In doing research for this section I viewed more than 200 massage therapy Web sites. They varied from simple contact information, such as found in a telephone book listing, to elaborate sites complete with photographs, links, and animation.
I also interviewed 11 Web-site owners and discovered that most designed their own sites. The more elaborate sites were designed by professional Web designers, or in some cases the original concept layout was done by a graphic artist. One of the most distressing discoveries was that even though the majority of massage therapists are women, they have a minor presence on the Internet.
The following sites seemed especially useful to those in our industry.
This site immediately captured my attention. The home page is inviting: The left side of the page has a vibrant green band emblazoned with their logo and major site links; the text is easy to read; their position statement of "Live, Work and Play Better Every Day" is prominently displayed; there are clear links to a wide variety of information; it fits on one screen. It is easy to navigate between the other pages. The section on "Who We Are" includes the company's mission statement, philosophy and staff information. Each therapist's profile includes a photo, background information, description of the modalities used, and a few personal highlights. Interspersed throughout the site are friendly, dynamic pictures of therapists working with clients. (It would have been ideal if captions were placed under those photos.)
Hollis Radin joined Personal Best in 1998, and immediately was put in charge of marketing and the company's empty Web site. Their Web page frame and background was originally designed in 1997 to match their stationery, but nothing was done with the site. She stated,
I knew nothing about HTML or FTP or URLs. But I did know that just about everyone here in Silicon Valley uses the Internet. I started by printing out the entire contents of Netscape Composer Help and took it home to read. I also asked everyone (clients, friends, etc.) for advice and looked on the Web for hints. Our site was finally up and running in 1999. I am continually modifying it.
Another therapist at Personal Best, Bruce Richmond, said, "We have a modern clinic with up-to-date information and to keep up with this image (particularly in the Silicon Valley), we had to be modern and connected."
In terms of overall design Radin suggests the following:
Karen O'Donoghue has had her site since the beginning of 2000. She did most of the design herself. It is an excellent example of an effective no-frills site. "I keep it very simple because I originally thought of maintaining it myself and even though I'm not doing that I haven't seen a need to fancy it." Originally her goal was to appeal to a specific target market: "I'd been planning on making a pitch to a local tech company to hire me as an employee benefit. I knew I'd be taken more seriously with the page up and running."
Now she mainly uses the site as a brochure. She finds it particularly helpful while doing demonstrations.
I can refer folks to it when doing chair massage. If I'm massaging Jane Doe and Jack Smith wants to know what Reiki is, I ask him if he has Web access and refer him to the page. If he's not connected, I just ask him to wait, and of course anyone who's dying to know can wait and still check the page later if they want. It adds a professional touch at demos and I've got it on my card, too.
Tom Altmann's site appealed to me at first glance. I felt relaxed just viewing the home page with its parchment background, green lettering, statement of "For Peace of Mind & Body..." and three pictures of a woman receiving a massage. Plus the ticker tape display moving across the bottom reminding the viewer about the benefits of massage and to "call today" is clever. One of the site's most unique features is The Home Stretch section of Client Support: It includes written instructions and animated demonstrations for a variety of stretches. The major drawback is that many of the pages don't fit on one screen.
This site has been operational since October 1999. His major goal was (and still is) for client support especially with the home stretches. It was created by a Web site designer. Altmann suggests, "Don't bother designing it yourself unless you have talents and experience. To save money find a new designer and do a trade." He is very pleased with the results from his site. In addition to supporting his current clients, it's a great tool for obtaining new clients (e.g., he got a referral to work on performers for Tap Dogs).
Mark Sincock's site was established in 1994. He designed the site himself and does a complete facelift on it once a year. The site serves a much broader purpose than as a personal promotional tool: It's a resource for the general public to learn about massage and a place for massage therapists to market their practices with a free Web page listing.
In terms of his personal page, Sincock says,
I have found it very rewarding and a worthwhile investment. My client base remains strong from personal referrals from my existing clients but my gift certificate sales have done well from the Web-site exposure. In addition to selling gift certificates over the Internet, I've been fortunate to land some on-site contracts based on the Web presence. As more and more households come online I feel the market will continue to grow and be a viable part of an overall advertising program for small businesses.
