In this week's Website Smackdown, I’m taking a look at the websites for two of the biggest hospital complexes in the world, the Mayo Clinic and the Cleveland Clinic.

You may be asking yourself, what can a small business learn from looking at the websites of two behemoth hospitals? Actually… plenty. One site understands its target audience and serves that audience’s needs extremely well, and the other just doesn’t get it.

The Mayo Clinic and Cleveland Clinic rank neck and neck (third and fourth respectively) on US News & World Report’s Honor Roll of Best Hospitals, but there’s a huge difference in the quality of their websites.

Let’s Take a Look

Most people coming to the website for a major hospital have health-related questions, require immediate need for a doctor, or need information about visiting (directions, visiting hours, etc.). Just as hospitals are in the business of patient care, their websites should reflect that same level of care for site visitors.

A hospital website should provide key information to site visitors and make it simple and intuitive to find that information. It should also reflect a level of care, professionalism, and respect upon which the hospital has built its reputation.

Take a look at the homepage for the Mayo Clinic website.

As you can see from the Mayo Clinic’s homepage, the central images are of former patients who have found their “Answers” at the Mayo Clinic. To get to those “Answers,” you have to read the tiny print to the right and click on the case study.

There is virtually nothing on the homepage that is designed to help patients, families of patients, or people looking for assistance from the hospital. After much searching, you can find (in a tiny font and in a sub-navigation) “Request an Appointment” and “Find a Doctor.” What you won’t find is a phone number, directions, or anything else that might be of real use.

By way of contrast, take a look at the Cleveland Clinic’s homepage.

The Cleveland Clinic keeps the homepage very simple. The main image rotates, showing research, technology, and patient care as the three central messages. Much more importantly, the primary navigation clearly leads you to “Locations and Directions,” “Find a Doctor,” “Patient & Visitor” information, and bold tabs for “Contact Us” and “Appointments.”

Now take a look how each site handles the critical area of “Health Information.”

The Mayo Clinic Health Information page isn’t particularly user friendly. It offers a solid A to Z search and also has searches for symptoms, drugs, tests, and healthy living. While this is all helpful, it is also (forgive the pun) very clinical. People who are looking for health information are often in crisis and the role of the healthcare provider should be to provide as much support as possible.

The Cleveland Clinic "Health Information" page offers all of the same search functions, but also provides useful tools as a phone number to contact them and even the ability to “Chat Online with a Health Information Search Specialist.” This is far more consumer friendly and much more helpful for a person with real health-related questions.

Finally, let’s look at one more service provided by both websites: Find a Doctor.

The Mayo Clinic "Find a Doctor" page (again clinical and unfriendly) features an alphabetical search by doctors and departments and nothing else. The page also features videos of three doctors telling us how wonderful the Mayo Clinic is a wonderful place.

The Cleveland Clinic’s “Find a Doctor” page not only clearly lays out five useful searches, it includes a video that actually walks you through the search process. Rather than extol the virtues of the Cleveland Clinic, it provides a real service to site visitors.

So what can you learn from these hospital websites?

  • Know your target audience and know why they are coming to your site.
  • Prioritize your navigation to serve the biggest needs of your visitors.
  • Make sure you have powerful calls to action and prominent contact information.
  • Emphasize customer service!
  • Your online messaging should reflect the messaging of your business. If you are a service provider then make sure your site is designed with your potential clients/customers in mind.

Remember, creating a great website for your business isn’t brain surgery. It’s just a matter of understanding, appreciating, and serving your target audience.