Friday, October 2, 2015

We Need to Talk About Your Author Website

Hi Everyone!

Travis here again! Since I've been good (still resisting urge to post ponies), Rachel's letting me write some more business related posts for the blog. ^__^ Today I'd like to talk to you about websites. Specifically, author websites, really though... your author website.

The reason I want to talk about this is because your website is perhaps the most important online tool you have as an author. Yet, every day, we see authors who neglect their websites horribly and definitely to their detriment.

Websites can do just about anything, but an author website definitely has some specifics that it provides.

What a Professional Website Does for Its Author

1. It Provides Legitimacy

Would you do business with someone online whose website was old, ugly, and hastily built?

what're thoooose???!!!!
Probably not. Those are all usually warning signs of scammers at worst and a lack of professionalism at best. A sloppy website is like a sloppy office, an indication that not all is well run.

Would you want a potential reader, agent, or prospect to think that of you? Would you ever hand someone an old, ratty business card with its phone number crossed out and a new one hand-written over? No! You want to look your best and you want them to see how amazing you are so that they give you business.

Even if you pay nothing for a website and don't want it to have anything other than books and an about page, you need to take the time to make a good looking site. There's a lot of powerful and free templates out there. Some you can setup with only basic HTML and FTP skills and free tools. There are also many low cost services for getting a good site. There's also the ever popular Wordpress. My point is - don't let the costs or tech be a barrier to you.

In the end, you don't know who's looking at you online. So it pays to look your best at all times.

We try to update and Pretentious Title every 2 years.  That seems to be enough to keeping it modern looking. After about 3+ years, even nice websites will start to look dated.

(One way you can check this is to look at websites on CSS Galleries. These are showcases of the best of modern webdesign. Look at some great sites, now look at yours. Is it cool looking or old and busted?)

2. Your Website Acts as a Center for Your Online Presence

Ideally, people have a lot of ways to discover you. There's the Amazon recommendation engine, there's social media, there's blogs, there's podcasts, back matter, newsletters, blog posts, referrals, search engines, and and... and I could go on forever. There's as many means as you can come up with and pursue, really.

When someone finds you though, regardless of where, some people are going to want to know more. How do they find more though?

Your website of course! Everything should point to your website and your website should be how they are introduced to the world of you the author. For example, on there's 8 years of interviews, podcast, guest posts, and this blog and all of its content. It's a lot and it took a lot of work to get or make. However, anyone who makes it to our website will find days of things to read, watch, listen to, and buy.

What's important here is that people come in to your site from many points, but anywhere they go once they get there will lead them to your books and your author presence.

What should your site do? Well, the actual specifics of things like "have a blog" aren't in and of themselves important. Its not a recipe (mix 2 parts blog with 3 parts twitter). What is important is that your website directs people to whatever it is that you do online as an author. That you do something is what's important. Be it a podcast, a blog, a wattpad, slideshows, youtube, etc... You want to make your site a crossroads where your different fans can find your far flung activities and books. Always the books.

Lastly, don't forget the social media links! Where ever you are on the social media networks, you want people to follow you. Once someone has discovered you, capturing them in some way is really important. Otherwise they move on and forget you. A follow is excellent. It lets you come back to them later when you have something important to say.

3. It Sells Books!

Would you believe that, every day, I see author websites that make it hard to find the books? Or worse, hard to buy them? I still can't believe it, but its actually pretty common. So I'm gonna state the obvious here,

A good author website makes it quick and easy to find out about the author's books and to buy them.

Without trying, a potential reader should be able to find a list of your books or series. Furthermore, things like the order of your books in any series should be very clear. The moment you make them work to find out which book they need to start with is the moment you've lost 80% of your conversions. If you want to learn more about this, check out Don't Make Me Think, its a classic of web design psychology for a reason.

Anyway, make sure that there are be proper calls to action to buy or read a sample for any and all books. Ask people to "Buy Now"! Its ok.

4. It Generates Leads

Lots of people want to talk to authors. There's all manner of industry professionals, fans, agents, podcasters, e-zine editors, and so on who are all seeking authors out. As you publish books, more and more of these folks will come to you with valuable opportunities. You don't want to miss these!

For example, the vast majority of interviews, podcasts, and videos Rachel has done over the years have come in blind via her contact form. Sure we pushed, courted, or networked for some, but a lot just came to her.

If someone wants to contact you, the author you, does your website make it easy? If not, I would highly recommend a contact form on your website. It provides a safe and invaluable means for strangers to get in touch with you.

You can put up your, or a, email address of course. This method will get you a lot of spam though. It will also come with attachments sometimes. Having worked in both IT and IP industries, I do not like strangers sending Rachel or I attachments. There's a lot of dangers there beyond just security concerns.

