An emergency medicine website or really any type of department website should contain some basic information to make sure that people can find what they want as quickly as possible. One of the first places to start is to identify your goals. Perhaps the best way to do this is to ask yourself the following questions: What is this site for? Who do we want to use it? How can they use it? and How can they find the things I put on my site?
- A website by nature should be a dynamic place where content is updated and added to frequently. Most users are going to get tired of looking at the same information every time they come to your page. As a rule of thumb it is probably a good idea to update things at least once a month.
- In your creation, consider adding a search feature on your page. Keep in mind, while you may know exactly where to look for content on your site, others may not.
- Using analytics programs like Google Analytics can tell you the types of things people look for as well as what you should update the most frequent.
Key Navigation Features
- When you're addressing the types of pages to create for your web site it's probably a good idea to remember not to re-invent the wheel. That is, try not to make your site navigation too different from that of your parent site. In Vanderbilt's case, we focused on the placement of our navigation and the overall page size. Remember, not every user is as well trained in the internet as you are as a developer. In the long run this will make your content easier to find and thus make your users happier.
- Follow a 2 Click rule. The concept here is that people should be able to find what they want in 2 clicks or less. Don't make users have to hunt down what they're looking for on your website.
- DO NOT USE FLASH FOR MENUS. Flash is a fantastic application that will allow you to incorporate some pretty impressive effects on your site, but it can hurt how people find your information. As it stands, most people will get to your web site one of two ways: through a search engine or by a referral from your parent site. Flash can inhibit Google and Yahoo's ability to index your information correctly if it is used as the main navigation. Search engines use sitemaps to index much of your data in their search results and if your navigation is created in flash they simply cannot read it.
- Make your menu options as simple as possible. Keep your main menu to as few words as you possibly can and base your content on this structure. Try to add your links to additional content within the secondary content areas or 2nd clicks. Example: If I were to click "Residency" from the main menu it will take me to a page that has additional links to residency information.
- Follow a standard structure of including the following: Home, Program Information (and other programs within your department), Faculty, contact Information. Most of your hits are going to come from people searching for other people in your department.
As previously stated, most traffic these days comes from search engines and referrals. While a referral link (a direct link to your website from a list or search result) from your parent site is always a good way to get traffic, perhaps more important is getting a hold of those users who have no idea who you are or what your called; this is where search engine optimization comes into play. Here's some quick tips on things to make sure to include on your site:
- Give every page a unique title. This is a great place where you can be as specific as possible about your program. For instance, we like to include "emergency medicine residency" on almost every page we have just to give it more emphasis on the search results page within google or yahoo etc. Our structure follows: Section Name - Subsection Name - Overall Title
- Generate a sitemap using your navigation structure. Don't let this one slip through the cracks! A sitemap is a great way of showing search engines exactly where to locate content. Typically they use things like navigation to generate a site outline which shows them where to look.
- Every page should have meta information. Create and define keywords and descriptions for each page using meta tags inside of your code. Search engines will use this to have your page appear when a search is made. Your keywords are whatever you want them to be, but be specific because you do not want non-valuable hits on your site. (Don't put "Angelina Jolie" as a keyword on your page about your residency program). Your description is what will be displayed under the search result for that keyword. Try and be as specific as possible here as well.
- Don't use flash for the main content without having additional text. While an animation or video may look pretty on your page, without text it is virtually useless. Make sure you add at least a few sentences of description to each of your video or media links so that they can be better indexed by search engines.
- Define your robots. This sounds ridiculous, but search engines use web crawlers that automatically go through and index your web page on a regular basis, these things are called robots. Do a quick search on whatever search engines you think people are going to use for a list of their robots. In a text file (.txt) on your server you can define where specific robots look for different types of data. For instance: "User-Agent: googlebot-video Allow: /videos/" this a simple way of pointing search engines in the right direction while giving you some control.
