July 28, 2013

10 tips for designing a better healthcare website

Healthcare web design best-practices

Healthcare web design best-practicesHealthcare organizations are faced with expanded challenges as the internet becomes a vital and growing requirement for the industry. Pharmaceutical companies, providers, non-profits and caring organizations are all confronting new challenges instigated by digital media and the Internet. Competition, the changing marketplace and consumer behavior are all part of this mix.

If we examine websites as a primary touch-point for healthcare organizations, there are a number of best-practices worth highlighting. The following 10 tips (listed in no particular order) will help the healthcare web design process.

10 tips for improved healthcare website design

1 - A website can be an education tool

Consumers and patients are always looking to validate their choices and better understand their options. The education potential of a healthcare organization's website cannot be understated. Additionally, for search visibility, content is still essential in the marketing of an organization and brand. For these reasons, education tools and content should be a consideration for the web design process for a healthcare organization or brand.

2 - Social media should not be under-estimated

Social media allows an organization to communicate directly with prospective users and existing users while enabling an organization to “listen” to what the community is saying. Although social media evokes fear for many healthcare and medical organizations, the fact is that the web is inherently social, and conversations will exist with or without you. Social media can be leveraged and used to your organization's benefit to improve services, outreach, marketing and visibility within the marketplace.

3 - Digital marketing has power

A contemporary organization may choose to be digital-first in their approach to marketing, in order to leverage better analytics/data and advance the customer experience. Each digital marketing channel can help tell the story of a brand, as well as improve the responsiveness of a brand to their respective community. Digital marketing is highly measurable and intrinsic to the emerging marketplace.

This statement does not mean that traditional marketing no longer holds sway. Actually, the appropriate marketing mix for an organization may be very individual indeed. Some organizations may benefit from a higher proportion of digital to traditional, but nevertheless an organization must not neglect their brand website, which acts as a 24/7 primary, brand-touchpoint--central to any brand's identity.

4 - Clarity, hierarchy and simplicity build trust

Bad design breeds confusion, exhaustion and mistrust. Consumers are often overwhelmed by the volume of information online and available through the Internet. For this reason, it is vital for an organization to improve the user-experience of their website--allowing consumers to find information, take action, engage and access tools--with ease. The temptation for many brands is to allow the web design process to get political with CEOs, CTOs, CIOs, boards, directors and consultants to all have their opinions represented within the brand website.

It is vital to remember that the design process can be staged to allow feedback from key inputs prior to the design phase of the project. All too often, project members provide less feedback in the early planning stages, and too much feedback during the design and visual stage. This can be a breakdown in the process, and ultimately this is the point where a "design by community" methodology can make a site ugly, complicated and amateurish. Simplicity, hierarchy and clarity is a vital tenet of good website design. Don't let a design process become a political one. And... Don’t be afraid of the white space in your website design.

5 - Quality content is key

Search engines are ever in search of great quality content. The ranking of search results is based on quality factors. This simple concept can help improve an organization's marketing effort. Content is vital to marketing... Don't ignore this fact just because it is resource intensive. Work hard to make your content resonate with your users and extended community. Use engagement metrics to judge whether your content is useful, helpful and effective within the marketplace.

6 - Decide on the purpose of your website

A website should have a purpose. There needs to be a hierarchy of intent for your brand touch-points. Essentially this purpose will come from how and why you need users and consumers to engage your brand online. The answer may not directly be sales or sign-ups--direct transactions most commonly attributed to eCommerce websites. Defining a purpose and ranking the needs of your website will help your team and design agency build a better performing and clear touch-point. Try mapping and justifying the intentions of each site section to better deliver on the user-experience of your brand. This simple point will help your organization achieve it's goals.

7 - Don’t make users think

Sometimes what is important for an organization is not important to their audience. Try to understand your website from your users' perspectives. Design the website with a user focus.

Ask questions like: "What are your users looking for?" and "What do they need?"

Allow the previous points (clarify your purpose and keep it simple), to streamline the site navigation and information architecture of the website.  Make each web page obvious and self-explanatory. A clear website page structure, visual clues where appropriate and easily recognizable links/buttons will help enable users to find what they need. Validate your initial planning and assumptions by studying web analytics to validate your design choices. Make adjustments to areas of the site that have large and repeating drop-offs and exits. Employ quality content on pages that users frequently seek out but largely abandon after they arrive.

8 - Don't bury your CTAs, and remember to track them

Calls to action are critical for most websites. Typically websites are built to get an organization's user base to do something. For an eCommerce website, the CTA is clear: buy a product.

Not all health organizations have this exact purpose in mind when designing a new website. For some organizations, a website needs to help build trust in the marketplace. Other websites may have the task of building visibility and then prompting users to explore options. Calls-to-action may be as diverse as requesting information to voting on a survey. Aside from designing the proper CTAs, an organization needs to also track their effectiveness and conversion rate. Having a strong analytics practice can improve the effectiveness of any CTA and allow an organization to fulfill it's mission.

9 - Test, measure and re-design often

When you launch your new website, you are not finished. In fact, you are just beginning. Too often, organizations design new websites thinking that their websites are complete. Websites are never complete. You must measure and test websites--optimize them for better performance. Use web analytics to improve site messaging, user pathways, navigation and the overall performance of the website. Make analytics part of your regular marketing meetings and marketing vocabulary. Listen to experts and listen to your users about web design... Don't let politics design your website.

10 - Integrate your website into marketing efforts

Your website needs to play a role in your marketing efforts. Dynamic websites are better than static ones. The power of a website is it's ability to publish content, ideas and stories quickly and easily, as well as provide interactivity with your brand. Utilize this power. A website is more than a checkbox in a marketing plan. Effectiveness comes with study, analysis and effort. Design for your users; measure it's effect, and make changes based on insights and actionable data.