FROM THE ARCHIVES: Are You a Good Potential Web Development Client for Marketing Portland?     MARKETING SNIPPETS: Action will remove the doubts that theory cannot solve. ~Tehyi Hsieh     GRANNYISM #32: If you can't stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.~via SweetLeaf

The Patient Is Dying -- and, by "Patient," We Mean Your Web Site. Our Prescription: Read these Web Site Remedies for Health Care Providers

Doctors, dentists, mental health professionals, counselors, and other health care providers have some of the widest-ranging sites imaginable in terms of various elements usually present on the web site. Most likely, this reflects the practitioner's affiliation, or lack thereof, with a larger health care organization. Those affiliated with large hospitals may have no web site to speak of, save a possible brief mention somewhere within a huge hospital site or maybe on some HMO directory.

For smaller, independent practitioners, it still varies depending on a lot of particulars. Let's be frank here: Most medical doctors and dentists are in a hugely different world financially (and, in turn, marketing-budget-wise) than, say, counselors or naturopaths. So, while "health care" is the broad umbrella, it's a little tough to generalize about best practices. Still, I think we can speak mostly high-level here, and then discuss some aspects of a web site that most average size medical practices would find valuable.

10 Most Important *Basic* Web Site Elements for Health Care Providers

  • Well developed, on-point content -- current and prospective patients deserve 100% clear, easy-to-read, and accurate descriptions
  • Proper disclosures and compliance (HIPAA, etc.) -- get 'em in there, and know what they say!
  • About us / practice history -- to offer a level of assurance to people that you're professional, experienced, and trustworthy
  • Contact information / inquiry form -- and, if you're savvy, a more thorough intake form / system
  • Privacy policy and terms of service -- more generic than HIPPA-stuff, but still important, esp. for larger practices with arguably more exposure financially
  • Service specifications -- the more content, the better, and not just for SEO, but for good old-fashioned informational use. Put a page up about every type of situation you serve; it'll be appreciated.
  • SEO Optimizations (meta tags, etc.) -- yep, even doctors need to compete these days. Some seem to really take off wth this item. Having an optimized site, and linking up with decent off-site healthcare resources is a great start.
  • Practitioner and staff bios -- again, super-important, as it speaks to the trust and assurance angle that so many are looking for. Also, it humanizes the practice and sets patients at ease -- super important for a lot of medical practices, where consumers may harbor a lot of fear about coming in
  • Data capture / list building / autoresponders, newsletters, etc. -- all pure, time-honored Internet marketing best practices. Other industries use these; there's no reason your practice can't use them too.
  • Security Considerations -- if it's financial or health information (or both!), it needs to be secure. So, for example, if you're a health care practice taking payments online... wow, you better focus on this!

I have to admit some ignorance here, as it's been a while since I've worked with health care clients. Years ago (in the early 2000's), the company I was a marketing director for had a consulting division that, from time to time, kept me busier than the whole rest of the business. That division specialized in a few industry niches -- Master Builder construction accounting software, PM2000 property management software, and MediSoft medical practice management software. Between that and my previous career exposure to healthcare legal publications, I learned quite a bit about the important topics of the day strictly through the kind of osmosis that exists when you're marketing these things.

Marketing is a learning-centric profession, by the way. That's because, in order to market something effectively, you have to learn a lot about it in order to express the benefits that product or service offers to the target market. So, it's not uncommon for a marketing professional to become quite knowledgeable about the day-to-day life of, say, a medical office professional. I think what typically happens is something like this:

  • Some difficulty exists for which a product or service could be developed to make life easier for the target market. It could be a typical industry issue or challenge, a completely new innovative approach to an industry problem, or maybe new law or regulation. Take HIPAA, for example. Clinton signed that into law in 1996, but it didn't really get rolling for a few years -- and now it's fairly common knowledge.
  • The professionals within the industry (and the consultants specializing in that industry) take action on whatever it is. In this case, it's things like "Well, how will HIPAA affect this or that?" New products and services emerge from this step.
  • It eventually trickles down to the marketer. What happens (and this is pretty much what happens in every single industry, and for every single product or service) is this: The marketer gets told the whole background, and then we discuss the marketing implications, challenges, opportunities, etc. with the entrepreneur or developer of whatever it is we're marketing. Hopefully, marketing gets involved sooner in the process rather than later because, believe it or not, a lot of marketing (regardless of industry) comes down to the same set of core practices, all of which benefit from early involvement (often shaping the product or service dramatically from its original design). Plus, as "outsiders" we quite often serve as that important set of eyeballs that takes nothing for granted.

