Getting Your Practice Into Cyberspace: Real World Dentistry Meets the Virtual World, Part 2: Creating Your Web site

In Part 1, published in the July issue of Dentistry Today, I covered registering your domain name (Internet address). In this article I will cover the actual Web site construction and provide general recommendations on content. When it comes to creating the actual Web site, you have 2 options: do it yourself (DIY), or hire a Web site designer. It may help to think of this as the decision between acting as your own “general contractor” or choosing to hire one. The upside to acting as your own Web site designer is that you will have more control over the final product and may be in a better position to make changes as needed. The downside is that you probably have little to no experience and that your valuable time may be better spent elsewhere.

DIY WEB SITE DESIGN

Illusration by Brian C. Green

In order to design your own Web site, you will need the appropriate software. Several are available. Two of the more popular programs are Frontpage (Microsoft) and Dreamweaver (Adobe). Frontpage is relatively easy to use and can help you quickly build a simple Web site. Dreamweaver is much more advanced (and expensive), but will allow you to create a more customized and sophisticated Web site.
If you decide to construct your own webpage, you will need to spend the time to become familiar with the software and web design in general. I highly recommend purchasing a book on using your software before you get started. There are many good books available to help you. The key is finding one that is specifically written for the program that you will be using. You should also some spend time browsing other dentists’ Web sites and bookmarking ones that that you like, and even some that you don’t like. Remember to think like a patient. Which Web sites make you want to call that dentist? Which ones make you want to run the other way? Decide on the overall message that you want to convey while being sure to consider the type of patients to whom you are marketing. In addition, choose a color scheme for your Web site.
After you have constructed your Web site on your computer, you will need to upload it to a server. The server is a company to whom you pay a yearly fee for “hosting” your Web site. The host makes your Web site available to everyone else on the Internet. Without it, the Web site does not exist. Again, many hosting companies are out there, but I personally prefer jumpline.com for this service as well. They proved themselves to be exceedingly helpful when I had to do this for the first time.
There is far too much about the specifics of web design to cover here. (Hundreds of books and articles have been written on the topic!) Once you are familiar with your software, the process will move fairly quickly. If the idea of learning how to use a new software program seems too daunting, then perhaps you are a better candidate for hiring a Web site design team.

HIRING A WEB DESIGNER

As you browsed through the dental Web sites, you may have noticed that many of them look quite a bit alike. Many web designers use templates for designing Web sites. They will merely plug the text, photos, and colors that you provide to them into a template. This is becoming more and more commonplace as it proves to be quite cost effective for everyone involved. These prepackaged Web sites should cost quite a bit less than those that are custom designed. Many design firms perform these services. Be sure to do your due diligence and find a designer that you feel comfortable with, one who will provide you with a level of services that you feel are appropriate for the price.
If you want your Web site to truly stand out from all the others, it is going to cost you.
While custom-designed Web sites will likely be a better fit for the Internet business image that you are trying to convey and help you stand out from the crowd, you will have to decide if it is worth the additional costs. Within the package that you negotiate and purchase, these designers will provide you with custom graphics, layouts, and mini-movies to whatever extent you desire. Some will also create a logo for you if needed, again at an additional cost for this work. A designer will usually take care of the hosting side for you, but be sure to check if that is included in the price.
As the third and least expensive alternative, there are templates available online that you would personally revise to fit your needs. These are also known as “canned Web sites.” They can be purchased relatively inexpensively, and will serve as a quick way to get your Web site up and running. Unfortunately, they tend to appear a little cheap, which may not be the message that you want to convey to prospective patients.

CONTENT

Let’s talk a little about what you should, and should not, include in your Web site. The home page of your Web site should convey the image that you want to project. Of course, it should create an aura of trust and competence. It should be well designed, easy to read, and simple to navigate. Remember that usually your primary goal is to get patients to contact your office (either via e-mail or phone), so this information should be clear and easy to find. Do not get so carried away when de-signing your site that you forget this overall goal.
Web sites typically have multiple pages. Let’s discuss what some of those pages should include. You should have lots of information (essays, etc.) on your Web site, as this is one of the main ways that you will be “ranked” in the search engines (more on this in Part 3 of my article). You should have a page that introduces you and your staff. Also, high quality photos of you (and your staff) can help a patient overcome the fear of meeting and trusting a new dentist. You should mention any achievements related to your experiences and education in dentistry. You should list your memberships in all the professional (dental) organizations to which you belong. For the optimal benefit of the search engines that ultimately are responsible for allowing the patient to locate you quickly on the Internet, you should mention your city (or area) in all the appropriate places possible on your Web site. You should consider publishing before and after cases (original photos only) on your site if this is appropriate for your practice. Make sure that you provide directions, hours of operation, and a map which can be printed out for patients’ use. Internet savvy users may want to initially contact your office via e-mail, so make this easy for them by including a direct-message box known as “form mail.”

WHAT TO AVOID IN YOUR WEB SITE

This may be even more important than what to include. Avoid bright, high-contrast colors. Avoid the temptation to add background music. Avoid pop-ups as well as un-professional flash images (eg, animated dancing toothbrushes) that do not project your overall business vision and mission. Avoid a Web site design that looks busy, cluttered, or is so extensive that finding the necessary information becomes an ordeal. Avoid the temptation to resize the user’s browser window to fit your Web site. You should avoid relying too heavily on photos; if the search engines do not have any text to read, they will not be able to “see” your Web site. If the search engines cannot find your site, then some of your potential patients (who do not have your Web address) will not be able to find you either.

CONCLUSION

When considering how you want your Web site to look, I suggest that you return to the Web sites that you like and incorporate the things you enjoy about their design. Always keep the end goal in mind. It doesn’t matter how nice your Web site is if patients never call your office to schedule an appointment.
By this point you should have registered your domain name and have a Web site design and hosting company, if necessary. You now have the equivalent of an address and a building, but no one knows it is there yet. In Part 3 of this 4-part article series, we will talk about how to drive potential patients to your Web site.


Dr. Schoenbaum is currently a lecturer in the Restorative Department and the assistant director of Continuing Education at UCLA’s School of Dentistry. He can be reached at tschoenb@ucla.edu.