navigation. Getting around on your site should feel intuitive. Sites where it is difficult to find important information or hard to move around drive visitors away in frustration. Consistency is a plus — menus and navigation should appear at the same place on each page and links should be obvious. Appealing design is important, but Web site design that is too flashy, technically overdone or underdone, or too slow will make your Web site a loser.

• Believing “If I build it, they will come.” Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is a fundamental tool, and it's commonly overlooked. Most visitors — usually 80% or more — will arrive at your site using a search engine (like Google, Yahoo, etc.), so build a site that search engines recognize. SEO is a sophisticated blend of art and science that begins with the design, construction, and content of the site itself, and makes it highly visible to Google and others. The do's and don'ts of SEO can fill a large book, but your site needs targeted keywords and phrases, well–written and relevant content that is “spider friendly,” and appropriate Meta tags, title tags, and keyword tags. Caution: There are special rules in this game, and using “black hat” techniques, such as hidden text, can result in being banned by the search engines.

• Making the Web site a marketing orphan. This is a serious player in your overall marketing plan. Integrate your Web site with other marketing activities and vice versa. The classic symptoms of this are not including your Web address in correspondence or your practice brochure — or a Web site that looks different from your other branding. Find ways to tell current and prospective patients about your site. Maintain the content with regular updates and refinements.

• Believing your Web site is a technical or graphic arts example. Above all else, your site is a professional marketing communications tool. Of course it needs to be technically correct (but not geek–trick driven) and it needs to be graphically appealing (but not an artistic expression alone). Communicate a compelling, benefit–laden message that differentiates you and your practice. Understand that the visitor has a need … and make sure your site explains how you can provide the answer to that need. In the process, you'll also build trust, establish credibility, and entice response.

• Ignoring site and visitor analytics. Every Web site keeps detailed statistics about visitor traffic (how they found you) and site activity (what pages they saw, how long they stayed). Web analytics are included with your hosting service or are available free or at a low cost. Study this near–real–time feedback about your prospective patients' response to your Web site. This data is vital to making SEO and marketing decisions.

Use this checklist to make a critical review of your existing (or new) Web site. If any one of these items is out of whack, you can be confident that your site is sending prospective patients elsewhere. Wouldn't you like it to produce new patients for you rather than your competition?

Stewart Gandolf, MBA, and Lonnie Hirsch are cofounders of Healthcare Success Strategies, and two of America's most experienced practice marketers. They have worked with dentists for a combined 30 years, have written numerous articles on practice marketing, and have consulted with more than 3,000 private health–care practices. They may be reached by calling (888) 679–0050, through their Web site at, or via e–mail at [email protected].

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