Industry Voices—6 low-budget ways physicians can promote their websites to attract patients

Doctor computer medical records
Practices need an effective website to attract new patients. (Getty/BrianAJackson)

More than 80% of people in the U.S. have a smartphone, so trying to get people’s attention through a printed local directory is about as useful as printing your business card on the bottom of a doorstop.

Now, healthcare providers are tasked with finding a more effective strategic approach to attract prospective patients from online sources instead of print. In the world of online marketing and promotion, a practice website is a necessary tool to reach new patients and help them stick with you long-term.

Here’s how physicians on a limited budget can attract patients by taking their websites to the next level, an especially important facet of business when targeting millennials.

1. Include "need to know" information on your website.

Most healthcare providers understand the significant role their practice website plays in attracting new patients to their practice. However, only a few know what content they should offer and how they should organize it.

An effective website should include valuable, high-quality content that every patient finds useful. Some of the most important webpages are those for your location, bios and/or pictures for your providers and staff, services offered and patient testimonials. These pages also help patients understand who you are and what you do, in addition to ensuring those searching for care will learn about your practice for the first time.

RELATED: For physicians, social media can be tricky to navigate

2.  Write content that search engines will find.

In a recent PatientPop survey of healthcare providers, only 18% said they aren’t in a competitive market. As practices go head-to-head for top rankings in search results, becoming more visible in local search is a must. One of the key strategies is to write effective copy that answers the questions of potential patients. Start by simply writing down all the questions you hear from current patients. Then, answer those questions on your website on specific pages that detail your care services.

For instance, if you’re a dermatologist, you can post common questions and answers about rosacea, acne and mole removal, or about oft-requested services such as Botox injections or laser hair removal. If you’re at a pediatric practice, devote web content to answering questions asked most frequently by new parents or about annual flu vaccinations, for example.

Be sure to create online content that conveys your local relevance, too. Think of the identity of your city or neighborhood and incorporate that into your website messaging. Mention any local events or fundraisers you participate in, and talk about any regular contributions providers make within the community. Include mentions of the county fair, local high school or popular sports teams and weave that information into stories that dovetail into your specialty.

When writing about a condition or a service, be sure to use language that patients can understand. This is also the type of language that prospective patients will use in a search. Include medically relevant terms, but explain them clearly, and avoid writing as if you’re submitting content to a medical journal publication. The content should be comprehended easily by an eighth or ninth grader.

3. Promote the right services.

To be sure you’re attracting patients that you want to serve, feature and describe services on your website that you prefer to deliver at your practice. While you may think it is important to be as comprehensive as possible for your specialty, you’re better off focusing on those services for which you most want to be known. That way, the search traffic arriving at your site and the patients coming through your door will more likely ask for your preferred service.

For instance, a podiatrist who prefers to perform bunion surgery over other care services should emphasize that procedure on his or her website. Again, use words your patients use to describe the service they need, and avoid technical jargon in titles and headings. Use the body of the content to connect the details—that’s where you can define precise medical terms in layperson language. Finding different ways to describe services yields a variety of synonyms in your content, a best practice for search engine optimization. 

4. Make the most of your design.

Your website plays an important role in engaging both prospective and current patients. It's important to ensure that the site’s overall design helps website visitors “convert” to patients of your practice. While some websites may employ dramatic scenes with lots of movement and flash, your site should maintain focus on a singular goal of converting a prospective patient to one who appears in your exam room. 

To do that, make it easy for the visitor to book an appointment online or call your practice. These calls to action should be buttons that work on both mobile and desktop devices, have a high-contrast design that stands out from the background and are generally clear for any visitor to see and understand.

Navigation to the key parts of your site—links to your “contact us” information, services offered and details about providers and staff—should be listed clearly at the top of the page. Ultimately, your website should be as versatile and useful as a minivan, and not needlessly flashy as a sports car.

5. Make sure your site is secure.

For patients to share personal information on any website without much worry, that particular site should be secure. Google recommends all site owners use HTTPS (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) rather than HTTP, because data sent through the HTTP protocol is not secure.

Websites encrypted with HTTPS usually safeguard other users’ connections through a Transport Layers Security protocol. This allows for effective encryption, data integrity, and authentication. As a result, many patients can fill out a form or appointment request without worrying about someone hacking into the site and viewing or stealing their information.

6. Reduce image sizes.

Although large, high-resolution images are usually more aesthetically appealing on most websites, they substantially slow down the time it takes many sites to load pages. According to Google, a website should not take more than three seconds to load. Sites that take longer to load risk losing potential traffic to their competitors. Find an image application that automatically compresses your photos to an ideal size for the web. When you’ve reduced your image sizes, make sure you test that particular webpage through Google's PageSpeed Insights tool to check its load speed.

It's also important to ensure the HTML code for all of your images include alt text so their information is visible to search engines as well as any users who are sight-impaired or suppressing images on their browsers. An alt text is simply an HTML code that defines the appearance of any image used on a webpage.

The relationships you build with patients can influence other people to visit and join your practice. By properly using your website as a platform for search engines to find your practice, you can easily build strong relationships with prospective patients and retain current ones.

Joel Headley is the director of local search and marketing at PatientPop, a California-based startup company focused on healthcare practice growth. With a decade of experience at Google, he is an expert in optimizing websites for search and has a deep understanding of how doctors are found and assessed online.