Socially Acceptable columnist Caitlin DeWilde, DVM, is the founder of The Social DVM, a consulting firm helping veterinary professionals learn to manage and grow their social media, online reputation and marketing strategies. She earned her DVM from the University of Illinois and is a recipient of its Outstanding Young Alumni Award. Before stepping back to focus on her marketing passion, she served as medical director for a large hospital in St. Louis. Today, she divides her time between practice, consulting and writing. She is the author of the “Social Media and Marketing for Veterinary Professionals” textbook.Read Articles Written by Caitlin DeWilde
My veterinary practice has been swamped for months. We’ve struggled with having enough of anything — time, staff, products. Even though my role leaves me with the flexibility to pursue my marketing passion, I’ve had to triage that work just like our daily patient load. One marketing avenue neglected until recently was the practice’s website. It operated without a problem, but I set aside time to examine it closely when we needed to update a job advertisement and a staff member’s biography. Unfortunately, I found a few problems.
Here are key website areas that practices typically overlook.
Let’s start with an easy one. Your team probably changed within the past year, either the individuals themselves or something about them personally, such as their roles or the number of pets they own.
My practice tasked each team member with reviewing their online bio, submitting a new one or updating their photo. I’ll honestly say the team member photos I took using my iPhone in portrait mode looked pretty good, but we booked a professional photographer to shoot updated headshots. (We found the photographer on Thumbtack.com, but Snappr.com and your local Nextdoor forum also are great places to find an affordable photographer.)
In addition, the “About Us” page is one of the most-visited places on any practice’s website, telling clients more about who will care for their pets. It gives veterinary hospitals a place to showcase their most differentiating asset: their people. And it allows team members to be recognized for their hard work and take pride in their careers. So don’t miss the opportunity to let your people and their stories speak for your practice.
Speaking of photos and photographers, it’s probably time for a visual refresh. Just like those used on social media, photographs can capture a website visitor’s attention and convey a message, often an emotional one. Scan each page on your website to ensure the photos are representative of:
- The work and pet care that occurs. Try to post candid photos rather than stock images showing a tray of vaccines to represent preventive care and an empty surgical suite to highlight surgical options. Photograph your team members doing their jobs — treating patients, comforting a pet, analyzing a biological sample on a microscope or scanning a pet for a microchip.
- The diversity of people and pets. Remember that your website should represent your staff, clients and patients. Potential and existing clients and employees want to see photos that demonstrate your practice is welcoming and inclusive. Diversity doesn’t apply to people only. For example, few practices balance dog and cat photos or the other species they treat. Some show only young, healthy animals when the reality is that we often spend more time with patients in their adult, senior or geriatric life stages.
- Your facility. If you’ve had an outdoor sign change or a treatment room remodel, update the website with current photos, ideally images featuring happy people and pets.
- Your team members. Anyone who engages face-to-face with clients should be shown on your website, from receptionists to veterinary technicians to doctors. People like to do business with people they know, like and trust, and a familiar face goes a long way in starting the bond.
I checked my practice’s website to see how four specific areas affected the online experience.
I double-checked that the link to our online booking portal worked properly and was visible on every page. Our booking link is in the top menu bar and the footer. More importantly, though, I went through the process of booking an appointment. Whether you use real-time booking or a request form, clients must be able to schedule their pets’ appointments online. Just as critical, though, is the messaging throughout the process. I tweaked the greeting, the explanation about taking on new clients and the “What to expect” information in the confirmation notice.
Many veterinary professionals dread processing prescription refills. We shouldn’t, but we do. When we make the refill process inconvenient for clients, it becomes a lose-lose — for them and us. We have no one to blame but ourselves when clients start using an outside service that offers more convenience and less pushback. Whether you work with an online veterinary pharmacy or use a refill request form (or both), make sure the access is visible and the process as painless as possible. Don’t bury the links under “Resources” or “Services.” If you use a request form, be sure the accompanying message sets expectations about when a refill will be confirmed and ready. On the back end, make sure that submitted forms get to the appropriate people promptly and efficiently.
