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APA: Website Design Tips Circa 1997

Since I decided not to attend this year’s annual convention of American psychologists (held, ironically, in Toronto this year), I’ve been following their blog. This is the first year the APA has done a blog about the convention, 10 years after blogs become popular. I guess better late than never is the theme.

And I can’t help but think that’s the theme for some of the approved talks, like their cutting-edge talk about Enhancing Your Web Site. I’m sorry, but really? I don’t mean to be critical, but this is the kind of advice I’d expect to see (and that I think I actually gave to a previous convention) circa 1997. Not 2009. You could’ve saved yourself the 50 minute talk with it being boiled down to:

  • Website design is like any other professional service — you get what you pay for. If you try and “do it yourself” (e.g., doing it for “free”), your results may very well reflect your abilities. Most people wouldn’t think of redoing the plumbing in their house themselves, so why would one think website design and search engine optimization (SEO) is any different?
  • If you do decide to “do it yourself,” look at other professionally-done psychologists’ pages. Make your site look like theirs, without wholesale copying of their look and feel, or content. (Remember, “Good artists copy. Great artists steal” – Picasso.)
  • Forget trying to become “well positioned on search engines.” Unless you’re willing to learn a whole additional profession — online marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) — you’re deluding yourself if you believe you can affect search engine results by simply changing the keywords in your page’s title. Yes, that can help, but that’s the tip of the iceberg when it comes to SEO.
  • Avoid the need for scrolling? Really? Again, this isn’t 1997, and while that may have been the advice at one time, people know how to scroll on a web browser and in a Word document. They don’t mind doing so if the content you’re offering is useful and helpful in their making a decision about something.
  • Along the same lines — one should always use the exact amount of words necessary to convey the information necessary. Being “brief and relevant” tells a potential client very little about the kind of tone to expect from your therapy sessions or what-not. So while this may or may not work for information-driven websites (it really depends on the website), it definitely isn’t great advice for a professional looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace.

In terms of my additional advice not mentioned that you likely didn’t gain from attending the APA or reading the APA blog entry:

  • Make sure you appear in the biggest online therapist directories, like Psychology Today’s (which we license to use on Psych Central). More and more people turn to these kinds of directories, because they aren’t profession-specific. If you’re not listed in them, you won’t be found.
  • You could spend, literally, years trying to understand and improve your search engine rankings. Hire this part out, unless you really have that kind of spare time. Or worry less about it, especially if you’re appearing in a number of online therapist directories.
  • Web design is a profession, just like psychology. Professionals generally hire out other professional services; they don’t try and do it all themselves. Psychologists tend to make poor marketing professionals (unless you went and got your marketing degree too), and they often make even worse web designers (unless you’ve spent 10 years designing for others, or got your web design degree too).
  • A website complements a comprehensive marketing plan; it is not a substitute for one. Your website serves a purpose, to give you an online presence. It, however, cannot substitute for a comprehensive and well thought-out total marketing plan that includes local print advertising, yellow pages, being on the right provider panels (if you take insurance), etc. Most professionals’ websites are simply electronic brochures, and for most people, that’s sufficient and all you need.
  • Enhance your website by adding simple, free “widgets” that display things like psychology and mental health news. For instance, here’s Psych Central’s free news widget you can add to your website and here’s a list of all the Psych Central free widgets we have available. Visitors who come to your site will appreciate the simple addition of these kinds of tools.
  • Point your clients and visitors on your website to resources and other websites that you recommend. I’ve seen time and time again research that points to the fact that most patients appreciate their doctor’s (and therapist’s) recommendations for online resources. For instance, many clients would benefit from joining a support group. There’s thousands of them online, including the 150+ support groups we host in the Psych Central Community.
  • Consider adding a video introduction to your website. YouTube is popular for a reason — people love online videos. Introduce yourself! Talk about how you work with clients. Make yourself known to them in a direct and personal manner through a simple 1 or 2 minute video (and really, it doesn’t have to be any longer than that). If you have a newer digital camera, some cell phones, or even a video recorder, you can upload a video to YouTube, and then embed it in your website. Seem like too much to do? Enlist the help of a more technically-experienced son or daughter, or nephew or niece, or other professional who can do the uploading part for you (although video tools have gotten so easy to use nowadays, you can try it yourself).
  • If you like to write and find yourself wanting to share your thoughts on a regular basis, considering blogging. Blogger.com and WordPress.com offer individuals a free blog. You can link from the blog back to your website. While it rarely drives many referrals to your practice, it can help to get your name out there and become a little more recognized for the areas you practice in (or are a researcher in).
  • Get on the social networking sites like Facebook and consider Twitter (a micro-blogging service that doesn’t require as much work as a regular blog does). Many potential clients will conduct research on a future therapist on Facebook or Google. If you have no Facebook profile, some clients may take that as a sign that you’re not very on top of your game. (I know this may be a controversial point amongst some professionals, but yes, you should be on Facebook. Don’t worry, it’s already on the way out amongst teens and other young adults.)

Hope these additional tips help someone.

APA: Website Design Tips Circa 1997


John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

Dr. John Grohol is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Psych Central. He is a psychologist, author, researcher, and expert in mental health online, and has been writing about online behavior, mental health and psychology issues since 1995. Dr. Grohol has a Master's degree and doctorate in clinical psychology from Nova Southeastern University. Dr. Grohol sits on the editorial board of the journal Computers in Human Behavior and is a founding board member of the Society for Participatory Medicine. You can learn more about Dr. John Grohol here.


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APA Reference
Grohol, J. (2018). APA: Website Design Tips Circa 1997. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 20, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/apa-website-design-tips-circa-1997/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
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