What Makes You Click? Using Websites to Promote Public Health

I have always been proud of my ability to find information online. As a matter of fact, my ultimate find was about 12 years ago when I found my biological dad online. (Take a moment to appreciate that this was before Google became public.)

Sidenote: It was a positive experience. Here’s a picture from last year when my sister and I surprised him for his birthday.


Okay, back to public health. 

Even though I am routinely online for work or play or both, I never stopped to pay attention to which features determined how long I would stay on a website or how frequently I would visit it…until this week. And I learned a lot about the experience. So let’s discuss some of the features that work in spreading your message. Though these features are designed from the public health perspective, these guidelines are fairly universal.

1. Pretend to be a microwave.

I often refer to my kids as “the microwave generation”–they want it now and they want to put forth as little energy as humanly possible to get it. “It” can be entertainment, the remote, food….”it” doesn’t matter. The fact is that we (myself included) do not want to waste time reading information thoroughly to determine if this is the information we want.

Waiting Microwave


I’m sure that your high school English teacher would not approve of this statement, but you have to use simple language and the least number of words that can still convey the message. So, while you may have written a 10-page paper on the romanticism of mid-century French plays in English Comp, don’t put it on a website and expect people to read it all. Or at all. If you can’t condense the information, create a “teaser” paragraph and a link for more information or bullet points….

2. Crayola doesn’t like to share the market.

When designing a website, there is no need to use 48 colors of text in order to engage your audience or attract attention…but don’t be monotonous either. The best option is to use a color scheme in neutral or soft colors and (sparingly) add in brighter (and complementary) colors in order to attract attention to key pieces of information. You can equate the website colors to makeup if you’d like. Though bright makeup draws attention, it’s not the kind of attention you want. Case in point–If each of these women approached you about an important public health topic, which one would you take seriously?

Bright makeupNatural Makeup

Another trick is to change font size or the font itself to attract attention. “Less is more” after all…

3. Feelings can be more powerful than facts.

Many people find it fairly easy to laugh at references to weight when it’s in the context of a TV show or cartoon. Some people can portray issues about race and ethnicity in a way that shows how ridiculous stereotypes are. The truth is, though, that most health care issues cannot (and should not) be taken lightly. In order to get your information to stand out, though, you have the address the “Why Do I Care?” factor that many people have. To do that, you have to create feelings around your issue. You have to create the story.

One of my absolute favorite charities is Alex’s Lemonade Stand. This charity began when four-year-old Alex Scott, who was diagnosed with neuroblastoma before her first birthday, told her parents that she wanted to have a lemonade stand and donate the money to doctors who will help other children with cancer. How do I know that? Her parents, who have continued the Lemonade Stands for ten years since Alex’s death, have the story on their website. Even more, they have information about kids who have benefited from the money the charity has raised and media sources that cover the kids, fundraising events, and even Alex. This charity stands out to me because it puts a face to those that are benefiting. It creates a connection and feelings toward the children and its founder. (Be sure to have tissues handy when you visit the site!)



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