MENTAL HEALTH WEBSITES
Why is a website important to mental health professionals and how can it help them to meet the demand for their services? This article answers these questions and provides advice on what they should consider when building a website.
Isolated from friends and family because of social distancing, the fear of contracting Covid-19 and financial hardship as a result of losing your job – each of these circumstances is highly likely to affect mental health. The combination of all three has many experts predicting a mental health crisis that could last for years. But even if it does not come to that, there is no doubt the demand for counselling and therapy will rise; causing further strain on those that provide it. What can mental health professionals do to prepare for this challenge? Well, the first place to start is by checking if their website is it up to the task?
The number of active internet users in Australia remained steady from 2015 to 2018 (Christopher Hughes, Oct 9, 2019). Since then the numbers have increased year on year, driven by increased accessibility and sales of smart phones and devices. According to a study by Ewan Watt, there were 21.74 million Australians using the internet as of January 2019 (87% of the population). Of these, 93% were online every day for an average of 5.5 hours
Then on the first day of Stage 1 Coronavirus Lock-Down Measures (March 15th, 2020), Australian internet traffic began an unexpected record-breaking rise. Forced home and ordered to isolate themselves, Australian households turned to the internet to remain connected with each other and the world. Overnight, people of all ages in almost every household across every demographic began surfing the net, streaming their favourite TV shows, shopping, and communicating with each other via video conferencing platforms like Zoom. Internet usage surged by 30%.
Will the Covid-19 response mark a paradigm shift in the way we use the internet and does this make websites more important than ever before? I guess time will tell, but logic suggests these assumptions to be correct and the significance of this has not been lost on many businesses that are scrambling to re-evaluate and improve their online presence.
The fastest and most effective way to build and control your online presence is with a website. But just having a website is no guarantee of online success. You see, the internet is an even playing field where success has nothing to do with size, location or your advertising budget. To be successful, a website needs to attract the attention of the target audience, engage them and provide good reason for them to return.
The solution to this can be found in a combination of style, design, functionality and connectivity and all 4 are subject to constant change and development. The current life expectancy of a website is around 2 years. If a website is older, then chances are it’s either passed or fast approaching its use-by-date.
Focused on patient well-being, it’s no surprise that most mental health professionals are unaware of developments in website functionality and that many still consider a website as an expensive replacement for their White or Yellow Pages phonebook listing. But a lot has changed in the last 2 to 5 years and what websites look like, what they can do and how people interact with them is significantly different. Once considered as a marketing platform for consumer brands, websites are now a comprehensive business tool; capable of reducing your administrative burden and improving efficiency. This lack of knowledge has put mental health professionals behind the 8 ball.
A successful practice is not only one that delivers good patient outcomes, it must be efficient and profitable. A well deigned website with meaningful content, functionality along with an SEO plan (Search Engine Optimisation) can help to achieve all three.
If any of this strikes a chord, then here are a some of the important factors that should be considered when reviewing, updating or building a website for your Clinic or Practice.
1. Bespoke Vs Templates
One of the most significant developments in website services has been move towards free or fixed price templates. Rather than employ a web designer to design and build a unique product, using a template can significantly reduce the cost without compromising quality. With expert tailoring, the result is as individual as a bespoke design and the process faster and less frustrating. Of the many organisations that offer these, idResults currently uses wix.com.
2. 30 Second Impression
That is the maximum time you have to get the attention of someone online and for some categories it’s much less. If your website fails to appeal to your target market or lacks stopping power, then your Practice will be dismissed, and your potential Client will move on and may never return. Striking images, moving pictures, animated text, fonts and colour are among the elements that can be used to achieve this.
3. Contemporary Design
Consumers are more likely to respond to contemporary design and will favour sites with less written content. Endless click thru links can be frustrating as are images and videos that take forever to load. Intuitive design wins the day and scroll down pages are a great way to complement and reduce overly complex menu bars at the top of your page.
4. Built in Functionality
As well as information, a website provides the opportunity to reduce the administrative burden on your Practice and increase efficiency. This can be a simple Contacts Form through to allowing Clients to make and manage appointment or Forms to capture new Patient details before they arrive – reducing waiting times and increasing productivity of reception staff. Automated email confirmations and reminders can easily be added with escalation alerts to ensure nothing falls through the cracks.
5. Engage Patients/Clients
Your Patient/Client data can be integrated with your website and accessed according to selected fields. This provides the means to communicate directly with Patients, initiate email marketing, provide targeted education, issue a health advice or simply share important information about the Practice directly with Clients.
6. Gather Valuable Feedback
Patient surveys and health questionnaires can be integrated into your website and automated to provide a set and forget solution.
7. Strategic Alignment
To make the greatest contribution to a Practice, your website must be aligned to your business or operational strategy and support the achievement of long-term objectives. The design should reflect the desired image, tone and language should connect with your target market and the content should help manage their expectations.
8. Cost Recovery & Revenue Generation
Your website can be designed to allow Clients to pay in advance for services or feature an online store (sale of Books, Video’s or supplies) as an additional revenue stream.
9. Return on Investment (ROI)
Like any other asset, decision regarding the amount of money spent on a website must made with consideration to the possible return of investment. ROI is where the project costs are compared in relation to income generated or costs that are saved. If these do not apply, then it is important for the associated costs to be budgeted and managed accordingly.
10. SEO (Search Engine Optimisation)
More than 90% of internet experiences begin with a search engine and research indicates that consumers rarely consider anything beyond the first page of results. Website features like meta tags, key words, headings, descriptive text, and hyperlinks are used by search engines and affect where your website appears in search results.
It is important to ensure your site complies with these or any other regulations.
12. Robot Check, Pop-Up Lightboxes, Visitor Analytics & After-hours Contacts
These are of few of the most common features that should be considered and will make your website more functional. Links to Social Media are a great way of generating traffic and interest.
13. To Blog or Not to Blog
Including a Blog on the website for your Practice is a great way to demonstrate expert knowledge and experience but it requires commitment. To be credible, a Blog needs to be maintained and new material added regularly. Effective writing is a skill that not everyone possesses, so articles may have to be written or at least checked by a 3rd party. The costs for this can be considerable and should be budgeted.
14. Access to Resource Library
A private resource library can be added easily with access restricted to approved members. This allows you to share important articles, research results and other selected material. You can also authorise members to leave comments, upload their own material and communicate with each other.
15. Easy to Maintain and Edit
Regardless of the website solution, it is important to check how easy it is to edit or maintain content. Remember if this requires a 3rd party then it will add to your costs.
16. Ongoing Costs & Fees
As well as the costs to build a website and develop the content, there are ongoing costs for hosting, data storage and functionality that you need to be considered and the costs estimated and included in your financial budgeting.