Have you been procrastinating on putting up your first website?
Getting started is the hardest part. There are several decisions to be made, and it's common to get stuck at any or all of them.
But remember this:
- A mediocre website is better than no website. Ditch the perfectionism and just get started.
- Start with a simple option that gives you room to add and refine later.
- Don't be afraid to experiment and make mistakes. Everything is modifiable.
Here are the first few decisions:
1. What is the purpose of your website?
Obviously, your website is a way for people to get to know more about you and your practice - like an online brochure.
You may also want to include an interactive blog (for public education and greater visibility on search engines) as well as links, resources, patient forms or other content.
Take a look at other clinicians' websites to get some ideas. Jot down what you need to include now, and what you may add later.
2. Choose a domain name
As noted in a previous blog post, How to Choose a Domain Name, you'll want a name that reflects who you are or what you do, is easy to spell, and is search-engine friendly.
Domain names cost about $10-15/year. You buy them from a domain name registrar. Godaddy is the most popular, but there are others. The above-mentioned blog post has more information on this.
3. Choose a web host
A web host is a company that provides space for your website files on its servers. It also provides connectivity to the internet, so that visitors can view your site on their computers or hand-held devices. Hosting costs as little as $3/month.
Your website need not be HIPAA-compliant unless you store patient health records.
Some hosts will offer to sell you a domain name (or include it as part of their hosting package), and some domain registrars will offer hosting. Other than convenience, there is no advantage to buying your domain name and hosting service from the same company. You own your domain name (for as long as it's registered) and can park it at any hosting company. If you switch to a different host, you can take your domain name with you.
Because there are so many hosting companies, choosing one can be daunting. Read reviews by unbiased sources such as PC Magazine or ask your colleagues. When you've narrowed it down to two or three candidates, check out the Support section of each of their websites to see how user-friendly they are. Call the tech support line. How long do you need to wait until someone answers? Is English the native language of the person answering the phone?
4. Design your website
In the early days of the Internet, all web pages had to be coded in HTML. If just one character was missing or out of place, the whole website could be unreadable. That's why you needed a professional web designer.
Now, with the WordPress platform (included in most web hosting packages) all you need to do is log into the control panel of your web hosting account and select a "theme" (essentially a template) which provides the look and feel of your site. There are thousands of free and low-cost WordPress themes available.
You fill in the content with text, images and video by typing into an editing window that is similar to a word processing interface, with options for different fonts and other styling. Add images from the web or from your own files via a couple of mouse clicks. It's easy to change and add content without knowing any HTML code. And you can preview what it will look like before making the site public.
The WordPress theme is stored separately from the content (text and images) of your website. If you change the theme, the content will plug right into the new template. Thus, you can experiment with different themes to get a better idea of how your site will look.
WordPress is highly versatile. There are thousands of plugins that add features and functions to your site - contact forms, widgets, SEO tools and others. Most of these plugins are free, and are easily installed from your WordPress dashboard.
4. Do it yourself? or Hire it out?
The answer to this question is: Whichever will get you up and running sooner.
Putting up a WordPress site is not difficult, and you don't need any technical skills. However, as with anything that you try for the first time, there's a learning curve and it may take a while to get your bearings. You'll probably make a few mistakes, too. The reward is that you will gain a firm understanding of how things work, and will have greater confidence in managing your site and trouble-shooting problems.
To help you navigate the learning curve, choose a web host with a good reputation for tech support. Call them and ask for help. They have a vested interest in getting you up and running quickly, so that you will continue to do business with them, and hopefully recommend them to your friends.
If you don't want to bother with the initial setup of your site, then prepare to spend some money on a web designer - starting at around $800 for a small site. Web designers can help you choose a template theme, and suggest and install plugins that you'll need. They will set up the basic pages of your site, along with tabs for easy navigation. They will also do some of the back end work of your site, such as titling the individual pages and other tasks to increase your site's visibility to search engines. (More on this - see a previous blog post, SEO Basics – How to Get Noticed and Ranked by Search Engines.)
All this is built into WordPress. But if you don't know where to look and don't want to take the time to learn, it may be worth it to pay someone while you use your time for other pursuits.
But there are some things you can't hire out. You will still need to choose a domain name. You will still need to provide all the content for your site.
5. Write the content
This step can be more overwhelming than the physical setup of your site. You don't have to start with writing content for the home page. Perhaps it's easier for you to do the "About me" page, or the services and fees page. It doesn't matter where you start. Once you get going, you'll have momentum to keep going.
You don't even need to wait until you have made the decisions about hosting or web design. Start writing content now. Create a separate document for each page of your site and keep them together in a folder. Then, when your website interface is ready for content, simply copy and paste. Almost instant gratification, with writer's block well behind you!
6. Publish and refine
There's still much work to be done on your site. But it's a work in progress, and always will be.
Assume that your first iteration will be your worst. So you might as well get that worst one out of the way now.