For health care providers, the working relationship with a web developer is also very much like this. What works best is for you to provide as much detail as possible about your business objectives. (And, yes, we often work under NDAs! So, if you've cured cancer, but you're not yet ready to tell the world about it, you can work with us on such things.)

So, let's take a look at some of the more essential web elements for health care web site. At this stage in this whole series of industry best practices, I'll focus a bit less on the obvious benefits of some items. I hope it's clear to all, for example, that well-developed, on-point content is important for many reasons.

One thing I really wanted to drive home in this article is that, as Content Management Systems mature and evolve, I think there is a growing gray area between a web site's marketing function (that is, it's outward-facing role) and its potential administrative function (above and beyond managing the content of a site, that is). For health care practices, there's great potential for streamlining back-office work by integrating a web site with the practice management functionality -- at least in theory, anyway. For some, it could mean simply providing an electronic means for filling out forms formerly done on paper. For others, it could mean a much more robust integration with the practice management software.

Of course, this all becomes difficult when we're seeing practice management software being integrated with other systems such as electronic health records. So, ultimately, this is likely the concern of very large IT companies specializing in health care. At least, if Marketing Portland happened to be a large maker of medical software, I'd be looking for sure at expanding the reach of that software into marketing. But, for smaller or medium-sized practices where these things are still more separated, there still likely lies a good bit of efficiency to be gained by integrating various patient forms into a protected area of your web site. Make sure to bring that up while thinking of a new or redesigned site!

In other words, don't think of your web site as merely a marketing tool. Marketing is one aspect of it (likely the most important one), but there is the larger platform of web-based technology to be leveraged here while you're at it. Patient forms, appointment setting, CRM, and online payment via credit cards are all great example of this -- even if your site isn't fully integrated with a larger practice management or EMR suite.

On a separate note... I'm also seeing, across many industries, a lot of rating-type sites emerging. Think of Yelp! for the health care practitioner. Increasingly, online reputation is becoming an issue for a lot of industry businesses. So, taking charge of this as much as possible is probably worth considering. It could be as simple as allowing testimonials to be submitted on your web site -- all the way to integrating with outside services or APIs that do this.

Finally, I'll close with noting that certified medical professionals have a super advantage over a lot of other general health sites. If you're an M.D. or a D.D.S. or a Ph.D., you have the standard certification that allows you to make some types of public claims on your site that might run some others into trouble. Naturally, many in this group are going to be rather conservative in nature, and that's understandable. But, from a pure marketing angle, you really do have a leg up on a lot of others in terms of authority. So, you CAN market ... but are you doing it?

Surgeon photo by Phalinn Ooi (Flickr, creative commons).

Financial Services People: Say All You Want About "Occupiers", But Maybe It's Time You Occupy Your Web Site. Here's How to Do it Right!

This article ought to be fairly straightforward, as I've already covered web site best practices for professional services firms in general. (See here for that.) Financial services firms ARE professional services firms, so all of the items in that article apply here. I'll quickly share a list of critical web site elements for financial services firms, and then discuss some particulars below.

10 Most Important Web Site Elements for Financial Services Firms

  • Contact information and a good inquiry form
  • Well developed, on-point content
  • Social media / sharing capability for content
  • Proper disclosures and compliance info
  • About us / company history
  • Clear, thorough, product / service descriptions
  • SEO aspects in place (meta tags, etc.)
  • Team member bios
  • Data capture / list building / autoresponders, newsletters, etc.
  • Press / media area

First, let's define what we're talking about here. I'm speaking broadly of wealth management firms, investment companies, banks, credit unions, etc. Obviously, a lot of the particulars for these will vary widely. (For example, if you're a bank, you basically have to offer online banking in order to stay competitive. Although, if you don't offer it, you could at least spin that for marketing purposes and say that your bank cannot be breached by hackers!) (And, on that note... Marketing Portland does NOT do online banking web sites. Not that we've ever been asked, but there are just some things too risky to ever outsource -- and online banking is one.)

Enough about banks, though... The most common type of financial services site would probably be sites for local offices of Edward Jones and those types of independent investment and financial planning professionals. Many are indeed affiliated with some larger company, and may or may not want or need their own site. But, quite a lot are independent folks and, I suspect, are under-focused on marketing.

Some of this is for fairly good reasons, as financial services marketing actually falls under some pretty stringent regulation in terms of what one can and cannot say. Think of all of the legalese from this industry that almost everyone in the world already knows -- warnings like "past results are not guarantees of future successes." These legal warnings have actually made their ways into the common wisdom of our language. This is why "proper disclosures" has such a high place on the list, above. People are SO litigious these days, necessitating all of that good old "CYA" language.