Edward Pacyna desired a professional image, so he hired a professional to design his site in 1999. His original goal was to increase business to bring in at least the same, if not more, than his Yellow Pages ads. He had large color ads in two phone books, but wasn't getting results. He dropped them down in size and invested in the Internet. It has paid off! He's received lots of inquiries, sold gift certificates and received compliments. He knows exactly how many people actually view his site, unlike the phone book where the only way you know your ad is seen is if someone calls you.
This site is a good example of a straightforward design that incorporates the key elements of drawing people in with engaging graphics and stated benefits. His use of association logos and certificates establishes credibility. Unfortunately, his home page doesn't fit on one screen. The second page describes his services. The content is excellent and the photographs accentuate the information and help make the viewer feel comfortable. The only other major suggestion is to increase the font size.
His future plans include doing more updates, furnishing links to other sites (making sure to incorporate a freeze frame to lock in his site), and providing information on specific topics where people can ask direct questions. When I asked if he had any further advice, Pacyna said, "Submit on a regular basis. Now there are so many sites, that you get bumped around and bumped off search engines."
Jeff Linn developed his Web site in 1996. It was mostly a site to provide information and software for a digital imaging system for assessing posture, structure, and movement. He advocates designing your own Web site because doing so tends to keep it simple, and it's easier to update and maintain if you change content often. He stated,
As an afterthought I put some information on there about my Structural Integration (Rolfing) practice. I have never registered with any search engines (but several bots seem to have found me). Amazingly, since I've moved to Los Angeles I've had several people find me via the Internet. I can't say that I'm an expert Internet marketer, but it's certainly an example of the net working without me trying very hard.
Everything about this site made me feel comfortable. It is informal yet professional the graphics are fun and load quickly, and the photograph of her teaching is charming. The different topics crosslink well with the icons for each subject staying consistent. This site is chock-full of information and defines services that might not be familiar to all (e.g., reiki). It lists classes with descriptions, schedules, comments from past participants, and contact information.
This site has been up since spring of 2000. Its major function is an online resume. Annie Hensen created it herself using Microsoft Publisher.
My newsletter already had a look that was designed for me by a friend. That was some of the best money I ever spent. She put together several templates and I chose one to be my 'look.' After that, the Web site was not difficult to design only tedious. I wanted the pages to look similar in appearance to my newsletter and other publications, so there was a lot of tweaking back and forth to get things just so. It would have been better to plan each page on paper before diving in to create the page in software, but let's face it if I had truly used that approach, the site would never have happened. My style is more to jump right in and figure it out as I go.
She is most pleased with the intangible results such as name recognition. "I attended a professional meeting recently and introduced myself as Annie, who does massage. 'Oh! You're Annie's Hands!' was the response from several people I have never met. Word gets around."
When asked for additional insight, she says,
There is a lot to a Web site that doesn't show on the surface. To create a Web site requires a large amount of tolerance for attention to detail. If you don't have that, then by all means hire someone to create the site for you. Hiring someone would have saved me a fair amount of hair pulling. But then, I have also very much enjoyed working and learning.
Alfred Westlake's site debuted in 1999. He designed it using Microsoft Publisher. "I had a lot of fun doing the page. I enjoy playing on the computer so it was fun for me to do." He originally had ideas of running an online catalog of items, doing weekly tips, and possibly hosting a massage chat room. Those ideas are currently tabled. He realized that the tremendous amount of time it would take to develop and maintain such a site would detract from his primary goal of doing good bodywork.
My wife says that I spend a bazillion hours on the computer. I have to agree with her. One of the reasons I became a therapist was to have more time for fun. Like many other things the computer can suck up lots of time; there is no end to the things you can do. The Internet is great but nothing takes the place of personal contact and client referrals.
His site now serves as a secondary marketing method.
