A successful healthcare website requires a perfect balance between attracting the right website visitors, providing information, answering questions, and converting the virtual visits into opportunities for appointments and consultations.
When you add in the fact that most hospital websites have multiple website personas, multiple centers of excellence, and massive amounts of information, this balancing act becomes a bit more complicated.
It’s this diverse set of visitors, specializations, and an ever-growing amount of content that forces hospitals into website redesigns at a fairly regular interval.
So how does an organization balance all the moving parts of a healthcare website redesign? Balance begins and ends with a strong focus on the organization’s goals and objectives. And in most cases, those objectives have a strong tie to the human connection.
Let’s review the most important elements to consider when redesigning an outdated hospital website.
Website Goals and Objectives
Unlike a traditional doctor’s office, a hospital website must manage information for a variety of website personas who all have very different objectives. Consider these ten basic objectives for most healthcare websites:
- Attract future patients that are a fit for the hospital’s expertise, programs, and services.
- Provide potential patients with the information they seek at each phase of the patient journey.
- Provide support information for caregivers and patient families.
- Convert potential patients into appointments and/or requests for second opinions.
- Provide current patients with quick and easy access to information such as contact information, forms, directions, etc.
- Attract future employees and entice them to apply for available positions.
- Attract healthcare professionals by showcasing events, residency programs, and fellowships.
- Provide easy to find information to allow outside physicians to transfer or refer patients.
- Attract researchers by showcasing training programs, clinical studies, and research programs.
- Position the hospital and staff as subject matter experts in their geographic area and area of specialty.
If the hospital is a nonprofit organization, we can easily include the critical objective of fundraising and donor acquisition. For many healthcare organizations, this additional objective is a top priority, as it ensures the sustainability of all other activities.
No matter what marketing channel is utilized, success is measured by answering a few simple questions:
- Did we make a human connection with those who visited our website?
- Did we help solve their problems or provide information to assist with solving their problems?
- Did we make their lives better?
Merriam-Webster’s definition of healthcare is:
“Efforts made to maintain or restore physical, mental, or emotional well-being especially by trained and licensed professionals.”
At the end of the day, quality healthcare organizations are trying to do just that –
make peoples’ lives better.
And at the end of our day at emagine, everyone at emagine has this as our ultimate goal as well. We don’t cure disease or provide life-saving measures, but we do everything in our power to help healthcare professionals reach more people and do their jobs better.
To Do Item: Review your organization’s goals and objectives. Are they core to everything you do? And are they a key part of your digital marketing efforts?
At the heart of every good website or digital marketing campaign is a solid understanding of website personas. We’ve covered marketing personas in prior posts, so I won’t go into them in great depth here. What I do want to cover is some sample website personas that we’ve encountered in our prior work with hospital websites.
Below is an overview of four major hospital personas and a list of content they often seek when visiting a healthcare website.
Persona 1: Patients and Families
- Research diseases, symptoms, and causes
- Research testing, treatment options, and procedures
- Read news and medical updates
- Browse through case studies and patient stories
- Find a doctor, physician, or specialist
- Get a second opinion
- Find and/or apply for a clinical trial
- Find a support group
- Validate insurance and billing options
- Make an appointment
- Pay a bill
- Locate forms
- Obtain directions to available facilities
- View facility maps
- Access private patient portals
- Request medical transcripts
- Make a donation (nonprofit hospitals)
Persona 2: Healthcare Providers
- Research diseases and treatment options
- Read news and medical updates
- Find a doctor, physician, or specialist
- Obtain second opinions for patients
- Refer a patient
- Attend an event
- Register for training courses
- Research fellowship opportunities
- Review residency programs and options
- Review options for surgical research and development
Persona 3: Researchers and Academics
- Find a scientist
- Search publications
- Explore research labs and facilities
- Locate clinical science research and trials
- Explore opportunities for research programs
Persona 4: Future Employees
- Learn more about the organization’s culture
- Explore benefits like health insurance, tuition reimbursement, and wellness programs
- Research resolution assistance
- Browse open positions
- Submit applications
- Check application status
- Attend a career fair or other related event
The interesting thing about website personas is that most hospitals simply fail to properly define personas and their individual needs as part of the website redesign project. That is a major oversight and one that causes lost traffic, weak website conversions, and a significant reduction in patient acquisition.
