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Everything You Need to Know to Develop Your Next Website

MAGINE IF YOU were to tell a store designer, “Let’s just build a new store that looks exactly like my competitor’s down the street.”

While it seems unimaginable in that context, that’s essentially what often happens when it comes to building a website, says Andrea Hill, CEO of Hill Management Co. There’s no such thing as a perfect website for every eyecare professional and you should consider yours a point of differentiation.

To begin with, be very clear about your goals, says Ross Cockerham, CEO and co-founder of website design firm Punchmark. “Do you want to become a $2 million store? Or make $100,000 in sales online in 2022? Or pick up X amount of new leads this year? Think about what those goals are and create questions for developers based on those goals.”

For Diana Canto Sims at Buena Vista optical in Chicago, IL, her goals were to speak to her bilingual customer base, be responsive even during non-business hours and own her Google ranking. “We get anywhere from 3 to 10 appointment requests online daily and our website schedules patients while we sleep. New customers regularly tell us that they found us online via Google search. We work closely with our website developers EyeCare Pro to make sure our SEO is aligned with all of the proper Google trends. We use a separate company called DearDoc that installed a bilingual bot named ‘Selena’ on our website that encourages patients to request an appointment online, in addition to the tab that says ‘request an appointment.’ We installed the Google translate button to make our website bilingual. We hired a photographer and videographer to capture video of the outside of our practice with a drone and inside for a 30-second intro video for the website.”

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Your website should look like you, commends Andre Savoie of High Level Thinkers, a digital marketing specialist. “Independent [ECPs] have a unique personality, a unique culture and should play to their strengths. That’s what bonds customers to them.” Think of your website as the very first conversation you’re having with patients and customers, a conversation that should continue when they visit your business.

“Most websites are white snoozefests,” laments Dr. Kandi Moller of Eye Candy Optical in Gig Harbor, WA. “My site was built by Siren & Carpenter who listened to what I wanted: something colorful and different and unique … just like me!”

Savoie says the goal of websites is to match information, images and offerings as closely as possible to the experience of walking into the business, rather than trying to emulate the e-commerce experience of others. This can require a shift in thinking for independent retailers, from considering online sellers the impersonal enemy to personalizing the online experience for themselves and their clients.

Eye Candy Optical owner Dr. Kandi Moller worked with a company to create a website that’s ‘colorful and different and unique...just like me!’

Eye Candy Optical owner Dr. Kandi Moller worked with a company to create a website that’s ‘colorful and different and unique…just like me!’

“We love our website and are constantly changing and optimizing it to work better,” shares Dr. Nytarsha Thomas of Visionelle Eyecare, Zionsville, IN. “We have gotten sites built and have done DIY versions from WIX in the past but we are currently in the process of rebuilding it again to capture more traffic. I believe it is infused with our personality so a lot of people comment on how they looked through our site or watched our videos and knew they wanted to use our services.”

Letting viewers get to know you is one path to authenticity, because patients and customers want to work with, and buy from, someone they love, says Jennifer Shaheen, president of Technology Therapy Group. “Having a video on your website showing your team members does make a difference in understanding and connecting with your business,” Shaheen says. “Having team members do their own product reviews would be fabulous.”
I LOVE that my website reflects my brand and personality,” shares Dr. Cynthia Sayers of EyeShop Optical Center in Lewis Center, OH. “Patients love the personal touches about me and the overall look. It is not generic but yet hits on all of the important info without being too wordy.”

And she is spot on. Websites have evolved from a static extension of the business card to what should be a dynamic representation of a second storefront. They must be reflective of the brand as well as up to date and functional. That was driven home by the events of the last 18 months.

Lake Giles, director of operations and sales at Thinkspace, says his clients, equipped with robust e-commerce websites, increased their online sales fourfold last year. U.S. independents that didn’t perform well failed to recognize the importance of their websites pre-COVID and didn’t update their hours or indicate whether they had curbside pickup once the pandemic forced closings. Posting such information on Facebook, although it may seem easy, isn’t effective, especially since only one in 100 followers will see it (unless you have a Facebook ad program).

“We launched our new website at the end of 2021 and have had increasingly good feedback,” states Travis LeFevre of Krystal Vision in Logan, UT. “We partnered with Optify for the e-commerce and have been really happy with how it has performed and I built the rest using Squarespace. We have clients reserving frames to try on in store, requesting price quotes remotely, and now we can confidently sell online utilizing at home try on and Optify’s software to take measurements.”

Websites should also seamlessly reflect the retailer’s marketing message. “If you don’t know who you are and what makes you different and why you matter, your customers aren’t going to know either,” Hill says. “A website is a living, breathing piece of marketing, and every single piece of it should be expressing your reason for existence.”

Buena Vista Optical’s website features a bilingual bot named Selena.

Buena Vista Optical’s website features a bilingual bot named Selena.

It’s a sentiment Dr. Scott Mann of INVISION in Christiansburg, VA, understands well. “There is always room for improvement but I like the content and the layout of our website. I am still amazed for a local two-location office that our stats show we get over 1,000 hits per month — every month — from all over the world for a blog post I wrote a number of years ago: “Why do I see better when I squint?” Still, we use SEO, analytics and online ad feedback to constantly tweak the site and have integrated it with some of our office CRM software.”

