Back in the olden days, writers used to write, sell their books and spend their money on opium. Times have changed and today’s modern writer has no time for opium, what with all that social media stuff to maintain.
For some authors, the idea of creating a website can seem overwhelming. But it’s not that hard, provided you have a game plan in mind, give yourself plenty of time and have fun doing it. I’ve put together some tips you might find useful. I also asked my friend, Mike Costanzo, for his recommendations. He’s a web designer (they’re good people to know) and helped me with my site.
A blog is not a website. I started off with a blog (mainly because it was free) but after awhile, I got frustrated because I wanted the blog to function like a website. So I ditched WordPress and signed up with Squarespace. I’ve been really happy with the service. They offer professional and customizable templates and hosting for a reasonable cost (I pay $16 a month). If you decide to go the blog route, consider paying for the “no ad” option and a domain without “wordpress” or “blogspot” in the url. It’ll make your web address look more professional.
Think visually. Writers focus on their words, as well they should. But we live in a visual age and images go a long way toward making your site more attractive. I’ve scanned old photos, wrote messages in the snow and drawn stick figures for my blog posts. And while we all resort to Google image searching, try not to rely on it too much. An original photo is better – and more personal. Plus, you don’t have to worry about copyright. Consider investing in a good camera. Added bonus: you should be able to write it off on your taxes.
Keep it current. If I check out your “What’s New” section and it lists stuff from 2012, that says, “I don’t care.” And if you don’t care, why should a visitor care? Take five minutes to update your site. Please. If you’ve got nothing coming up, tell people to check back at a later date.
Don’t focus on stats. There’s nothing more depressing than posting something, tweeting it out and having three click-throughs, one of them being yours. But the web is a strange place. Those posts will continue to generate traffic in the weeks to come. Don’t think short-term. Your goal is to create a content-rich website that anyone can – and will – visit at any time.
Think about typography. Your publisher cares about typography. So should you. Web typography has come a long way in the last five years. But choose wisely. A single font with many weight variations is the safest bet. Also watch your body copy font size. I usually use 16 pixels to 18 pixels as a base. Here’s some more info about typography.
Build connections. Your site is a little tourist town. Build connections and entry points to attract visitors. Link to sites you find interesting and post it on Twitter. Most creative types are happy to know someone is paying attention to their work. Chances are, they’ll return the favour. Even big organizations usually have merger PR departments. This is all part of something called SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Here’s a great primer. (See what I just did there?)
Image text is important. Name your images something search-friendly and descriptive of the actual image. An example would be “Cover-of-Natural-Order.jpg” vs. “IMG200303.jpg.” Also, always add a descriptive alt text. Don't go crazy here. You just need a short sentence. In the previous example alt="Cover of Natural Order, published 2011" would do just fine. So the complete image HTML would look like this: <img scr="Cover-of-Natural-Order.jpg alt="Cover of Natural Order, published 2011">. Don't stress about having to code this by hand. Most web hosting companies like Wordpress or Squarespace will give you the option of adding this information when you upload images. This is important because it ties into SEO and helps make your images more accessible to readers with disabilities who use screen readers. Here’s more info from Google.
Create meaningful content. Sometimes, that one-off, random post can generate buzz and increase traffic to your site. The key is to create the best content you can and make it meaningful to other people. In Google’s own words: "Create a useful, information-rich website, and write pages that clearly and accurately describe your content.” Here’s some more info.
Final word: Your author website is an extension of you. Pay attention to the fundamentals but don’t let them get in the way of your individuality. Provide useful information, have fun and be generous with your content. Above all else, write a good book. That’s the best way to ensure people will check out your site.