- Incorporate ways for people to link to your site or content. The more links you get associated with a certain word, the higher your page ranking will be. ie - KEYWORD In the example structure the LINK is to your site and the KEYWORD is the word that will be displayed as the actual clickable link.
- Sign up for any and all free webmaster tools provided by the search engine. Google offers things like maps and profiles that can be used to link back to your site. They can be very helpful when someone is searching for your department or one of a certain name as it more closely directs the user where to go.
Department websites are different than regular sites in that they serve the purpose of informing instead of interacting. Incorporating ideas
of allowing the user to interact with a website will give the user not only something to view to keep them on the site, but it will also give them something to spread the word about. Consider using video
, quizzes, or image slideshows as a way to present additional information on a page, but be sure to keep text on the page somewhere. Also, give the user the opportunity to spread the word about the page for you. Using tools like social bookmarking can greatly increase the pull of your site's content which will intern get you more traffic and buzz.
Suggestion boxes, contact
forms, blogs, and user comments are another good way of not only keeping your content current, but improving the user experience. Let me be abundantly clear here: this doesn't mean you should go set up a Youtube, Facebook, or Myspace etc. These services are only useful when they can be run from your own server in a form that you can moderate.
Design and Functionality
Often times, a website falls in the category of either looking really good or working really well. The best thing you can do is to have your site be both. It's important to consider design when structuring how a website functions in that this will be what the user will be actually interacting with. A good idea when programming a site is to consider the fact that more often times than not when someone visits your site they're not really going to care how cool or complex your code is if the site doesn't function. Functionality comes from both design and user experience.
Let's face it, everyone is connected. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, Vimeo, and YouTube have made it possible to stay up to date with everything at any given time. As a developer, it's important to explore these not only because they're popular, but to see if there are any ideas
or tools you can leverage in your site.
A lot of departments and companies are setting up Facebook accounts and Twitter feeds. Some are even making videos and putting them on YouTube, but that's about all. There is definitely a right way and a wrong way to incorporate social media into your site. The temptation with these accounts is to set them up and let the communities around them populate the information, don't. The best way to think of these services is as veins that can feed your site traffic. Consider social media as a way to broadcast links to drive ideas
Here's a brief breakdown of how to use these mediums:
- Facebook.com - Set up a fan page and moderate it for comments. You're going to want to have 2 or more people in your office monitoring content regularly. On facebook, treat the page as your own however bear in mind, YOU REPRESENT THE DEPARTMENT. All that is to say, upload photos regularly, change out your profile picture often, and links to recently updated and added content on your department's site. On your site, make sure you ad facebook widget or some obvious link suggesting people become your fan. Use their logo as a button, but incorporate it into your design scheme. Link your Twitter account to your facebook account so you only have to update your facebook account to broadcast to both.
- Twitter.com - After linking your twitter account with your facebook account, the only thing you're going to want to consider is customization. I recommend incorporating your site's design or some prominent feature about it into their design.
- YouTube, Vimeo, Facebook video - Consider using a site like Brightcove or Vimeo.com for your video hosting on your site. The upside is that you won't have to worry about supporting multiple browsers or usertypes because they do it for you. They also handle your streams. The only thing you need to worry about is incorporating their players into your design scheme. A big plus is that if done correctly, you'll not only have a really easy way to host and stream video; you'll have provided search engines with yet another avenue to increase your search rank.
- Social Bookmarking - This one is a personal favorite. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and StumbleUpon have basically taken the whole idea of the viral email and allowed everyone to participate. Incorporate their buttons onto your site. There is no set up required for you or your sites and it gives all of your users a thoughtful reminder to share your content.
It's hard to say what exactly will happen if you follow these tips, but you will see results. In the time since the Department of Emergency Medicine has taken on these guidelines, we've seen traffic increase 500% and our page ranking go from 4th page results to 1st page results. Be sure to have realistic goals, but always expect the unexpected.
Happy Developing - Joshua Keckley -