hospital website redesignI spent the weeks before Thanksgiving talking to a prospect from a small hospital in a rural area who needed to redesign her healthcare system’s website. Before moving forward, my prospect had to justify her budget request to her board. During one of our initial conversations, we talked about how she planned to do it.

“It’s very obvious to you and me why the website needs to look a certain way,” she said, “but they’re going to need to be sold on the value.”

Patients Aren’t Consumers (and Other Lies We Tell Ourselves)

It’s not always easy to justify the costs involved in a website redesign. There’s no equation you can use to forecast the advantage of “awesome” design over “just OK” design. (If someone has one handy, please let me know!) In my prospect’s case, she faced the added obstacle of being neither a B2B nor a traditional B2C business. She could see that, through her board’s eyes, the website seemed like a low priority in the grand scheme of things. Hospital patients, they’d say, aren’t really consumers. You wouldn’t book a surgery at a new hospital just because you liked the font on its website, and you wouldn’t cancel an appointment with an in-demand specialist just because his website used flash (unless you’re a programmer…then you actually might.)

My point in saying this is that hospitals can be stubbornly old-fashioned about their web presences based on a belief that people don’t choose hospitals by searching for them online. Especially with smaller health systems, there can be a pervasive resistance to acknowledging the changing role of the healthcare consumer. Those at the top may cling to the belief that only a recommendation from a friend, family member or healthcare practicioner can influence someone’s hospital choice. Thus, the reasoning goes, the hospital’s longstanding reputation is all the marketing it will ever need. It’s the classic “magical thinking” marketing strategy, even if it’s nothing more than a firm belief in “If you build it, they will come.”

Originally, when talking to my prospect, I believed there was probably a lot of truth to this viewpoint. While I’m sensitive to website usability and might negatively judge a hospital if I discovered it had a sloppy website, I also work in marketing and am trained to have an opinion on these things. I realize not everyone is like this. Thus, I set out to help my prospect find out how much, exactly, a hospital’s web presence affects patient census. Are people researching hospitals online? Does what they discover cause them to choose one facility over another? What about a hospital’s website really, truly matters?

The Google/Compete Hospital Study

Not at all surprisingly, Google was way ahead of me and had already commissioned a study to find out the answers to these questions. The results were clear: digital really, really matters (no…really.) It matters more than my prospect and I would have thought, and while basic things like branding and usability are vital to a successful web presence, the nuances of the study pointed out the importance of other, less obvious things.

If you’re a hospital marketer thinking about redesigning your website or improving your overall digital marketing, you might want to ask yourself the following questions.

1. What are you doing to make sure patients can find you on major search engines?

You might assume SEO doesn’t matter in your situation because people will just type the name of your hospital right into their browser window, but in reality, that’s not the case. About 77 percent of the hospital researchers in the Google study used search prior to booking an appointment and, what’s more, search findability directly correlated to conversion. Patients who booked appointments conducted three times as many searches as patients who didn’t book appointments. Your ideal patients—the ones who’ll take action—are taking advantage of search engines, which means you should do everything in your power to meet them there.

2. Do you have a mobile-responsive website?

Mobile-responsive websites converted more users than their computer-only counterparts. The study compared the two and found that, of the users who visited computer-only sites, 34 percent booked appointments. Of the users who visited mobile sites, 44 percent booked appointments. Hands-down, mobile sites won more patients. That’s an aesthetic choice you can translate into real value.

3. How are you leveraging video content?

When users visited hospital websites, they by-and-large favored video content over any other type of content. One in 8 patients who booked an appointment watched an online video during their research. The most popular type of video was patient testimonials, which is little other than a digital stand-in for the ever-popular “recommendation from a friend or family member.” Kind of dilutes the argument that websites don’t matter because people choose hospitals based on recommendations from friends and family members, doesn’t it?

4. Does your website offer patients interactive features (like online booking)?

Adding interactive features like a location finder if you have multiple branches or an online appointment booking system is a powerful strategy. The study found that 1 in 5 patients booked appointments online (21 percent) while the rest either called on the phone (56 percent) or booked in person (26 percent). And remember, that’s 1 in 5 patients in 2012; imagine what that figure will look like in a year or two.

If You Build It [Online], They Will Come [To Your Hospital]

Lots of industries take their sweet time warming up to the pleasures of digital marketing, and it’s widely known that the industrial manufacturing and healthcare sectors are two of the biggest slowpokes. In my mind, that’s a huge advantage. It’s much easier for a small hospital to differentiate itself from other small hospitals than it is for a new SaaS company to differentiate itself from other SaaS companies. The more dramatic an effect your website can have, the more fun the plotting and creating of it will be.

So don’t hesitate to go big with your website redesign, and if you’re tasked with justifying your marketing budget to a board, consider this your website redesign cheat sheet. We wish you the best of luck. Whatever you build, build a good one!

photo credit: cobalt123