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Smart Thinking blog

Insights and expert advice on the key issues facing today’s pharma marketer

Website build and usability

How to execute digital: Faisal Ahmed explains how to build a website to represent your brand

How to execute digital: Second in a new series from Faisal Ahmed, formerly part of the start-up team at Amazon, explaining the practical steps as to how pharma can use digital technology. This week, Faisal discusses how to build a website to represent your brand.

An old stat by Manhattan research states: over 49 per cent of GP's recommend a product website, so if you don't have one, will doctors recommend a competitor's drug?

How important is a website to you? Do healthcare professionals (HCPs) visit a branded website after a sales rep calls? There's yet to be any research on this, but I have a feeling any results would say they do.

In our second article in the series of 'How to execute digital' we give you some quick tips on website build.

Getting started

Before you begin, here's a quick guide to getting started on putting your website together:

Have a really good think about the end user first. Before presenting an idea either internally, or to a client I always write down 10 FAQs and a quick press release. Given that a press release is inevitably promotional, and with the FAQs in your hand, you can clarify the objectives and drive the design forward.

Then think about content. When you list the content requirements, think about your targeted users and what they might type into search engines to find your website.

Users digest information differently online - they like to read fast and scan pages, and look to pick out keywords. So stick to the key points, don't just copy your printed leaflets and put them online. Cut out any unnecessary information (which is hard to do in healthcare, but can be done). When writing your copy, involve a medic, patient and HCP in content research.

Be sure to highlight keywords, use headings to break up long copy, write short paragraphs and use lists.

Photos, charts and graphs are worth a thousand words. Our industry has a lot of data so please take advantage of it, visualise it and use it to break up relevant long copy. And add videos that include key opinion leaders (KOLs), modes of action and patients, and also have a "how to use the website" video.


While animated graphics and interactivity can seem appealing, try not to make the site too flashy. Your site needs to work on all browsers and load in a reasonable time (load time is something Google considers when rating your site).

Heatmap from user eyetracking studies of a website showing an 'F' patternImportantly make sure images are clickable so they can be enlarged and ensure that they are all named correctly with alternative text tags.

Also make sure text on the page can be enlarged, this is so important to our industry and this will also ensure you are W3C compliant.

Allow scrolling and don't worry about designing the site for the CEO's 13inch laptop screen. People do scroll; top sites such as the BBC, MSN, Google and Facebook all have scrolling.

Always place important content on the left or right of the page as research shows that users tend to look at the edges before the middle (see relevant heatmap from user eyetracking studies).

Don't over-use colour as bright colours or too many colours can be off-putting. Simple colours with a white background can be very effective.

Make sure the “contact us” information is clearly visible; it makes the website appear more human and allows users to get in touch.

Build the website with responsive design integrated. This will automatically resize the website for the right browser, ie fit onto tablet computers, mobile browsers and various screen sizes on your PC. 

Using an external agency

If you do use an external agency, it's best to go in with some clear direction on what you are looking for. We know it can be tricky to know where to start and tempting to leave it to the experts, but a website build can be broken down into key stages:

  1. Sit down with a blank piece of paper and sketch out an overall look and feel.
  2. Draft out all copy for the website, play the words out as if you were a user reading them and keep it short and to the point.
  3. Move onto wireframes for the site appearance, you can use tools such as Balsamiq to create these wireframes.
  4. Design the site based on the wireframe design, incorporating your branding.
  5. Use a content management system so you can update copy and images at anytime yourself.
  6. Once built, check the website usability using simple tools such as Google's Website Optimizer.
  7. Do browser-testing tools such as browser shots.
  8. Always test and get feedback, don't forget digital is always in beta and can always be improved.


Google Website Optimizer Tour


A good template design will have: 

  • A visually pleasing look and layout
  • Emphasise different content types
  • Visual hierarchy showing importance of content on size
  • Marketing messages that have a call to action for different demographics
  • Clear navigation of content and services.

Best practice

A few examples of great sites in our sector are Sativex UK, Questival, Fact To Fitness,, Stamp Out Gout, Psoriasis 360 and Man MOT.

As usual it's hard to cover everything in one article so please do leave a comment or ask a question (you can do this anonymously) and we'll get back to you.



Article by
Faisal Ahmed

head of digital at Life Healthcare Communications. Ahmed was previously part of the start-up team at Amazon, and was later responsible for digital strategies at 90 football clubs, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the World Rally Championship. He was also previously head of digital at Langland, winning over 30 awards for his digital work.

16th January 2012


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