To Do Item: Take a moment to review your hospital website and ask yourself how easy it is to locate the above items? Pretend you are a persona and brand new to the website. Can you locate the information you need? Can you do so without stress and confusion?
To Do Item: Now do the same for your largest competition? How well do they serve their audience? Does this present an opportunity for you or is a bigger threat than you previously thought?
Once there is a solid understanding of website personas and their needs, a journey map is the next imminent need. This is especially important within websites that have centers of excellence and this is because a patient will shift their search and information needs as they progress through the patient journey.
Let’s take a center of excellence that focuses on breast cancer as an example. We’ll walk through a typical patient and her journey through awareness, consideration, and discovery.
Stage 1: Awareness
In the Awareness Stage, our female patient realizes she has an issue with nipple discharge or possibly she has discovered a lump. She doesn’t yet know what it is or what it means, but she does know she needs to seek assistance from a qualified healthcare professional.
Our patient would most likely start a search on Google for phrases like “lump in breast”, “pain in breast”, “nipple discharge”, or some other ailment or symptom. She needs to feel in control of an out of control situation, so she starts to educate herself way before she reaches out to a physician.
In a utopian scenario, the patient would find her way to a center of excellence on our hospital website. Once there she would be able to explore some initial information on breast cancer, review the expertise of the doctors and researchers, and realize the hospital would be an excellent source of help and support.
Stage 2: Consideration
As the patient learns more about what is ailing her, she will move into the Consideration Stage. By this time, she has probably met with an OB/GYN or family physician but suspects she will eventually seek the support of a specialist. As she begins to learn more about her health and possible illness, her search activity and information needs will shift. She will begin searching for testing and diagnosis related phrases such as “breast biopsy”, “breast cancer stages”, or “MRI on breast.”
At this point, we hope she finds her way back to our center of excellence so she can learn about our testing and diagnostic options. She can explore insurance information, download new patient forms, and reach out to set an appointment for her necessary tests.
Stage 3: Decision
After she gains even more information, our fictional patient enters into the Decision Stage of her patient journey. At this point, she searches for possible treatment options, specialists, surgeons, or insurance coverage. Her searches get very detailed and she becomes very close to taking formal action.
She might also decide that she requires a second opinion. And if this is the case, she will require a hospital that provides a safe and easy way to request a second opinion, submit the necessary information, and obtain an in-person appointment. Now let’s not forget that at this point, the patient is in a high state of stress and that information overload is a major issue. And yet, she still must visit website after website to find enough information to take that next step towards recovery.
But do hospital websites help make this process easy? Do they provide a low-stress way to locate information, gain confidence in the facility, and take the next steps to a healthier tomorrow? In many cases, the answer is no. And that is because no one on the website redesign team put themselves in the position of the patient. They didn’t walk through the patient journey to validate they are serving the needs of the individual, helping them find information, helping they feel comfortable with their decision, and helping them lead a healthier life.
To Do Item: Select one of your areas of specialties or a center of excellence, place yourself in the position of a fictional patient, and walk through their journey of awareness, consideration, and decision. How well are you helping them educate themselves, learn more about your services, and set an appointment?
Today’s patients expect to find much more than just forms and insurance information on a hospital website. They want to be able to research conditions, learn about signs and symptoms, explore treatment options, and review physician qualifications, center expertise, and real patient stories.
Patients want and need hospital marketers to help them discover a better tomorrow and they want you to guide them through the path to get there.
The Website Foundation
Up until now, I’ve covered a lot of the human elements of a website, and while this is extremely important, healthcare websites also need to have a solid foundation of technical, graphic design, UX, and SEO in place to be successful.
Let’s explore the most important elements to review and prioritize for hospital redesign projects in the coming year.
1. Technical Requirements
- Accessibility is at the heart of today’s web. It goes beyond compliance and now reaches into SEO and conversion optimization. The graphic design and coding process should include a solid plan for creating accessible websites and validating these to online accessibility testers prior to launch.
- Mobile friendly websites were once a luxury, however, more website searches are now performed via mobile than desktop. Mobile and desktop must align throughout design, development, and user testing. People want a responsive website that effortlessly adapts to multiple devices.
