Options for Building Your Private Practice Website, Page 2

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Whether you want to practice online or simply market your private mental health practice via the internet, there are several options for getting your site up and running. This article explores some of the background questions you may want to ask yourself, while describing some of the options in detail.

Building Your Own Private Practice Site Using a Content Management System

One excellent way of creating a robust website structure, without the pain of learning and coding in XHTML, is to take advantage of an off-the-shelf content management system (or ‘CMS’ for short). The beauty of a CMS is that it takes care of all the site management and actual page building for you, transparently. You provide the content, while the CMS builds pages from your content and delivers them to the user. You can check out many open source content management system options at opensourceCMS.com. Many of these open source CMS packages are included as part of the ‘Fantastico’ package of installer scripts that features in many Linux-based hosting accounts — so you may be able to install them with just a couple mouse clicks in your hosting account’s control panel!

(An important subset of content management systems includes blog software, described separately on our page about blogging as part of your internet marketing strategy.)

Once you’ve seen and played with a few CMS packages, you’ll begin to recognize the general look and feel of them. You’ll realize that many of the slick-looking sites you’ll come across on a regular basis on the web are actually running exactly the same software, and you’ll see one of the disadvantages of using off-the-shelf CMS packages: your site will look just like oodles of other sites out there. The way to overcome this disadvantage, of course, is to customize the package with your own look and feel — but then we’re (partially) back to the ‘roll your own’ option or the ‘pay someone else’ option. Customizing such packages tends to be harder than developing your own pages from scratch, since there are often complex, multi-file templating systems to learn.

CMS pros and cons, from the perspective of the mental health private practitioner (and excluding some of the more technical factors)…

  • Pros:
    • Automatic site management
    • No XHTML required
    • Free (usually)
  • Cons:
    • They all look the same
    • Often difficult to customize (requiring hand coding)

Sign Up With a ‘Virtual Office’ Vendor to Handle Your Private Practice

The internet is awash with sites trying to cash in on medical and mental health professionals making the move to actual online practice or simply wishing to market their services on the web. Many promise to market your practice, take care of billing or other record-keeping, provide secure web-based email or chat, take out the trash for you, and more. Many are attractively designed and seem very professional to the casual observer. Some — especially those promoting online therapy or counselling — also try to appear as if they are one large, organized practice, of the sort you might find in a brick-and-mortars mental health support agency.

Try Online Counseling: Get Personally Matched

In my experience, those ‘practitioner network’ sites (a subset of the ‘virtual office’ vendors) which try to appear as if they are one large, organized practice rarely are; the reality is usually that these sites simply amalgamated listings from many different practitioners who do not communicate with one another. In other words, there is no actual analogue of a brick-and-mortars agency to be found: the only thing which connects the separate practitioners is a common web address. I do not want to imply that this is necessarily bad — only that it may be very misleading.

If you check the Alexa traffic data for one of these ‘virtual office’ or ‘practitioner network’ sites, you may find that far from being the thriving hub of activity suggested by the site’s marketing pitch, they actually receive hardly any visitors. Any single individual practitioner, in turn, probably receives even less exposure, depending upon how many professionals are listed on that site. The catch-22 is that the more professionals who list, the less useful the site becomes to any one single practitioner; the fewer professionals who list, the less viable the overall enterprise itself becomes. To my mind, unless these ‘virtual office’ sites offer something else of value to attract and retain visitors — something other than simple listings of professionals — they do not represent a winning proposition either for practitioners or for the site providers themselves.

The difficulty of making this business model work may be one reason why every practitioner I have discussed the topic with has reported the same thing: they receive few, if any, referrals from ‘virtual office’ or ‘practitioner network’ sites. This probably accounts for why those virtual office backers who are willing to discuss such things will admit that comparatively very few of their practitioners stick around for more than a month or two.

‘Virtual office’ pros and cons, from the perspective of the mental health private practitioner (and excluding some of the more technical factors)…

  • Pros:
    • Someone else takes care of the infrastructure
  • Cons:
    • Someone else takes care of the infrastructure (so you individually have little differentiation)
    • Traffic tends to be low
    • Few referrals and high practitioner turnover

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