Insights / advertising

How we rebuilt a hospital’s online presence

Rebuilding a hospital website is no small feat. It is a complex endeavor with many stakeholders, several user groups and internal and external challenges to overcome to build a product that fulfills the goals of the client and provides value to its users.  

Hospital for Special Care (HSC), located in New Britain, CT, is one of the five largest free-standing specialty hospitals in the United States. Their website serves as their digital voice, a place for their patients to receive support and be a part of a community, for potential new patients to research and for people to donate and support their cause.  

HSC wanted a website that truly catered to users’ needs, gave them a forward-thinking digital presence while being wrapped in a visually appealing, yet highly usable package. This new presence needed to be a true hub of their marketing program, tracking data and providing insights to deliver growth. 

So, why a redesign? 

When determining the need for a redesign, we first look at things holistically. Content and technology audits are evaluated against the organization’s updated needs.  This approach makes sure that we are taking into consideration the goals and internal usability of the system, while from a more technical perspective, that we are choosing a system and technologies that will factor in features such as bandwidth, traffic, performance and uptime. 

Some of the factors that went into our evaluation of the HSC site: 

  • Technology: The old website’s aging content management system became difficult to maintain, didn’t have functionality standard to modern websites (including mobile responsiveness), and didn’t have a viable upgrade path. 
  • Security: The Drupal 6 content management platform has been officially deprecated and is listed as a security concern with no future updates planned.  
  • Brand and copy: Research showed that users felt the existing website was cold both visually and in the tone of its copy.  
  • Competition: While HSC is seen as a leader in the specialty hospital space, its existing website, nearly eight years old, did not reflect a leadership position in their highly competitive market space.   
  • Goal tracking: The old site lacked proper monitoring and tracking capabilities – limiting our ability to test, measure and adjust marketing approaches. 

How we made it happen 

To make the website build as smooth and effective as possible, our process includes six key steps: discovery, insights and strategy, planning, implementation, measurement and iteration.  

Gather as much information as possible 

Our strategy for redesigning the HSC website began with collaborating to understand the needs of their organization from a business perspective.  We learned about their business goals and objectives, the key stakeholders, technical limitations, and defined their key audiences.  

From these working sessions, we outlined the key audiences as: 

  • Patients: Patients were those who were currently using HSC services or had in the past and still sought out HSC for news and events.  
  • Prospective patients: Patients who are considering options for care after being diagnosed. 
  • Caregivers: Patients often seek the advice of a loved one who may be vital if the patient is unable to make decisions on his or her own.  
  • Professionals: Professionals play an important role in guiding prospective patients discharged from other facilities.  They can influence thinking about the benefits of various specialty rehab options.  
  • Donors: Those who have contributed, or potentially may contribute, to the hospital.  

At the same time, we articulated the key objectives of the project:  

  • Position HSC as a leader in the specialty rehab hospital space, its medical staff as experts in their fields and the website as an essential resource for their key specialties.  
  • Develop an improved and highly accessible data-driven user experience built on needs of key user groups and reduce frustrations from existing website.  
  • Build a digitally advanced, flexible, future-ready platform with a content management system simple to maintain using internal resources.  
  • Increase donation conversions and improve quality of messages and leads coming from “contact us” forms.  
  • Build awareness of, and participation in, HSC events, support groups and fundraising efforts. 
  • Develop a visually modern, on-brand and engaging digital presence.  

In addition to the user groups and objectives, we gathered a host of other information, including competitors, internal and external frustrations, KPIs and business strengths and weaknesses. The important part was to gather as much information as possible.  

Collect user data 

With the knowledge of HSC’s key audiences and objectives, we were able to put together a plan to gather data on user needs and frustrations. The importance of gathering actual user data is to develop a website that caters specifically towards their needs rather than relying on assumptions.  

We used interviews and surveys to gather information, targeting the user groups outlined. Surveys were used to gather qualitative information about general needs, missing features and thoughts on positioning in relation to peers. Interviews were used to gather more specific information and ask follow-up questions to understand user intent, what they wanted and why they wanted it.   


Concurrently with the research and planning sessions, we ran an audit of the website. The audit was broken into several pieces.  

The content audit used website profiling to find deficiencies with and recommended improvements for the content.  

The technical audit focused on features and functionality. This helped to drive decision making with respect to selection of a content management system, the necessary plug-ins and strategy behind the development.  

User testing tracked behavior on the existing website, including mouse movements and clicks. This gave valuable information to understand where and how users were browsing and their behaviors and frustrations with existing functionality, including forms.  

competitive analysis gave the HSC stakeholders an important view of their existing website when compared against features, design and functionality.  

Develop a strategy  

We put all the pieces of the puzzle together to give us a great set of data points, both on the qualitative and quantitative side, for making recommendations.  

A CMS is chosen 

From a technical content management perspective, we made the decision to develop the website using a customized WordPress solution. This choice was based on several factors including:  ease of use, compatibility with HSC’s needs set, wide development network, speed of WP-managed hosting, availability of plug-ins and cost to maintain.  And with no HIPAA, memberships or internal credit card processing required, there was no need for a more costly and complex system.  

Information architecture 

We collaborated with the HSC staff and used data obtained from our audit to develop a site map that would serve as the structure and navigation of the website.  We then user-tested a new navigation schema to find any confusing elements and frustration points. This testing allowed us to iterate on the navigation long before developing it out in code.  


A content strategy was recommended that focused on developing a single voice across all digital channels. This strategy recommended content that was easily digestible, concise and empathetic while also being informative without being overly clinical.  Content spacing was increased and sub-headers and breaks in copy introduced to make copy easier to scan. Video was introduced on key pages to give users multiple ways to view content.    

Design & Development 

First, additions were made to HSC’s existing brand guide to introduce a bold new secondary color palette, clean vector iconography, web-focused font styles and design patterns that could be used across marketing channels.  

Second, we iterated across wireframes and prototypes to design a modern, segment-leading website that focused on user needs and addressed key frustrations uncovered during research. ,Our focus was to build a site that was pleasing and valuable to use, easily editable by internal staff and provided a platform for future growth.  


  • Built to be highly accessible and responsive, the website adheres to the WCAG 2.1 standards and is adaptable to all platforms. 
  • Specialties are given proper landing pages to highlight their importance within the hospital.   
  • The introduction of services, in addition to specialties, introduces a more keyword-driven way for users to find content that matters to them.  
  • Bold blocks of color and icon groups separate and highlight important elements. 
  • Patient stories were one of the most requested user group features. We made them bold, prominent, impactful and able to be reused throughout the website.  
  • Shared data is at the forefront with the ability for events and news to be used site wide. 
  • Advanced search categorizes and filters search results for a more accurate search experience.  
  • Contact and donation forms are streamlined using data from research on the existing website. The donation form moved from a 4 step to a 1 step process and introduced both rapid donation buttons and recurring donations to improve donation rates.  
  • HSC’s medical staff (and their information) was another important feature in user studies. The clinical leaders have a distinct place within the website with dynamic sorting. The ability to categorize and use the leaders throughout the website in their related specialties gives a more personal connection to the HSC team.  


  • 4.5% increase in newsletter sign ups 
  • Donation conversions at 6.8% 
  • 137% increase in time on page  
  • 45% increase in event clicks  
  • 1,041% increase in downloads 
  • 5,697 video watches in just two months