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Build a better LTC web site: move beyond brochureware.

Now that 136 million Americans have become regular Internet users, there is little doubt that every retirement community needs an online presence to be successful. But what should it look like?

Can your community get by with a single Web page with a picture, a couple of paragraphs of text, and contact information?

The basics

Every LTC Web site should say "who" the facility is, what management believes in, and what is offered. It should also answer why a prospective resident would want to move there, and how to get in touch with the facility.

A study of 50 LTC Web sites conducted in early 2004 assessed how those communities use the Internet. The communities included were all CCRCs with at least 200 beds, selected randomly from 21 states. It found that while nearly all those surveyed contained the basic pages, there was wide variation in how different communities addressed the same issues.

Here is a roundup of the essential components of your Web site.

Splash Page. This is a simple page--often just a graphic--that appears before the home page and indicates brand identity before the visitor plunges into the site. See for an example. Splash pages are attractive, but they can interfere with a visitor getting to your site and are rarely used in LTC Web sites.

Home Page. Every site had a home page. Some were attractive and professionally designed, others were jumbled, muddled, and nearly incoherent. The best ones, like The Highlands at Pittsford ( and The Seabrook ( conveyed a strong brand identity through an attractive graphic, contained no more than one hundred words, and offered clear navigation options for further exploration of the Web site.

Background Pages. Nearly all sites had pages titled "Our Story," "About Us," "Our History," "Our Mission," "OurValues," and so on. These pages convey the character of your community. Again, good design is important. Avoid dense page layout--a and a quote is often more effective than a thousand-word essay.

Product Information. Each of the 50 sites in the study offered factual information about their offerings. Many had separate pages for services, rates, floor plans, amenities, and things to do. The most effective sites didn't just describe what they offer, they demonstrated it with pictures, short quotes from residents and staff, stories, and other creative presentations.

Tour Pages. Online tours are a wonderful way to enable visitors to see your community without leaving their computer. But despite the low cost and high value of tour pages, only 20 percent of the sites in the study offered this.

The simplest and least expensive approach is just a map with clickable hotspots that show a picture. One step up is to use third-party "virtual tour" software. For an example, see the Rockwood Retirement tour ( The Highlands at Pittsford offered a 360-degree virtual tour.

Maps and Directions. Most LTC Web sites provided complete information on how to find their community. The better sites offered an automatic link to online mapping programs such as Mapquest or Expedia. Try Before You Buy. Some Web sites offered ways for prospects to taste community living before making a commitment. Martins Run offers a free "Midweek Getaway" at Other innovations include ACTS' "Join Us For Lunch" button at and Erickson Retirement's "Get your free information kit" button at

Resident Testimonials. What better way to promote your community than to have residents speak for themselves? Some sites, like Vantage House ( highlighted residents' stories right on their home page.

Contact Us. At the very least, your home page should show your name, address, telephone number and email address, in text that's large enough to read and that resizes in response to browser settings. Of the sites studied, 60 percent provided contact information on the home page, 30 percent required a single click, 6 percent required two or more clicks.

Amazingly, 4 percent of the Web sites in the study offered visitors no way to get in touch with them. One was due to a programming error; the "Contact Us" link displayed a page saying, "Contact us directly or leave a message" but nothing further. Another CCRC provided information on the parent company, a hospital system, but nothing about the community itself.

One nice, friendly touch was provided by McKendree Village (, which included photos of key staff with their telephone numbers and email addresses.

To encourage online contacts, offer both email links and Web forms. Email links are easy to implement and to use. But they don't always work, especially if the visitor uses only a Web-based email program such as Yahoo, so Web forms are necessary as well. Presbyterian Homes of Illinois provides a nicely designed "Contact Me" Web form (

Of the sites studied, 36 percent offered both Web forms and email, 22 percent Web forms only, 38 percent email only, and 4 percent offered neither.

Odds and Ends. A few sites offered unusual and creative ways to deliver their message to visitors.

LutheranCare in Clinton, N.Y. ( offered downloads of attractive, professionally produced movie clips from its home page.

Alexian Village of Milwaukee produced its own radio program, "The Morning View," and offered free downloads (

Presbyterian Homes of Illinois (www.presbyterian a clever Retire Nothing@ survey, designed to engage visitors while collecting

information about them.

