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Driving traffic to your Web site - Web Technology in Focus



Driving traffic to your Web site - Web Technology in Focus

One of the best self-promotional tools for a hospital or healthcare center can be its Web site. It is the most cost-effective way to get unfiltered information out to the public. Of course, to really be effective, the hospital has to get people to visit its site!

Navigation

First, the hospital needs to know its target audience and what information that audience is seeking. For most hospitals, there is a range of potential audiences: faculty/staff, job seekers, current patients, potential patients, students/interns, etc. Break down the Web site's navigation structure so that each group has a link off the homepage. These links lead to a sub-page that will list all the categories that are relevant to that group. Another option is to design the home page to present target users with relevant navigation right from the home page.

Another important item to consider is having a section that contains basic information in a language other than English. This should include directions, emergency room information, and a summary of the hospital's efforts to provide care to the non-English speaking population.

Label all links clearly so online users do not get confused. Avoid using acronyms, initials, or crafty paraphrasing. Be specific so everyone will. understand upon first assessment what kind of information the link will direct them to.

Place the most relevant and widely used Web site links in one clearly viewable area, usually over the top of the page or on the left-hand side, where users are use to accessing the information. These quick links would most likely be a site search, site map/site index, contact information, directions to the hospital, directory of physicians, directory of clinics or departments in the hospital, appointment scheduling, logins to accounts, newsrooms, and careers.

Search Engines

The World Wide Web is constantly being updated and indexed by the Internet's search engines with programs called "spiders" and "robots." When these programs visit a Web page, it reads the page's HTML text and lists the site using that information. Robots and spiders index pages by traveling via the Web page links, and access outside Web sites through the use of external links. External links are also how search engines initially crawl onto the site. This is why it is important to have external links leading to and from a Web site. This is especially important if the site needs to be indexed and updated quicker and more frequently.

To get the individual HTML pages ready for the robots and spiders, use page titles, Meta tags, HTML text, HTML links, comment tags, alt tags, page headers, and sub headers.

Page Title Tag. Make sure that all of the pages have a page title. All search engines use the page title to index Web pages. The page title is located in the HTML code between the, header tags. If <TITLE>Untitled Document</TITLE> or <TITLE> </TITLE> is in the source code, you have no page title.

Web page titles should be descriptive and state information about the hospital or healthcare center. Aim for something like this: <TITLE>Smith County Medical Center - Healthcare Services, Surgery, Prenatal Care, and Research</TITLE> This title gives the name of the hospital and a few key descriptive words. The descriptive words can and should change to reflect the page content.

Meta Tags.

There are three key Meta tags: description, keyword, and robot indexing meta tags.

Description Tag. This is the Meta tag that tells the search engine about the site and is the explanation displayed when Internet users view search results. It should be 20-30 words long and should contain the hospital's title, geographic location, and key descriptive words and phrases used so that search engine Internet users recognize quickly what your Web page has to offer.

For example: <Meta name="description" content="Smith County Hospital in Springfield, Massachusetts, has been serving Western Massachusetts with progressive medical services for over 100 years. Ranked as one of the top 100 hospitals in the country, we are national leaders in advance surgery, heart care, physical rehabilitation, and mental health services."

The Keyword Tag. Search engines use this to locate the site when a user submits a particular search. It is important to keep in mind that keywords should be potential words or phrases that a search engine user might type into a search form to find the site. These keywords and phrases should reflect the content of your Web site and its objectives and intentions to your target audience.

Repeating words doesn't mean a faster or better listing, however, keywords should be combined into key phrases. If someone searches for "mental health" you can use phrases like "mental health counseling," "mental health clinic," or "psychiatric services." All of the keywords and phrases should be separated by commas and the list should be 25-30 keywords long.

Robot Tag: This tool is used to make sure that a search engine doesn't list a particular page on a site. It can also be used to tell the crawlers how often they should come back and update the information.

To get the robots and spiders to index the page, use this tag: <Meta name="robots" content="INDEX" />

To instruct the crawlers how often to re-index the site, use: <Meta name="revisit-after" content="30 days" />

HTML Text. Most search engines use the HTML content text, header text, link text, image alt tags, and even comment tags text to predetermine how a Web site will be indexed and how it is ranked. Some simple tricks that you can use to place more index-able HTML text into the pages are: 1) using HTML text in place of graphic text if possible, 2) label image names that can be indexed, 3) use straightforward alt tags with images, and 4) use descriptive link names.

Once you've coded your Web site, you need to submit it to search engines so that the robots and spiders can find it. The following are my top eight search engines to submit to and how much they'll cost. Once you get listed, the traffic will start piling up at your door.

1. http://dmoz.org/add.html - Directory (free)

2. http://listings.looksmart.com/submit/ - Directory (cost $149 - $299)

3. http://www. yahoo.com/ - Directory ($299 or free depending on category) The backdoor way for a free submission http://www.yahoo.ca

4. http://www.positiontech.com/inktomi/enroll.cfm - Search engine ($39)

5. http://www.directhit.com/util/addurl.html - Search engine (free)

6. http://www.alltheweb.com/add_url.php - Search engine (free)

7. http://www.northernlight.com/docs/regurl_help.html - Search engine (free)

8. http://www.overture.com/d/about/advertisers/usindex.jhtml - Search engine


Mary Elges is the Web designer at Pinnacle Decision Systems, a privately held professional services and software development company in Middletown, CT.



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