- Online scheduling transforms a rigid website into a tool for automation and self-service. It allows future patients to set appointments at any time and from anywhere. And it expands a hospitals call center into a 24/7 service center.
- Second opinion processing must be easy to locate, easy to understand, and easy to process. Visitors need to have expectations clearly set, the next steps outlined, and data collection simple. Patients are already in a state of high stress when needing a second opinion, so it is very important to make sure this process is effortless.
- Click to call usage is a convenient and user-friendly way to encourage that important human interaction. Not all users will prefer to use this option, but for those who do, you’ll increase conversions with a single line of code.
- CRM integration is often overlooked in healthcare since much of the technology focus is pushed to EMR systems and implementations. This is discouraging because there is no better way to track marketing efforts than by following a website conversion past the submit button. I know my PPC Strategists love having actionable data that helps them correlate digital marketing efforts to real patients purchasing services.
- Patient review integration doesn’t just help encourage new patients. It’s an important part of ranking in local SEO. The more reviews obtained, the more Google and Bing consider the hospital and staff as viable options in search.
- Online donation submission is a critical part of digital marketing for nonprofit based hospitals. But donations won’t flow unless the call to actions are easy to locate and the donation process is easy to execute.
2. Design and UX Considerations
- Authenticity, displayed in imagery and messaging, is extremely important as it helps to align the overage brand with the website and it offers an opportunity to deepen the human connection.
- User flow and content mapping need to closely align with the patient journey and their discovery through awareness, consideration, and decision. The website needs to assist visitors by offering a clear path to content specific to their needs. The easier the website makes this flow, the longer the visitor stays on the website, and the higher the chance for converting visitors into appointments and requests for second opinions.
- Navigation options, such as mega menus and breadcrumbs, should be easy to digest and they should flow with the patient journey map. Menus, in particular, require information presentation that is simple, yet directional.
- Multimedia usage of images and video are a core part of modern websites. Removing outdated sliders and replacing them with a more modern look and feel will help the website visitor flow effortlessly through their journey, while also building trust through authenticity.
- Call to actions should be clear, concise, and easy to identify. CTAs should refrain from being overwhelming and obtrusive. The more users can digest content and critical information, the more apt they will be to convert.
- Landing pages and inquiry forms should assist the human visitor in taking action by building trust through information and efficient use of space and data requirements.
3. SEO Considerations
- Keyword research is the heart of SEO and ranking in search. This should be done with every website redesign to make sure the website aligns with the current search patterns, user search intent, and with the current state of SERPs (search engine results pages). Google has made significant changes to SEO and the SERPs are much different than they were in years past. The Knowledge Graph has shifted search and any hospital redesign should be updated to reflect these changes.
- Keyword to URL site mapping is an overlooked practice by most marketers and webmasters, and yet, it is critical to excelling in search and providing a positive user experience for humans visiting the site. Having a strong roadmap of keyword usage and placement will help content writers better serve the human readers, help search engines locate the right content for each phase of their journey, and assist with internal SEO efforts of on-page optimization and internal linking.
- Semantic search is driving the internet and ranking in search. Due to this, it has become a core component of SEO efforts. Knowing what semantic search is and how it relates to content is important for everyone on the website build project team.
- E-A-T is a measurement Google uses to grade and rank websites in search. E-A-T website elements help search engines value a website for their expertise, authority, and trustworthiness. Simple elements like physician profiles, post author bios, and patient reviews will help elevate your E-A-T with search engines, while also improving the trust with human visitors.
- Structured data and schema have become a powerhouse for search engine optimization. For hospitals, schema markup would apply at both the local and healthcare-specific level. A hospital website refresh should include structured data as part of the core build out, which means this process should be a core requirement of design, coding, and content creation.
- The usage of voice search in healthcare is growing at a fairly quick rate, so this coding element should be included in the build-out of content that would apply to voice-enabled healthcare search queries. Few healthcare organizations are adopting this technology, so it offers an opportunity for hospitals to be leaders in search and well ahead of their competition.
