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Opinions on Practice Management

Emily Altman

Why Should I Get Involved in Social Media? Part 1: Online Presence

Emily Altman, MD, FAAD

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Today's world lives on the internet. According to the latest statistics from the Pew Research Center's January 2014 survey,1 87% of US adults use the internet, 90% own a cell phone, and 58% own a smartphone. We 'Google' everything. This is particularly true for patients looking for health information, where a whopping 72% of internet users say they have looked for such information online in the past year. The question is though: What or whom are they going to find when they log in?

Whether you are an established dermatologist with a thriving practice or have just recently finished your residency, we can now no longer avoid internet engagement. There is a conversation about you on the web and you need to be part of it, because:

  1. Knowledge is power
  2. The internet gives us the opportunity to establish a positive presence and build our reputations online - our electronic footprint. That is primarily done by becoming a trusted source of information. Privacy is sort of an illusion on the web; it is possible to find any information on anyone else if you try hard enough. It is common nowadays for employers to search social media postings on potential employees and colleges look to social media networks to evaluate their applicants. When I signed up for a private Facebook account to join my two very tech-savvy younger sisters, my middle sister said, "Just remember, if you would not want what you post on Facebook to appear on the front page of the New York Times, don't post it" (see associated New York Times article: "The Web Means the End of Forgetting"2)
  3. Correcting errors and out-of-date information is a high priority. Take a look at your local listings online. The number of people that look there to find out the address, directions, hours, insurance information, etc. is large. Imagine some of that information is wrong or out of date
  4. Having no online reputation is as bad as having a negative reputation
  5. Claiming your identity. Most search engines already have your listings because they know you exist. It is up to you to claim them and fill them out with information and photos, or anything that may be helpful to your potential patients
  6. Marketing - the web is a powerful and (mostly) free or inexpensive way to advertise your services and attract more patients to your practice
  7. Reputation management. This is a tough one, as most of us cringe when we think about a few unhappy patients wreaking havoc with our well-earned professional reputations. As you will see below, there is some good news about that
  8. Medicare's physician ratings will soon be tied to reimbursement for patient care


Physician, Google thyself!

The first step is to find out what information about you or your practice is already out there. 'Googling' your name is most likely the easiest first step. It is crucial that you sign out of your Google or Gmail account prior to searching for your name, because Google is set up in such a way as to give you the information it thinks you want to see - one of the newer Google search algorithms. So, you want Google to be neutral when you search for your name. Google also gives you the tools to have continuous monitoring of any internet mentions of your name and/or the name of your practice via Google Alerts (


Content is king!

As addressed in Chris Dannen's talk on content marketing for American Express Open Forum for small businesses,3 the main method of growth on or off the web is through word of mouth. However, in order for word of mouth to work, you must tell your story, which is done through content marketing. However, Dannen points out that people won't care about your content unless they already understand 1) why the world needs your product or service now and 2) why you are the people to provide it.

So before we get to the nitty gritty of websites, blogs, and social networks, what exactly is great content and how do you go about generating it? Great content - or real content, as some authors call it - is content that adds real value to the user experience on the internet. The most important thing to remember for a doctor's website is that ALL content must be Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliant in protecting patients' privacy and uphold the highest ethics standards. That means express written consents from patients to publish their photographs and/or videos. It also means no deceptive or misleading advertising, no exaggerated claims of success or diminished statements of potential problems to attract new patients, no vilification of competitors, and a number of other ethically objectionable issues that social media marketers, including physicians on the internet, may face. The American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS) Advertising Guidelines for Compliance with the ASPS Code of Ethics is a document that the ASPS suggests the advertising entity and the physician sign, which clearly delineates the rules and conditions of advertising by their member physicians.4

Your potential patients are seeking information about you and your practice. What pages on your website are interesting to these new visitors? What do they want to know?

Every page is content:

  • Homepage
  • Blog*
  • FAQ section
  • Case studies (before and after photos)
  • About us page
  • Products page
  • Resources
  • Guides to procedures/products/your industry

*Each blog entry should be a separate page on your website, but from a visitor's standpoint, it is one page with multiple searchable articles.


There are two general types of content:

Branded content (about you and your business) Non-branded content (about your industry, but not about you)
  • About us - names, biographies, history
  • Practice mission
  • Newsletter archives
  • Most of your content should be non-branded
  • Show how you are an expert in your field by educating visitors
  • Shows why people should be 'buying' you


Ken Krogue, in the second part of his ground-breaking article 'The Death of SEO', lists 14 approaches to generating real content.5

1. Research important questions
2. List good/bad examples
3. Passionately tell a story
4. Highlight recent trends
5. Survey best practices
6. Compile proven tips
7. Point out a problem
8. Recognize who
9. List what
10. Warn when
11. Show where
12. Debate why
13. Demonstrate how
14. State the so what?


