Guest post by Emily Eudall, Onswitch.

In an article about the basics of getting your website right, it seems sensible to start at the very beginning, where your potential clients are starting.

So, like any good clinician, let’s collect some evidence from which we can make our diagnosis:

  • When did you last look at your practice website?
  • When did you last search for your practice online?
  • Is your site easy to navigate around using a mobile phone? (And can you read it easily?)

The biggest trap that any small business falls into with its website is approaching it as simply a box to tick off the list of marketing ‘things to do’. Once the website is live, many practices forget all about it. This means that team details are out of date, logos and colours may be inconsistent, the ‘latest news’ is from two summers ago and there is almost certainly no link to the practice Facebook page.

None of which tells a potential client that your practice is progressive, friendly and understanding. Which is a big problem when the internet is one of the first places a new owner looks. So forget that website box you mentally ticked years ago, and let’s consider our own list of online ‘must dos’.

Don’t worry, there are only three…

  1. Relevant and up-to-date content

Not so long ago, black-hat Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) was big business. Companies would pay agencies to write copy featuring key words that would be picked up by search engines, pushing the business up the rankings of options returned when an owner searched for ‘neutering’. Often this meant simply hiding the word ‘neutering’ twenty times behind each photo – unseen by the reader, but positively influencing Google’s algorithms. Or writing long paragraphs featuring awkwardly shoehorned mentions of ‘neutering’.

Fortunately for everyone, Google has learned these tricks and now applies more realistic filters. Now you can get your site recognised as a place where excellent care happens simply by writing about it normally. Embedding links to external information sites and featuring a short video explaining the basics of neutering will help to ensure that anyone searching for ‘cat neutering [practice location]’ will easily find you. (Assuming you’re in that location, of course.)

Adding new content frequently also boosts your position in the search rankings – update your website regularly with client testimonials, case studies and short news articles about new techniques or protocols. Take a look at Google Analytics, a very useful tool for measuring the effectiveness of your online marketing spend and presence; the Standard package is free.

An active social media practice presence is essential in order to stay relevant. Every page of your website should feature a link to your Facebook page, or show your Twitter feed. This will be counter-productive if your Facebook page only has four friends and the most recent post is several months old, so allocate someone on the team to be your social media guru; updating your page daily with funny stories, appeals, charity news, case studies and client feedback. Respond to comments and address any negative feedback openly and fairly. Print your Facebook details on all client communications and encourage all your clients to become friends – social media is an incredibly fast, free and effective marketing tool.

Adding a widget that pulls in your reviews from across the web is also highly recommended so that potential clients can see how great existing clients know you to be (ask your friendly web experts about how to do this!)

  1. Responsive site design, adaptive across all devices

When you consider that 51% of web traffic takes place on tablets and smartphones (Source: Statista 2017) and that Google now actively prioritises sites that are optimised for mobiles ahead of those that are not, it’s not an option for any business serious about attracting new clients to have a website that only works on a desktop computer.

Mobile-enabled websites allow visitors to simply scroll down as they read, without having to constantly pinch and swipe to be able to see the whole page. Great practice websites allow owners to register their pets from their phone, book appointments on their tablets and request repeat prescriptions in just a few clicks. Your clients are online all the time, using a wide range of websites to buy goods, book services and find advice. If you don’t make it easy for them, they’ll go elsewhere.

  1. Clear and simple site layout

As we’ve seen, owners don’t want to spend ages searching for the price of that neuter, they need to be able to see exactly where they can find more details as soon as they arrive on your home page (a ‘Prices’ or ‘Services’ tab should be immediately obvious).

If an animal owner is panicking, she needs to be able to find your phone number quickly. So many sites have their phone number in tiny font, lost at the bottom of the page. Put it at the top right of the page in large numbers that can be seen without scrolling or squinting. And say if it’s a 24-hour number, with an emergency contact immediately below if it’s not.

Carry this banner across every page of the website, so that visitors can quickly and easily find contact details. Adding a ‘click here’ button to send an email is easier than asking owners to fill in contact forms or copy and paste your email address into their mail application.

Team details are another area where lots of practices miss a trick. Include a photo and a short biography for everyone, and make sure these are kept up to date as new people join and leave. Include qualifications and areas of special interest (we know that owners look for these) and if the photos are informal shots with family pets, then so much the better. A ‘details coming soon’ entry, or gushing words about a vet who left a year ago are equally out of place on any website. Featuring plenty of background information on your vet team, with just a name for the receptionists, does not tell potential clients that your practice values customer care.

Owners are increasingly using the internet to find information about the health and welfare of their animals – it’s so much better if they can read a balanced assessment of the benefits of neutering on your site, rather than finding something potentially erroneous or inflammatory elsewhere. FAQs and fact sheets for common procedures and preventative care are always recommended, as are featuring short videos (or a link to a practice YouTube channel) and links to partner sites.

Interested in more information? Contact us today.