Looks Aren’t Everything: Why Modern, Attractive Websites Aren’t Always Better
If I were to ask you:
What's the most important element regarding websites for doctors?
What would you say?
I would hope you would say the user experience. Because after all, isn't it about the user experience above all else?
That's why a great website design is essential for any business’ online marketing success.
I'm not necessarily talking 'a beautiful website'.
I'm referring to a website that gets across your message, that is appealing, and that provides a great user experience.
That’s why healthcare website design often focuses on being aesthetically pleasing in order to catch the lead’s attention and stand out from the competition.
But, what if I told you that good-looking websites aren’t necessarily the best healthcare website designs for business?
In this post, I’m going to use real examples to show you the true benefits of having a not-so-attractive website.
The Value of Minimalism
94% of first impressions are influenced by design, which is why so many doctor's websites are impressive and eye-catching. But many people don't realize how popular and successful basic sites can be.
Craigslist is more or less the definition of minimalistic and hasn’t had any major redesigns since it was created.
Craigslist also happens to be the leader in its industry- and has been for almost a decade.
Why is that?
It is because the site features ZERO distractions. There is absolutely nothing on this website that is going to draw the visitor away from their goal- not even a logo or specific branding.
This simplicity is noteworthy because it proves that minimizing distractions makes it easier for visitors to find what they’re looking for. It is not productive to have a busy site that leaves a visitor frustrated.
A healthcare website designed with few distractions also provides more clarity for your visitors, ultimately improving their user experience.
Craigslist also has the added bonus of sporting a logical layout, which is another important feature of minimalist websites. A visitor gets everything they need on one page, whether they are using the site to buy or sell a product.
This isn't to say that your website should be set up like Craigslist, but this is a great example of how a design that is more minimalist can be better if you want to provide clarity and answer visitors’ questions.
This website features many great components. It comes equipped with a widgetized homepage and directory template. You get a sneak peak of details about the hospital below the fold and can even embed a video tour. The site is very cutting edge and a great way to show off the hospital.
However, there's a problem. This website looks like it’s designed for investors interested in buying the hospital and not for patients or their families seeking information on the hospital's services.
For one, it is very busy and the directory template has multiple navigation options for no apparent reason.
Since it’s a template, you could fill the directory fields with whatever you wanted. For example, it would be very helpful to input key information such as operating hours and where to call to make an appointment.
Unfortunately, that valuable and often sought-after information is noticeably small and poorly located up at the top of the template.
There’s no denying this template is attractive, and would probably do a great job of conveying a hospital’s overall strengths to anyone who visited. But it fails as far as actually making it easy for visitors to find the information they need.
Now, take a look at this screen shot of the Nationwide Children’s hospital website.
It also has rolling directory fields, but you’ll notice that they don’t draw too much attention away from the information that might actually matter to visitors, including appointment requests, directions, doctor directories, and an urgent care wait time widget.
This is an above average medical website.
Why? Because the design caters to a visitor's needs.
Fancy or Functional?
Another important point to remember about simple websites is that they’re less likely to “break” than fancy, top-of-the-line designs.
Think about it. A lot of people are likely coming to your website from out-of-date or even ancient browsers. If your website’s widgets or other fancy design elements require a more recent software version, then some users will notice incorrect displays.
This point is especially relevant for doctors or healthcare providers because most of the people that suffer from long-term health conditions are elderly. That means that a larger portion of the people visiting your website may not be familiar with using the internet or updating browsers.
Not only is browser incompatibility a problem, but a complex website can load a lot slower than a simple one. Consequently, a slow website can be a big problem for lead conversion.
A website that has even a 1-second delay can lose 7 percent of conversions.
A website that has even a 1-second delay can lose 7 percent of conversions.
To put it simply, a good user experience equates to more business.
That isn't to say that there are no functionality benefits of having an attractive healthcare website design, but ensuring it has optimum functionality for your visitors is the most important part of creating a positive user experience (UX).
A website that works, even if it’s not necessarily attractive, is positive for UX.
A website that doesn’t display correctly, runs slowly, or creates other problems for visitors is negative for UX.
And poor UX means bad business. 79% of people who go to a website and don’t like what they find will restart their search.
