Know what you're getting before establishing Web presence

July 15, 2004

Understanding what it takes to establish a solid presence on the World Wide Web can dramatically affect the efficiency of your practice and potentially save your practice thousands of dollars. But purchasing a Web site will only get you so far. To achieve successful Internet marketing, you need much more.

Understanding what it takes to establish a solid presence on the World Wide Web can dramatically affect the efficiency of your practice and potentially save your practice thousands of dollars. But purchasing a Web site will only get you so far. To achieve successful Internet marketing, you need much more.

When looking to purchase Web site services, today's medical practices are forced to sift through a sea of local design firms, freelance Web designers, advertising agencies, and Internet marketing firms that specialize in medicine. And for every type of Web site development service that exists, there are thousands of companies vying for your business. Should you decide to go it alone, it is important to know just what's involved.

Choosing a host There are many hosting companies in the Internet industry. Many general Internet service providers, known as ISPs, offer various services. Hosting companies typically bundle their services and may offer e-mail, statistics, database management, and e-commerce.

Here are just some of the questions you'll need to ask the hosting company:

Collecting statistics Statistics packages provide information about the visitors to your Web site and the mechanisms that are driving these visitors to the site. Any good hosting company should offer a statistics package at no charge.

Maintaining a successful medical practice Web site requires continual evaluation and improvement based on statistical analysis. Specifically, this entails taking information garnered from the site's statistics package and using it to make substantive changes to the site. Areas that are popular among visitors can be emphasized, while areas that do not stir a great deal of interest can be eliminated. For example, if a surgeon's photos are getting hundreds more visitors than those procedure pages lacking photos, this may indicate that those pages need images.

Statistics can also be used to determine what people are looking for. This is accomplished by examining the "search strings" category of a Web site's statistics package. Search strings are the words or word combinations an Internet user types into the search box found on search engines when conducting research. A consumer based in Chicago, for example, might use the search string "LASIK Chicago."

Statistics packages can also tell the doctor how many users have stopped to look at the site. Note that "hits" only represent the number of times the server hosting the Web site is accessed. Some images alone produce 10 hits every time they are viewed. In other words, to equate the number of hits to the number of users who actually visit a particular Web site is a gross overestimation of the numbers. What you are interested in is "visitors."

Purchasing a domain name Every Web site has a domain name. The domain name is a very important component of your Web site, because it becomes your practice's Internet brand. While purchasing a domain name is a fairly easy process, purchasing it on your own can be a frustrating (and potentially risky) affair. You will need to know if there are any safeguards to prevent your domain name from being stolen.

In order to host your Web site on its server, the hosting company will need various pieces of information in addition to your domain name itself. The company will likely begin by asking you all sort of questions about your "DNS host." Be prepared to provide this information. Also remember that your domain name needs to be registered each year. As a result, you will need to ask the firm if it provides automatic renewal or if you will need to manage the renewal.