Giving website tips is tricky. While some counselors are overwhelmed by the thought of managing a website, others are quite savvy. Still, I wanted to share some thoughts because, in general, counseling websites tend to be a little soft when compared to other small business industries like private practice attorneys, yoga studios, and realtors—to name a few. As a group, we have some catching up to do.

In this month’s column, I’m speaking to two groups of counselors, giving basic first steps to web novices (see “beginner tips”), and a few tricks to more web savvy counselors (see “pro tips”). I hope you enjoy.

1) Design

Beginner Tip) Have a Website

SquareSpace, WordPress, and are just three of the multitude of platforms on which one can build a DIY website. These platforms require zero knowledge of “coding” and are extremely affordable at just a few dollars a month.
Don’t think you need a website? Consider this: Even if a client hears about you through word of mouth, clients today are likely to look you up online before scheduling an appointment. These days, not having a website is a bad first impression.

Pro Tip) Update Your Site Design Every 12 Months

Like clothing, web designs go in and out of fashion. Remember when all websites had vertical navigation on the left side of the page? Today horizontal navigation dominates. Remember when web pages where skinny and long? Today pages are much wider, or set to the entire browser width.
One website feature that is “out of fashion” in 2014 is the slider (rotating pictures) that many websites have covering the top of their homepages. Death to sliders! In the same way you don’t want to be caught wearing jeans with holes, or an Ed Hardy t-shirt, in 2014, you might want to find something other than a slider for the top of your homepage. So, while you don’t need to redesign your site from scratch, invest in a design update once a year.

2) Content

Beginner Tip) Deliver Useful Content

Your website should be more than an online business card. Include useful articles that speak to your target audience. Or get crazy and post a video: If your computer is less than 5 years old you likely have all the technology you need. Best practice is to get on a schedule. Create a new piece of content once a week, once a month, or even once a quarter. Just make sure you have a plan to grow your website and make it more valuable to visitors overtime.

Pro Tip) Check Headings and Titles for Typos

Headings are the first place users find typos. Ironically, they seem to be the last place that writers check for them! I have read too many beautifully written articles, with a typo in the title! In fact, I’ve been guilty of this. One time I accidentally titled a webpage “Meet the C[l]ounselors.” My team caught this and asked, “Hey, is that a Freudian slip!?” Don’t be like me—proofread those headings and titles!

3) Location

Beginner Tip) Address and Phone Number on Each Page

Don’t make visitors to your website hunt around to find your practice’s address or phone number. Make sure the information is visible on every page—the footer is a common location that works well. A phone number in the header (top) of each page is also a convenient location.

(Pro Tip) Include Pictures and a Map to the Office

Having an image of the outside of your building can help clients find your office when arriving for a first session. Also, interior pictures, if they are well done, will show clients the care you’ve spent outfitting a clean, comfortable space. Lastly, a research study comparing the effectiveness of 2 brochures encouraging college students to get a tetanus shot found that including a map to the university medical center in the brochure increased student compliance. The map was highly effective even though all the students already knew where the medical center was located!

4) Navigation / Links

Beginner Tip) Create an “Our Counselors” or “About Me” Page

The “Our Counselors” or, in the case of a solo-practice, the “About Me” page is often one of the highest trafficked pages on a counseling website. Clients are attracted to these pages as they typically include headshots and bios of the practice’s clinicians. Make sure this page is easy to find, and accessible from every other page on the website. In addition, see my CT column on Counselors’ Top 10 Marketing Mistakes for tips on bios and headshots.

Pro Tip) Remove that “Verified by X Directory” Badge

Counseling directories often ask subscribers to post a ‘badge’ on their websites that links back to the directory. These typically read something like “Verified by Psychology Today.” These badges add no value to you. On the contrary, it can lead visitors off your website to view the profiles of other counselors in your area! If you want to build credibility, post a list of publications you’ve been quoted in, note that you’re an ACA Member, or post a link for users to verify that your state licensure is in good standing.

5) Personalization

Beginner Tip) Have fun with it!

Developing a website for your practice doesn’t need to be scary, or laborious. Once you get going, posting your thoughts and resources for clients could become an enjoyable and rewarding part of running your practice!

Pro Tip) Temper Personal Tastes

Things I have seen: Counselor websites where his or her dog or cat is the practice’s mascot, counselor websites with a heavy equine (horse) theme, and my personal favorite—a counseling website completely based on the instincts and personality of the wolf (yes, a wolf theme). These animals / themes might speak to you, but they’re not likely to appeal to the majority of people looking for, say, couples counseling.

Scratching the Surface

What have you found to be most helpful in building a web presence? What have been your biggest challenges? Email me your thoughts, ideas, or questions—they could become the basis for a future column.