But, regulatory difficulties aside, financial professionals actually enjoy a few marketing positions others don't necessarily have. One main advantage is that pretty much ALL people are interested in good information about money. Managing it, investing it, donating it wisely, philanthropy, tax implications of doing things one way versus another, estate issues relevant to common people... The list is *endless*, which shows how rich and complex the field is.

Ergo... the magic combination for marketing this sector effectively is (1) translating all of that good information into easily-understood language, (2) presenting it in an effective manner, and (3) spreading the word about it. While that all sounds fairly obvious, there's a huge strategic aspect involved. For example, I had a financial services client one time for whom we were doing some PR work. They specifically requested that all articles written (and there were tons of them) should reflect a 7th grade reading level.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it's actually kind of tough to translate difficult concepts into such a widely accessible level. The previous paragraph, for example, reflects a reading level of 11.5 (i.e. between a junior and senior in high school), so we would have had to revise that one a bit. :-) (By the way, the web site can tell you the readability level of your text, based on accepted forumlae such as the Flesch-Kincaid, Gunning-Fog, and others.)

What really works well, I think, is video marketing. While many people may not be comfortable writing articles, most financial people are actually pretty adept at speaking. This is because part of the normal marketing routine for people includes activities like explaining financial topics at board meetings, giving talks at local networking events, walking clients through concepts, and other speaking-type activity. I've known (*many*) professionals who couldn't write a single decent sentence on paper, but who could really command a room when talking. So, why not leverage that? Just make videos, and have them transcribed for the text aspect -- and then post both to your site. (See my articles on video marketing here and here, for more info.)

Next up is the presentation aspect -- i.e. your hiring a good web development company like Marketing Portland to make your material come alive design-wise. And finally, there is the marketing aspect, which is why you see things like social media sharing functionality and SEO included above.

You may not be the Wolf of Wall Street at the moment, but if you follow the advice above (including heading over to the article on professional services firms), you may well find some financial returns of your own soon. Ready to get started? Contact Marketing Portland today!

10 Ways to Utterly Fail for Residential Real Estate Companies Desiring Useful Web Sites

From time to time, I've wondered what life might've been like if I'd gone into real estate. After college, we lived in the Washington, D.C., area and became friends with some realtors. They seemed not much older than we were (young 20s, then), yet doing remarkably well for themselves. I remember thinking a decent salesperson could probably do well in that very active market so long as he or she could figure out how to get quality listings and/or active buyers (or, ideally, both). After all, the houses and neighborhoods basically spoke for themselves. Ergo, if you had desirable listings, the homes would sell. Or if you had motivated buyers, the sales would happen organically. (Needless to say, I'm over-simplifying.)

The Internet was younger then, though ... few real estate companies had dedicated sites in the mid-90s. It was pretty much an old-school game, with the marked difference that the realtor handled most of the MLS searching. Today, realtors still do a ton of work for clients. But, with the Internet being ubiquitous, home buyers are rolling up their sleeves and scouring the web for their dream homes. I can't speak for everyone, but the last two homes we bought were listings that we brought to our realtor's attention, not the other way around.

I conducted an informal study recently, rating a bunch of real estate web sites here in the Portland area. Most are doing fairly well, but there are nonetheless still some stragglers with kind of, well, awful web sites. Maybe there's room for the luddite agents still hanging on out there. It's tough for me to understand that mentality, though. Trouble is, once you find a desperately bad web site, it's kind of an awkward sell. It's tough to call someone and say, "Hello, your site is a complete train wreck -- easily the ugliest botch-job we've ever seen. And, by the way, would you like to hire us?"

If I were to put together an "absolute essentials" list for residential real estate web sites (or, at least the top 10 features / aspects) , it would be something like the following.

10 Most Important Web Site Elements for Residential Real Estate Brokerages

  • CMS / Site Infrastructure / Hosting Setup
  • Property Information
  • Property Photos
  • Property Videos
  • Agent Contact Info
  • Well developed, on-point content
  • Search Engine on Site
  • SEM strategy
  • Optimizations, microformats, etc.
  • Team Member Bios / Staff Bios
  • Inquiry form
  • Data capture / list building / autoresponders, newsletters, etc.
  • Proper Disclosures and Compliance

Okay, let's discuss things a bit, with these 10 "Epic Fail" scanarios in mind. First, if you're going to market properties online, and especially if you have mutiple agents, you absolutely need a system to handle all of the data. An active real estate agency generates a ton of data (and that's great for SEO, by the way). So, you need a good mechanism and infrastructure in place to handle and organize it all. No Content Management System? ... Epic Fail.

