One of the most exciting times a hospital marketing team has is when it’s in the early stages of a web site redesign. As a baseball fan, it’s similar to spring training, when everything seems possible, and there’s energy that’s derived from a sense of reinvention. 

As a Washington Nationals fan, I know that feeling well, and am even more excited as the team has put the pieces together to (so far) be the best team in baseball.

But while the lure of the shiny new objects that could be a part of your new web site can dance in your heads, it’s wise to enter into this endeavor with a sense of reality. 

Measure twice, cut once

Often a web site can be completely re-invented, but still suffer from its previous issues because key conversion paths were never investigated and dealt with. This can be overcome early in the redesign process, by first spending a reasonable amount of time on thoroughly understanding your site’s analytics, and looking closely to ensure that all user paths through the current site are being tracked. 

Implementing this can slow down the process and potentially chip away at the excitement and momentum some people have. However, skipping this step can ensure that your entire redesign effort will be very difficult to map back to strategic goals in the weeks and months after launch. By fleshing out the “before” analytics story, your team will be able to not just show off a beautiful new look and feel, but also present a deep-dive look at exactly why the site is better with stats and graphs that validate the effort and expense and help forge a greater connection with numerous departments throughout the hospital. 

How hospitable is your hospital to new neighbors?

One of the best ways to target patient growth is by appealing to patients new to the area who are making new connections on a wholesale basis: new internet service, new cable/satellite, new jobs, new commutes, new insurance etc. 

But when it comes to finding a new doctor, how does your hospital measure up? This is one of many areas where powerful, effective search tools are vital. Are patients able to easily discern if clinicians accept their insurance? Are your hospital’s doctors taking new patients? Can potential patients using your hospital’s search tool tell if a doctor is convenient to them without knowing the approximate distances of a long list of cities? Or, put another way, ask yourself how much work is your hospital’s site requiring of the prospective patient, and how much more could it be doing to smooth out the process?

It’s important to think of this exercise as many potential patients’ first encounter with your hospital. If the experience is sub-optimal, it should be treated as a quality of care issue. 

Treat ‘Long Tail’ conditions like your top centers

I’m a big believer in the opportunity found in what’s known as the Long Tail, that collection of smaller-volume items that, when amassed on a larger scale, can result in large sales, profits and patient volume.

The beauty of building for the Long Tail is that, if you do it properly, you can often replicate processes to ensure that literally hundreds or even thousands of different topic areas can yield large collective numbers of conversions. 

With that in mind, try this quick exercise. Focus on a rare condition that a potential patient might look to your hospital to for treatment. Search for that condition. Note everything on the page and what information is both relevant and irrelevant to that patient’s experience.

As that potential patient goes through your site, ask yourself if you think a patient with this condition will feel more or less confident in your hospital’s care as they continue to search and click? Does the copy around this condition accurately showcase both the expertise and services your hospital provides for treatment of this condition? Are there calls to action that are actually distracting and prevent the potential patient from continuing down the funnel to be a patient? Are there strategies or tactics you employ for your higher-profile conditions that these Long Tail conditions aren’t leveraging and could benefit from? 

Real champions are built for the long haul

Given the length of time most hospital site redesigns take, and given the number of years such a project is expected to last for, it’s vital that the work is put in early to establish a great foundation. To do that, a hospital must have a realistic assessment of its current user experience so it can better plan out what it wants to achieve. 

In the sports world, any team that has its sights set on winning over a long period of time usually has a management team at the top that is clear-eyed, disciplined, and ready to admit its weaknesses in an effort shore them up for long-term success. 

The same principles should apply to hospital web sites as marketing teams look to serve multiple needs of a wide range of internal stakeholders, while also keeping a strong focus on the ever-evolving needs of a growing patient audience.