A contact form is much better, even if its just a Google form you whipped up, as it limits what the public can send you, but in a good way. All you need from this form is first contact. You can use email to follow up and mange the conversation/relationship from there. No fancy messaging systems needed.

Furthermore, I feel that a contact form is kind to your fans. A lot of people out there are too shy to email authors directly.

I liked... hi.. your book.

A contact form makes overcoming this barrier a lot easier. It's an invitation to contact you, and that really helps the introverts out there.

5. Your Website Gathers Data

What are the demographics of your readership? Do you know their age brackets and % male-female? Don't forget country too.

Do you know how they found out about you? Was it search, or social, or maybe did someone big link to you and you didn't know?

Google analytics, or most good analytics packages, can tell you these things. Mostly anyway. It's not perfectly accurate, especially because its the website audience that's being measured not and necessarily readers. Still it's much better than nothing.

Using these demographics are their own post, but suffice it to say, they provide useful insights and growth metrics into your business.

Additionally, if you run a sale or promotion of some kind you can create special landing pages to track how many people come in from it. If you get fancy, you can use event tracking to monitor their clicks on things like your books' buy links. (You can also do a limited form of this using links btw).

6. It Provides supporting materials

There's all manner of web-based projects authors undertake that need a webpage but not really a website.

For example, in the new 2k to 10k audiobook, there are many tables full of data. This worked for the ebook, but listening to someone reading you tables of data is booooring! To keep people's eyes from glazing over, we created a hidden page, This way we reference it in the audio and just give a summary instead. Much smoother.

Anyway, I'm sure that as you do contests, different media types, slideshows, promos, and whatever else this wild west era of publishing comes up with, you'll probably have need of some special pages.

7. It Gets Attention

I'm sure you've heard the phrase "content is king." This is because the web is a social place where we go to read, share, learn, and be entertained, and all of that comes from content--the interesting posts, pictures, articles, whatever that you generate and put on your site. Content brings in readers. Content gets shares. Content gets links back to your site. Content gets you into the Google search results.

Even if your content's not directly about your books, all of this noise is great for your writing career, The more places your name and books come up, the more attention you and your site are getting, and the more books you'll sell. This is especially important if your (pen)name is shared by someone reasonably famous or successful. Your fans are going to find that other person when they search for you or for more of your books! 

Your website ties together all your online content or it serves as the source for a lot of it. Either way, its your front line weapon to win the battle for that first page of Google. 

Things Your Website Doesn't Need

What I'm not including on the above points also deserves mention.

Fancy Graphics - sure they look cool, but they start at expensive and go to very expensive. How much bang for the buck they provide is pretty questionable. Your money is probably better spent elsewhere. Your core website graphics should be good and should be enough.

Forums - while building a fan community on your website might sound like a great idea, its a lot of pain. Ask any moderator out there, forums/boards/groups/communities are a LOT of work. They are drama generating machines. If you put yourself in charge of one that is about your creative works.., you are probably in for a bad time. Leave the fan communities to the fans.

Excessive Personal Information - every author needs an about page and there needs to be some information about you up there. Some readers don't care about the author, but others do. Also, industry contacts will want to check these details out. However, be discriminating about what you put up. Remember that this is a professional area. No one wants to see your 'author' vacation photos or 500 family pics.. etc... Less is more!

Ads - some authors sell ads or make careful deals with folks to advertise on their author website. BE CAREFUL with this. First, visitors don't like ads. Second, if you advertise, then you are effectively endorsing whatever products the ad server decides to plaster on your site. Do you want to endorse that One Trick To Lose Belly Fat? Also, ads are direct competition. If someone clicks that ad, they've left your site and the stuff you are selling. (Rachel note: they also make your site look cheap. Stay away!)

Travis's Author Website Checklist

If you're not sure if your site is working for you, ask yourself these questions about your website:
  1. Is it quick and easy to find the books? (max 1 click for list of books, 2 for a specific book)
  2. Does it look clean and modern?
  3. Are there calls to action to buy or read more?
  4. Is there basic information about you the author?
  5. Are the social media links easy to see?
  6. Does it provide a simple and safe means for people to contact you?
  7. Is it gathering data for you?
If the answer is yes, congratulations! You've got a good site. If you answered no, that's an area you may want to look at if you want to be getting the most out of your web presence. Plus, it's probably an easy fix, so why not get the best bang for your buck?

This isn't all you can do with your author site of course. There's so much more in terms of features, good design, and optimization. These are what I consider to be the essentials or the basics though. Hopefully I gave you all a good run down of what role the author website plays and you can use that to make sure your bases are covered.

Even though these aren't hard rules, they should serve as a good checklist and guide for you.

If you want to see a good example of everything I've talked about today, might I recommend ^_~



Sam said...
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Jimney said...

Just at the right time! Very informative post. Thanks, Travis. :)

Unknown said...

This was great! Thank you so much!

james_lopez said...
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Unknown said...
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