The days when therapists needed to decide whether they wanted to have a website are passed. Today it’s become an essential way of regularly attracting referrals to your practice. So the question is no longer whether to have a website, but how to do it.

There are two choices: you can hire a local web designer (expect to spend $1,500 to $4,000, depending on the features you select), or you can do it yourself. The best sites for creating your own website are GoDaddy’s Website Tonight program ( and Sitesell’s SiteBuildIt ( The big advantage of creating your own site is that you can update it quickly, and at no cost.

Once you’ve got your website up and running, to make it genuinely effective at attracting clients, you have to master two skills. The first is Increasing traffic: getting potential clients from your local community to see and visit your website. The second is Conversion: turning a percentage of those visitors into clients consistently.

Developing an Online Presence

When you first construct a website, only your web-hosting company knows your site exists. This isn’t comforting when you consider that there are currently more than 135 million websites with more than 25 billion pages. As a new site owner, you’re a tiny drop in an ever-expanding virtual sea. So how do you direct people to your website? To get steady traffic, you need to create a diversified, searchable online presence. Diversified means your site is listed on numerous places online, thus increasing the likelihood that people will be able to find you. Searchable means people can find you when using the most popular search engines, especially Google and Yahoo, which account for more than 85 percent of all searches.

The first step is getting your site listed in the huge, international databases of Google and Yahoo. Listing may be handled automatically by the company that hosts your website on the Internet; if not, you can do it manually by going to and

However, just being listed in these databases is akin to being listed in a worldwide Yellow Pages phonebook with no categories or identifying information that would lead people in your community to find you. So you need to tell the search engines three more things: (1) the location of your office, (2) what services you offer, and (3) what types of problems you work with. You can accomplish the first two by submitting your site to Google and Yahoo local ( and These are free directories that display local business listings in your immediate community, in a specific category that describes your services (such as The great thing about these local listings is that your website, office address, and phone number will usually show up at the top of page 1 of the search-engine results page, for free.

To address the third issue—the clinical problems you work with—you have to tell the search engines to associate your site with the specific words that people search for when they seek out someone in your area of specialization. A common way to search for a therapist is to combine a presenting problem followed by a city: “anxiety New York” or “marriage counseling Los Angeles.” Every month or two, the search engines review all the websites in their database, looking for specific words, called keywords, to associate with websites for these local searches. They look for keywords in two specific places on your website: (1) the text of your pages and (2) internal, hidden computer-programming codes called meta tags.

Regarding the text on your website pages, you want to be sure to include the top keywords that relate to your areas of specialization (e.g., anxiety, depression, AD/HD) on each page of your site. The same keywords are good candidates for the internal meta tags. If you’re unsure where to find these codes or how to change them, your web programmer can help you identify and change them.

After you’ve submitted your site to Google and Yahoo local, you want your website to pop up near the top of the search engine, so people won’t have to scroll down, site after site, page after page, before they see you. How to you arrange this?

1. Submit your site to other key directories. Online directories such as InfoUSA (, ZoomInfo (, and DMOZ ( are often used as seed directories for local search engines, and you should submit your site to each of them.

2. List your site on therapist-referral sites, such as Psychology Today, Good Therapy, and Network Therapy. These sites are good places to get your website listed, since they’re often set up to show your profile near the top of the first page of Google and Yahoo. Listing your website in your profile takes the visitor away from the numerous other therapist profiles to your site.

3. Get other websites to link to your site. The founders of Google—Ph.D. students at the time they started their project—knew that the most frequently cited references in academic papers tend to be the most important works in any field, and they applied this concept to web searches. Google’s search algorithms strongly favor websites that are listed most frequently on other sites. So the more frequently your site is listed on other sites, the higher up (and sooner) it’ll appear in the main search-engine results pages. The sites listed in #1 and #2 above are good examples of sites to get listed on.

4. Create a profile on the top social networking sites. These aren’t just for kids anymore! Creating a free profile, with your website included, on Facebook ( and LinkedIn (www.
) can help expand your online presence.

5. Experiment with pay-per-click advertising. In this unique form of advertising, you only pay the search engines when someone clicks on your ad, which shows up in the right column of the search-engine results page for a given keyword as a “sponsored link.” The click takes the viewer to a specific page (called a “landing page”) on your website. The fastest way to increase visitors to your site is to use pay-per-click advertising services such as Google AdWords ( and Yahoo Search Marketing (

To get free, specific feedback on how well your site is optimized for search-engine traffic, go to This analysis will show you which search engines and directories your site is listed in and how much traffic you’re generating, and will give you an overall site-searchability rating on a scale from 1 to 100.

Converting Visitors to Clients

Once you get visitors to your site, you need to convert them to clients. To do that, you have to grab their attention fast. Most studies show that someone finding your site from a search will spend only about 10 seconds on your home page before making a decision to go deeper into your site or go elsewhere. So you have 10 seconds to “hook” visitors enough to focus their attention, get them to read more about you, and become comfortable about the idea of contacting you.

Your success at converting visitors to clients will mostly depend on three factors: content, the “call to action,” and the ease of contacting you.

The content on your home page should be mostly about potential clients and their needs, not about you and your credentials. In those first 10 seconds, people want to know whether you can help them with their specific issue; they don’t care how many letters you have after your name. It’s useful to show how you and your services are unique, to help you stand out from the crowd. What’s special about how you work? your training? your life experiences that led you to this field?

Another helpful idea for gaining clients is to move visitors from being passive readers to people who are actively, emotionally engaged with you or your website. This can be done by offering something of value for free—a report, an article, or a brief phone consultation—that they can receive if they contact you. You might have a brief (one- to three-minute) audio or video welcoming message on your home page, so visitors get a little sense of what you’re like. You can start building a relationship by inviting an e-mail describing their situation. Also, a testimonial about your work from a satisfied client will usually elicit more emotion and motivation to contact you than dry text.

Be sure that your home page isn’t visually monotonous. Use graphics, images, and bulleted items to break up the text, with different font sizes to highlight important concepts. Choose soothing colors and a design that isn’t too busy. Be sure the text and layout work together to make your message clear. If you have only 10 seconds to hook visitors, what are the most important ideas you want them to remember about your services?

The call to action is a key advertising concept: it means that you tell visitors exactly what you want them to do, and you make it easy for them to do it. Don’t be shy about suggesting that they call or e-mail you for more information or to make an appointment. Many therapists leave this out, thinking it’s too pushy. If done correctly, it isn’t pushy: it’s good business practice.

Make it easy to contact you. A potential client who has to work too hard to contact you will often leave your site without trying. Make sure both your phone number and e-mail address are listed on every page, and that visitors don’t have to scroll down to see them. And check your e-mail often! People searching online are used to rapid responses to their inquiries.

Once they’ve learned how to build a website, generate traffic to it, and convert visitors into clients, many therapists have found that the Internet has become their top referral source. In the past four years, I’ve been getting more than 40 referrals a month for my group psychotherapy practice from my website. Moreover, Internet referrals often require the least investment of ongoing time and money, compared with other methods of practice promotion.

Joe Bavonese

Joe Bavonese, PhD, is the director of the Relationship Institute in Michigan and the co-director of Uncommon Practices, a service that helps psychotherapists create their ideal practice.