Many dental practices have their own website, but in a competitive field a simple site displaying contact details and a profile is unlikely to stand out from the crowd and help your business grow.
Equally, the internet is a fast-paced environment so even if your practice website was state-of-the-art when it was launched a few years ago, it may well need an update to reflect changing tastes and technology. For example, it is increasingly important - for users and for search engine rankings - that websites can be viewed from a mobile device as well as a traditional desktop.
This article is not an in-depth guide to digital marketing (which is a subject that could fill several books) but it does set out some of the basic questions to consider when planning and maintaining your practice website, including the ethical and dento-legal aspects.
What do I want to achieve?
There is still a place for traditional marketing methods like print advertising, but one of the biggest benefits of digital marketing is the opportunity to engage with potential patients without the cost and environmental impact of print.
Rather than pushing messages that may interest them (but are just as likely to be ignored), the objective of your website and other online marketing is to 'pull in' your target audience with high-quality content. If someone searching the web is motivated to click through to your website, they're already on the way to becoming a patient. Your website acts like a shop window, enabling your website visitors to see how your practice can meet their needs.
How do I set up a practice website?
You can use a web agency if you have the budget and feel you need technical expertise, but it's important to provide a clear brief and meet with developers. You should also get a few quotes. Alternatively, you can create a site yourself using a website builder. There are plenty available and while some are free, costs can vary and you may have to pay for additional modules like a gallery. In any case, it's a good idea to start small and build up your site, rather than giving yourself too much to do to maintain the content.
You'll also need to buy a website address (known as domain name) for your site which costs an annual fee. Ideally this address should be something short, relevant and without hyphens or numbers. Usually this will be the name of your practice. The cost of this might be included with your website building package or you can seek advice from your website developer. Most domain providers include personalised email in their service, so take advantage of this rather than using a generic webmail address.
As with any third-party supplier, you should have a signed written contract with your web developer that sets out your confidentiality requirements.
What sort of content should I include?
The most successful practice websites have the right content and keywords, which means they are found by search engines - thereby making them visible to patients searching for information or advice about a particular treatment. If all you have is a simple 'landing page' with your name and a profile, patients are unlikely to find your site at all, unless they happen to know the web address.
When it comes to content, it's a good idea to look at popular dental websites to see what they do well. For example, the NHS website is not primarily a marketing tool, but it has a lot of useful information for the public about dentistry that is written and displayed in an accessible way for users.
Of course, your practice won't have the resources to match the NHS but the basic principle is the same. To ensure your website is seen by your target audience, the content needs to be search-engine friendly. Much depends on what is practical for your business but here are a few pointers to make your site patient and search-engine friendly.
- Be helpful. Think about the questions your patients typically have during appointments and try to answer them. A frequently asked questions section works well.
- Write in a language they can understand and avoid jargon. For more on this, see our article on plain English for patients.
- Break up text into readable chunks, as a page of densely written copy is unlikely to be read.
- Highlight your unique selling points, like location, specific treatments or procedures offered by your practice, your experience and qualifications.
- Watch your image sizes. Slow page loading is frustrating for users and can hamper search engine rankings.
- Consider different types of content; articles, blogs, Q&As and videos will help broaden your appeal.
- What keywords are the most relevant search terms and phrases for your target audience? What will they be searching for? If you decide to do any paid advertising, you will need to list these keywords.
- Provide clear menus and links to other pages on your site to help with navigation.
- Make sure the site is mobile-friendly (known as responsive), and test this during the build phase.
- Ensure the meta descriptions for each page include relevant keywords (ask your website developer).
If you offer general dental information on your website, you should include a statement saying that it is general advice only and should not be used as a substitute for a consultation.
If you link your website to others, you should tell patients you can't guarantee that another website is secure and you don't necessarily endorse the contents of the site.
How do I comply with ethical standards?
A website is a promotional tool but you still need to be mindful of the GDC's Guidance on advertising. This lists what information should be displayed on the website and states that, "You must update the information showing on your website regularly so that it accurately reflects the personnel at the practice and the service offered".
It's important to ensure information on the site is accurate and does not make claims about the practice that could be misleading. Inaccurate or misleading content could lead to a GDC investigation, or action by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which regulates advertising claims on websites, both of which could damage your practice's reputation.
Don't use identifiable patient material on your site and obtain explicit consent if you want to use patient testimonials and anonymised before-and-after photographs.
Patients need to understand precisely what information is being published, where and when, who will see it and the likely consequences. Also let the patient know that they can withdraw their consent at any time.
What else do I need to include?
Practice websites should include patient information about any updated procedures following the COVID-19 pandemic. Patients should understand what relevant changes have been introduced, and what to expect when they contact and attend the practice.
This information should be provided in a clear and easily understood way, and should also be updated regularly to ensure it is current and accurate.
Any practice website should also include the following policies and information.
- Terms and conditions covering visitors' use of the site (copyright notices, disclaimers for third-party links, etc.).
- Details of the practice complaints policy.
- The date the website was last updated.
Once your practice website is online, as well as monitoring the content to ensure it is accurate and up to date, it's also important to monitor the performance of your site or you could be wasting your time and money.
You can get free analytical tools for this so ask your web developer for help. It's also a good idea to seek feedback from patients about their experience of using the site to see what you can improve.
Remember, a good website can make all the difference to how you market yourself and your practice to patients, but it's also a valuable resource for patients themselves and can help them make the right choices about their dental care.
David qualified from Newcastle Dental School in 2002. His post-graduate training included qualifications from the Eastman Dental Hospital and the Royal College of Surgeons, after which he worked in a number of dental settings in the UK and abroad. He has always pursued an interest in the legal aspects of dentistry and has a Master of Laws degree in the Legal Aspects of Medical Practice.
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