Having a website is a building block that is integral to most successful businesses these days. This is no different for counselors running a nonprofit, agency, private practice or other venture. Increasingly, people are connecting with their service providers by first encountering them online through directory listings and websites. Even when referred directly to a counselor by someone else, many prospective clients want to read more about the counselor before making contact.
The expanding importance of websites leads to various topics, including creating quality content that attracts, and connects with, the people for whom you or your organization are best suited to provide services. Before that can happen, however, people need to be able to find your website.
To that end, I want to discuss some important recent developments that affect the visibility of websites. For good measure, I’ll also cover some items you should review to ensure compliance with the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics.
What’s the big deal about SSL?
SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, is the encryption protocol for websites and browsers. If a site is using SSL, you will see “https” instead of “http” in front of the internet address/URL. Depending on your browser, you may also see a lock, the word “Secure” or both.
In the past, SSL was used primarily on e-commerce sites. The prevailing logic at the time was that the SSL level of security was necessary only when carrying out financial transactions. Later, any site featuring accounts or logins was added to the list of those needing this higher level of security.
Now, however, it is important for every site that collects information to use SSL. This is true even if you have only a simple contact form. Here’s why:
- Security: The use of SSL can help prevent malware/viruses on your website. Even if the only way that people submit information through your website is a contact form, you don’t want someone to have the potential of spying on everything submitted via that form.
- Search engine optimization (SEO): SEO is the process of improving how your website performs in searches. In short, you want your website at or near the top of the page when people search for specific terms (for example, “counselor your town”). Google “punishes” sites in search results that don’t use SSL. This means that your website may be less likely to be found by potential clients if you aren’t using SSL.
- Ethics and professional appearance: This past July, Google Chrome started showing sites as “Not Secure,” along with a red caution triangle, in the Chrome web address bar if they aren’t using SSL. This isn’t likely to make a good first impression on potential clients who are investigating your services. Furthermore, the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics requires that we take reasonable measures to protect people’s privacy and confidentiality.
Standard H.2.d. states: “Counselors use current encryption standards within their websites and/or technology-based communications that meet applicable legal requirements. Counselors take reasonable precautions to ensure the confidentiality of information transmitted through any electronic means.”
Fortunately, SSL has become much easier to implement, and many web hosts offer it for little or no cost. One program that many participate in is called Let’s Encrypt (letsencrypt.org). Be sure to check with your web host or web developer to address this if you haven’t already.
Pro tip: To learn more about SEO, check out the excellent beginner’s tutorial at moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo.
Pro tip 2: Now is the time to incorporate video. Not only does video provide an opportunity to let clients “meet” you and your organization, but it also tends to help with SEO. Counselors in private practice have reported significant success in having videos of themselves speaking about counseling and their approach or even giving tours of their office. Videos along these lines can help clients connect with us and feel more at ease about contacting us.
On the ethics side
While looking at potential improvements to your website, you have the perfect opportunity to also ensure that you’re taking steps to comply with the 2014 ACA Code of Ethics. Here are a few of the things to have on your checklist:
Post your informed consent, policies and licensure information
Standard H.5.b. of the ACA Code of Ethics says: “Counselors who offer distance counseling services and/or maintain a professional website provide electronic links to relevant licensure and professional certification boards to protect consumer and client rights and address ethical concerns.”
There isn’t necessarily a specific way or format in which these need to be posted, but they should be readily accessible. It may be a good idea to have them somewhere in your menu structure to ensure that you have accessibility covered.
Testimonials and reviews
Do you have testimonials or reviews posted on your site? Although these can be incredibly helpful for most businesses, there are some very important restrictions and caveats that counselors must follow. (For more, see ct.counseling.org/2015/04/ethical-pitfalls-of-online-testimonials-and-reviews/). Now is a great time to add some testimonials from colleagues and referral sources.
Social media policy
You likely have social media such as your Facebook page linked from your website. So, be sure that you also have an updated social media policy available on your site.
Standard H.6.b. states: “Counselors clearly explain to their clients, as part of the informed consent procedure, the benefits, limitations and boundaries of the use of social media.”
Secure contact form
Although SSL will secure data sent from a client’s computer to your web server, the protection ends there. Depending on your web host and package, there may be no encryption on the server or on the delivery of the contact form contents to your email address. This is the one point of data collection almost every counselor and counseling-related organization has on their site that can be considered a point of potential vulnerability. The good news is that there are easy and inexpensive ways to secure contact form submissions. (See tameyourpractice.com/email for more information.)
Want to know more about improving your website? Do you have specific questions? Do you have suggestions for what to cover in a future Technology Tutor column? Drop me a line.
Rob Reinhardt, a licensed professional counselor supervisor, is a private practice and business consultant who helps counselors create and maintain efficient, successful private practices. Before becoming a professional counselor, he worked as a software developer and director of information technology. Contact him at email@example.com.
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Opinions expressed and statements made in articles appearing on CT Online should not be assumed to represent the opinions of the editors or policies of the American Counseling Association.