A critical eye on dental website design

July 16, 2013
Whether or not you are a computer whiz, let your website be a window into your practice rather than a wall. Dr. Neil Uffner gives you some tips on website design to make your practice stand out from the masses and be the face your prospective patients want to see.

Gearing up for graduation from our orthodontic program, my co-residents and I have been searching the job market aggressively for that all-elusive (and probably nonexistent) perfect first job. This class of graduating residents, many of whom were born after the New York Mets won their last World Series in 1986, has been using the Internet since elementary school.

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We have grown up in a world dominated by online communication, from AOL Instant Messenger (now there's a blast from the past), through today's Apple and Google clouds.

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Unlike previous generations, we are products of the digital age, with online searching as our weapon of choice. Armed with the Internet, I personally have had the chance to search hundreds of websites during my job hunt.

My first impression of each practice I searched was comprised by home pages and "about me" sections. As I made my rounds, it became harder and harder to differentiate one website from another. With each website following the same generic, cookie-cutter formula, how would these first impressions last?

The generic website layout that I’m describing, which I’m sure many of you are familiar with, looks something like this: The name of the practice is at the very top of the page, along with practice locations. A column (or row) of titles, usually including titles of “Patient information,” “Braces 101, “FAQ,” “Why choose us,” and “Meet the doctor” can be found often with pull-down menus. Social media shortcuts are usually at the top or bottom of the home page. Also on the left of the home page, you can be sure to find a huge AAO logo, even bigger Invisalign Elite Provider logo, and some sort of very important looking “Top dentist award” specific for that practitioner’s location.

At first, I was disappointed to see this trend. Our profession is filled with such creative and innovative minds, yet many of us are settling for the standard and familiar. In an age of digital domination, an age where a digital presence and digital appeal has become just as important — if not more important — than curb appeal, just having a URL is certainly not enough.

Yes, a unique, dynamic, distinguishable interface for your home page will create a more desirable first impression; however, there seems to be a thin line between the individuality of the home page and a website’s pragmatism. Internet users are subconsciously on the lookout for a predictable, logical, and familiar website design. Between Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and users' expectations of where certain links and buttons be should be, it seems both individuality and brand have become the odd men out.

And so this leaves a predicament. A website represents an orthodontist’s first chance to differentiate him- or herself. However, a design too bold might make navigation less intuitive for certain web users. A compromise between these two extremes seems to be a logical goal for a website developer. While you may not be a computer whiz, let your website be a window into your practice rather than a wall.

Neil Uffner, DMD, is currently a second-year orthodontic resident at the Temple University Kornberg School of Dentistry in Philadelphia, Pa. Following his graduation in August 2013, Neil plans to enter private practice in the Philadelphia area.