The truth is, unless you are already established as a therapist in private practice, are getting the right referrals, and are getting ready to retire- you probably need a website. Today, I'm going to share some definitions and terms to help orient you to the beautiful vocabulary of the internet, websites, and marketing!
A website is simply a page that you access through the Internet that allows anyone, anywhere to be able to read the same material, in the same format. Have you ever had a Word document for Mac that your friend couldn't open because they had a PC? Or, or not been able to open an old WordPerfect document? Webpages are meant to resolve this issue and provide a universal language that all computers can read. The primary purpose of a website is to allow anyone, anywhere to easily access the same material and see the same thing.
"A blog is a website, but a website isn't necessarily a blog." A blog is a way to create a collection of articles. It is a pre-made format or template that allows you to create articles or posts over time within your websites. Blog formats allow you to easily be organize posts by date, topic, keyword, or category. Most blogs are a specific format that can easily be read by search engines and shared, accessed, and curated through something called a RSS feed (more on that later). Many therapists assume a blog is something separate from your website- but in most cases a blog integrated into your website is the best solution. In fact, I recommend every therapist website have great blog capabilities- if you don't think you will ever need them. Getting a website without a blog would be like paying to "upgrade" your car to take out power steering... it would be silly!
As people have started carrying computers in their pockets, in the form of smart phones and tablets- the language of the Internet has had to catch up. Many sites that haven't been updated in a few years aren't accessible on mobile phones. About 30% of views of the site you are reading right now are done from mobile phones- and this is a pretty common percentage. Many website builders now integrate the mobile website language- but not all of them do. If you don't choose the right place, or way, to build your site- you could end up losing 30% of potential clients. You used to have to pay a person another fee to build a separate mobile site, that is mostly been eliminated due to responsive design.
This is related to the same concept as mobile websites. A responsive website design is one that as you are building your site, the computer programmers have built in a process that will allow the design to adjust no matter what size of a screen someone is looking on your site. If you want a visual of what that might look like- change the size of this browser window (if you know how). Drag the width of the browser window slowly and see how things shift around, until you can see the same thing someone would see if they were looking at this site on a mobile phone. Responsive design eliminates the need to design, build, or buy a mobile site separately. A great responsive design is one that allows you to easily view the content without squinting!
Website Platforms and Content Management System
There are many different ways to build your website. They are a place and space to build your website. Choosing a place to build your website is kind of like choosing Word, Wordperfect, or even choosing whether you want an iphone, or a samsung galaxy. Many of them may have similar features- but they are NOT all created equally! In modern content management systems, as you add a page to your site, it easily adds your menu bar, and keeps everything perfectly spaced. Content management systems can make updating, tweaking, or expanding your website as easy as making a PowerPoint or updating a Word document. Before content management systems, websites had to be hard coded. Examples of CMS systems include Wordpress.org, Squarespace, Joomla, and Wordpress.
Hard Coded or HTML Site
When websites were first developed, each one was handwritten using a special language. In order to build a website you had to either learn the language, HTML, or hire someone who knew the language. Making updates could be time consuming and expensive! Now, websites can be built and updated much the same way you might use Microsoft Word or PowerPoint. Hard coded websites are the most expensive to build, maintain, and update. There are still website designers out in the world who prefer to build hard coded sites. When choosing a website designer- be sure to clarify what platform they will be building on, and make sure it is the right platform for you.
Websites are really just a visual representation of a computer code being accessed. These codes are housed and stored on computers. Hosting is the service that keeps that code running 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and ensures that your website doesn't "crash" (turn off) if you get a lot of people trying to access your website at the same time. Some platforms include hosting as part of their service, other platforms require you to get hosting separately. Some hosts keep your information really secure, and can handle a lot of traffic, some do not. One issue that has been seen consistently with certain hosting platforms that host Wordpress- is that security vulnerabilities (that we will discuss later) in your website neighbors Wordpress site can lead to your website being hacked. You want to choose a website host that takes security seriously and has extra precautions in place to make sure that someone else's oversight, doesn't lead to your website being hacked.