“Our site is pretty good but it’s constantly evolving. Static doesn’t work,” adds Cindy Henderson of Eyear Optical in Chattanooga,TN. She’s right. Every website should be ever evolving, a work in progress.

Dr. Amber Fritsch of Precision Eye Care in Mt. Juliet, TN, is a proponent of the “always be adding” website philosophy as well. “Our website was designed by EyeMotion and got an overhaul a few years back which made me love it even more. I love that I can make changes to it, or that I can reach out to EyeMotion and have them do it. I’m getting ready to add some features in the next few months including a virtual frame catalog from Optify and a chatbot.”

William Chancellor of Best Chance Optical in Forsyth, GA, says his site is already easy to navigate and perfect for appointment scheduling and message sending, but his web developer — his IT college grad son — is looking into adding “Try on” and “Inventory” features “to enhance the patient online experience. We hope to be able to allow for online ordering in 2022.”

Everything You Need to Know to Develop Your Next Website

ASSESS WHAT YOU HAVE
AND WHAT YOU NEED

Shane O’Neill, vice-president of Fruchtman Marketing, thinks of the website as a salesperson. Take an assessment of your website on a yearly basis, just as you’d evaluate an employee. The customer journey should flow from start to finish.

A good test is loading speed. If it takes 5 to 8 seconds, that’s not fast enough, Shaheen says. Compress photo sizes to speed things up. Make sure what you’ve posted is not insanely big — 800 to 1,000 pixels at most — and then use an app like JPEGmini, suggests O’Neill, to reduce file sizes up to 50 percent or more.

Tiffany Firer of Lifetime Eyecare in Jenison, MI, knows this struggle all too well. “I have built several websites for a few opticals over time both with personal coding and by partnering with marketing companies. I’ve personally used Squarespace, WordPress and Wix to create different variations over the years and we’ve partnered with iMatrix, Patient Pop and others on other variations of optical websites. We are now using an SEO-oriented design that was designed by Digital Healthcare Professionals with my meticulous direction. I prefer the look of other variations of our website compared to our most recent version but it loads faster without the pictures in other versions, and theoretically gets more traffic because of the background SEO work.”

Most marketing agencies will offer to review your website for free, O’Neill says. Describe your objectives and ask the reviewer, “Will this platform get me there?” Whether or not you’ve got to start over depends on several factors. An outdated website probably is on an older platform, in which case it makes sense to start over with a new installation of that platform, or to migrate to something that will make it easy to manage e-commerce while planning out other ways to implement digital features to complement your physical store.

Everything You Need to Know to Develop Your Next Website

If you’re paying a monthly subscription to a company that integrates with your POS and you’re happy with that, but frustrated with everything else about the website, Hill says, you can wrap a WordPress or a Joomla piece around these platforms and let your commerce part hum along uninterrupted. It’s like putting a jacket on it to improve marketing functionality.

Think about how you’re receiving payment and consider adding a trusted platform like PayPal or PayPal pro or advanced, which upgrades security. “Free shipping is a no-brainer; it’s the cost of doing business, in our opinion,” O’Neill says.

Emmanuel Raheb of Smart Age Solutions says when shopping online, 66 percent of clients value convenience over everything else. He recommends offering one-click payment with Apple Pay for a frictionless experience.

In addition, make sure you’re set up to respond immediately when you receive an inquiry from a customer via chat or text on your website. Failure to do so within 10 minutes could turn a hot lead into a cold one due to customer frustration.

WEIGH THE OPTIONS

here are three basic types of websites: custom websites, website builders and CMS (or content management systems). A custom site, created from scratch by a developer, offers complete creative and functional freedom.

The cost range can be prohibitive at $20,000 to $50,000 without photography. The cost of ownership is high, too, since you’ll pay every time something needs to change.

A website builder, such as Shopify, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, etc., is focused on e-commerce. Its advantages are ease of use, fast startup, low maintenance, low cost of setup and built-in support and hosting. The platform controls security and updates. The site itself can be set up within days, but it may take weeks to add products. Cost of ownership varies, but can be moderate to high with add-ons, plug-ins, and monthly subscription fees or a percentage of total sales.

A CMS is designed to manage content, including e-commerce and SEO. Examples are WordPress, Joomla and Magento. This type allows for design deviations within a structured environment. A CMS site could take three to six weeks to set up. For an assisted WordPress site, expect to pay between $2,000 and $8,000. For Joomla and Magento, $8,000 to $30,000. Cost of ownership is low to moderate. The core software is free, so you’ll pay for support and updates.

Hybrid versions of these general types are common, Hill says. There are WordPress hosting options that function like website builders, custom developers who create their own CMS, and development firms that build something on top of another platform.

Everything You Need to Know to Develop Your Next Website

THE BOTTOM LINE:
WHAT SHOULD IT COST?

User-friendly themed website that represents your brand and is built by a developer could cost between $8,000 and $15,000. Most companies that build websites offer predesigned templates or themes, says Savoie.

