I’m not a spring chicken and I started my veterinarian-referral cat behavior business years before websites existed. Word of mouth and referrals from veterinarians were how I depended on increasing business. So when I had to leap from the Flintstone years into the modern age I struggled with how my website should look. I wanted it to reflect my level of professionalism but I didn’t want people to click on it and then click right out of it because it was too boring. As I ventured around the internet to check out other websites of people in the veterinary industry, animal behavior or animal training field I discovered that many of them must struggle with the same issues I do. How much pizzazz is needed and how do you keep the site looking professional?
As I looked at lots of sites I found that many trainers and behavior experts seemed to lean too heavily on the wow factor of the website. I don’t know about you but if I’m looking for someone to help me with my dog’s serious aggression problem I’m not sure the website with all the cutesy paw prints and barking dog or meowing cat sound effects will inspire confidence. Many of the sites I visited depended mostly on flash and emotion and less on credentials and experience. There’s something about the pet industry that makes pet professionals feel compelled to make their sites too “cute.”
I've seen veterinary clinics fall into this trap as well. Some websites look like afterthoughts with not much effort put into the design. Other clinics are so jammed with internet eye candy that I'm not sure if the clinic has actual veterinarians on staff or just a bunch of people who love animals.
Those of us in the field of behavior and training have to walk that fine line of professional vs pizzazz. Too little pizzazz and people won’t stay on your site long enough to even find out your last name. Too much pizzazz and your website starts to look like an online used car lot.
So if you’re investing your time and money in creating a website for potential clients to learn more about you, the biggest piece of advice I can offer, not as a website expert (that’s almost laughable actually) but as a colleague in the trenches, make sure the site inspires confidence. Your site should help the client feel that you’re the most experienced, professional and effective person for the job and not because you have animated dogs and cats walking across the bottom of the screen.
Here's a general checklist of what clients have told me they want to see on the website of a trainer, behaviorist or veterinarian:
- A site that's attractive but not distracting
- Clear explanation of services offered
- Truthful bio of education and experience
- Bios of all staff
- Short, informative articles by the expert
- Clear and up-front explanation of fees
- Clear contact information and business hours
One thing that clients felt mixed emotions about was regarding the use of testimonials. They liked seeing testimonials on sites but didn't believe many of them. So if you've ever tried to have a friend write a testimonial for you as a favor keep in mind that the public is savvy when it comes to false publicity. Keep everything on your site truthful and accurate. Testimonials are great but don't start looking like that online used car lot.
Here's hoping you're able to successfully walk that line of professional vs pizzazz.