Tools and tips for building a website for your medical practice, physician side business, or blog

Jun 22, 2020

Disclosure: This post may contain affiliate links, meaning that I may earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

There can be many advantages to owning a website as a medical professional. A physician consulting business, side gig, or medical practice needs a website to go along with it. There is also increasing interest by doctors in sharing their written work, and a blog is a great way to do this. Regardless of exactly how you’re using your medical degree, chances are you’re doing something that would benefit from a web presence.

Dr. Mo of Digital Nomad Physician recently wrote in his post Some Interesting Doctor Websites that “every single physician out there should have their own blog.” This is quite the call to action.

In response, I decided to write this post divulging the main platforms, programs, and tools that I use to run my website. This is in hopes that readers who are considering starting a website or who have a website that needs updating will have some recommendations from a fellow doctor as a place to get started.

Tools I use for my physician side business website

Since launching Look for Zebras three years ago, I’ve learned a lot about web design, blogging, and how to run an online business. My site has been through many developments, updates, and changes. Overall, I think there have been significant improvements over the years, resulting from deliberate learning and planning combined with some trial and error.

Here are the tools I use currently, as well as feedback on a few that I used previously.

Technical tools

The technical requirements for building a website is the area in which physicians tend to have the most questions. In fact, some who have set out to develop their own website get confused by technical needs at the outset and end up deciding to hire someone else to build their site. There is nothing wrong with hiring professional help, but I hate to see it happen simply out of confusion about how to get started!

Domain names

I use Namecheap to reserve and purchase domains. These include LookforZebras.com (of course), but I also own ThinkofZebras.com (which redirects traffic to Look for Zebras). Namecheap is easy to use and has competitive pricing. They also have a good system for allowing you to automatically renew your domains, but not in a scammy sort of way.

You can purchase domains directly from most website hosting services. However, most web experts recommend obtaining your domain and hosting from two separate providers. The main argument for this is related to security.

Web hosting

I have used Lightning Base as my hosting service for about a year. I highly recommend them! It sounds cliched, but their customer service truly is lightning fast. When I submit a support ticket, somebody responds (with a response that is actually helpful!) within a couple hours.

The cheapest hosting plan with Lightning Base is $9.95 per month. This is more than other popular hosting companies that often offer starter deals at $4 or less per month. I think it’s fine to start with an inexpensive plan when you’re just starting out with a blog or side gig – especially if you’re not sure how serious you’re going to get with it. As soon as you start generating considerable traffic or adding bells and whistles to your site, though, don’t hesitate to switch to a more reliable and customer-friendly host, such as Lightning Base.

Prior to Lightning Base, I used Bluehost. It was cheap, which was also a reflection of their product. The user interface on their site is not intuitive for someone who is not a web developer.  While it was easy to get a real person on the phone when I needed customer service, I was given uninformative and even downright false info on multiple occasions. I also found that my site ran somewhat slowly with Bluehost, and sometimes my site experienced downtime.

Shopify is a good, easy-to-use hosting and content management system for doctors wishing to start an online store. I used it briefly in the past for a short-lived ecommerce venture, and really have no complaints about it.

Content management system

I’m so glad I decided to use WordPress as the content management system for my website. It is more difficult to get the hang of than other options such as Wix; however, it is significantly more versatile. It is also free, though many physician side business websites will require the use of paid plugins to support functionality such as payment processing or customer communications through the site.

If you’re willing to put in some time up front to learn how to use WordPress, I feel that it’s absolutely worth it. WP101 is a great resource for professionally produced tutorials on a range of topic for beginners through advanced WordPress users.

For my website theme in WordPress, I use Divi by Elegant Themes. Divi costs $249 for lifetime access on an unlimited number of websites, which is good deal. I readily admit that websites using the Divi theme tend to load more slowly than those with more lightweight themes. Look for Zebras is not immune to this. Nevertheless, as a non-developer, I really like Divi’s what-you-see-is-what-you-get website page builder.

Content and blogging tools

I use the time-tested Microsoft Office suite for drafting blog posts, maintaining a content calendar, and keeping notes about blog post ideas. I also use Google Docs frequently when collaborating with others.

To design images and graphics to go along with posts, I recommend Canva. The free version will suit many physician’s needs, though the paid version is affordable and greatly expands the options and features available.

Email and social media management

I use Mailchimp to maintain my email list and send out bulk emails. I’ve been pleased with Mailchimp overall, though I don’t have experience with any other email marketing platforms for comparison. Mailchimp’s interface is fairly intuitive and it is reliable in sending out emails at the right time and to the right audience.