GETTING IN CONTACT
If your reception staff is overwhelmed or the quality of client communication has dropped, peek at your contact page. While most practices offer generic information and a phone number, we don’t always do a good job of giving all the contact options, prioritizing them or setting reasonable expectations. For instance, our front-desk team told me that clients were calling to ask for our email address because our online contact form didn’t allow uploads of outside records or insurance paperwork. Therefore, we updated the contact page to include the appropriate email address.
Be sure to list all the contact options and set expectations about when a client can expect a response. Consider listing the options in a preferred order since clients are likely to stop scrolling when they find the best option. For example, my practice’s patient portal is listed first, with an accompanying statement that clients can use the portal to book appointments, order medications and request vaccine records 24/7. Additionally, our contact form tells clients to expect a response within one business day.
Amid a national veterinary staff shortage, many practices have open jobs. I removed postings for now-filled positions but kept the careers page live. It contains a little information about the positions our practice often posts, the workplace culture and how to contact our practice manager directly. In addition, we added information about student externships and summer programs.
Check the Analytics
While I regularly assess the performance of our social media channels and specific promotional campaigns, I hadn’t analyzed our website similarly. Depending on your website developer or platform, you should be able to determine where visitors come from, which pages they visit and how much traffic you get overall. This information can help refine your marketing efforts, answering key questions like, “Are your clients coming to the website from social media?” and “Are they staying on the page long enough to read the blog?” Try to identify problematic pages so that you can focus on improving the client experience and building more of the content desired by pet owners.
A Final Finesse
While I made minor changes to our website, I contacted the developer for larger updates. While I was in touch, we set up a call for an overall website review and confirmed that the platform was up to date with the best search engine optimization and new accessibility features. Those needs have changed in recent years and are best handled by a website professional current on SEO best practices and Web Content Accessibility Guidelines. (Learn more at bit.ly/3YB3sCX.)
It’s Worth the Effort
Outside of the photo-taking, the long-overdue review of our website took about 90 minutes. If I couldn’t make the changes myself, I crafted a short list of tasks for our website developer. In doing so, I saved my team time, improved the client experience, set better expectations for clients, made our practice more accessible to potential employees, and ensured that our overall marketing was on track. I suggest that you carve out a small chunk of time, sit down with a fresh cup of coffee and do the same for your practice.
BETTER EMPLOYEE BIOS
Clients want to know about the people taking care of their pets and might base their decision to choose your veterinary practice or even a specific doctor based on what they learn on your website’s “About Us” page. They’re unlikely to care much about where you went to school or your professional interests, but they want to know what kind of animal lover you are and what common interests you might have. Without getting too personal, try adding a few fun details and pet names. Avoid using specific years so that the content is less likely to become outdated.
Here’s a boring bio: “Dr. Barker is a 2009 graduate of the University of Missouri College of Veterinary Medicine. He has a particular interest in laparoscopy and endocrine disease. In his free time, he enjoys travel, sports and spending time with his family.”
Instead, try this: “Boston native Dr. Barker has cared for the pets of this city for over a decade. After graduating from Mizzou, he’s helped thousands of patients stay healthy and get back on their feet. (He especially likes the challenge of those difficult endocrine cases!) He loves St. Louis Cardinals baseball and exploring new cities, but when he’s home, he loves to relax with his rescued boxer Stella, his cats Keith and Oreo, and his bearded dragon Drogon.”
If you’re ready to update your team’s bios, ask everyone a few short and sweet questions. (Try an online Google Form or Jotform for simplicity and organizational purposes.)
You can ask:
- Your name and title as you want them to appear online.
- Where are you from?
- What school did you attend?
- What are your pet’s names and species?
- Answer any two of the following questions: What’s your favorite part of your job (talking to clients, dentistry, surgery — you name it)? What is your favorite pet-related movie? What is your favorite Instagram/social pet celebrity? What is your favorite thing to do with your dog locally? What are three fun facts about yourself? If you weren’t in veterinary medicine, what would you do? What is your favorite name for a pet (owned by you or a client)?