Best Practices: Brian Taylor Interviews Kelly O’Keefe, Director, AudiologyDesign

You don’t have to look too far back in time to conjure memories of life without the Internet. For those of you under the age of 30, yes, we did manage to run successful practices without a wireless internet connection, laptop computers and smartphone apps. Today, not having those things is likely to get you labeled a Luddite, or, worst case scenario, a Neanderthal by a rancorous, impatient teenager.

Unlike most investments we make to the infrastructure of our practice, which have a shelf-life of several years, a good website needs to be refreshed fairly often. Just how often is a matter of debate. To learn more about the importance of a fresh website and how it can be used by consumers in their decision making process, I turned to Kelly O’Keefe for some answers. Find out what he had to say about the latest in consumer-oriented websites and their growing role in an audiology practice.

Brian: How do today’s consumers use the web in their decision making process, which is different than say, ten years ago?

Kelly: Consumers today are using the web in a number of ways. Specific to our industry, consumers are using search engines (Google, YouTube, Bing and Yahoo) to find information on hearing aids, hearing loss, hearing tests, tinnitus, etc. Consumers have always consulted others before making purchases of “big ticket” items, but what’s changed over the past decade is that consumers can consult many additional opinions using on-line resources, like websites.

When a consumer searches, "hearing aids, Plymouth, MN," for example, this is considered a local search. Searching locally often indicates that a consumer is ready to take action. They are looking for a provider nearby. There are three areas within search results for a practice to rank; paid ads, local and organic listings. Each requires different action by the office or their web provider(s) to ensure visibility.

As consumers land on a practice’s website from search results, this is often their “first impression.” Relevant content to the search terms, quality web design and site usability will determine whether the visitor will remain on the site or return to the search results.

Print and other media outlets often lead back to a practice’s website. If a practice runs a direct mail campaign, it is advantageous to include the website domain name near the phone number. Consumers are more likely to visit the website before making a phone call to schedule an appointment.

The goal of the visitor to a practice website is to contact the office or schedule an appointment. Upon first visit to the practice, it is important to ask specific questions regarding their experience with your website.
  • Have you visited our website?
  • Did you find the information you were searching for?
  • Was there further information you were looking to obtain that you could not find?
Once a consumer has visited a hearing practice and a loss is detected, they have a lot of choices on next steps. Hearing aids are a large purchase. No matter how the patient initially found the practice, it is critical for the website to have all of the information they may be seeking in follow-up. Otherwise, the patient may inquire with the competition. A practice should also be listed on the “Find a Provider” on their preferred manufacturer websites.

Brian: In 2014, what are the most critical components of an effective website?

Kelly: A website is often a prospective patient’s first impression of a practice. Make sure the website is professionally designed and provides the proper representation of the practice. If the site does not engage the visitor, they become a “bounce rate” statistic. This indicates that they quickly left the site without clicking through additional pages. The most critical component of an effective website is the content, which includes written copy, images and videos. The general consumer should easily understand the language. For example, use the term “hearing aid” versus “hearing instrument.” Not only is it easily understood by the consumer, it is the way in which they are searching the information. A large part of a website’s performance is its ability to appear in search engine results. Search engines will index a site based on the content and the way in which it is optimized.

Ensure usability on all devices. Websites today should be built using “Responsive Design.” This is a development technique that enables your site to automatically adjust to any size screen. In 2010, the average number of unique screen resolutions was 97. In 2013, that number rose to 232. Mobile browsing continues to rise along with the number of screen resolutions. Test the website for optimal usability on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices. If the site requires pinching and zooming on a mobile phone, it may be time for an update to Responsive Design.

Another critical component of an effective website is call-to-action (CTA) buttons. CTAs are often used to highlight the most visited pages or encouraging the visitor to take the next steps. Some examples include:
  • Schedule an Appointment
  • Take a Survey
  • Learn More
  • Meet Our Staff
  • Watch Our Video
Use a variety of techniques to engage the visitor and retain them on the site. In addition to written content, incorporate photos or videos that assist in telling the story of your unique value proposition in your local marketplace. If personal videos are not an option, manufacturers typically have YouTube channels that allow video to be embedded on the site.

Brian: Give us a feel for how the typical practice best utilizes their website?

Kelly: There are many ways to utilize a hearing practice website. The main purpose is to introduce prospective patients to the practice, including staff, services and products. Think of the site as a resource for those looking for information.

Utilizing personalized photography of the staff and office allows the visitor to virtually “meet” the team and see the practice prior to walking in the front door. It creates a warm and welcoming website for the visitor. Clinic and testimonial videos also help to engage the visitor and keep them on the site.

It is recommended that all offline activity is consistent online. When running promotions and special events, many practices update their information on the website and social media properties. Consider every touch point with the prospective patient and be consistent across all mediums.

Patient forms on the website allow the patient to complete these documents prior to their initial appointment. It may assist in expediting the process for the practice, while providing the patient the ability to complete the forms on their own time. A website and social media can engage new and existing patients. Connect the practice website to all social properties and engage the visitors with regularly updated content.