Mailchimp has a free option for users with fewer than 2000 contacts. When your email list grows beyond that, the cost of using Mailchimp increases quickly and dramatically. From my research, it appears that other email marketing platforms have similar pricing scales, so I haven’t switched.

With the exception of LinkedIn, I abhor social media. The only reason that I have accounts with Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest is to try to drive new readers to my site who otherwise might not find it. So, I use a couple tools to assist in making posts on those social media sites with as little effort and personal interaction with the sites as possible:

  • Zapier allows you to set up “Zaps” that automatically create social posts when you publish a blog post on your website.
  • Buffer links to your social media accounts and allows you to schedule posts in advance.

Equipment

I’m not going to go into detail with regard to all the hardware and peripherals I use to run Look for Zebras, as they don’t directly impact the site and because everybody has their own preferences. I do, however, want to take a moment to put in a plug for external computer monitors!

Guys, don’t try to build and maintain a website using your tiny laptop screen! Large external monitors make a huge difference when it comes to productivity and eye strain. You can see so much more at once and have multiple windows open. I love my two Dell flat panel monitors.

Main purposes of physician websites

Different websites serve different purposes. This can greatly impact the most appropriate design for the site and what its capabilities need to be. So, as you consider your own site, think about what the site will accomplish for you or your physician side business.

Here’s a quick guide to the main purposes of a website for various physician needs:

Medical practice: Primarily marketing, but often is also informational and may allow for customer transactions, such as booking appointments.

Side business (such as a non-medical service business or online store): Primarily marketing, though often is used for customer transactions – especially for ecommerce businesses. Likely to also be informational.

Consulting services: Primarily marketing of your consulting services, but typically also is informational with content that is related to your area of expertise. Physicians who do a lot of consulting work may want to add transactional capabilities, as well.

Professional portfolio: Informational, relating to the physician’s own accomplishments and experience. Can easily be adjusted to market a consulting service.

Blog: Primarily a creative outlet, though physician blogs tend to also be informational. Many evolve into businesses that sell a product or service, and the website is adjusted to be a marketing tool, as well.

Keep in mind that there can be overlap between the website needs of these various endeavors. A physician blogger, for example, may want to advertise consulting services related to the topics he blogs about. Additionally, website needs can change over time just as businesses evolve over time. Look for Zebras is an example of this: it began as just a blog, but has grown to include a job board, requiring the website to have customer transaction capabilities.

Hiring help for your physician side business website or blog

For a medical practice or other physician side business website, you may decide to take all web-related tasks off your hands and hire a web developer. These is nothing wrong with this. Your time may be better spent on other priorities. Be aware, though, that there are bad web developers out there. It doesn’t hurt to familiarize yourself with the basics of building a website in order to adequately communicate with and vet your developer.

A couple important questions to answer before hiring a developer include:

What is their pricing structure? Developers can work by the hour, by the project, or with some sort of combo pricing arrangement. Find out what’s included and what you might end up paying extra for.

What is their process? The reason that there is such a huge range of prices advertised for “custom” websites is that they have huge variation in the actual level of customization and site capabilities. Find out how much time they spend with you to design a site that truly meets your needs, and how much of your site will be “out-of-the-box” versus unique to your business.

What type of clients have they worked with and what are some examples of sites they’ve developed? Make sure their work aligns with your needs and the vision you have for your website.

Physicians who develop their own site are likely to run into challenges at some point or encounter web-related needs that are beyond the scope of their knowledge. In these cases, I recommend hiring something to assist with a specific need. As an example, I purchased a package that included several changes to my site to speed up its loading time. You might want to hire assistance in setting up an online store, improving your site’s SEO, or making a certain customization. When you hire someone for a specific need, try not to get talked into purchasing a completely new website, unless there are truly good reasons to.

Final thoughts

I hope that sharing the tools I use for my website is helpful as you consider how to approach building or improving your own website. The resources I’ve shared are only a few of the dizzying number of programs, services, software, and platforms available these days to help everyday folks run their own sites.

Have another tool or program that you’ve found useful for your website? Share it in the comments below!

1 Comment

  1. Marjorie Turner Hollman

    What a great resource this list is. Thanks! I have used both Mailchimp and Constant Contact, and found them comparable, except Mailchimp is free , as you said, up to the first 2000 subscribers on your email list. Both services work in much the same way, tools are very similar.

    Reply

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