Marriage Counseling Portal Turns Four

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When Chris Hartwell, MSW started The Family & Marriage Counseling Directory during graduate school for Social Work at Tulane, he never imagined it would become the fixture on the web that it has. The website pioneered the "search engine friendly" directory for therapists, and has grown to become a wealth of resources for family and marriage counseling on the web.


I'm an old-school web designer that needs to catch up with the times; I'm learning CSS, PHP, MYSQL, the new design is going to be great, but I have a LOT of work to do.

In the Fall of 2003, Chris Hartwell, MSW, started The Family & Marriage Counseling (FMC) Directory. What he didn't know at the time, was that the website would quickly move up to the top of the "marriage counseling" ranks on Google and other search engines, and stay there for the next 4 years.

When Chris was in graduate school for Social Work at Tulane University, he started designing websites for a living because it was something he was passionate about, and being self-employed provided good flexibility for the rigorous studies. He was fascinated with search engines, because he wanted his clients' websites to do well for them and show up near the top of the results. This was when he learned about a concept known as "The Invisible Web." The problem was that many websites and databases on the internet were not accessible to the search engines, and frequently, those that were able to get crawled were not "optimized" to show up for keywords that most people looking for the data would type in. In other words, there is a lot of data out there on the web that you couldn't, and still can't find in Google.

The problem became clear when he went to Google and typed in "Marriage Counseling." At the time (2003), there were a few websites for therapists that showed up, but no directories, or ways for people to find marriage counselors near where they live. Chris thought that marriage counseling would be a popular search too. "With all of the statistics on the news these days about failing marriages and the divorce rate, you'd think that half of the people in America would be typing in 'marriage counseling,'" said Chris. "I created the website, and they poured in." "It was like Google opened the faucet." His website took off, and within a few months, was the number one site on Google for "marriage counseling."

The Family & Marriage Counseling Directory ( started off listing all of the therapists for free. Chris did his best to ensure that all major cities were represented. Soon the site started showing up for many other popular searches as well, like "family counseling," "couples counseling," "relationship counseling," and thousands more. People started to notice. Therapists were getting many referrals from the site, some even reported that it sustained their practice. "My stats show roughly a half million unique visitors per year," Chris stated.

"The best part for me, was that people were getting connected with resources." "I had found a way to combine two things in life that I really enjoyed doing - social work, and web design." Chris went on to write his master's thesis with Parker Sternburgh on "Search Engine Accessibility and Community Resources." The work was a guide for community resource agencies to develop websites and data that would be found more easily by the public through the major search engines on the web.

Today, The Family & Marriage Counseling Directory is a very popular place for therapists to be listed on the web. It takes a lot of time to keep up with, so advertising helps to pay the bills, and therapists do have to pay in order to get listed these days. It's also not the only counseling directory on the web anymore. Since 2003, others have tried to duplicate Chris's results, but only a handful have succeeded close to the degree that The FMC Directory has.

"I talk to the therapists who advertise on my site all the time, because I'm the only elf in the woodshed; when they need a listing updated, they email me," says Chris. "They tell me all the time that my site drives more referrals to them than any other source, and I'm still in awe most of the time when I hear it - to think of all of the people it's connected with help over the years, it's amazing."

When asked what's next on the agenda, Chris goes on to state that he has many different projects "in the works," probably none as big as The FMC Directory, but that needs a lot of work as well. "It's old," he says, "I need to redesign it - it's not even database driven like it should be." "I'm an old-school web designer that needs to catch up with the times; I'm learning CSS, PHP, MYSQL, the new design is going to be great, but I have a LOT of work to do." The web site still manages to keep Chris busy these days.


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