Statistics show that people spend roughly 24 hours a week online, which is why it is crucial for anyone who runs a business of any kind to have a website. For dentists (and other business owners), it is critical to establish a solid internet presence.
Your website is a digital representation of your practice and acts as a medium for communicating with current and prospective patients.
But creating (and managing) a website involves much more than just throwing together a bunch of content and images. If your goal is to attract visitors to your site and convert them into patients, you should also be thinking about your site from a user experience perspective.
If your site doesn’t provide positive user experience, there is little chance your visitors will convert and even less of a chance that they’ll recommend your practice to others. Sure, you may attract prospects initially, but what good does it do if they end up bouncing because your site is too slow, uninformative, or difficult to navigate?
Luckily, creating and maintaining a user-friendly site isn’t as difficult as it may seem. Below are a few best practices for optimal web development and performance that will help you engage with visitors and increase conversion rates.
Create an easy navigation for users and a sitemap for search engines
In order to attract visitors to your practice’s website and keep them engaged, your site needs to be easily navigable. Your main navigation menu should be clear and concise, as should any subpages. Page titles should be accurate and relevant to the topic, so visitors never feel mislead.
In addition, ensure that your navigation is consistent site-wide. Page titles, breadcrumbs, and even the appearance of the navigation itself should remain the same, regardless of what page the user lands on. If not, visitors will have a hard time making their way through your site and will feel a constant sense of confusion and disorientation.
Once you have your navigation set up, you should create a sitemap, which is a type of guide or directory that both helps users navigate your site and search engines to crawl it. Sitemaps help increase a website’s rankings, thus helping more prospective patients find your website and, ultimately, convert.
Sitemaps can be created in either HTML or XML. HTML sitemaps are structured for individual users and help people find the content they are looking for online, while XML sitemaps are created on the backend and can only be seen by search engine spiders for the purpose of crawling a site. To ensure maximum value, create both an HTML and XML sitemap and upload them to your site.
Finally, be sure to submit your XML sitemap to search engines so they can crawl and index your site. This can quickly and easily be done through Google’s search console. First, you will have to verify your website’s domain through the console so Google can recognize you as the site owner. Then, select your website on the search console homepage, click “crawl”, then “sitemaps”, “followed by “add/test sitemap”. Type in the sitemap.xml, and lastly, submit your sitemap. You should submit a new sitemap every time you make a change to your website so search engines can crawl your site right away and display the most updated version of your site as quickly as possible to users.
Optimize site speed
Not only does slow site speed affect your search rankings, it also reduces conversions. Users expect websites to load quickly and function properly. In fact, most site visitors will abandon a page if it takes three or more seconds to load. Just a one-second delay in loading speed can result in a 7% drop in conversions and a 16 percent decrease in customer satisfaction. Even if a few visitors decide to remain on your site, the chances of them converting are slim. One survey revealed that 79% of users would not return to a website that performs poorly, so it’s important to ensure your website loads in three seconds or less to prevent the loss of conversions.
Several factors can impact your site’s loading time, including but not limited to:
The server your website is hosted on is one of the primary factors that impact a site’s speed. Even if you have optimized all other factors, you’ll find that if your host server isn’t able to house all your resources, your site will still experience issues loading. You may choose to host your website on a shared server or a private server.
Shared servers can save you money, but may cost you speed. If you have a larger site, you may want to opt for hosting on a virtual private server (VPS). Now, if the traffic to your site is coming from many areas, a content delivery network (CDN) may be the best option. A CDN is a global network of servers that host your site across the world. The server closest to the person viewing your site will pull your content, reducing the time it takes to transmit the data from point A (the server) and point B (the user), and thus, reducing the time it takes your content to load. Whatever the server you choose, be sure it has an uptime rating of at least 99.5%.
Few people use dial-up these days, but there are still a variety of connection types — some slower than others. Cable connections are pretty fast, but if you really want to boost site speed, use a fiber-optic connection.
It’s not so much the actual browser you choose to use, but how up-to-date the version you are using is. Be sure to periodically check for browser updates if you don’t already have it set to automatically update.
File type and size
Certain files use up more bandwidth to download than others and some are so large they can slow down your site speed drastically. To prevent this from happening, it’s important to ensure your files and images are optimized for the web. Be sure to name your files and images descriptively with relevant keywords and in plain language (refrain from using generic names and characters, and denote spaces with dashes or underscores), include alt attributes that clearly describe the file or image, choose file and image dimensions and resolutions properly (72 dpi is the standard for web images), and compress files and images that are too large.
If your site has a lot of plugins, your server is likely to get bombarded with HTTP requests and files that take a while to load, reducing overall site speed. In many cases, there are alternative programs that can replace problematic plugins or your front-end team can create a custom-coded plugin that serves the same functionality, while taking less time to load.
Most of us have heard about browser cache, but did you know your server can also cache? Many times, website updates fail to show because the server is cached. Fortunately, most content management systems offer the ability to clear or “purge” the cache immediately after making a change to the site, reducing the wait time for users to see the update.
Some websites have a bandwidth limit and when it’s exceeded, the site’s loading speed can be affected or it can even crash. Luckily, bandwidth can be adjusted.
Your front-end developers can analyze your site to determine which of these factors is affecting your load time and adjust any of these elements when needed to boost your site speed if it is lagging.
Place links strategically throughout your content
Link placement is an art-form, some might say. When linking to relevant content on your site and to other credible sources from a page, it’s important not to overdo it. Don’t bombard your pages with excessive links and ensure the anchor text (the text you click on) is relevant to the page you are linking to. Also, try to include links toward the beginning of your content whenever possible, especially links to your own pages. The reason behind it is that Google’s search spider crawls the code from top to bottom, so it will prioritize links that appear in the earlier part of your page.
Design for responsiveness
People use all kinds of devices to browse the web these days, which is why you should ensure your site is responsive so it can accommodate all smart devices, not just desktops. Your site design should account for the dimensions required for each type of device and dynamically adjust to fit the screen being used.
Your main navigation should also vary by device. The majority of websites use horizontal navigation, which displays fine on a desktop, laptop, and larger smart devices. However, for those using a smaller device, this type of navigation can be cumbersome and may lead to user frustration and lower conversions due to page abandonment. To prevent this from happening, your mobile site navigation should include what is known as a “hamburger menu”, denoted by a clickable icon consisting of three horizontal lines. Upon clicking the icon, a mobile-friendly vertical menu will be displayed with enough spacing between links to prevent accidentally clicking on the wrong menu item. It’s important to note that the menu items themselves will not change, simply the way they are displayed per device. The titles of your menu items should remain consistent across all types of devices.
Maintain your site and update regularly
Even after you have a great, optimized website up and running, it’s important to stay current. Search engine algorithms change often and new technologies are constantly being launched. If you don’t keep up and update your design, copy, loading time, and other aspects of your site to match the latest trends, user experience can suffer…and so will your conversion rate.
Call the experts for support
Our expert digital marketing team is specifically trained to optimize your website and bring in more business to your dental practice. We want your practice to grow, your patients to be happy, and your website to reflect your vision and dental health mission. Contact our experts today.