The cold hard fact of the digital age is that if you’re not online, you don’t exist. Websites, social media, email and other online communication and marketing tools have become essentials for any modern business. Gone are the days of direct marketing and advertising in local newspapers; now is the time for Tweets, Pins and blogs.

The first place that potential clients will check for information about a doctor or practice is online, so it is more important than ever before to have an up-to-date, functional website to make a good first impression and win their interest. A well-built website is the most important marketing tool you can invest in – it is the mothership of all your practice marketing efforts.

With platforms like WordPress offering easy-to-use templates that can be customized to build your site, it is simpler to carve your digital footprint. You will need a web developer to help you get it designed and set up, and optimized. DO NOT try this at home.

1. What do you want to gain from your website?

Either your site is purely intended to give key information about your practice, such as who you are, where you are, what treatments are offered and contact information so patients can schedule consultations; or there will also be an ecommerce component to sell skincare or cosmetic products and services directly through the site. If you’re keen for the latter then this will require some additional build-out work and expense to be set up with a third party service to receive payments. Think through your main goals, and secondary goals before you commence with a new site or an upgrade to your existing site. If your site is very old, it may be more cost effective to ditch it and start over. Most websites today are built in WordPress, which is a easy to manage platform with many advantages so your staff may be able to manage some of the updates for the site on an ongoing basis.

2. Who will host your site?

Hosting your own website can be a huge and unnecessary expense so it is usually best practice to use an external host. There are a number of different options that come with different price-points that you should consider before deciding: a shared web host – usually the least expensive option – will mean sharing the server with other websites; dedicated hosting is more expensive but means you have a private server that avoids the problem of other sites slowing yours down; or cloud hosting, which stores your information on an online infrastructure of servers – but could leave you open to security issues. If you’re unsure which is best for your practice, call in a specialist. If you enlist a web developer, make sure that you maintain ownership of your URL always.

3. How many pages of content do you need?

A visitor-friendly, engaging website needs more than just a visually appealing landing page. Adding pages about your staff and facility, with images and short bios of your team, immediately gives a more personal touch for visitors your site. It is also imperative to list all or most of the products, services and treatments you offer, and to consider how you want to position yourself in the market. Are you an expert in body contouring, facial rejuvenation, or tattoo removal? Make this clear through the navigation, layout and the content contained within your pages. Finally, consider developing an effective logo to sit on the masthead of your site and enlist a professional graphic designer to create something sharp that speaks to your brand. Always include contact pages, a link on each page to schedule an appointment, and add a form for patients to fill out with their questions.

4. Who will keep the site up to date?

Once your new site is live, the work is just beginning. A website is not all static – some of the content may last forever, but other features need to be constantly updated and tweaked. There’s nothing worse than a website that is dated, hard to navigate, features old content and information, or a blog that hasn’t been kept up for months – it is an instant turn-off for visitors and won’t compel them to ever come back. You don’t need to redesign your site too frequently, but consider an upgrade every 1-2 years to ensure you are coming across as cutting-edge and not stuck in the dark ages. Add a robust blog to comment on industry trends, events and to share practice news at least a monthly basis. You must also continually ‘test’ your website to ensure it is working properly (and especially in different browsers and on mobile and tablet platforms).

Setting up a website for your practice and keeping it fresh and updated is an essential step to developing a successful brand.