Having a chiropractic website, or even having a single web page, was practically unheard of just four years ago. At that time, most existing and potential patients would have found a website to be relatively pointless, because only a minority of them were online. It has become quite a different story today. Now a significant percentage of the population consistently uses the Internet each day. The most common use of the Internet, after commerce, is to gather information about topics that affect day-to-day living, including healthcare.
So how does this trend influence your chiropractic practice? The development of chiropractic websites as marketing tools has become something of a booming cottage industry. It’s become common for chiropractic offices to receive calls from telemarketers trying to sell an Internet “directory listing” or a “website development service.”
This website development process, as new and technologically advanced as it is, has recently been revolutionized. The traditional “monogram” website, a site developed from scratch and filled purely with custom content, has been challenged by a new concept, Content Subscription (CS). This type of site is easier to implement, exceedingly vast in scope, and in every important way just as customizable as Monogram Sites (MS). CS offers the busy doctor a low-cost alternative to composing volumes of text in order to make a favorable first impression on the web.
So what are the goals of a well-designed chiropractic website? What are the development options for getting content onto a chiropractic website and getting it online? How can you make this new website known and visited? Why would a website be of benefit to a local doctor just trying to make ends meet? To answer the last question first, let’s see who’s really online in 1999.
Changing Internet Demographics
According to the latest statistics, a significant portion of the patient base in the United States and Canada is online, and these people are using the Internet to find health-related information. The statistics indicate the number of adults using the Internet has dramatically increased from 9% to 44% in just four years.
According to one major Internet resource (The Harris Poll, #11, January 1999), 60 million adults searched the web for healthcare information in 1998. Some of the primary health conditions they were researching included: migraine headaches, arthritis, high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer.
The interest in obtaining health-related information has sparked massive medical and health-related advertising. While revenues generated by online health and medical advertising were $12.3 million in 1997, they are projected to top $265 million by the year 2002.
In addition to increasing numbers of people online, there has also been a large increase in the amount of time the average user spends online. One recent poll found 24% of Internet users spend five to nine hours online every week, 34% spend 10-20 hours per week, and 32 percent spend more than 21 hours online every single week. Also surprising is the sharp rise in the number and percentage of women going online. The latest numbers indicate that women now make up 45% of all Internet users.
Why is Content King?
The phrase, “Content is King,” has become a popular saying among people who are involved in commerce on the web. While content alone will not guarantee success, experts agree that it is the single most important ingredient.
So what is “content?” Each website is actually just an address on a computer linked within the web, complete with space reserved for all kinds of information, and “content” is just the lingo for information carefully organized and fed into that reserved space. It is simply your advertising, your message, “how-to-buy” from you, all compiled in a user-friendly format. Suffice it to say, a website without quality content is a website with little or no traffic.
What Kind of Content Can Help?
Ask any practice management consultant what the most important element of a successful practice is today and he or she will almost always say patient education. Many doctors groan when they think about the need to educate their patients. Patient education is the most difficult parts of practice because it can feel like giving a sales pitch. Content that clearly and concisely represents the chiropractic message will help build a practice.
The reason is simple. A well-educated patient is a walking and talking advertisement for your practice. When patients know what chiropractic can do, they become dedicated followers who tell friends, family and co-workers. Well-educated patients also are more likely to adhere to a doctor’s recommendations and treatment plan, and are more willing to continue with regular, periodic, and maintenance care.
Build or Subscribe?
Websites and their content are created in a computer language called HTML. In order to get your message out to the world on the web, you need to convert your message (pictures, text, screen tools, etc.) to be used by HTML.
Designers proficient in the use of this code will generally charge between $1,000 and $3,000 to design a simple site. The price is high because the site is custom-made new each time. In addition, hype, the novelty of the web and general technophobia can make people overvalue the service. For this price, designers will take the elements that you provide, such as photos, maps and informational text, and weave them all together into an electronic mini-brochure of about five pages or so, for posting on the web. Once the design is complete, you need to contract with an Internet Service Provider (ISP) to get your site up on the web.
Often, you may not know how your site will look and feel until 90 percent of the work has been completed and at least some of the money has been paid. Also, as with anything, the abilities and quality of work from different website designers varies enormously.
CS is an alternative way of putting your site up on the web. This concept was just recently introduced and has significantly changed the way professionals are establishing their websites. The bulk of the content in a CS service is uniform throughout, and made only once by the service. This set up gives the CS site the advantage of being large (sometimes several hundred pages of information) and generally lower in cost, since it can be used over and over again by many different doctors. In this way, CS resembles a magazine in the sense that there is content provided for a relatively small fee; but the information in CS is made available electronically instead of on paper.
In the CS case, the doctor is generally only responsible for providing some basic information for the development of “personal” pages that describe the doctor and the office. These personal pages are then seamlessly linked to a number of other pre-developed pages that discuss various chiropractic and health-related issues. Rather than spend countless hours writing, rewriting and updating the content for the website, the doctor instead pays a monthly fee, and the website content, site maintenance, and frequent updates are automatically provided.
Making Your Site Known
The world’s best chiropractic website will be totally useless unless people know about it, and there are many simple and effective ways in which to spread the word about your site. The three most important ways are: promote, promote, and promote. If you don’t work for your website, your site cannot work for you. A website will not miraculously cure a failing practice or double income in six months, but it can help educate your patients and make them understand that you are a sophisticated doctor who is an expert in the field. When patients know that, they tend to refer more new patients. It’s that simple.
Be sure to include your website address in a prominent place on all business cards, stationery, Yellow Page and all other advertisements, and on promotional items such as banners, pens, mugs, calendars, etc.
The greatest success stories involving CS sites almost always involve routinely handing out several business cards to every patient. The front-office staff is encouraged to tell patients they are welcome to pass on the information about the website to people who may need chiropractic. The patient does not have to deliver a heavy “sales pitch” on your behalf to a prospective patient. And when current patients and prospective patients get online and view your CS site, they will see you as an expert and a sophisticated doctor.
What Not to Do
Don’t expect the site to be a miracle worker. It is simply another advertising medium. The fact that millions upon millions of people can view your site will not automatically increase your business. You will still draw from the immediate five to seven miles around your clinic for the most part, so you must continue to promote from within your patient base, alongside your web presence.
Don’t be fooled when a slick salesperson offers to put you “online” so you can get “just a little piece of a really big pie,” because that isn’t a proper use of the web. Similarly, be wary of “directory services” that offer to post your information on chiropractic bulletin boards that consumers are said to browse. Very few, if any, healthcare consumers doctor-shop via directories online. They seek general health information online. Patients choose doctors based on referrals, and referrals start only one place: with you.