When I first started building websites-if I wanted to change the font on my site- I had to go into each page and change each part manually, via html code... yuck! Now, they have something called cascading style sheets (CSS). This allows you to make broad changes to your site that easily update the entire look and feel of your site. Sort of like putting a new cover on your iphone, or using one of the themes in PowerPoint. The information stays the same- but you can make changes to the look with a few clicks. So when you are writing your website- you can really focus on your content, and organization, and then later go in and make a few changes that make your new site look fantastic.
A domain name is like a phone number. It is what people type in to be able to see your website. Like your home phone number or mobile phone number- domains can be pointed to any phone. Your domain name is a piece of your branding and the ease of use of your site. Some platforms may also register a domain name for you. Others may require you to buy your domain name elsewhere. Some platforms actually buy the domain name you want in their own name- and sell it back to you if you decide to leave. Having an easy to spell, type, and remember domain name is quite useful. Hover.com is our FAVORITE place to buy domain names. Why? Because they answer the phone and resolve issues quickly. Some domain registrars (that is the fancy name for anyone who can sell you a domain name) charge you for silly things- like keeping your home address private- Hover doesn't do that. In addition, if you are moving your domain for some reason they have a service called "valet transfer" where they will take care of the whole move process for you- down to all the nitty gritty technical pieces). Your domain shouldn't cost you more than $15 a year.
This is a TOUGH one for therapists to conceptualize. "Wordpress" in the vernacular often refers to Wordpress.org which is a bit of free piece of open-source software that you an download and install into your website hosting system. Some web hosting centers have 1-click installs of the Wordpress.org content management system. Wordpress.org is an open source software- meaning anyone can see exactly what is under the hood. That means mean hackers, and good people are constantly working against each other to keep the software safe and secure. Wordpress.org REQUIRES constant security updates to keep your site working and minimize the risk of hacking. You must research, choose, install, and update stand-alone pieces of software (plugins) to allow for auto-updates and back-ups of your site.
Are your eyes glazing over? If so- we get it. Most therapists who choose this route will need to get outside training and/or pay for ongoing support to keep their website up to date. This is also a reason that you might want to consider getting a website designer to get things set-up properly if you want to use Wordpress.org Our favorites for Wordpress design for therapists are CounselingWise, and BrighterVision. Interview them both to see if one is a good fit.
This platform is something completely different. It starts as a free service, and is a stripped down version of the Wordpress.org CMS that is hosted at Wordpress.com We've consistently found our clients get frustrated with the limitations as they attempt to expand their websites effectiveness. Some of the coolest free tools we use on our site, you just can't use on this platform. We also think it is interesting that as you start to turn on different features- many therapists end up spending more annually than they would with other platforms.
If you have a Wordpress.org site, the way your site looks to your viewer is determined by your theme. There are free and paid themes, but many free themes have limitations (like they advertise the theme). It is worth it to invest in a paid theme. However, realize that most of these themes can't be "tweaked" very much. You will replace the information and images that are there- but you won't be able to customize beyond the capabilities of the theme. In some cases, this could include something as simple as changing certain colors or fonts. Each theme has different capabilities for change. Each theme may also have updates that may be related to security concerns, upgrades, etc. If the theme updates, you will need to make sure that it doesn't conflict with any of your plugins and your website still features properly. If your theme doesn't update, as your plugins or security updates to the entire site are integrated- you will need to make sure your theme doesn't break and possibly change to an updated theme (look) that will work with your newly updated software.
If you go with a Wordpress site, you will need to research and integrate Wordpress Plugins. There are over 36,000 Plugins. A plugin is a mini piece of software that adds new features to your Wordpress site. There are many free plugins for Wordpress sites. However, there is no guarantee that the plugins you are using are secure or will continue to be updated in the future. Certain plugins also do not work with certain themes and they can break the functionality of the other. At the same time, there are plugins that can allow you to do amazing things with your site, and they are expanding and updating these plugins all the time. Plugins can include malware or bad software in them- and are often vehicles for website hacking and security vulnerabilities. You need to make sure plugins you add to your Wordpress sites are trustworthy.
