Health News Digest

January 14, 2013

A Look At Communicating Your Message On The Web

The Web

By  Michael D. Shaw

Many readers of this column operate websites or blogs, and some also publish smart phone/tablet computer apps. As 2013 begins to unfold, this web-based piece examines our digital media. Meta enough for you?

The first ever website was launched on August 6, 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, and was an informative–if quite ugly–introduction to the WorldWideWeb, as he spelled it. Other noteworthy early websites include the online version of The Tech, MIT’s newspaper, claimed to be the first newspaper published on the Web, appearing in 1993; and the official White House site, launched in October, 1994.

As to the health field, semantics and bias in classification–among other things–make any search for firsts difficult. Suffice to say that there are thousands of health-related sites, covering every conceivable interest. The venerable Medical Library Association provides a list of many top health websites.

From the beginning, to quote Berners-Lee, “The WorldWideWeb (W3) is a wide-area hypermedia information retrieval initiative aiming to give universal access to a large universe of documents.” Or, to use current jargon, it’s all about the content. In fact, it will always be about the content. If you’re looking for the deep dark secret to producing a website that people will actually visit, we’ve just revealed it!

Broadly speaking, within the health field, there are two categories of websites: Those which provide health information, and those which promote a health care service provider. Based on the content precept established above, any service provider worth his salt would want to provide health information, as well.

Back in the day, creating a website could be an arduous proposition. Some knowledge of Hypertext Markup Language or HTML was required, and the early WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) page creation software packages produced code that was far from perfect. Fortunately, by the end of the 1990s, content management systems (CMS) had arrived, allowing site creation in many cases by non-computer geeks. Interestingly, one of most popular CMS platforms, WordPress, started off as a blogging package, and thus has deep roots in the personal do-it-yourself site creation space.

The Web is chock full of suggestions (good, bad, and indifferent) on how to improve your homepage, and optimize your search engine rankings. HubSpot, Inc., based in Cambridge, MA, offers a host of recommendations on web practice and good marketing in general. A recent blog posting offers some thoughts on what they call brilliant homepage design:

The homepage must…

  • Clearly answer “Who I am,” “What I do,” and/or “What can you (the visitor) do here.”
  • Resonate with the target audience. Speak to the right people in their language. Avoid corporate gobbledygook.
  • Be highly usable and easy to navigate
  • Add new content frequently

In many cases, the website owner will seek the services of an outside consultant. I got a few thoughts from Gabriel Richards, Founder and CEO of Torrance, CA based EnderTech. EnderTech designs and develops websites, apps, and IT solutions that help build new businesses and improve existing ones. He makes some strong arguments against off-shoring your project:

Many people looking to develop a new website or application tend to think of such a project as primarily technical. Their expectation is that they should be able to explain in writing what they want their site or app to do or look like, and a sufficiently skilled technician should be able to put it together.

This limited understanding of the development process has led many organizations to simply look at the bottom line, and hire overseas development companies to execute their project. Unfortunately, this can lead to unsatisfactory results because technical skills are only a part of the process. Indeed such projects are at least equal parts creativity and communication.

Access to creative people is no help if you can’t communicate with them effectively, and this is probably the single biggest reason why your next development team should be based in the USA. In order to develop a creative solution that achieves your goals, these two sides of the equation need to merge. They need to integrate. Your people and the development team must connect, and this is much more likely if the people involved share a native tongue, and share the common experience of America.

Gabe reminds us, “Americans are inventors, and especially in the field of software design and development, we lead the way as evidenced by how prolific the tech hubs of America are in launching new online businesses and apps.”

I would add that the Web and now smart phone apps are, in a sense, the great equalizer. No matter how big you are, your application or website can only appear one page at a time, and the smallest mom and pop has essentially the same access to the platforms as the biggest multinational.