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Clearing up the smoke and mirrors about “custom websites”

By Noelle Beaudin, GeniusVets Support

To me, there’s nothing better than owning a car that I bought for a really good price and then investing some time on my own in tweaking it to my satisfaction.  I bought my first Audi 5000 Turbo Quattro Avant for $1000, got it home to my garage, ripped it apart, and invested another $1500 into it.  Later I ran it in several time-speed-distance rallies, and on the ¼ mile track where stunned onlookers (thinking I was showing up to collect the children in a Mom-wagon) soon realized that my Avant and I seriously smoked them on track times.  That Avant grew with me over the years; it was one of the best investments I ever made.

So, why the amateur auto-mechanic story in a blog on website design?

That Avant wasn't "custom".  It started life as a "stock" vehicle that I then upgraded and improved, until it reflected what I most wanted in a car.  But in the end, it was 100% mine and I loved it!

It's easy to see how building a car "from scratch" would be incredibly inefficient – even a "custom" sportscar is mostly "stock" with just the key tweaks that give it the owner's personality.  Even if you were crazy enough to try to build a car "from scratch", you'd still most likely end up with something that had four wheels, a windshield, a dashboard, a chassis, etc. – because that's just "what works" in a car.  

There are a lot of articles out there that will tell you the pros and cons of "template" websites versus "custom" websites.  But often this discussion misses the point due to a lack of clarity on what these terms really mean in practice.  And, there's an ideal solution that can give you the best of both worlds, which we'll explore in a bit.  Here are some basics:

  • Sites based on templates are less expensive, quicker to build, and easier to update with new themes/design/branding. When done well, they can be more nimble and can often grow with your business.  But, the quality and flexibility of the template are crucial.
  • Truly "custom" websites* are very expensive (usually $30,000 or more), and can take months to build. They require a support team to make most updates.  In theory they might allow you to get "exactly" what you want, but just as in the car example, most "custom" veterinary websites still have many basic elements in common – navigation, layout, site maps, etc. – because that's just "what works" in a veterinary website.   

*Buyer beware – Steer clear of companies that offer a "custom site" for a few hundred dollars; there's simply no way to actually do a truly custom site for that budget, so you're really getting a template site with a side order of deceptive marketing.

At GeniusVets we believe there's a "third way" that is superior to a standard "template" approach or a "custom site" approach.  We refer to this as a "customizable web platform".  That's just a technical way of saying it's a system based on proven strategies that drive search engine traffic and new clients – which we then customize to reflect your unique brand and culture.  Just like that "custom" sportscar, we give every client our track-tuned, high-performance machine, but we style it just for them.

The benefits of this approach go further – to be truly invested 100% in the marketing of your veterinary practice, you’ll need to get your hands dirty; you’ll need to tinker under the hood some. Sites built on a standardized system can more easily provide a CMS (content management system) where you can really be a part of your website team, without any technical knowledge, and contribute proactively to driving your own success.

Photo of a woman working under the hood of her car

Building Your Marketing Strategy

Marketing is meant to be an extension of the mission, values, and culture of your veterinary practice.  Your website is your potential clients' first impression of your practice and a prime contributor to the continuity of your marketing programs.  But what happens once you’ve launched your new website?

Some marketing agencies may make you feel like the launch of your new website is it – you’re done!  Time to celebrate!!  In reality, the launch of your site is just the beginning.  

A healthy and robust digital marketing strategy requires that you have the ability to contribute to all your marketing programs – this includes your website.  It's crucial that from the very beginning of the website development cycle, you are introduced to how to edit, customize, and grow your website.  This is an important point.  "Custom" websites often provide limited or no access to the business owner, so changing something as simple as a list of services can require the assistance of your marketing agency’s support team.

Marketing should be fast, flexible and agile.  If you can’t quickly publish your new Laser Therapy services on your website with that Facebook post you just pushed, then you run the risk of having a stale website – changes that become hard to do just don’t get done.  When no changes happen to the site, the site falls in search rankings.  If the site falls in search rankings, your marketing fails.

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From the very start of the website development process, make sure you have the control you need to access every aspect of your website, including the ability to measure its results from any marketing campaign you conduct.

Building Your Marketing Team

Running an effective marketing program takes a team - a team that understands your mission, values, and culture.  Hiring the right people is vital for bringing a successful marketing strategy to life, but what happens when you hire these people and don’t give them the right tools or no tools at all?

So you’ve got your new website and your marketing team, now what?  

It’s essential to your marketing that your team can easily access, update, and change out material on your website.  It’s also essential that they can tie in any marketing campaign that they run from social platforms back to the website.  If a marketing agency keeps each cog in the marketing machine (i.e. blogs, optimized content, SEO analysis, social media, online reviews, updating website content) separate, completely controlled by them, AND at individual extra costs, then you’ve lost control of your strategy. 

The tools your veterinary marketing team uses need to be in their hands, with an expert available from the marketing agency to help if you have any questions.

Photo of auto mechanic tools

Make sure that your marketing team has access to SEO optimized content, blogs, and other tools to optimize your website.  If an expert is needed, ensure that the agency you work with provides a single point of contact for you to turn to.  

Measuring Results

As a veterinarian, you provide answers to your clients’ concerns.  Clients judge your practice by the quality of results you provide them.  Shouldn’t you expect the same from your marketing team?

Access to the results of marketing campaigns is a key component of any marketing strategy.  "Custom" sites often provide results tracking only as an add-on service.  Site analytics, call tracking, and remarketing are all afterthoughts.  And if you need expert advice on how to analyze these results, you’ll probably end up having to pay for that, too.

Working from a standardized template makes it more cost-effective to incorporate the latest in analytics and tracking components from the very beginning of the site build.  If you have full access to the website, you can easily see the data in real time.

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If you want to measure your results, make sure analytics and tracking components are set up from the beginning of the development cycle.  Ask if you have access to view these results.  As an added bonus, find out if your marketing agency offers an expert to guide you through interpreting these results as part of the regular service, or if it’s an added extra.

Growing your practice with the proper marketing strategy takes the right website, the right marketing platform, and the right team.  Make sure – no matter which one you pick – that you have access to every part of that system.  Your practice is your most valuable asset – and the right digital presence can enhance that value and take you all the way to record-breaking success.

Looking for an expert “pit crew” assessment? Order a GeniusVets Performance Report to find out how you can get your marketing into high gear!

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