Over my 15 years in web development and social media, I’ve seen healthcare colleagues venture into blogging but quickly decide to quit. They had little regard for search engine optimization (SEO), visual design, security, or performance. More egregiously, they posted content that violated patient privacy. Although many of these points extend beyond actually creating content – the single most important aspect of blogging – they are arguably just as important to combat cyber security, keep up with the latest trends, improve indexing on major search engines, and guard patient information.
Creating a website is a worthwhile investment for professionals seeking to build their portfolios, network with others, commercialize their businesses, and catalog their lives. Although having a tech background is helpful, you do not need ANY programming experience to build a successful blog. For the purposes of this post, I’ll provide some tips centered around using WordPress (WP), a popular open-source content management system (CMS), specifically geared towards those who work in healthcare. WP powers roughly 34% of the Internet at the time of this writing, so it has a robust community of users that is always growing!
PURPOSE AND STRUCTURE
While one can certainly jump head first into creating a blog, it’s nice to have an underlying purpose. Why are you doing this? This reason can change over time too. I use my blog to catalog my medical training and life as a physician while trying to provide educational posts mixed with personal milestones and tech interests. Pretty broad scope, but hey, that’s the beauty of it! My other social media outlets are used as channels for the content I create on this site to reach a larger audience. If you’re going to utilize multiple platforms (WP, Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook Page, etc.), consider using a similar username everywhere for homogeneity.
On WP specifically, take advantage of tags and categories. Think about how you can divide your content into categories (ie, medical, tech, etc.) and as you write posts, provide relevant tags to make it easier to search for related posts (ie, apple, tesla, dialysis, neurology). These methods help organize your blog from the very beginning and can be expanded as your topics grow. Search engines love organized content.
Finally, think about monetization. It’s easy to make some money through web-based advertisements on your blog, partnerships with companies on Instagram, etc. This practice is rampant across social media, so it’s easy to find examples from your favorite “influencer.” My personal belief is websites that care about their visitors don’t inundate them with incessant popups, advertisements, giveaways, etc. But hey, you do you! 😉 If you’re interested, Google AdSense is a popular option!
FOUNDATION – DOMAIN NAME AND HOST
After making the decision to start a WP blog to catalog your life, curate content, advertise your practice, etc., it’s important to create a solid foundation by choosing a domain name and host. Although there are countless options from HostGator and InMotion to Bluehost and GoDaddy, I’ve been a very happy customer with Cloudways (my referral link) as my host. Some hosts will also throw in a domain name and specific “WordPress Hosting.”
In layman’s terms, if your WP blog is a home, then you build the framework (content) using a host’s materials (servers, tools, etc.) while a domain name is your home’s Internet address (www.your-domain.com). One can purchase both hosting and domain names from the same provider. Additionally, hosts include a myriad of free, automated setup options to get you up and running with a WP blog in minutes! Regardless, you need both a domain name and a host for that domain name.
This point is simple enough – use your own voice. Often times people ask me “how to write” or “if this sounds weird.” Your posts should sound like you. Let people know about you. Visitors are receptive of similarities with authors and then implicitly drawn to what they have to say. Also, speak in first person. Websites written in third person often sound like the content was created by someone else on behalf of the individual which, in my opinion, makes the message less meaningful. I want to know the person behind the post.
If you’re reluctant about writing, have others proofread your content! The more you write, the better you’ll get! The beauty of WP is that like any word processor, you can create drafts, save them, come back to them, proofread, edit, add some more thoughts, etc. Published posts can just as easily be modified.
Design is arguably the most fun part about creating your blog. By hosting your own WP website, you can make your corner of the Internet anything you want! The overwhelming majority of users use free or paid themes which can be easily applied to your blog and swapped out when you want to change the visual aesthetics of the page. WP itself has a wonderful theme repository, but I also recommend places like ThemeForest. Modern themes allow users to very easily change design elements, widgets (things on the sidebar and footer of the page), navigation menus, headers, colors, fonts, and more! Dive in with a free theme, and once you learn the basics, spend some money and invest in a paid theme. If you’re more tech-inclined, you can also edit the source code and stylesheets to whatever extent your heart desires!
