Congratulations! You’ve decided to open your private practice. You’ve made business cards, found the perfect office, decorated, and developed policies. You’ve heard that more and more people are turning to the internet to find mental health services, so you’re thinking about building a website for your private practice. But, how do you actually do it?
Thankfully, there is a ton of information out there about building websites and a lot of professionals who would be able and willing to do the work for you. Of course, this also means you have to sort through all of the noise.
To help you with this, in this post I’m going to tell you about my experience building a website for my private practice. I’ll also outline some of the more popular options out there for you to consider, as well as some basics on domains, hosts, and platforms.
Building a Website for my private practice
I built my first website in 2009. Back then, knowing HTML (a coding language) was the best way to build a site. If you didn’t know how to code, like me, you only had a couple of options. After experimenting with Freeway Pro, Rapidweaver, and Sandvox, I ultimately choose Apple’s iWeb as it was very simple to use and allowed me to create just the look I wanted. I continued to use it for a while but as I became more and more educated about websites I quickly learned of its limitations.
The biggest drawback for iWeb was it’s poor SEO (Search Engine Optimization) capabilities. This effectively made my site invisible to Google and other search engines, and meant that potential patients could only find me by searching for my name or typing in the url directly.
So, I switched to WordPress (I say more about it below), which allowed me much more freedom and power. I currently use it for 4 different websites. WordPress does require more technical knowledge than iWeb, and really excels only if one knows how to code.
During the same time, I began searching for alternative hosts as well. I had been using a company called GoDaddy.com, however I had become quite unhappy with them over time. This was partly due to their less than clear interface, and their commercials which objectified women. After reading some positive reviews I switched to Dreamhost. This was a fairly complicated process and I would not recommend it unless you are very comfortable with computers.
Websites, domains, servers, hosts, platforms huh?
Before I built my website, I had no idea what the difference was between a website, a domain, a host, or servers. Here’s a brief description of terms and some clinical considerations:
When building a website for your private practice, a domain is the first place to start. Simply, a domain is another word for url or web address. For this site, the domain is psych-assistant.com and for my clinical site it’s sedgeley.com. Domains are essentially your address on the web, the way that search engines and people know where to find your site. When building a website for your private practice you’ll want to choose a domain that is representative of your practice, services, location, or target population. You can begin your search here: http://www.dreamhost.com//domains/
A few points to remember when choosing a domain:
Its more than just what you type into the address bar. Your domain represents a potential patient’s first impression of you and your practice. For instance, www.supercheaptherapy.com is going to convey a very different image to your audience then www.compassionate-counselling.net.
Also the domain should be relevant to your services as it is one of the factors that search engine use to determine if your site is related to a particular search. So if you offer psychotherapy services choosing a url that communicates that would be ideal.
Lastly, .net .org .com .biz, etc. might matter. The end of your url (the .com part) is called the “top-level domain” or TLD. Originally, this was intended to have specific meaning with companies using .com, networks using .net, non-profits using .org and so on. However, now this does not apply. From a psychological perspective, its important to remember that people may have a different response to TLDs. The .com TLD carries the most neutral and respectable connotations, whereas .info or .biz could seem “scammy”. Furthermore, most people will not remember your full url and are likely to default to .com if they are typing it in manually. For this reason, I would recommend choosing a domain that ends in the .com TLD.
You’ve chosen a domain name for your website, now you need someone to host it. To continue the metaphor from before, if your domain is like your address being on file with the post office, then your host is like the lot of land upon which your house is built. Put another way, your host is a company who holds all of your website files and makes them available to those on the internet at your chosen domain name.
In actual terms, a host is a company with large servers (a large computer) that have a “always-on” connection to the web that ensure your website will be available even when your computer is off.
When choosing a host for your website, look for a company the guarantees 99% or more “up-time”. This means that the have failsafes in place to make sure your website is available in all but the most unusual circumstances. As hosts are the infrastructure behind your website the company you chose will have no clinical impact beyond their ability to guarantee “up-time”.
As a mentioned above, originally I used iWeb to build my site. Now I use WordPress. WordPress is a web-based platform that allows you to design your website from within your browser or on your phone/tablet. It is a very popular and powerful platform, and it is a solid choice. The biggest downside is set up requires a high degree of comfort with technology. Thankfully, many hosts and web designers will set up a WordPress site for you, which you can then comfortably access and edit yourself.
There are several other platforms like WordPress that might be worth considering, namely Drupal and Joomla. Both offer similar functionality to WordPress and are also web-based.
Sometime, you’ll hear WordPress, Drupal, Joomla and others being referred to as Content Management Systems or CMS. This is technical way to describe the functionality of these platforms and for the intent of most clinicians understanding this concept is of little importance.
If you want more full-service, many people turn to Squarespace or Wix. Both offer a web-based interface, are SEO friendly, and combine hosting and domain services. Wix even offers a free option.
Building a Website for your private practice: Do-it yourself vs full service
When building a Website for your private practice you can choose to mix and match your CMS/platform, host, domain registrant, etc. or you can opt for an all-in-one approach, or you can hire it all out. The two most important considerations should be familiarity and comfort with technology and cost.
If you want to have complete control and are willing to learn as you go, the DIY option is probably best for you. However, if just reading this post has made your eyes glaze over then a simple all-in-one services will feel better.
There are a number of therapy specific website builders out there. I’ve never used any of them and from what I’ve seen, and can’t say that I would recommend their use. Most are quite expensive and do not look to be regularly updated or making use of industry standards. However, if you do use one when building a website for your private practice and are happy with it, please let me know.
A note for pre-licensed clinicians
According to the California board of psychology pre-licensed clinicians must not create the impression that they are in independent practice (i.e., you’re licensed). Therefore any patient-facing materials, like a website, need to list your title, supervisors name and license number, as well as your own registration number with the board. This may be different in other states, so check with your local licensing board.