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How to build a website that keeps your doors open day and night driving traffic to your business with engaging content.

In today’s fast digital economy, businesses are open around the clock. Even though brick-and-mortar stores close their doors at night, online doors are always open. When it comes to websites, some people view them as expensive digital brochures, while others see them as a 24/7 marketing employee. The good news is this employee doesn’t mind working all day and all night to drive traffic to your location and increase brand awareness.

Like any great employee, they must constantly grow their skillset and improve their performance. Great websites, like great employees, aren’t just developed overnight, though. Have you ever thought critically about how to build this dream marketing machine, or do you have that “hire someone, set it and forget it” mentality?

FIRST IMPRESSIONS
Websites create first impressions for businesses more than anything today. Websites are not just a digital brochure to showcase our hours and location. Their impact is the biggest deciding factor whether patients will visit your office after doing a quick Google search for phrases such as “eye exam” or “cool glasses.”

Keeping websites alive also means they require constant updates, not just for aesthetics but also to ensure up-to-date content—words, pictures and videos. This constant cycle of updating requires a monthly investment. As you plan a new website, pretend you are building one that will look great five years from now. It’s easier to stay ahead of the curve than to catch up, so be sure to plan ahead.

STEP 1: RESEARCH
Building a website is a journey. Our day-to-day lives in optometry and optical are very tasks based. However, websites are all about the long-haul. Plan on spending six months to a year to build one you will be proud of. Anything less than that and you will just be getting a templated cookie-cutter site.

I recommend researching big brands with stunning designs and strong branding you adore. Make a list of design elements, color schemes, marketing materials, imagery, video, flow and the way products are presented. Make a list of all these items so you can draw inspiration for later. Imagine you could be one of these next big brands! While being a mom-and-pop shop can be cute, it’s best to develop something more professional for the web.

Once you have some ideas of what you like, it’s time to go interview a minimum of five agencies that build websites. Think of this hiring process like a marriage. You want it to last.

Simply Google a phrase such as “website agency” to find a list of local agencies. Make sure to set up in-person meetings after your initial phone interviews. It’s not like shopping for a commodity or clothing online. Come prepared with a list of questions and discuss your business goals. The agency should not just be concerned with building a fast and beautiful functioning website but how you can monetize it.

You will have the choice of hiring an agency that just focuses on eyecare or choosing an agency that has experience in lots of different industries. Depth of website experience is important. Sometimes as ECPs we get too narrowly focused on our professions and forget to incorporate other strategies that have worked in other fields. Lastly, establish a budget after the interviewing process.

STEP 2: CONSTRUCTION
Once you have chosen a comfortable partner to help you build a custom website, it’s time to lay the foundation. This is where you need to decide what your brand image, voice and vibe will be. You have one chance to decide on your vision for your practice and your optical. If you want to be the luxury flagship optical in town or the medical practice catering toward aging baby boomers who expect medical care the caliber of the Mayo Clinic, this is your time to build that portrayal into your website design and functionality.

First off, make sure to sign a detailed contract that sets clear expectations and costs from your website agency. Accountability is everything.

Your first foundational building step is building what’s called a sitemap. This is how the flow of a website is established. There’s a road map on websites that helps patients find the information they need quickly. Have you ever had trouble finding information on a website? It probably had a poorly designed sitemap. If patients can’t find what they need, they tend to hit the back button and leave, increasing what’s known as your bounce rate. Google lowers your ranking when this happens. You will need to think critically about what services you believe need to be front and center and what can be more “hidden.”

The next step is to build what’s called a wireframe. This is the actual layout of the website. Every picture, video, heading, subheading, paragraph of text, menu, etc. is established. Think of this as the final blueprint of a house before pouring the concrete. Every screw and piece of wood is accounted for before being built.

After getting your website architectural plans together, the site will go into a stage of development. This is the technical part where it’s coded. This part is important to create a website that is fast, has no errors and is user friendly.

STEP 3: CONTENT CREATION
Content is king today. The more impressions online you can make the better. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube bring brands from ground zero to huge successes by having content creation strategies. Your website needs content, content, content! We underestimate how much information the public wants to consume. They are always looking for more.

When you start to write and prepare imagery and video for your website, remember it needs to be 100% authentic. This means that you need to either hire a copywriter or write yourself what your brand provides differently than someone down the street. It’s no longer acceptable to just say you do eye exams in a time where people have the internet to compare the price and value of different providers. People are more willing to spend more money on exceptional experiences.

Next, make sure to have a professional photo/video shoot done. Stock photos scream boring. People love supporting small businesses, so show them how cool you are and how you differ from corporate culture. Your content should all be focused around having calls to action. We are in business to make money, right? Give patients the guidance they need to make decisions about healthcare and eyewear. Lastly, always produce five times more content than you need at the beginning.

STEP 4: TESTING AND LAUNCH
Congratulations on building an awesome website! Before you do the big launch and notify your patients via email (yes, everything you do online should be about marketing opportunities), make sure the website functions well. This means clicking every button possible to make sure it sends you to the right place. It also means proofreading the content to make sure your brand message will be correctly interpreted. It’s pretty embarrassing when you visit a website and there are errors. Having a website that is easy to browse reflects on how great the experience will be in person. While you might be anxious to go live with a site, spend the time to test every feature and make the necessary modifications.

TEMPLATE OR NOT
Should I build something custom or use a template such as Wix, Squarespace, GoDaddy or an eyecare-specific template found at a conference?

Websites should be built not bought as templates. Give your website the flexibility to be changed as the internet algorithms change and style preferences of facilities change. How would you feel if you wanted to remodel your practice or optical and the landlord said, “No, you need to move facilities to do that.” Templates are not built for speed and feature lots of bad website code. The Google bots that scour the internet have the sophisticated ability to recognize when people use poorly coded websites and duplicated content. Remember, online is all about first impressions and standing out from the crowd. People recognize the inauthentic nature of templates. They might be cheap, but they are also not profit-generating machines. Think in terms of five-year online strategies and not saving a few hundred bucks monthly.

OMNICHANNEL MARKETING
There are lots of media to spread your marketing message. Online, television, word-of-mouth and print all still work today. However, we live in an omnichannel environment. This means that patients are finding businesses through lots of different media. The one thing in common, though, is that patients do their final research on the web to justify credibility through online reviews and website presence.

Dollars go a lot further on the internet. A billboard in a decent sized city could easily run $5,000 a month. That same budget allocation or even less on the internet could dominate a city and help grow a small business to new heights.

Websites are marketing machines. If you feed them traffic, they send you leads. It’s pretty simple. Your long-term strategy needs to be based on generating content on your website in the form of words, pictures and videos. You can direct people to your website to view this content through organic and paid social media campaigns, Google Adwords, mass emails and blogging. That’s why it’s necessary to always develop five times more content than you need. If you spend more money now on website and content development, you will spend less later.

By now, you might start feeling overwhelmed about the intricate process of building a website.

Don’t worry. A professional website agency will guide you through each step and give you homework. This is not your time to figure things out yourself. Let someone manage you like you manage patients. As small business owners and employees, we try to figure things out ourselves too often.

Upon completion of building a website from scratch, you will feel great about your investment. Your 24/7 employee will work hard every day to grow your business. Patience is really important when it comes to seeing financial rewards from building a website and then marketing your services and products. We are all so used to seeing viral videos and big brands dominating the arena. However, brick-and-mortar locations should be seeking long-term authoritative approaches online. Going viral for one day is fun, but it doesn’t equate to long-term business sustainability. What are you waiting for? Go begin your journey to build the next great eyecare website.

Perry Brill is an optician with Brill Eye Center in Mission, KS.

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