Dynamic features

What set the leaders apart from the followers are dynamic, community-oriented features for all to see. A dynamic Web site changes day-today, even minute-to-minute.

In the LTC world, that means bringing the life of the community online, so that residents, families and visitors can all see what's going on, right now, in your community.

Dynamic Web sites are often interactive. Residents use them to sign up for activities, reserve a private dining room or order a special meal, pay their bills, send maintenance requests, send email, and participate in online discussion forums. Because dynamic Web sites encourage people to contribute, they form the basis of a true online community.

Mainstream portals like Yahoo and MSN, news sites from CNN and The New York Times, stores like eBay and Amazon, all are successful examples of dynamic Web sites. In fact, every successful Web site in the world is dynamic. But 70 percent of LTC Web sites had no dynamic content whatsoever.

Why would anyone not build a dynamic Web site? The downside to a dynamic Web site is that it must be kept current, which requires some regular attention.

Nothing on the Web is more depressing than seeing a site that was built five years ago with the intent of being dynamic, was abandoned, and contains nothing but a smattering of ancient activity schedules, stale dining menus, and old news.

So the first rule of dynamic LTC Web sites is: don't overreach. Create the components that you know you can effectively maintain. Here are some examples of dynamic Web site components:

Resident Email. The most important reason for older adults to use the Internet is email, and what better way to do it than through their retirement community's Web site ? This is an excellent and inexpensive way to increase traffic to your Web site, establish your reputation as a leader and innovator, and improve quality of life for your residents.

The simplest approach is to create one email account for everyone to share. One community has a line on their home page that states "Family members and friends can email residents at:" followed by the shared email address. Westminster Village in Scottsdale, Ariz., ( maintains a shared email account and offers to print emails and hand-deliver them to residents.

A more comprehensive approach is to provide individual email accounts for each of your residents, with enough public-access computers to make sure they can get online whenever they want.

This preserves resident privacy and encourages each resident to develop basic computer skills. Country Meadows offers such a program, and uses it for marketing advantage on its Web site; see

Resident email can be adapted to meet the needs of a wide range of users, from the easy-to-use style of Merrill Gardens ( to the feature-rich, sophisticated site for independent living residents of Erickson Retirement ( Calendar of Events. Your activities staff already maintains a schedule of events. Placing that schedule on the Web site helps residents plan their day, it helps family members know what's going on, and it makes your community more attractive to prospects. Sixteen percent of surveyed Web sites provided a real activities calendar (not just a sample of typical activities).

The simplest approach is to list regularly scheduled activities: transportation schedules, concierge services, special events, overnight excursions, weekly evening entertainment, weekly movies, bridge lessons, computer and art classes, etc. See for a sample.

Even better, offer a real calendar listing all events in your community. We found a straightforward calendar on

Erickson Retirement Communities offers a terrific activities management system on its resident Web portal ( It previews right on the home page the activities coming up in the next 24 hours, offers links to details, and lets residents sign up for activities online.

Dining and Transportation. If you want to bring your community online, it's easy to add dining menus and transportation schedules to your Web site. These documents may already exist online in your community, as Word or Excel files, and with very little additional effort you can publish them as Adobe Acrobat files on your Web site.

Although this is easy, only 4 percent of the Web sites we studied had their dining menus online, and none published transportation schedules.

News and Announcements. Chances are you've already got timely information that can be easily added to your Web site: announcements, news releases, newsletters, and so on. Just as with dining menus, it's easy to put these files online.

Be careful about publishing newsletters on the Web, because they might reveal health-related information about residents that would violate HIPAA regulations.

Greencroft Retirement Communities ( in Goshen, Ind., has a "News and Events" tab on its home page that leads to a well designed, easy-to-use page of timely information, including recent press releases, a Senior Center Update, a resident newsletter and even a staff publication.

Jeff Pepper is the founder and president of Touchtown Inc. (, a provider of Web sites and senior-friendly software to the LTC industry. He can be reached at (412) 826-0460 or via email at
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Technology
Author:Pepper, Jeff
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Oct 1, 2004
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