Building a Website the Easy Way - Part II

Published: Thursday, Feb 14, 2008
In last month’s column, we looked at several reasons why you might want to create a practice website and explained how to register for a domain name. This month, we’ll examine several approaches to building a website, ranging from very cheap to very expensive.

Let’s start with the basics: a website is a collection of pages transmitted from a Web server to a Web browser. Each page is represented by a document written in Hyper Text Markup Language (HTML), which describes the structure of text-based information in a document by designating certain text as headings, paragraphs, lists, etc. In addition, HTML allows the text to be supplemented with interactive items, such as submission forms, images you can click on, and other objects.

If your head is already spinning, you may want to consider the easy, albeit expensive, approach to website design: let a professional do it. If you don’t have a lot of technical know-how and money is not a major concern, building a practice website can be a completely hands-off experience. You can outsource the entire job to a professional website designer, who will build your site for a fee. While this is certainly the most expensive option, you will personally spend the least amount of time on it, and you should get a website that looks professional and is customized to meet your specific needs. There are many website designers out there; the key is finding the right one for your practice. Treat this as you would any other search for a professional service provider. How did you find your lawyer, accountant, or cleaning service? Most likely it was through word of mouth, a recommendation from a colleague, or an Internet search.

Use the same route for finding a website designer. Keep in mind that the designer can’t do all the work for you. You must provide the content (including text and photos) and be able to describe what you want your website to do. A second approach is perfect for those with limited technical skills and budgets. There are several companies that let you build a website online using pre-designed templates that you customize by adding your own pictures, graphics, and text. No HTML programming is required, and you can literally drag-and-drop elements into a web page.

GoDaddy and Homestead are two of the more popular companies that offer this service, although a quick Google search for website designers will reveal hundreds more. This is a fast and inexpensive way to go. The downside is lack of flexibility and a cookie-cutter approach that may leave you with a site that looks like many others. The last approach I want to share with you is a relatively new one. If you’re short on technical know-how, time, and money, but you still want a unique and customized website, the answer might be to hire an overseas designer. There is a vast talent pool of programmers and designers in countries like China, India, and Romania, many of whom are willing to accept small-scale jobs at surprisingly low cost.

Websites like RentACoder and Guru provide an opportunity to tap into the global website design community, just like big companies do. You post what kind of work you need done and how much you’re willing to pay, and then people bid on the job. It isn’t always easy to evaluate vendors, and language gaps can lead to misunder-standings, but the upside is that you can get quality custom work done for a fraction of what it might cost in the United States.

Final Thoughts

Whether you’re building a website yourself or hiring a professional, please keep one thing in mind: you’ve got less than 15 seconds to make an impact before your audience is gone. Don’t include huge, flashy graphics that take forever to load. I don’t wait for them to appear on my screen, and I’ll bet that you don’t either. Opt for an easy-to-navigate site that prominently displays relevant information in an aesthetically pleasing design. Next month, we’ll take a look at how to fi nd a service to host your website.

Dr. Bertman is Physician Editor-in-Chief of MDNG: Primary Care/Cardiology Edition. He is also a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Medicine at Brown University and president of AmazingCharts, a leading developer of Electronic Health Record (EHR) software. He is the founder and president of AfraidToAsk, a consumer website focusing on personal medical topics. He is in private practice in Hope Valley, RI.


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