Without a doubt, undertaking the task of building a new website for your health system is not a venture any of us go into lightly. Chances are, by the time you’ve secured funding and solicited the right partner for the build, there’s pent-up demand to get the website launched yesterday.We feel your sense of urgency, but we don’t want you to fall through any unnecessary trap doors. That’s why we recommend asking yourself several questions before building your hospital website, to ensure you’ve thought through the factors that separate successful websites from duds.
Here are 6 key questions to ask before you begin building your new website.
1. WHY DO I NEED A NEW WEBSITE?
Hospital websites are conversion vehicles for acquiring new patients and keeping current patients loyal. What business objectives is your new website seeking to achieve? Or are you more concerned about a user-friendly CMS interface? There’s a business case to be made for this, of course: helping staff and resources to be more productive ultimately helps your organization’s bottom line.
Are you looking to capture more of the “always-on” audience who is finding your site from her smart phone? Then responsive design technology and a plan for adapting to changes to web browsers, phones and tablets may top your list of what to plan and budget for. Regardless of how you answer the question, determining why a new website is necessary helps you to focus on the tools, resources and applications that are most critical to your organization’s strategic plan.
2. DO I HAVE THE RIGHT PEOPLE ON THE TEAM?
It takes a village to launch a website. In addition to aligning your internal marketing and communications teams, modern hospital websites are increasingly leveraging clinical resources in the shaping of content. This makes sense. A hospital website is a tool for prospective patients to make informed decisions about their health care choices. (More on this in Question 4.)
Even if your plan is to assign the majority of scope and responsibility to an outside firm to build and manage, you’ll want to ensure stakeholders are engaged in the process. Stakeholders can mean members of the marketing communications team, clinical staff, physicians and administration. Planning for stakeholder engagement up front helps you to set a tone within your health system that a website is not a static device—it’s a living instrument that grows in value the more it’s utilized.
3. AM I COMMITTED TO THE TIME IT TAKES TO BUILD A NEW WEBSITE?
Speak now or forever hold your peace. You know building a new hospital website is not a walk in the park, but have you been able to prioritize your responsibilities to give the site the attention it deserves? Even if you empower an outside firm to build your site, you won’t abdicate responsibility for making important decisions about the website: its strategic focus, its ability to engage multi-disciplinary teams and the site’s purpose for new patient acquisition. These are time-intensive endeavors. Clear your plate to be ready for this awesome responsibility.
4. WHO AM I BUILDING THE WEBSITE FOR?
This question guides us to persona development, one of the often-overlooked processes in building a hospital website. Understanding who you want to visit your website is vital and will require thinking about your audience differently than you may have before.
Your website may be built to appeal to four or five or more audience personas: ultra-specific audiences at different stages of their patient or caregiver journey. By profiling and identifying these audiences and going beyond age and health condition to psychographic qualities like comfort level with technology, passions and pastimes, you end up building a website that is relevant, engaging and brand-driven.
5. WHAT IS MY CONTENT STRATEGY?
At the end of the day, the best websites are sites that provide meaningful content to patients and prospective patients at different stages of their journey. You may determine the technology you want to use to build and maintain the site, but that’s just the wrapping paper. The metaphorical present is the content itself.
Are your key service line content pages up to date? Have you written content to help users who are at different stages of the “buying cycle?” Have you engaged your clinical teams to determine what are the frequently asked questions that should be answered on the website, or the common documents, forms and literature that are provided to patients and should also be included on the site for easy access and download?
Another thread to the content discussion is how you’ll get people to find your website. Content/inbound marketing helps improve your website’s search rankings. As you plan for your next website, ask yourself how your new website’s content will help in search engine optimization and overall engagement.
6. WHAT IS MY OVERALL WEBSITE STRATEGY?
This question spins back to Question 1: Why do you need a new website? Your website strategy is informed by what you’ve deemed as most important to accomplish with your site. How you answer the “need” question informs your purpose and reason for the time and money investment you’re undertaking.
By taking time to answer these questions, you become crystal clear on what you’re trying to achieve and the key strategies for achieving those goals. If your goal is new patient acquisition, it’s likely your website strategy will be to invest in content and calls-to-action that nurture prospects into patients. If your goal is to have an easy to use CMS, then your strategy is likely to hire a resource that has a simple CMS, even if that means you won’t get as many “bells and whistles” in the final deliverable.
There are no right or wrong answers to the above questions. What counts is that you have clarity on what’s most important to you and your organization in building your next website.
We welcome your own insights. Let us know what other questions your colleagues should be asking as they plan their next websites.