“Usually, this is a very good option for a smaller company that might cost $2,500 to $5,000. But I also have worked with clients who are very protective of their brand and image and wanted those platforms customized, and they’ve spent $10,000 to $20,000 on a website.”

When weighing options, compare costs of monthly subscriptions, management and maintenance. That can run as low as $50 for a business with a few hundred photos to manage up to $500 or $600 a month for full professional support and integration with a POS system.

Put the cost of a website in perspective. If the lifetime value of a customer is a few thousand dollars or potentially several thousands of dollars and a website costs you $10,000 or $15,000, you’ve got to calculate how many new customers this needs to generate to make up this investment.

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OTHER POINTS
TO CONSIDER

Talk to developers about long-term plans, Giles suggests. Let them know what you need now and ask whether they can add to it later to avoid having to start over when you learn your website is built on something that can’t grow. Quote it out and see how far you are from having the ideal website. Then choose the ideal website or begin with the understanding you can build up to your ideal slowly.

When doing your own research, ask a lot of questions. If you’re using a builder format, you don’t need to arrange for hosting, but you do need the developer to set up your domain name and server management. If your developer is personally hosting the site, you should know where their servers are located. “They should be on the ‘cloud,’ and not on five servers on a rack in the developer’s basement,” Hill advises.

If your site is hosted by GoDaddy or Network Solutions, the cost scales with the growth of the site, from $12.99 to begin with and up to $15 or $29 as the site grows. The business owner can also set up a GoDaddy account and allow the developer delegate access only, leaving the business owner with primary control.

Retailers should be able to integrate their POS system with their websites to avoid double data entry work.

Make a list of all the things you want your website to accomplish, says Hill. “Ask yourself, ‘What do we do that makes us different? Why do we matter to our customers? How many people do we need to attract to the site to get the sales we want?’ Create a list of features and experiences for your web environment to deliver that experience to your customers. Then choose a website system closest to your budget and its capabilities.”

A blog post written several years ago still gets over 1,000 hits a month for Invision in Christiansburg, VA.

A blog post written several years ago still gets over 1,000 hits a month for Invision in Christiansburg, VA.

Don’t know where to start? Here’s a shortlist of the top 10 basics ALL ECP websites need to be competitive in 2022:

Every day I meet with eyecare professionals to discuss their business website. Many don’t realize the true marketing and patient acquisition value of their site and the opportunities they are missing out on. The practice website is an extension of the business. It’s your hardest working salesperson, working 24/7, telling the story of your business. Don’t let it be an outdated story.

  1. Engaging Image
    That initial image that people land on when they open your website either on desktop or mobile is like prime real estate. It has literally seconds to grab enough attention that patients either stay and continue to browse or, better, do a call to action like click on your phone number. Worst case scenario, it makes them leave the website.
  2. Clickable Phone Number
    I know this sounds like a no brainer but trust me when I say I see at least 2 websites a week with non-clickable phone numbers. People will not cut and paste the phone number to call you. They will leave and find a website that makes it easy to call. Calling is still the number one-way patients are booking appointments.
  3. Online booking of appointments
    3Although calling is still number one, online booking is growing. Your website should give the patient options to either book through a booking platform or software, or fill in a form to request an appointment. Check your patient software to see if it has online booking integration or patient communication programs like SolutionReach. 43% of patients prefer to book appointments online, according to a report by Kyruus (2020).
  4. Mobile
    According to Google over 60% of searches are now done on a mobile phone and growing. Many websites are either not optimized for mobile or not designed for the best user experience on a mobile phone. Pull your website up and see what it looks like and how easy it is to call or book an appointment via mobile.
  5. Easy Navigation
    When planning a practice website we always look at what you want the patient to do. Book an appointment? Learn about your frame brands? Take a dry eye quiz? Then make it easy to do those things with navigation tabs or call to action buttons.
  6. Brands Page
    This is hands down one of the easiest ways to get better traction on searches. Make sure first off that you have a page that talks about your brands (frames, lenses, sunglasses, contact lenses, dry eye therapies, etc.) and two, that has the brand in text format, not just a logo, so that Google can see the words of the brand and know you carry that brand. You then have a much better chance of showing when someone is searching for those brands in your area.
  7. Services pages
    Almost the same concept as the brands page, have a page dedicated to every eyecare service you offer like adult eye exams, children’s eye exams, dry eye, myopia management, etc. This is great for search engine optimization and showcasing your expertise in these niches.
  8. About Us
    If you didn’t already know this, the “about us” is the second most visited page after the home page of a website. Patients want to see the practice, the doctors, and the staff. There are also a lot of searches for optometrists by their name, not necessarily the practice name, so a well written bio helps you rank easily for name searches.
  9. Email Address
    I know you immediately worry about spam when we say put the email address for the reception, but making it easy to get a hold of your practice is just smart marketing. It easily equals more booked appointments and happier patients.
  10. Unique Content
    OK, last but certainly not least is unique content. What this means is that a majority of the words and content on your website need to be uniquely written, not copied, or taken from another source or website. Not only may copied content be penalized by Google, it can affect your SEO and keyword rankings. A minimum of half of the websites we audit every week have copied content.
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