For anything to be a success, it needs to fulfil a need.
In the second decade of the 21st century, it’s fairly unusual not to have a computer in your home, at work or in your pocket or bag. Most of us go online on a daily basis for work, entertainment, shopping and communication.
We also worry about our health and the wellbeing of those closest to us so it’s no surprise that demand for web-based health and medical information is at an all-time high. Research carried out a couple of years ago showed that over two-thirds of people surveyed used websites to find out more about a medical condition or to research a hospital or a doctor. And that proportion is growing as online medical information continues to proliferate.
Plenty of organisations set up websites to attract people with spurious claims or make sure their ads are displayed prominently all over the internet. Obscure berries that cure cancer, diet pills that are ‘safe’ and ‘guaranteed’, plant extracts that slow ageing are just three examples.
Some people are taken in but most aren’t. Internet users looking for reliable and trustworthy medical information, those searching out healthcare professionals with particular expertise or those checking details of hospital services are able to assess the credibility of websites they come across quite astutely.
As an authority in the medical field, irrespective of whether you are an individual or an organisation, don’t be afraid to create your own recognisable brand. Say who you are, what you stand for and why you have expertise and display that message as a core feature of your web design. If you are an individual, creating a site that shows a little of your personality can be very appealing for your target audience.
With the benchmark set at a high level by websites in other sectors, healthcare related sites must look the part. Good design, visual appeal, presentation of information and accessibility are all important but they don’t necessarily make ideal partners.
While people may be happy to wade through long pages full of colour photos, text, video clips, adverts and pop-ups when shopping online or when keeping up with celebrity gossip, they want information relevant to their health to be calmer and more authoritative. Reputable healthcare companies, organisations and individuals need to present a professional interface that gets across their messages easily using a well-balanced mix of photos, graphics and text. Clear, uncluttered and professional design that allows the information to shine is favoured by the best medical sites.
A great website has clear signposting on every page showing how to return to key sections; you should never need to use the back button to find your way around.
Displaying your contact details and a link to your credentials and background information on the footer or header of every page is also a good move.
It’s a step too far for some in the sector, but buttons to link to your twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube channel or blog to encourage direct interaction are ideal too.
Your branding, your ethos, your image are all created by the visual elements of your website but don’t forget that this is just a vehicle for getting across information. Great content is what gets people to your site and it’s what keeps them there.
The copy on your site should be well written and presented, following the current recommendations for search engine optimisation and accessibility. You need to tailor your content so that it fulfils your marketing objectives and targets the audience you want to attract.
Updating is also important. Medical research, information, insurance regulations, hospital policies, treatment recommendations and other factors important in the healthcare sector are not static. Things can change rapidly over a period of weeks. Once your website is done, think of it more as the Forth road bridge rather than a job done. You need a system of regular reviews and updating. Fresh and additional content will keep your visitors as well as the search engines more satisfied and will maintain and enhance the popularity of your site.
A stylish address
Your organisation may be well-established with its own domain and branding but if you are setting up a new website put some thought into the whole package that you intend to create before you snatch up the first domain that seems to fit. The same process of research that goes into finding important keywords and phrases for your content and that drive the search engine optimisation behind the scenes on your website can help you settle on a domain name and address.
Your address will be the home of your site and the signpost that you add to your business cards, promotional materials and letterheads. An established and stable domain increases the ranking of your site as time goes by –chopping and changing is not really an option if you make the wrong choice.
Cover all bases too. There is no need to buy every version of your domain as there are dozens available now but if you can, buy the .com, the .co.uk and the .net or the .org for your chosen domain. This prevents someone else buying the same domain but with a competing suffix. Not only might this harm your site’s ranking and position in search results, it could lead to lower credibility if their site is making false claims.
Author profile: Dr Kathryn Senior
Cambridge educated and with research experience to post-doc level, Kathryn has been a professional medical and scientific writer since 1992. During that time she has worked on fun science books for children, educational projects including A level biology and human biology text books for Harper Collins and has contributed around 1000 published news and feature articles in respected medical journals (the Lancet family, Nature and Nature Reviews).
Since 2005 she has been Director of Freelance Copy, providing expert copywriting services to major charities, healthcare organisations, companies and individuals. Recently, Freelance Copy has specialised in medical web writing, producing search engine optimised marketing copy for healthcare clients and expanded to include Medical Copy in 2012.