Website trends and best practices are constantly evolving. And many healthcare brands are stepping up in all of the right ways, including improved usability standards, self-service features and user-centric redesigns. But it’s easy to oversimplify the work-intensive effort that goes into building a successful website. Spanning many industries—not just healthcare—there’s a tried-and-true method to develop an effective, compelling site for your company. Read on for a high level overview of the process for building and maintaining a strong web presence.

Identify the (true) purpose. Whether you’re attempting to target a new audience, or needing to update your online look and feel having just undergone a rebrand, your goals should be outlined at the start. For example, if you’re expanding your audiences (promoting to patients for the first time when you’ve previously only communicated to providers), this distinction should be made at the outset. Marketing teams tasked with website overhauls know that providing information for information’s sake is different from selling a product or service with strong, actionable content that targets a specific buyer.

Analyze and audit your web presence. If your company’s website exists today, a site audit is in order. Take an inventory of what you have—what’s working and what needs improvement? Analyze the design, content, SEO, calls to action and lead-gen opportunities (contact information and CTAs). Scope out your competitors’ websites and get a feel for what’s trending in your sector.

Explore the latest and greatest. Whether you’re using an in-house resource or an agency to build your website, it’s critical that you and your marketing team stay informed about evolving practices in web development. For example, mobile searches recently overtook desktop queries across the board—and in response, top search engine Google moved to mobile-first indexing. This has huge implications for organizations whose websites are long outdated. If your site isn’t responsive or mobile-optimized, you’re missing out on key search and ranking opportunities. You’ll also want to look to the latest trends. An industry-specific movement with patient-facing healthcare websites includes promoting self-service features, like appointment schedulers, front and center. Even B2B healthcare has seen a shift: good websites speak to visitors on a personal level with easy-to-understand copy and warm photography. Quick access to customer portals reinforce easy navigation and an individualized site experience. Staying on top of advancements in design, features and functionality enables your site to better serve your customers.

Map out the user experience. Leverage the insights from your audit to determine your site structure, including UX and navigability, content hierarchy, SEO and more. If customers have to ask: Is the information I need located under Products or Services?,” or Now that I read this page, where should I go next?,” you may consider implementing a hamburger menu with a rollover that expands the Services sub-pages. Or, anchor a “Request a Demo” button in a visible location toward the top of the page. Ultimately, place yourself in your customers’ shoes and prioritize your information accordingly—this becomes your sitemap, or information architecture, for your website.

Think through content strategy and SEO. The framework for your page organization sets the stage for a content strategy. Any marketer understands that content adds life to your healthcare website—it reaches target audiences, drives engagement and supports lead conversion. Choosing the optimal keywords and phrases for page titles and body copy is an obvious priority. But avoid the common pitfall of neglecting H1 tags, meta descriptions and backlinks! A robust SEO plan should weave throughout this step in the process, ensuring your site is visible to search engines and serves as a useful resource for visitors, while building on your brand’s value.

Visualize your site through wireframing and design. The next step in this process is the creation of a wireframe—a 2D illustration that allocates site elements to page space and assigns functions like buttons or drop-down menus. Your in-house team or agency partner should create a wireframe for approval before any actual design and development begins. Don’t worry about colors, fonts or graphic elements at this stage—wireframes are simply blueprints created so you can understand how the site will work from the user’s perspective and the relationship between each page.

After the wireframe is approved, your team can finally move into the design phase. The art of web design incorporates colors, typefaces, shadows and graphics that, of course, are aesthetically pleasing, but also aid in usability. A seemingly small detail, like the hamburger menu mentioned earlier, allows for more page space by removing a large top-nav bar and improves the chances that readers will quickly find the information they need.

Development and testing. Once you have nailed down your site design, the development phase begins. A developer may build the front end with HTML or CSS, often incorporating advanced coding languages like JavaScript or PHP. On the backend, developers write code that the server can read—what’s “under the hood”—that enables end-users to navigate and interact with a website. However, today, many sites are built using existing templates that integrate with content management systems like WordPress. These aren’t templates in the traditional sense of the word. Instead, they are highly customizable. So if your development team mentions using a template as a starting point, rest assured that this doesn’t compromise a one-of-a-kind, branded experience.

After all of this work, it’s crucial to test every element of your site: page load time, forms, links, mobile and desktop responsiveness, and everything in between. Web developers will leverage resources to vet speed, security and accessibility, as well as browser compatibility.

Maintenance. Simply put, your website is a service. As a key connectivity point between your customers and your organization, your healthcare website should undergo ongoing testing, maintenance and updates. It’s helpful to view your new online presence as an investment— ensure you’re getting the most out of it by performing ongoing audits, reviewing search engine terms and UX best practices. And don’t overlook the basics. If your site has a blog, update it (it’s a key driver of SEO). Pull heat maps to see which pages are garnering the most attention and which seem to have less value to your readers. This ongoing process should be enlightening—learning about your customers’ ever-changing needs allows your organization to tailor to their behavior and use patterns.

Those familiar with website development would agree that the cycle hardly begins with coding and certainly doesn’t end at launch—for busy marketing teams, it’s practical to have an agency partner who knows the process inside and out. Contact us to learn more about how Activate Health can help breathe new life into your website, while also easing your team’s workload.