This site contains many desireable elements: it is colorful; the font size is very large; there's a picture of Alfred on the upper right-hand corner of every page; and some of the butterflies flap their wings. The major drawback is that it doen't load correctly on all computers: The text overlaps in areas and the colorful hand icon links don't line up with the topics. Hopefully this design flaw will be corrected by the time this issue is in print.
He has just added a new section to his page that lists all of the fairs where he will be doing chair massage.
I am hoping that my current clients will use it to find me at fairs and then bring friends. When I see people at the fairs I also give them my Web information so that they can follow up or maybe see me again at another fair.
When you log on to the home page of the BC Massage Therapy Web site, it is apparent that the proprietors take great pride in their business and community: The banner is "BC Therapy Committed to Better Health" and the first photograph on the page is of their office which is situated in a historical building. Scrolling down the page you find their mission statement, and photographs of the owners and their van. A fun feature is a section titled "Photos" that is filled with pictures of therapists working at a variety of public events. It would be much more personal if the therapists' profiles included photographs. Also, the font color is too light in contrast to the background pattern.
The site was unveiled in May 1997 and has received more than 13,000 hits. Cabal and his wife, Christine, wrote most of the copy and a good friend did the design. Their major goal is to educate the community.
Many people have computers and you can save a considerable amount of money by having a Web site. We used to print newsletters. We now serve over 12,000 people in the Contra Costa area, and that could cost a lot of in printing charges, time, energy and postage.
They put a lot of thought into their overall marketing and attempt to include their Web site in the different promotional avenues. They recommend the following: Include pictures; offer specials on your site; and update, update, update.
Promote your site on everything coupons, business cards, and all advertisements. We get a lot of business from our van that prominently displays our site and our catchy toll-free number: 1 800 LOOS N UP.
This site is an excellent example of a professional, attractive site. The text is easy to read (large font on a light background), Zembeck's photograph draws you in, and the words that describe his practice are personal and induce connection.
My site is a simple straight-forward design. I have kept the bells and whistles to a minimum. I provide simple answers to basic questions and try to give a feel for who I am as a massage therapist. A number of clients have commented that they like the design of my site because it is simple and has a lot of information that is easy to locate.
The site has been live since July 1998. He designed the site himself using a program called NetObjects Fusion. His main goal has been to have a Web presence that allow people to get some basic information him and his massage services.
When asked about the results from his site, he states,
I am very pleased with the results that I am getting from my Web site. I primarily work with the gay and lesbian community and advertise in the local newspapers. I include my Web address on all my advertising, from display ads to classified ads, and, of course, my business card. I am also a member of the local Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce. When folks are coming to Chicago for conventions or vacation they often do searches on the words 'Gay' and 'Chicago' and this pulls up the Chamber's Web site. When you look for massage on that site, there is a link to my site (the only one of four massage therapists out there).
He has built a "brand identity" by putting the same headshot picture on his Web site, business cards and display advertising. One time, he was giving his business card to someone who looked at the card and said, "Where do I know you from?" They couldn't figure out anything or anyplace that they had in common until they realized that he had seen some of Zembeck's display advertising earlier that day.
This site relaxes you just by opening it. You can practically touch the water as it cascades over the rocks, hear its soothing sounds, and feel the cooling mist of the spraying water. The home page is a model of simplicity and elegance. A handy feature is that each page lists the major sections on top so you can easily move without going back to the home page. Very few practitioners sell products on their sites. "The Body Shop" section is an excellent example of a an appropriate, attractive, manageable shopping area with five major product categories. Overall it is a very personal site. The only major missing element is a photo of Dennis.
Dennis Davies worked on his site for almost 10 months before it went live in May, 1999. He states,
It thoroughly surprised me at how much time it would take from start to finish. A long time ago, a business consultant told me that every new project in the business world takes twice as long and costs twice as much as you expect. 'So' he said, 'take your best calculations and then double the costs and the time projected. If you can live with that, go for it.' He was correct and I'm glad I went for it.
The world of Physical Therapy has taken a huge hit in the past five or six years, largely because of managed care and the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. Davies billings dropped 60 percent in the past six years and realized he needed to think outside of the box or move on to another career.