WordPress Security Updates
Due to the open source nature of WordPress, it is constantly in a state of progressing. It is also very vulnerable to hacking. Over 70% of Wordpress sites today are vulnerable to hacking. Estimates report that only 11-20% of Wordpress sites are updated to the most secure version. If you build your website on WordPress you must develop a plan or purchase a service that allows makes security updates and ensure that those updates don't break your site. It is also important to note (again) that if your website host uses shared servers- more than 1 person's website hosted on the same computer- your website could be at risk if the proper safeguards aren't put in place.
If you go with WordPress.org, Drupal, or Joomla you will have what is referred to as a "self-hosted site." This means that you will have access to a shared computer out in the cloud somewhere where you store your website data. You are not responsible for the maintenance of this computer. However, you are responsible to make sure that your website and files are backed up to a location not on that site. If you want to move your hosting company because of security or service issues you can simply back up the site and then upload it to a new hosting site.
This is a funny little term that stands for "what you see is what you get." This is a feature of certain content management systems (platforms) that means as you are working on your site, what you see, is what your visitors will see. Wordpress.org for example is NOT a WYSIWYG platform. Unless you have some extra plugins (stand alone pieces of free or paid software that integrate with wordpress) you will be editing text and have to switch between two screens to see what your visitor will see. Some other platforms, like SquareSpace allow you to make edits and see what your visitors will see as you are making changes.
Flash Design Websites
Flash is a programming language, like html. While flash is, well, flashy- it has some major disadvantages. Most notably, you can't access flash directly on Apple Iphones. Many therapists who initially built a beautiful website using flash website designs, found their websites were blank. Wix, one of the most popular flash website designer for therapists has switched over from flash due to the ongoing limitations. Wix, although well established, because it started with a different focus is lightyears away from being a great blogging platform or having good seo functionality built in.
Squarespace is a website and blogging platform. This platform includes hosting, blog, WYSIWYG editing, editable themes, integrated plugins, customer service, and domain registration (if you purchase annual service). You are looking at a SquareSpace site right now. We like that we can have the drag and drop functionality and have a beautiful modern, responsive website that we can easily tweak and change as our needs change. SquareSpace ensures our websites are backed-up redundantly in different places. We can export our website into a file to import into WordPress.
A SquareSpace template is similar to a WordPress theme. All SquareSpace templates have the ability to change colors, fonts, change out images, and do drag and drop functionality. We are currently using the FIVE template, but you can see here that our site looks very different from the other examples.
This is when you take your website and attempt to suck everything out so you can "import" it elsewhere. Some blog platforms need to be exported in a manual backup and then uploaded manually. Some systems allow you to simply login to your old account for a 1 step export/import.
You can import a WordPress site into SquareSpace and vice versa. However, the "look" of the site and any custom coding won't transfer back and forth. Both Wordpress and SquareSpace allow you to import many blogs on stand alone sites like Wordpress.com Blogger.com and others. If you have an established blog- definitely check to see if you import it easily to your new site. It can save a lot of time and energy!
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. The idea is to make sure your website is set up (optimized) so that the little Internet gremlins (that might not be the official name) understand what it is you really do, so they can show your website to people who will really benefit from it. Some websites platforms have major limitations when it comes to SEO. WordPress and Squarespace both have extensive options for setting up your website to make sure it is findable. The real question is, what do you want to be findable for? Who do you want to find you? What are those people typing into Google? A few technical things that your platform needs: a blog feature with an rss integrated into the system, the ability to write descriptions for each page on your site, and back end details set-up properly. Wordpress will require you to get a free plugin like Yoast that will help you make sure your site is properly set-up.
However, no platform will make you magically appear on the first page of Google for every search term on the planet. You need to clarify what you really want to be found for, what people are typing in, how many times they are typing it per month (is there enough demand), and you need to write awesome content that when that person finds it they want to read it.
A mobile app is something completely different and not completely related to websites. We can talk about apps another day.
Your email is usually set up and maintained separately from your website. So, this too in most cases is best handled as a separate conversation. Google Apps which is hipaa compliant can be set-up no matter what website platform you use.
Have a vocabulary word that you are struggling with? Post it in the comments below? We will keep adding and expanding this website dictionary for therapists as we get feedback from you! Is something confusing? Post that below too!