- Many hospitals have a strong focus on attracting international patients, yet few organizations actually implement the right international targeting within their websites. A standard “international page” is not enough to rank in international search queries. A hospital website requires solid hreflang support for international targeting, along with proper architecture and translation.
I’ve provided over twenty different considerations for your next redesign project. While some of these might be on the project team’s radar, I suspect many of these items are not currently in consideration. But they should be. The web moves at a very rapid rate and savvy hospitals need to stay connected to these technology shifts and incorporate them into their future website design and development activities.
To Do Item: If you are in the midst of a website redesign project, take a moment to review the above list of items and compare this list to your current project plan. Document your gaps and create a revised plan to include as many items as possible.
Ongoing Reporting & Analysis
Measure the effectiveness of your website redesign requires a focus on data collection, reporting, and analysis. But how do you gather the right data and make sure it gets delivered to internal stakeholders in a timely matter?
The answer it Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, and Google Data Studio. These three tools will help you set up the proper tracking of data, monitor this data, and report this data via customized reports that match up to your internal KPIs.
I’ve been a longtime advocate of Google Analytics, but it wasn’t until this last year that I learned to embrace (and also love) Google Tag Manager and Google Data Studio. It’s the addition of these tools that allow you to truly dig in and learn about your website’s performance in search, the visitors that come to your website, and the actions they take once within the boundaries of the website pages and posts.
Important KPIs for Healthcare Websites
- Page views
- Unique website visitors
- Page views per visit
- Bounce rate for the site as a whole, by section, and by URL
- Traffic by channel
- Traffic by search engine
- Traffic by social media network
- Traffic by referral source
- Top landing pages
- Most popular pages
- Top exit pages
- Overall organic keyword universe
- Click through rates of keyword phrases in search
- Click through rates of keyword phrases in paid campaigns
- Click through rates of paid campaigns
- Call to action clicks by source URL and conversion URL
- Conversions by individual contact form, click to call, second opinion request, PDF download, or event registration
- Email subscribers
- Social shares by content URL
- Incoming backlinks as a whole and by destination URL
- Overall website health (this is a larger report with many data points)
The above website metrics are generally provided for the hospital website as a whole. We also have many clients who request a number of these KPIs be provided by each center of excellence within the hospital. We use Google Data Studio to create reports at both the hospital and center of excellence level. It is a great tool for providing the right KPIs to the right people.
Humans can only make solid decisions when given a strong dataset to review and evaluate. The metrics above will help you better understand your current search performance and website conversions, but more importantly, what can be done further improve your website for search engines and human visitors.
To Do Item: Compare my above list to your existing website reports and internal KPIs. Are you capturing everything you need to make strong digital marketing decisions?
Prioritization and Balance are Key to Overall Success
These common website objectives should be reordered to coincide with your overarching business goals. Weighing one more heavily than the others, however, will change the look of your website and the performance you achieve.
For instance, if patient intake is key and the goal is to onboard 15% more new patients than last year, then you would likely weight website conversions as a top priority. Your SEO strategy would focus heavily on patient-related phrases and your website design would feature CTAs more prominently than other value-added content. Landing pages, offers, and live chat windows are among other features a site with this business-centric model would use.
There’s no argument that such a site would most likely convert at a higher rate than a patient-centric site that is architected around the visitor’s needs and wants. But, with a consistent and well-thought-out optimization strategy, a patient-centric site can still position you are an expert, generate more leads, and boost your flow of new patients.
Ultimately, it’s the responsibility of digital marketers to balance the organization’s objectives with the visitor’s needs. They are many times different and a give and take approach to the website redesign will be required.
One of the largest pitfalls for healthcare organizations is when they solely focus on the needs and goals of their own organization instead of keeping the patient at the center of their strategies. This is exhibited in long, dry and drawn out “about us” sections and homepages that boast greatness instead of showing empathy. Patient-centric websites focus on providing the “proverbial hug” to the patient in addition to educating them.
Are You Redesigning Your Hospital’s Website?
If you’d like help updating your hospital’s website, we’d love to help. The emagine team is focused on the healthcare industry and has a significant amount of experience helping hospitals with branding and messaging, website design and development, as well as, search engine optimization and paid advertising.
Let us help you heal the world – one website and one patient at a time.
Resources and References