My Web site is one of my out of the box ideas. It is intended to be a commercial web site with two objectives: sell retail products; and generate referrals. As such, it needed to be designed professionally.
In terms of marketing, he says,
Ten years ago, a physical therapist could hang out a shingle and people would show up. The business plan was simple: successfully treat the people who show up. It's not like that any more and neither is it on the Web. Just because the site is up and running doesn't mean people know how to get there." Currently he is promoting his site on a shoe-string budget. He has submitted to all of the major search engines and a few of the minor ones, too. He places an ad in a special interest newspaper that says: "Tired of Feeling Terrible?" "PainRelease.com" In the next run, he is adding "free sample inside, while supplies last." The free sample is a one-ounce sample of package of his favorite analgesic gel. "I have budgeted a couple of hundred dollars for this promotion. As I get bigger, the campaigns and the budgets will grow also.
Davies suggested visiting the following for resources:
Across the board everyone interviewed is happy with their sites and the results. Most therapists use their Web sites as electronic brochures. Some obtained new clients that were just surfing and found them, but most clients see the Web site address listed somewhere and look it up.
The most common goals are to provide a way for potential clients to find them and to easily disseminate information in a timely manner. Several people mentioned secondary goals of selling more products and gift certificates.
Nancy Castro is in the development stages of her Web site. Her main goals are name recognition, education and information. She plans on her site being more educational than sales based,
I want my site to spell out what I offer and what I don't. It will be primarily for my clients, but also for other local therapists. I currently send out a monthly E-newsletter to about 60 local therapists, and we get together every month to share and network, so I want my site to accommodate that as well.
The area of most concern is upkeep. It takes a lot of time to keep a Web site fresh and current (unless the Web site just contains contact information). Even if you have a professional Webmaster design and maintain your site, you still need to provide the copy for the updates. The therapists who maintain their own sites often work on them in between clients or during a quiet hour before starting work. They spend two to five hours per week doing maintenance.
All the therapists interviewed include their Web addresses on their printed marketing materials such as business cards, brochures, fliers, and newsletters. Listing in free directories (both in print and online) generates traffic. It is also helpful to link your site to other health-care sites and organizations such as your local Chamber of Commerce. Two therapists mentioned printing t-shirts that sported their Web addresses. Place classified ads in appropriate newsletters published by health-related companies, associations that cater to your target markets and even local homeowners' associations. Include your Web site in your phone book listings, advertisements, and on your answering machine message.
Many therapists did not even submit their sites to the major search engines and directories. Several did this when the site was originally up, but have only resubmitted once or twice since then. Site submission can be a time consuming process since each search engine has its own procedure for submitting URLs. Luckily, each search engine provides easy-to-follow directions and now you can purchase software to automate this procedure.
Carefully consider the descriptive words you want to submit as META tags: be sure to include the major words people might use to find you (e.g., massage, massage therapy); specialty words such as sports massage or shiatsu; problems that potential clients might have (e.g., carpal tunnel syndrome, stress, headaches); benefits such as stress reduction and relaxation; your company name; your name; and your city. You might want to include common misspellings. For example, Personal Best lists Feldenkrais and Feldenkreis. Don't forget alternative capitalization either. O'Donoghue shares,
My techie set things up so capitals were irrelevant: MassageByKaren works as well as massagebykaren or MassagebyKaren.
Hollis Radin states,
Many people say that they found us on the Web. Even if they find us some other way, they may choose us because they can learn more about us than just our name. Sometimes people call from out-of-town to buy a gift certificate for a friend or relative who lives locally, or because they are coming to this area for a visit. We received a request from Chicago to set up an ongoing seated massage program for their San Francisco Bay Area office. When we receive a call from potential local clients, who perhaps picked our name randomly from the phone book, we ask if they have access to a computer. If the answer is yes, we tell them about our web site and give them the option of looking us up or having us mail printed information out to them. Also, our site includes a map and driving directions to make it easier for clients to find us. It's great when someone walks in and says, 'Hey, I recognize you; I saw your picture on the Web!' Having our photographs on our site really makes people feel at home.