Brian: Tell us about search engine optimization and how SEO has evolved over the past few years.

Kelly: The primary objective of search engine optimization is to obtain free non paid/unsponsored web traffic by influencing search engines to display your web content (web pages, videos, local listings, etc) high in search engine listings for keywords that target your particular market.

How does a practice improve their chances of being listed at the top?

There are various factors that play a role in how a practice can improve their chances of being ranked higher in search engine listings. However it can be divided into two categories:
  1. On-page optimization, which covers what can be done on the pages of a website itself. This pertains to all elements of the practice website.
  2. Off-page optimization, which covers activity that takes place elsewhere or “off site." This includes social profiles, local listings and sites that link back to the practice website. Off-page is primarily the process of building a profile of links that point back to your website through various means.
The following is a list of essential elements that affect On-Page Optimization and recommendations for each:
  • Keyword Research & Searcher Intent: Target keywords and search phrases that you know your patients will be searching for.
  • Title Tags: One of the most important parts of on page optimization. It should be between 65-75 characters long. They should be unique per web page and utilize the targeted keyword in the beginning of it.
  • Meta Description Tag: These are on each individual web page. They should be no more than 165 characters long and provide a description of what the web page is about, while using a target keyword in the description.
  • Heading Tags: These tags essentially are the "layout" of the web page. They allow users to skim through content and find the information they are seeking. Best practice is to use primary keyword in your headings and do not duplicate them throughout the page.
  • Image Optimization: Name image files properly. Example: if you have an image of a staff member you should use their name "johnsmith.jpg" rather than "DCM38745.jpg" also use an ALT tag to provide additional information. Search engines cannot "read" images but they will read this information if you provide it.
  • Body Content: The most important aspect of on-page optimization is to write compelling content that engages your user by either capturing their interest and/or answering their questions. Focus on the services your practice provides and educate them on ailments, products and your practice. This is where most practices fail.
  • Internal Link Anchor Text: Link from within your content to other relevant pages. For example if your home page has "hearing aids" mentioned on it you should link that text to your hearing aids page. The following is a list of essential elements that affect Off-Page Optimization and recommendations for each:
  • Create Social Media Profiles: Social Media is fundamentally the way to own all the “shelf space” for your brand on the internet and expands your reach from outside of your website(s). It allows for great link building and circulation of your web content that increases not only the visibility of your pages but also increases the rate at which your pages are indexed. Sites with more pages indexed lead to more traffic, and more traffic leads to more prospective patients for practices.
The following is for obtaining more exposure through local listings. These appear within organic search results but are separate from web site listings. This is also considered to be off-page implementation as these are other properties that link back to your website.
  • Register Google Plus Local Business page
  • Sign up for Yahoo Local
  • Create an account at Bing Local
  • Reserve your Yelp! page
  • Make a listing on Yellow pages
  • Register with City Search
  • Comment on local blogs
  • Guest blog on local blogs
  • Provide testimonials for local businesses
An added note:
Mobile-friendly pages rank higher in mobile search and in desktop organic searches so it is wise to ensure that practice websites opt for a "responsive" site that will conform to whatever device is being used to view their web page.

Brian: That’s a lot of information for us to ponder. Am I correct to assume that a practice owner or manager could hand these tasks off to an outside agency?

Kelly: Yes, that’s true, but it is good to know a little something about SEO and how the process works.

Brian: Here is a more practical question. How often should a practice update their website?

Kelly: A practice should make updates to their website on a fairly regular basis. Keep up to date with current events, promotions, staff, and hearing aid product information. It is also important to add fresh content through blogging and adding articles to help with SEO as mentioned above, at least a couple times per month. A complete website overhaul/redesign should occur every two to four years to remain at the forefront of website design and development techniques.

Brian: You’ve designed a lot of websites for hearing aid dispensing practices and audiology clinics. What are the main areas you see that practices could improve?

Kelly: Many practices could improve their website by making it more personable and professional. As previously mentioned, this is a practice’s opportunity to make a first impression for the visitor. Build a site that has character and properly represents the practice.

Do-it-yourself websites can be an inexpensive solution, however, there are costly mistakes. It may require a web expert’s assistance for the site to be effective. Website content, design, development, search engine optimization (SEO), hosting and maintenance is a lot of work for a hearing professional in addition to their regular work. We recommend hiring a professional organization to build and maintain a website due to the growing complexity of the web today.

The other main area that websites could improve is their overall content. Quality content that is properly optimized will allow the site to be found in search engines. It is important to remember that you are attracting consumers, not fellow medical professionals. Use common language that the consumer would understand. For example, use the term “hearing aid” versus “hearing instrument.” Practices sometimes want to move away from a negative connotation associated with some of the standard industry terms, however, you also have to consider the terms that consumers are using to search for the practice's products and services.

Brian: Thanks for giving us an update on websites. How can our readers contact you?

Kelly: My pleasure. I can be reached at