A Simple Design Helps Build Trust
What’s the one thing the best healthcare website designs display front and center? Smiling, happy, healthy people.
And, there’s a reason for that. Doctors are in the business of building trust. If someone doesn’t feel they can trust you or your practice, then it’s not very likely you’ll be getting business from them.
It’s a valid strategy.
Displaying happy, healthy people on your website is a great way to subtly suggest that whatever a visitor's medical needs may be, they can be just like the smiling examples on your website.
However, there’s another easy way to build trust through your website. The solution is presenting a simple and straightforward design.
Believe it or not, people already have some expectations about what they’re going to find when they click on your website's link. If your landing page displays something surprising or foreign, people won't always react to it positively.
Many studies have been done to analyze how the design elements of health websites impact a visitor’s trust. They found that a technologically simple design will be more familiar, and thus make patients feel better about navigating your website.
What’s the bottom line? Presenting visitors with a modern design filled with advanced functionality and lots of moving parts might be just the thing that forces them to look elsewhere.
Redesigning Can Reduce Traffic By as Much as Half
It’s now common knowledge in the digital marketing world that redesigning your website will cost you some traffic.
A few years ago a Moz blog contributor experimented with two examples of launching a new website and saw that a few simple missteps caused one website to loose 35% of organic traffic and the other to lose only 4%.
Sure, you can make every effort to minimize traffic loss, but it’s a complicated process.
Plus, recovering that traffic is not a simple fix. Traffic loss during site redesign can be caused by any number of factors, including:
- Reducing the number of pages on your site
- Changing text copy
- Eliminating pages that other websites link to
- Changing the site structure without redirects
- Changing your site navigation
These are just a few of the many potential reasons, and it’s up to you to figure out how to fix it. Or you may consider starting from scratch to find new ways to bring in traffic.
Redesigning is a Lot Like Rebranding
Few medical practices realize that redesigning a website is actually pretty similar to rebranding. In fact, some designers who create websites for doctors consider them to be the same thing.
In reality, rebranding can do wonders for a business- especially if your new image attracts new prospects. But you have to know how to rebrand the right way. Otherwise, there can be some bad consequences.
I know what you’re thinking. This is just a simple medical practice. How am I supposed to know how to rebrand the “right” way? This is a valid point.
Even huge international brands fail at rebranding, sometimes with disastrous results.
Tropicana Orange Juice, for example, famously lost 20% of sales in two months following a rebranding. They quickly reverted back to their old design, but the damage was already done.
Just because major companies sometimes don’t get it right doesn’t mean that you won’t. But if your old healthcare website design is converting fine as is, then why risk it?
What Really Matters For Your Website Design
When it comes down to it, the quality of your website design isn’t a question of pretty or ugly, modern or outdated. It’s all a matter of how easy your website is to use for the visitor (not for you), and how your practice is perceived by the visitor (not by you).
Here's what the best healthcare website designs really focus on- relevance.
Your website needs to deliver what people are expecting. Identify your target audience’s needs and emotions, and cater your website towards these expectations.
Take this medical website, for example. It offers a very fancy representation of their medical specialty and would be a great visual in attracting new students to the field.
But what if I’m coming to this website as a potential patient? The visitor is likely not interested in seeing a giant x-ray view of what a spine looks like. They are looking for someone to help them solve a problem.
Here's the deal.
No matter how awesome a design looks, you can’t let it get in the way of the actual reason your website exists. Don't get visitors get frustrated because you want to be unique and have 'the best looking website' or the 'most killer website' ever'.
Focus on conversions and user experience first and foremost.
A Value Proposition
If you want to develop a website that converts, the focus should be on providing a value proposition. The best websites for doctors focus on the value of the services that they offer.
If you want to have a low-converting website, then make your design more cryptic and leave it to the visitors to figure out where the value proposition lies.
This can be done with widgets, gifs, scrolling directory templates, and distracting images.
Do you want to do that? Of course not!
But, all of these design features don't necessarily have to make your website busy. Take a look at this website of an acupuncture practitioner. It actually appears pretty minimalistic and almost artsy. But where is the value proposition?
Many people who are approaching new types of medical treatment such as acupuncture are searching for a practitioner they trust and who can offer reassurance. This website has none of that, either. In fact, it’s almost information-free.