Website setup

We already know that great content on your webpages is key. The importance of quality content was underscored with the newest Google search algorithm change in January 2016. The experts in the field are calling it a significant change to Google's core search algorithm.6 DeMers goes on to say, "…content quality is one major factor responsible for setting these sites apart. Some of the major 'winners' of the update in question were publishers who have posted more recent information in a more compelling way (with more detail, more images, and more multimedia content)". So again we see recent information, frequent updates to website material, more detail, more images, and more multimedia - stuff that makes for great content. Building your website around great content is the starting point. Let's start with what a great webpage looks like. Google's 'Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide' provides the following guidelines on content:7

  • Write easy-to-read text
  • Create fresh, unique content
    • Avoid rehashing (and certainly, copying) existing content that will bring little value to users
    • Avoid having duplicate content across your site
  • Stay organized around the topic
  • Create content primarily for your users, not search engines


So let's build a typical webpage for your site. Rick Whittington advises that there is no ideal length for website content.8 His recommendations are between 200 and 1000 words of informative, valuable, high-quality content per page on your website, including photos and videos. Here are Whittington's tips for determining website content length:

  • Be helpful and relevant
  • Be concise  (more on that to follow)
  • Use bullet points
  • Add calls to action on all of your site pages*
  • Stay focused
  • Incorporate headlines
  • Be consistent in your tone and message

*Somewhere on each page you ask your visitors to do something, such as adding a link to your contact page, offering free information, inviting your visitors to connect on social media and/or sign up for your e-newsletters and tell them what's in it for them!


We have so much information to share with our website visitors and we have to make it concise? In their analysis of how users read webpage content, the Nielsen Norman Group concludes, "F for fast. That's how users read your precious content. In a few seconds, their eyes move at amazing speeds across your website's words in a pattern that's very different from what you learned in school".9 Most people scan the content and only a few read the information in depth.

According to the Neilsen Norman Group's study, "People rarely read webpages word by word, instead they scan the page, picking out individual words and sentences".10 According to them, 79% of their test users always scanned any new page and only 16% looked at the words in detail (Figure 1).


Figure 1. Neilsen Norman Group's study on users' reading behavior on the web.10

Fig 1


Each subject should have its own webpage and they should be interlinked, facilitating an easy transition between pages. Your blog should be housed on your website, search-engine optimized with widgets, such as Yoast( and linked to the webpages that address the same subject matter.

Before we talk about how to make your website popular and attractive to visitors, let's address how to set it up in the first place. The strategies employed to make the website popular (via social media, blogs, etc.) can attract visitors, but what they find there is what will convince them to come see you at your office - and that is the ultimate goal.

Yes, we want a visually elegant, tasteful, inviting design that is easy on the eyes. For me personally, a floating action button following me around a website and asking me to do something is enough for me to leave the site and never come back because I find them annoying. The information, the layout, the ease of use I find on the site itself, is plenty for me to decide whether I want to form a client relationship with that site. Google has a best-practices page that guides website builders to the easiest way for Google to analyze and rank your site (

Each page on your website should have the following:

  • Google analytics - the key to gaining
    information on what content is performing,
    what landing pages bring visitors in, how
    long they stay, which other pages they visit,
    and a wealth of other information that is
    essential in developing your content further
  • Search box
  • Social media buttons for sharing content
  • Easy-to-navigate menu bar



Since most of the world now operates on smart phones, having a mobile version of your website may be very helpful for people looking for information.



  1. Pew Research Center. Health Fact Sheet. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  2. Rosen J (2010). The Web Means the End of Forgetting. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  3. Dannen C (2015). A DIY Guide to Content Marketing. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  4. American Society of Plastic Surgeons. Advertisers Guidelines for Compliance with ASPS Code of Ethics. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  5. Krogue K (2012). The Death of SEO (Part 2): Generating Real Content. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  6. DeMers, J (2016). What Just Changed in Google's Core Ranking Algorithm? Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  7. Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide (2010). Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  8. Whittington R. Writing Website Content: Is There an Ideal Length for Web Page Content? Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  9. Nielsen J (2006). F-Shaped Pattern for Reading Web Content. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).
  10. Nielsen J (1997). How Users Read on the Web. Available at: (accessed 3 Feb 2016).