There is absolutely no doubt that the advent of the Internet has dramatically changed the face of marketing. In particular, websites have become the tool of choice, for marketing products, services, organizations, companies, and everything else that benefits from marketing. Not only are websites a very effective tool, fueled by the ease of access and navigation, they are also a marketing tool whose cost falls within a large range. This makes them affordable to almost everyone.
Your website(s) can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. I consider myself somewhat of a website expert. I managed the creation and design of a major corporate website in the 1990’s when websites were just becoming popular. I have managed the creation and design of countless websites since then. There have been many, many changes over the last 10 years in how websites are created, designed and used to achieve their marketing objectives.
Obviously, an article that talks about websites could very easily become a book, so for purposes of this article, let’s focus on two main website issues. First, the pros and cons of using a professional design company to create your website, versus the use of a freelance website designer. Second, let’s look at some design attributes that spell success…..or failure.
Choosing a design company versus a freelance designer involves the obvious cost considerations. The former costs more than the latter. Using a professional company means that you have a lot of thought put into the design. Specifically, the design will accommodate the intended uses of the owner; both long- and short-term. Using a freelance designer will get you a website, designed to your specifications. You more than likely will get no consideration of use or of long- or short-term objectives.
Also, using a professional company means you may be able to get a project or package cost. This type of costing is results-oriented. The design must achieve certain performance criteria or the project is not considered completed. Owners are able to include performance measures such as speed of navigation, into the specifications and the design company must achieve those. Using a freelance designer will not get you those same attributes unless they are already widely available with the design software the designer uses.
While the previous paragraph may have stated the obvious, for me, the most telling and important criteria for selection of a website designer is value. Are you going to get your money’s worth? In my experience, a freelance designer can achieve websites that are purely marketing in nature. These websites contain only information. They can contain links to other websites, links to other areas within the same website, photos and even images.
But, they have no transactional or other capabilities. A professional company best designs websites that are designed to achieve sales and customer service. These websites have purchasing capabilities such as the “cart” feature on most retail websites. They also have security so that purchases can be achieved via credit or other purchasing medium. They may also contain “click to chat” features, or other communication media that protect identities such as account number, etc.
The value measure here is the sales that a company achieves versus the cost of the website design. Why spend $50,000 to provide only company information such as company history, products, services, contact information and other non-sales material? On the other hand, you’ll never motivate and achieve sales of your products and services with a $500 website. It just isn’t going to happen.
There are way too many design features in a transactional site to be achieved for that paltry sum. Besides, the more sophisticated and involved design needs designers who are experts in the industry, are knowledgeable about the industry standards of design, and are visionaries on where the design standards are going to look like in the future so that their design can incorporate some of those “newbies”. Let’s look at some design attributes that define success….or failure.
First, let’s look at dimension. Dimension is the product of how many horizontal and vertical links your website home page contains. If you have four links that go from left to right across the top of your home page, and four links that go from top to bottom on the left side of your home page, your website has a dimension of sixteen (four times four).
In my opinion, the dimension of a functional home page should be no more than sixteen. But don’t take my word for it, do your own research. Visit and count the dimension of some successful sites (Google, Harvard Medical School) and see what you come up with.
Websites try to utilize dimension in many different ways. Some use the drop down menu to help ease navigation. Simply by running your computer’s cursor over the link, you’ll be able to view all the sub links without having to actually activate the link.
Some use the display method; underneath each link the website visitor will be able to see all the sub links without having to do anything at all. Both these methods are designed to increase the effectiveness of the website pages by presenting the dimension information in more visible and navigable ways.
Second, let’s look at page design. In most website pages, this is achieved by compartmentalization. This involves the division of the page into compartments. For uni-functional websites, page design is very, very simple. Take a look at Google. There is one compartment; namely the space that awaits your search string so the search can begin.
For most websites however, the pages are trying to display more than one piece of information to the user. In my opinion, website pages function best with one compartment but this is not very efficient or practical. In which case, pages should display no more than four compartments.
When you walk into a department store, you’ll see hanging signs with arrows, pointing you to various departments within the store. There are usually no more than four or five at a time. You’ll hardly see a hanging sign created for directional purposes, with more than that number of directions on it. There are exceptions in the website world. A retail outlet can display as many compartments on a website page, as there are departments. This is fine because users expect and appreciate this.
They don’t want to have to walk through other parts of the store, so to speak. They want to go directly to their target location, so they don’t mind a page with all the options displayed. Good website designers will also increase the functionality of website pages by displaying information in dynamic fashion. They’ll use moving pictures or moving script. They’ll also use bold imagery with dates clearly displayed to show additional information that they want their website visitors to notice.
Third and last, let’s look at appeal. This usually involves the use of colors, images and photography to create an attractive, appealing and magnetic effect on the user so that they continue to navigate your site. While it’s widespread knowledge that certain colors are associated with certain messages, such as deep blue for new information or orange for financial strength, it’s more important to have consistency.
You won’t believe how many website designs I’ve reviewed on behalf of clients where the consistency is destroyed from page to page. The bottom links change with each page or the page structure changes with each page. Or, photos are stretched from their original dimensions, to fit the page dimensions.
This results in distortion and loss of resolution (graininess). It amazes me because it’s actually easier to achieve consistency in website page design, than it is to change the appearance of each page. So, the definition of appeal has to be expanded to include any website page design display, not only the use of colors, imagery and photography.
A visitor to your website will have a much easier time if each page looks the same and, where possible, similar information is in the same page location on every page. For example, Doctor names top left, Doctor credentials bottom left, Doctor specialty top right, Doctor contact information bottom right..on every page.
The user won’t even have to read the directions; their attention will go directly to the information they want, which will make their navigation of the site much simpler and easier.
I hesitated to write this article because websites are such an important part of healthcare marketing, and it would take a much lengthier presentation to do justice to the subject. So, let me end by saying that use of website marketing should be part of a much bigger online/internet marketing strategy, which in turn should be part of a much bigger overall marketing strategy.
However, due to its popularity in today’s marketing world, I felt that the article would be of value even if it helped direct a few prospective website owners toward the right solution.
Creation of a website creates the need to manage it once it’s built and put into use. Management of a website must involve both the business marketing owner and the website design professional, whether it’s a company or a freelance designer. Website management is ongoing and never ending.
But, if you put thought into the intended use, it will help you select the appropriate design professional. Also, you can get off to a good start if you consider the dimension, page design and consistency, and the appeal of your website up front. These will ensure that your website is not the joke of the town (or industry).
With over 17 years experience in Insurance, Marketing and Employee Benefits Management, Alex Piper possesses extensive knowledge of the U.S. Healthcare Market and the influence that Insurance Carriers, U.S. Employers, Hospitals, Physicians, Physician Groups, Healthcare Professional Organizations and Government will have on the next generation of global healthcare.
He is the President of OneWorld Global Healthcare Solutions, a consulting company committed to creating a worldwide healthcare solution. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.OneWorldGlobalHealthcareSolutions.com