Make sure your website draws visitors in with a value proposition. Show the visitor how you can help them, and present this information in the simplest way possible.
The navigation bar or menu is one of the most important parts of a healthcare website. It’s usually the first thing visitors look for when they’re trying to make sense of your site.
Modern, trendy healthcare websites often try to change up the traditional navigation bar for something new, something unique to them.
But just like any other component of your website, if your navigation bar doesn’t appear where people expect it will be, it can lead to frustration.
Be sure your website has a navigation bar, either on the top of the page or along the left edge. Label your categories based on the most likely information your visitors might need, and avoid overloading too many options that can overwhelm and confuse visitors.
Having a simple, easily findable navigation can do wonders for conversions, but here's the kicker. Optimized navigation has an added benefit on websites for doctors because it reduces the overall bounce rate. If visitors can quickly find useful links in your navigation, they’re much more likely to click through to other pages on your site.
This is really important, not only for keeping visitors on your website, but for your search rank as well.
Did you know that bounce rate is one of Google’s factors for determining your website’s rank in SERPs?
That mean's it isn't good if somebody is coming to your website and then just leaving and not going to any other page.
Typically physician websites are often pretty good at this, as social proof comes from efforts to “humanize” the business with elements such as a detailed ‘about us’ page and clearly positioned contact information where people can send inquiries or voice concerns.
Another excellent way to show social proof is by showcasing external endorsements of your business. This can be done by displaying patient testimonials, or linking to positive news articles about your practice.
Geisinger has a great website design that highlights some social proof, yet maintain a simple and easily navigated design.
Does your practice have a social media presence? Consider adding a simple widget or link at the bottom of your website so that people can easily connect with you and check out your social media profiles.
Take a look at how Loyola Medicine does this.
So… Pretty or Ugly?
You might be thinking, “But my website is really, really ugly. I have to upgrade it eventually.”
Maybe your website is just one step above some plain text HTML, but its hideousness really might not be that big of a deal.
Check out this simple and arguably ugly website: Wikipedia
This website can best be described as black, white, blue and boring. Yet, Wikipedia had 18 billion page views by February 2014 and almost 500 million unique visitors every month.
Here’s the deal:
This post has definitely focused on the perks of having a simple website, but that’s not really the important point here.
There are plenty of really intricate websites out there that convert as well. Here are some examples:
Mailchimp sports a modern design, but manages to maintain the important elements of minimalism and usability.
Saint Francis’ website has a lot of fancy, modern features, including a scrolling directory template, video testimonials, a continuous landing page, cursor responsiveness, etc.
But it is also one of the better healthcare websites because it maintains the most important features of a helpful website:
- Relevance: Focus is on the information people might be looking for
- Value proposition: Saint Francis can help you with your goal of living life independently
- Optimized navigation: Both a general directory and navigation for specific tasks
So if you must dive into a fancy redesign-go for it.
Just remember the important factors mentioned above:
- Social proof: Featured awards and video testimonials
- A minimalist design promotes clarity, while a ‘high tech, modern’ design may cause confusion.
- Fancy designs are more likely to “break” than simple ones. (Especially true if you use WordPress as a CMS)
- A simple (some may say ugly) design might actually be better for user experience.
- A simple design can help you build trust with your visitors because they can actually find what they are looking for.
- If you redesign your site and have a drastic change in design, you will likely frustrate visitors, which can cause bounce rate to go up, and rankings to go down.
- Redesigning is a lot like rebranding — and comes with the same risks.
Ultimately, go for what converts.
Your site redesign (if you choose to do one) should be about the user, not internal business politics or opinions about aesthetics.
If your website works, and it converts, then why change?
On the other hand, websites for medical professionals that are limiting your ability to convert leads might be worth a redesign despite the risks.
Just remember to focus your redesign on usability and conversion, instead of mere aesthetics.
Understand the problem that people are trying to solve by visiting your website, and cater all aspects of it to meeting their needs.
The best healthcare websites incorporate all the important elements of an effective website in terms of usability and invoking the right emotions (relevance, a value proposition, optimized navigation and social proof) and make sure nothing about the design limits visitors’ access to these elements.
If a fancy redesign doesn't do this, then it's better to stick with your simple version.