A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 3 – websites

Faisal Ahmed and Paul Tunnah


Continued from “A beginner’s guide to digital pharma: part 2 – start with a plan

So you’ve finally convinced your boss to give you a budget for your fancy disease area website (or even brand website if you’re sat in the US!). Your head is awash with thoughts whizzing round your brain about what kind of features the website should have and you are already lining up an array of award winning digital agencies to help make it happen.


You could be about to fall for the biggest myth on the internet – that most famous of phrases “if you build it they will come”. Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth in the digital world.


“It takes a lot of creativity and knowledge of your proposed audience to build a website that will attract and retain users.”

It takes a lot of creativity and knowledge of your proposed audience to build a website that will attract and retain users. So take some time to think about what both you and your audience want from the website. Here’s our top ten tips for success:

1. Content really is king – focus on good content first and design second.

2. Remember that the attention span of website users is low, they don’t tend to read content but merely scan it, so make sure there are clear pointers to guide them through.

3. Stick to the key points, don’t just copy your print leaflets and transfer online! Be sure to highlight keywords, use headings, write short paragraphs and use lists.

4. Adverts, particularly pop-ups, can be a real turn-off so steer clear of them without good reason.

5. Whilst animated graphics and interactivity can seem appealing try not to make the site too flashy – it needs to work on all browsers and load in a reasonable time (load time is something Google looks at). In addition, making all images clickable and with alternate text tags will ensure you are W3C complaint (www.w3.org/).

6. Allow scrolling and don’t worry about designing the site for the CEO’s 13 inch laptop screen. People do scroll top sites such as the BBC, MSN and Facebook where the content is compelling.

7. 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.

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

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

10. If possible, feature social media tools that allow users to interact such as forums or even live chat during office hours.

Whilst rules are there to be broken and you will know of great websites that break at least one of the above, be wary of digital agencies that ignore too many of them. Are they really looking to help you engage with the users through a website that works or just win a design award?

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 five key stages and you should be able to get through at least the first two before asking for external help:

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.

4. Build the site based on the wireframe design, but incorporating your branding.

5. Once built, check the website usability using simple tools such as Google’s Website Optimizer (www.google.com/websiteoptimizer).


“Remember – we’re all website users ourselves so a key part of the design process is utilising your own personal experience of other sites…”

Remember – we’re all website users ourselves so a key part of the design process is utilising your own personal experience of other sites, including both ones you like and don’t like. Pay attention to their layout and learn from their successes and failures.

Of course, there is a lot more to websites which needs to be covered separately, such as search engine optimisation (SEO) and making them mobile friendly, but we’ll come onto that later.

As always, let us know your comments or questions below or Tweet @pharmaphorum.

Read part 4 – “Twitter” here

About the authors:

Faisal Ahmed is one of a handful of people in the UK that has been involved with digital for over 12 years, having been part of the start-up team at amazon, defining how we shop online. Faisal has launched digital strategies for 90 football Clubs, the ECB and WRC. He also launched Playboy’s mobile and social media platforms in 2006 and one of the first online social networks. Over the last 2 years Faisal has been Head of Digital at a leading healthcare agency winning over 15 awards and bringing to life both one of the first mobile apps and augmented reality in healthcare. Faisal can be found tweeting here @sickonthenet.

Paul Tunnah is Founder and Managing Director of www.pharmaphorum.com, the dynamic online information and discussion portal for the pharmaceutical industry featuring news, articles, events / company listings and online discussion. For queries he can be reached through the site contact form or on Twitter @pharmaphorum.

What’s the key to a really great website?