Next up ... property information. You need to include detailed information -- the full address (with zip code); a catchy, well-written, description, the walkscore, nearby amenities, and more. Key tax information, school districts, and other related information is also viewed as helpful to your target audience. Keepin mind that these items also serve as the content of your web site, so the text should include keywords and keyword phrases that your demographic are searching for! Fail to include these items? ... Epic Fail.

Pictures! You ARE including many, many pictures, correct? I don't care if it's an empty lot, you should gather a bunch of them. Whether you want to do them "professionally" or not is your call. I actually believe that most amateurs can now produce fairly good (if not near-pro-quality) photos on their own. But, that's another can of worms I won't open at the moment. The point for this article is this: get the photos in there -- as many as you can. Including just one pic (or NO pics)? ... Epic Fail.

If you've read other marketing articles on this web site, you may know our views on video marketing -- namely that it's still hugely underdone. Instead of enumerating the merits in this article, please see HERE and HERE for a few pointers along those lines. Decided not to do videos for each and every property you're listing? ... Epic Fail.

Once you've enticed prospects with your awesome listings, you need to provide them a way to get in touch. Some people prefer email, others phone, others forms on your web site, others like Facebook, others Twitter. The point is: You need to cater to them. Be reachable. Are you not reachable? Is it tough for a person to learn your email address or phone number on your site? ... Epic Fail.

On-point, marketing-focused content is up next. I honestly believe a majority of agents fail miserably here, and I really don't know why. Maybe it's that they aren't investing enough time into exploring the listing for themselves, not taking notes about each one, not interviewing the owners about the property merits, and/or they aren't comfortable writing up the listings. I think most successful agents are probably capable closers, but maybe they need to bone up on the pre-sale work -- meaning the marketing. Bad marketer? ... Epic Fail.

Particularly for larger real estate web sites, a great search engine can really help shepherd visitors to the properties they are interested in. A great search engine should accommodate a user in two ways: First, it should be good at matching any phrase thrown at it. (Of course, part of that means you need to get the copy into the system in the first place, so this is another reason to focus on well-detailed copy!). Second, it should be able to help users find properties of true interest to the user. To this end, realize that whatever you put into a web site, you can then pull out of it. So, put some thought into the site architecture... If walkscore is huge, then make sure to include it in your property database so that you can then return a set of results organized by that. You're 100% unlimited here (well, at least in terms of technical possibilities)... Aside from price, zipcode, keywords, etc., how else might your properties be classified and/or searched out? By loan type, by days on market, by neighborhood, by school district? Maybe it's something completely nutty -- say, by house color! Whatever you can imagine, you can build. But, fail to include any search function? ... Epic Fail.

SEM strategy is critical these days, and yet you'll still find agents with sites that have URLs like "". This basically tells search engines nothing via the URL (which, arguably, is *the* most important controllable aspect of any SEM strategy). Instead, wouldn't you rather have an URL like: ""? (Note: I made up all of the above examples, although those are probably real domain names.) The former URL actually does tell us a few things. First, it tells us that your site is far out of date, which is (IMHO) probably actively bad for your SEO. From time to time, I've heard from outdated site owners that their positioning isn't what it used to be. I usually say that, partially, it's due to new competition emerging, and partly it's their own fault. Anyway, no SEM strategy? ... Epic Fail.

Well, I promised 10 "epic fails", so let's look at two more... Having no team bios is definitely an epic fail these days. I think you have to sell yourself as well as the houses. So, get those pics and bios in ship shape and highly visible everywhere!

For my final "epic fail", I'll include something not on my list above, as I just remembered it... I thought I'd share the process we actually went through while selecting a listing agent when we went to sell out Pittsburgh home years ago: We went to agent bios and looked up their "sold" listings. The ones with the most and best sold listings were viewed as ones who knew how to sell homes. So, let's call it an "epic fail" if you're an agent and you do not have a list of your sold listings on your site. (If you're new, you may not have this, of course... But, for veteran sales agents, it's an epic fail to have these and not be showing them!).

Enough's enough... you get what I'm saying... And besides, you shouldn't be reading this; you should be out selling homes! So call Marketing Portland when it comes to your web site needs -- 503-891-7153. Let us do (for you) what we know best, freeing you up to go make those sales!

Atlanta Skyline photo by Marcia Todd (Flickr, creative commons).

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