Launching a new website isn’t as simple as it seems. Creating a pretty web design isn’t too difficult…usually. Building them can be “sort of” easy. Making everything come together to work well for your organization is much more complex.

Fortunately, more and more healthcare organizations are focusing their web strategies around creating better consumer experiences, bucking the trends of the past and offering visitors clarity, useful content, and reassurance.

You can lead your organization to success like this by focusing your website strategy on five key elements.

1. Purpose
Before designing a healthcare website, nail down its basic purpose.

In general, hospital websites are an education, inspiration, and trust-building tool that directly impacts new patient acquisitions, volume, and revenue. If that’s true at your organization, then commit to focusing on consumers first. While you may need to meet the needs of multiple constituents, including potential employees, physicians, and donors, the key to a high performing website is to give priority to consumers’ needs first.

What do you want visitors to your site to do? Walk away with a better understanding of your specialties and facilities? Get educated about their condition and treatment options? Pay their bill? Or take some other action to convert from prospects into patients?

Most people leave a website in a few seconds without clicking on anything else. Your web design must get their attention fast, and keep them there as long as it can. The moment consumers click on your homepage, its purpose should be obvious, especially in an industry that laypeople generally perceive as overwhelmingly complex and, at times, mysterious. What if your website's purpose is to deliver an exceptional online consumer experience that differentiates you from local competitors? There are a lot of factors that go into building websites that provide great consumer experience, including design, content, user experience, and more. All should work in symphony toward this purpose.

The homepage of Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, in Louisiana, has a rich, balanced design of content and menu options.

our-lady-of-the-lakes-website

The page displays in an instant the site's dual purpose, helping navigate the visitor into the hospital system and defining its brand (more about that later). The left carousel of images, shown in the above screenshot, focuses on services that the hospital system wants to promote, such as its center for bariatric surgery. The large menu to the right and prominent search bar below them clearly lay out the many options for further discovery throughout the site. Text boxes and white space separates the page into sections, for easy reading.

Like Our Lady of the Lake, you must also have a specific and actionable set of goals for your visitors; then focus your web design around those goals.

2. Findability
The quality and organization of your web design and content directly affect how well consumers can find it. In a sea of “me too” competitors, effective search engine optimization (SEO) practices can make your website and landing pages stand out in the result pages of Google, Bing, Yahoo and other search engines. Keep in mind that the search rules for websites and their SEO quality are continually changing, so even the best website’s performance deteriorates without regular updates to stay current and competitive. As part of your next redesign, you need to audit your information architecture and content and commit to getting and keeping your website tuned up!

Even seemingly simple changes can have a big effect on how your organization ranks in search. By focusing on redesigning their website with an architecture that shows up well in search, which includes being optimized for mobile, EvergreenHealth was able to increase their organic search traffic by nearly 14%.

3. Branding
A website should not only have a defined purpose, it should also embody the nature of the entire hospital or organization. People already know what providers do on a basic level: if you're a city hospital you treat a diverse population, if you're a children's hospital you treat children. What people want is a better understanding of how you go about treating people as well as to feel comfortable with the idea of using your services for treatment.

That brings us to branding — how you define yourself on a foundational, even emotional, level to consumers, potential employees, and the general public. Branding often occurs subtly, such as the welcome images on a homepage, font and color choices, etc. On healthcare sites, this often amounts to nothing more exciting than a photo of some large hospital buildings, or stock images of happy people living their lives anywhere but inside a hospital building.

Missouri-based Freeman Health System opted for the happy people concept, but with a crucial difference.

freeman-health-system-website

Freeman's carousel images include a great photo of a provider assessing a relaxed and smiling child, a portrait shot of a young NeuroSpine specialist, a group shot of the general surgeon staff, and a wide-eyed infant in a hospital jumper. Hospitals often intimidate people, so these images succeed in branding Freeman as the place to go when you want a positive and reassuring healthcare experience.

In addition to these slightly intangible efforts in branding, great hospital websites also consider technical concerns the marketing department can affect, like SEO and ranking in local search. These back-end considerations should be native to your CMS, or integrate well with your technology, so your well-crafted brand doesn't get lost in the noise.

4. Relevance
When you visit the website of a home improvement contractor, you don't typically find it populated with obscure design regulations or construction codes. Instead, you'll find photos of successful builds, a description of the company's areas of expertise, and perhaps some online tools to help you start the process of upgrading your property.

Why should healthcare be any different? Far too many organizations steep their public content in "look-at-me" language that speaks less to prospective consumer's questions and needs than to less helpful things like quality scores and provider ratings.

Where purpose and branding define the site, relevance fills in the blanks. Like the patience of an anxious patient, screen space is a limited commodity (especially on mobile). Every image, word, sound, and tool must contribute to the site's purpose. Being relevant to your consumers' interests and concerns is a key component of providing better consumer experiences.

For instance, one of the most common tools is the “Find a Doctor" database. Typically, consumers can obtain a relevant list by entering a few items of information into a short form, such as desired specialty and office location.

This tool has a great deal of marketing potential, but most hospitals don't take full advantage of it, returning little more than a basic rundown of the doctor's name, specialty, location, and credentials.

Illinois-based Advocate Health Care adds a nice touch by offering each doctor the opportunity to post a short video.

advocate-healthcare-website

In this way, the doctor can speak directly to prospective healthcare consumers, discussing their area of expertise, along with how they approach treatment and interact with patients. Visitors get to know the doctor on a personal level and, hopefully, feel more at ease making that first crucial appointment.

If the doctor hasn't recorded a video, a well-produced promotional video on the Advocate system appears in its place. Other tactics, like including provider reviews, can increase the reliability and relevance of your provider pages as well as help your search rankings.

5. Usability
It's not enough to have relevant content. The text must be easy to read, page colors easy on the eyes, forms clear and self-explanatory, and navigation simple enough for a first-time visitor to understand. For consumer websites, that means prioritizing the mobile user experience first.

In the United States, 210.9 million users are now accessing the Internet on mobile phones. This is predicted to grow to 270.5 million by 2021. The number of smartphone users, in particular, is increasing. One design challenge is developing sites that convert mobile visitors.

Given the nature of the healthcare, you can expect that whoever clicks on your home page — prospects, patients, family members, potential employees — will be busy, on a schedule, or feeling stressed. Don't stress them further by making them stumble through a poorly designed mobile site.

To improve usability, Mercy Health in western Michigan decided to trade in the initial “splash" of a colorful home page for a simple pop-up menu.

mercy-health-website

The first thing you see is a question, “What type of user are you?" followed by a short list: Patient, Visitor, Job Seeker, Doctor, and Supporter (for donors and philanthropists, which is a nice touch). A grayed-out sample destination page sits behind the pop-up, reassuring the visitor that an appropriate portal awaits them.

Choosing, for instance, “Visitor" rewards you with a heartwarming story about Mercy's emergency response to a premature birth, followed by such useful information as visiting hours, where to find a specific patient, and even how to get something to eat while you're there. This extra touch of personalization makes it clear from a consumer's first interaction with the healthcare organization that their interests and experience are at the forefront.

A successful website for any healthcare organization — from multi-campus hospital systems to single-office private practices — requires demonstrating the site's purpose clearly and quickly, promoting the organization's brand in the best possible fashion, providing relevant content that supports both purpose and brand, and designing an online experience that is easy to use by the most inexperienced layperson.

Following these principles will bring you closer to your consumers and help drive your long-term business goals.

Want more insight into creating a healthcare website that fosters better consumer experiences? Read our white paper, Choosing the Best CMS for Healthcare.