A great way for some design inspiration is to look at other websites. See what they’re including in their headers, footers, and sidebars. See what color schemes and font combinations seem to work. 🙂
Plugins are arguably the most powerful feature of WP. Similar to themes, they come in “free and paid” versions that allow users to extend functionality and add features to their websites. Over a decade ago, RK.md had over 30 plugins to make things “look cool” with live chats, colorful widgets, popups, simplified archives, AJAX comments, etc. Over the years, I’ve really tried to steer more towards simplicity by balancing functionality with performance. Here’s my current library: RK.md WordPress plugins. WP also has their own plugin library, and from your site’s backend, installing plugins from this repository is as simple as a few clicks.
Remember that the overwhelming majority of code vulnerabilities are due to plugins, so keep them updated and delete unused plugins.
Open source projects like WP benefit significantly from the contributions of core developers and freelancers alike who are constantly refining the code to conform to evolving standards. Cyber attacks are similarly becoming more sophisticated utilizing backdoor techniques and even brute force methods to steal your information. Do some research about security, and consider trying out plugins which aim to combat these threats: Wordfence, Securi, iThemes Security, BulletProof, etc.
Countless studies have shown that website performance matters when it comes to user engagement and retention. Reducing page load times by milliseconds can translate to additional revenue for large companies, more sign ups, more search engine traffic, etc. Obviously the more bells-and-whistles you add to WP with fancy themes and plugins can slow your site to a crawl, so it’s all about balance!
Fortunately, there are many plugins that can streamline this process for you including WP-Rocket, WP Smush Pro, W3 Total Cache, WP-Optimize, and more!
HIPAA AND PRIVACY
You can’t talk about “social media” and “healthcare” in the same sentence without considering the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) that safeguards medical information. When this legislation was first enacted in 1996, social media, smartphones, and the like were still years away from creating a paradigm shift in how we create and consume information. Now it’s possible to share pictures and opinions to a broad audience within seconds.
Here’s a simple rule – before you submit anything on the Internet, ask yourself if it even remotely violates patient privacy. If there is any doubt, don’t do it! It’s just not worth it. There’s nothing private about a “private” account. Don’t fool yourself. Deleting old Tweets, changing your username, hiding old posts, and sharing impulsive thoughts with the intention of removing them later are dangerous practices that can have serious consequences on your career.
In addition, writing about controversial topics (ie, politics) is risky as the Internet is very polarizing and people are quick to judge you without actually knowing you. Tread lightly or avoid these topics all together.
“If you build it, (they) will come.”— Field of Dreams
So you’ve gone through this investment of time and money, but only a few people are engaged with the material you’re posting. What now?!
Organic growth of a successful blog takes months to years! If you went into this process for the right reasons, your focus should center around the content. If people find what you have to say useful, they’ll be more inclined to share it with their family, friends, and colleagues who, in turn, will share it. Using other channels (Instagram, Facebook Page, Twitter, etc.) to cross-reference your blog posts will also share your content to a larger audience.
Don’t be discouraged by a handful of page views per day! I’ve found blogging to be a fruitful endeavor if only for the memories and practice of writing! When I first started writing over a decade ago, I had less than 10 visitors per day… and only because I posted links on my Facebook profile. Create useful content, let search engines index your site, let social media spread your thoughts… and your traffic will slowly increase!
We’re biased by our own way of doing things. Creating a blog is no different! Seek advice from your colleagues about your blog’s design, about how you write, topics you cover, etc. You’ll often receive amazing recommendations that give your blog a bit more polish and steer you away from compromising patient confidentiality. I’m more than happy to give recommendations too. 🙂
So with all of this information, how should you go about launching your blog?
- Pick a host, create a shared hosting account, and select a domain name.
- Navigate to the host’s panel of tools and install WordPress.
- Search for themes and plugins you might be interested in installing
- Create tags and categories for topics you aim to cover
- Create an “About Me” page
- Create links to your other social media platforms
- Experiment with design – play with fonts, colors, menus, widgets, etc.
- Learn by doing. The more you tinker, the more comfortable you’ll get! Whenever you have a question, remember that Google is a great resource!
Hopefully you found this overview helpful! Please drop me a comment below with additional questions or feedback! 🙂