We’re in the midst of a campaign called “Ask Ben.” As you might expect from such a name, we’re offering up a bit of my time and wisdom, free of charge, to hospitals and health systems that would like an outside perspective and advice on their online strategy.
I’m having a great time with the campaign. Organizations of all sizes are incredibly excited about connecting with patients and physicians online. Talking about what they’re trying to accomplish and where they’re stumbling is fascinating. And since I see the work going on at dozens of health systems, I’ve been able to offer insights that should help them improve.
As part of this, I’ve had to rethink the way I look at Web sites. I obviously look at a lot of healthcare sites both in my work and as a judge for the eHealth Leadership Awards. However, I typically look at what the sites have. But for the campaign, I’m focusing more on identifying quick-hit ways to make sites better – better at driving traffic, engaging visitors and accomplishing goals.
I’m starting that process by checking a set of technical best practices. They’re little items, and they don’t always make a noticeable impact on the end-user experience. But they’re established best practices.
I’m looking for the brown M&Ms.
Back in their heyday, the band Van Halen required venues provide a bowl of M&Ms backstage with all of the brown M&Ms removed. While this was thought to be a symbol of the eccentricities of the entertainment elite, the clause was far more pragmatic.
The band’s contract and specifications for each show ran more than a thousand pages, and they routinely played venues that were unaccustomed to such mega-productions. Good venues read the contract and paid close attention to each detail — failure to do so could mean disaster for a show. The band didn’t want to check each connection, voltage levels, and so-forth.
So, when they found a bowl without brown M&Ms, they knew the venue was taking care of things. When they didn’t, they knew they were going to need to re-check everything .
So I start my evaluation with some technical details. Does the site use proper heading tags? Do the URLs redirect with and without a “www” at the beginning? Is the server using gzip to improve page load times?
Sure these details help with search engine optimization and the visitor experience. But more importantly, they tell me immediately if someone is watching the details.
Are you watching for brown M&Ms in your site?