Even though it might go without saying that most therapists need a website, it can still be difficult to actually make it happen. There are dozens of different companies vying for your attention and your dollars. What’s the right approach? Who can I trust? What do I need for my practice today and what can I put on the wish list for the future?
Today, we consider some of the platforms for building websites and how they might benefit you in your pursuit of helping others! There is a lot of ground to cover so this post will be the first in a series covering this topic.
Before diving in, though, it’s important to have an idea of a few of the important concepts related to building websites that will be helpful for you to know.
Content Management System (CMS): Most websites today have an area where you as the owner can log in and make changes. This might be adding a blog post, changing out some information in your bio, adding some photos of your new office space, or uploading new paperwork for potential clients. You might also hear it referred to as the backend. It’s rare to find a website these days that does not use some sort of system. The alternative is learning to code. So what I’m hearing is that you’re going to want a good Content Management System.
Hosting: Your site needs a web server to live on. You may have worked in an office or perhaps had an experience during school where you could save files that you were working on to a shared space that allowed everyone to find them and use them. A server is sort of the same thing. Except, rather than just allowing members of an office team access to a word document, it allows people around the world to access your website. Depending on how your website is set up, this hosting may be included in other costs or it may be on it’s on. It’s also important to know that there are different levels of security related to hosting. We’ll cover this in another post but know that ensuring that your website is secured involves a slightly higher cost but is likely worth it too.
Domain Name: Your domain name is what people type in to get to you site (though, few people actually type in domain names anymore thanks to Google). MySiteIsAwesome.com is a domain name (and, in case you’ve ever wondered, capitalization doesn’t matter!). Domains typically cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-$15 per year but configuring them can often be a pain if you’re not technically minded. There are lots of things like IP addresses and DNS records that no helping professional should ever have to worry about. But domains can do more than get people to your website. They can be used to establish email addresses (helper@MySiteIsAwesome.com), set up separate, private sections of your website (secret.mysiteisawesome.com), and more. To do that sort of thing, you’re probably going to want some help.
You can register domain names pretty easily and there there are tons of different companies that you can go through. Incidentally, I have been using hover.com for a long time and really like them.
Anyone who talks to you about creating websites may drop these terms into the conversation. Don’t worry. In some cases, once you get set up, you never have to worry about these ideas again. But, as your practice grows, your site will need to grow too. Having a good understanding of these concepts now can help once you get a little further down the road.
There are two main approaches that you can take when creating a website. You can use an all-in-one site builder service or you can hire a developer to create a custom site.
First, the site builders.
Typically, these services will charge you a monthly fee. Usually, there are a few price points and if you opt for the premium package, you’ll get access to more services, you’ll be able to have more pages or storage, and so on. One of the compelling reasons to choose this approach is that everything – or at least most of the things – you need (i.e. CMS, Domain, Hosting) usually comes prepackaged with your monthly subscription.
Right now, my favorite in this category is a site called Squarespace. If you are a podcast fanatic like me, you’ve probably heard about them because they seem to be advertising on a lot of different podcasts. They have two price points - $12/month for personal and $18/month for business. The business level essentially grants you the ability to create an unlimited number of pages (Limited to 20 for personal accounts) and to have an unlimited number of people editing your site (Limited to 2 for personal accounts). The business account is great if you have a larger practice and you want several of your staff members to have access to make changes or to add blogs. Otherwise, personal might be a good way to get off the ground.
There are two things that make Squarespace compelling for me. First, it’s really easy to make a beautiful website. Their team has created a CMS that is as easy to understand as any CMS that I have ever used. You never have to see code if you don’t want to - you simply type and format like you would in something like Microsoft Word and then publish. It’s really clean. Secondly, they make sure that everything is mobile responsive. This is a super important concept that we’ll cover in more detail in another post. Basically, it means that people on mobile devices get a great experience on your site as well. Given that a majority of people will likely visit your site on a phone, this is critical.
There are other providers in this space too. Wix.com, Weebly.com, even Wordpress.com are some that come to mind. I can’t recommend any of them. I’ve not used them much but my experience with them has paled in comparison to Squarespace and that’s where my money would go if I were choosing this route. However, if you find that these other sites work for you, all the better!
Other services, like TherapySites.com fall into this category too. TherapySites.com offers much of what these other Site Builders offer but adds a lot of therapy-centric services at a price of $59/month. Personally, I’ve never launched a site on TherapySites.com and I probably won’t for a while. For me, it’s not about the cost or about some issue with the services they provide. It’s really about perception. I get to see a lot of therapist’s websites and the TherapySites.com sites I’ve seen simply aren’t that compelling. The designs they show on their site are beautiful and mobile friendly, but the websites I’ve seen in the wild are anything but. Typically, they’re dated and hard to navigate.
You’ve got only seconds to capture a visitor’s attention and their decision to stay or leave is made at every mouse click. The second it becomes frustrating to find information on your site, you risk losing potential clients. This is how I have personally felt more often then not when I’ve encountered a TherapySites.com site. However, don’t hear me as saying that TherapySites.com websites are bad or ineffective. It is possible to create a fantastically compelling site using their tools. It’s just not been my typical experience.
So what’s standing in the way? Affordable plans. All-in-one philosophy. Why not just build a site using a site builder and be done? What are the cons?
One of the things that you have to deal with when you’re using a site builder is the fact that there will be constraints. You might have an idea for a design or some function on your page that you simply will not be able to do. True – there are constraints with ANY approach but as we’ll see when we talk about custom-built sites, there’s the opportunity to create almost anything. Site builders are in the business of creating tools for as many people as possible which means that there are necessarily compromises in some areas. Typically this isn’t going to be a problem for most websites, but it’s worth noting.
The second thing to be aware of is the idea of ownership. When you’re subscribing to a service, the site is not yours per se. Some people prefer to know that their site is their own, they prefer to know that they’ve done all they can to make sure it’s secure and safe and reliable. Site builders don’t always afford you that opportunity.
So, what does all this mean? Site builders are great options and give you lots of what you need to get a simple site that looks great up and running fairly quickly and easily. For most practices, especially new practices that are just getting off the ground, sites likes Squarespace provide an easy and affordable onramp.