Ten Steps to a Successful Practice Web Site

Larry D. Rosen, Ph.D.

The National Psychologist

March/April 1998

In a recent study of California Psychologists we found that 81% used a computer in their practice. Over half of those using a computer had been online and over half (53%) reported to us that they either had a web site or planned to have one within the next three to five years.

I have been an active Internet participant for quite a few years, I have created and maintained web sites for myself, my books and for other professionals. I also spend a considerable amount of time -- upwards of 15 or 20 hours a week -- surfing the web to keep abreast of what "works" and what distracts. Using this information, I work with people to build and refine their web sites to get their desired results. With this experience in mind, I submit several steps which I believe will ensure a web site that will be attractive, useful and business-savvy web site.

Step 1: Know Why You Want a Web Page Before You Build One.

In our survey, California psychologists had a variety of reasons for wanting their own web site. These included local and national advertising, sales of personally created materials, providing psychological services and simply "being on the cutting edge." Given the limited percentage of Americans who use the World Wide Web (under 20%) it is unlikely that a psychologist would gain many local referrals from a web page. But, psychologists trying to sell materials or attempting to establish a national reputation as an expert would have a much better chance.

Step 2: Use a Specialized Program to Build Your Web Page.

For the first few years of the web's existence you had to use an arcane, somewhat cumbersome language called HTML to create your web pages. You had to hire an expert and it cost upwards of $5,000 to create even the most basic web page. Now, you can purchase a program that is as easy to use as a word processor and will build the HTML language in the background. I have tried several and recommend Page Mill (Adobe) and Visual Page (Symantec). Check out my web page at www.technostress.com to see what you can do with these programs.

Step 3: Keep it Simple.

If you surfed the web, you know how frustrating it is to sit and wait interminably while a web site slowly scrolls across your screen. In my view, a good web site should take no more than 30-60 seconds to load completely. Here are some tips to help that page load faster:

Step 4: Include Contact Information.

I find it appalling that so many web sites leave no way for people to contact the business or company other than via e-mail. Make it easy for people to contact you by including your postal address, a telephone number as well as your e-mail address.

Step 5: Check Your Links.

Any good web site includes links from the main or home page to other pages or other web sites. Make sure you check those links and verify that they work before you present yourself to the public. Broken or incorrect links can and will drive people away from your web site faster than the speed of a high-speed modem. It is important to re-check monthly if you are linking to other web sites as they can be changed or disappear in the blink of an eye.

Step 6: View Your Web Site on the Major Browsers.

Each web site will look different on different browsers. At the minimum, see how yours looks on Netscape, Internet Explorer and America Online. For the first two make sure you try it on earlier versions since it always takes time for the newest version to penetrate the market.

Step 7: Publicize Your Web Site.

With over 20,000 new web sites showing up every month you cannot just "build it and they will come." You need to let people know. Each search engine allows you to add your URL (your web's address) to their directory by following a link (usually labeled ADD URL) and providing information about you and your web site. At a minimum you need to do this for the major search engines (e.g., Yahoo, WebCrawler, Lycos, Infoseek, Excite, Hot Bot, and Alta Vista). You can visit www.submit-it.com which will submit your URL to 20 search engines for free or to over 400 for a small fee. You should also consider posting a notice about your web site in online discussion groups or Usenet discussion groups (I wrote about these in the May/June 1995 issue. NOTE: You can read all my past columns from The National Psychologist at www.csudh.edu/psych/magpub.html). Lists of these discussion groups can be found at www.grohol.com (follow the links on the left side of John Grohol's home page!). Please respect the online community's feelings about junk mail and only post information about your web site to appropriate discussion groups.

Step 8: Monitor Access to Your Web Site.

You will need an Internet Service Provider to host your web site. Try to find one that will provide statistics about visitors to your web site. My provider tells me how many people visit my web site each day, how many links they follow and how often each link is visited. That gives me a picture of which pages are the most popular, which is useful information for marketing.

Step 9: Update Your Web Site OFTEN.

People will not return to your web site more than once or twice if they keep finding the same information. Continue to add new information and indicate so with a small graphic that says NEW. (NOTE: Any graphic/picture that you see on the web can be extracted and used on your own web site. Save it on a PC using Netscape by clicking the right mouse button while pointing at it and then "saving the image".)

Step 10: Continue to Watch the Web Change and Find New Uses For Your Web Site.

The web is growing at an amazing rate and new uses are popping up every day. Spend time surfing the web and observing what other businesses are doing with their web sites. Think about how you might incorporate their ideas into your web site.

Copyright, 1997, The National Psychologist. Reprinted with permission. The National Psychologist is a privately-owned bimonthly newspaper which may be purchased for $30 a year. Write or call: TNP, 6100 Channingway Blvd., Suite 303, Columbus, OH 43232; telephone: 614.861.1999 or fax with Visa or MC to 614.861.1996.