Author website design

In this post we explain the benefit of having an author website, and shares 6 top tips on how to create a great one.

Whether you're a published or self-published writer, an author website is an absolute must-have. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Having a website — particularly a well-optimised one — makes it easier for both readers and book industry professionals to find you (and crucially, your publications) easily online.

  • It allows you to sell books direct to your readers - and if you're a self-published author, you may be able to avail of a higher profit margin through selling them this way.

  • If set up correctly, your website can allow you to capture the details of your readers, meaning that you can establish a direct and long-term relationship with them, send them e-newsletters about your latest publications and events and encourage them to follow you on social media.

Not all authors have a budget to hire somebody to build a website for them however, and end up taking a DIY approach to web design. This is fine, and thanks to today's large arsenal of web building tools it's perfectly possible to create a great online presence by yourself — but to end up with a beautiful and functional website, there are a few key things you need to do.

1. Sort your content out first

Before you go anywhere near website building software, decide what content you're going to put on your website. Make a list of all the pages you want to have on your site, and write the content for them.

Getting all your content ready in advance can help you determine which tool is best for the — certain website builders are better for blogging; others are better for presenting images; some are better for selling stuff and so on. It also makes building your site quicker, because when it comes to the actual build you'll have all your copy and images ready to go.

2. Decide on your platform

Once you've got your content ready, it's time to pick a website building tool. There are lots of options here - well-known platforms include WordPress, Squarespace and Wix - but which one you should go for essentially depends on (1) how comfortable you feel with the technical side of website building and (2) the nature of your content / objectives.

For most authors, I'd probably recommend plumping for WordPress or Squarespace, two very well-known website building platforms. For a full rundown of the pros and cons of each platform, I'd suggest you read this Squarespace vs Wordpress review, but below you'll find a few reasons why you might use one over the other.

Wordpress is the more flexible platform of the two. Aside from your hosting costs, it's free; there are a lot more templates available for it than Squarespace; it comes with a more powerful content management system...but it also requires more manual set up and maintenance. In essence the learning curve in setting up a Wordpress site, whilst not awful, could prove offputting for users who are not familiar with the technical side of website building. Wordpress is in my view the best option for bloggers however - so if you intend to blog regularly as part of your web activities it's definitely worth considering strongly as the platform for your site.

Despite Wordpress' ubiquity and general all-round greatness, I suspect that many authors would be more comfortable with using Squarespace to set up their website. You get everything you need for a website out of the box - domain, hosting and content management system - and unlike Wordpress, you don't need to configure much to get your site off the ground. Even complete web novices shouldn't find it hard to start publishing content online with the platform, and thanks to bundled e-commerce functionality, selling books with it is fairly easy too. The main downside is that there is a monthly fee. I'd definitely recommend Squarespace for non-techie authors; I'd also recommend using it if your content is of a particularly visual nature, because the aesthetics of its built-in templates and the layout of its galleries are superb.

Finally if selling products is your key aim it's worth taking a look at a dedicated e-commerce solution like Shopify. Like Squarespace, it's easy enough to use and will appeal to users without strong technical skills; it similarly involves a monthly fee to use. The difference is that the tool is very much focused on building an online store, and the monthly fee is considerably higher than Squarespace's; so it's really only worth considering it if you have fairly serious e-commerce requirements. Check out this Shopify review for more information on the platform.

3. Ensure your website is optimised for search

It's all very well having a website, but it's fairly pointless unless people can actually find it. To ensure they can, you need to think about SEO - search engine optimisation. In a nutshell, SEO boils down to two things: structuring your website in a Google friendly way, and creating 'backlinks' to your website (links from other sites to yours). Neither of these tasks is necessarily that difficult, and for help with how to do this, you might like to check out some tips on how to make your site visible in Google.

4. Ensure you capture email addresses on your site

It's amazing how many websites go live without a mailing list sign-up form, or have a link to one buried in the footer. For me, a prominent mailing list signup form is one of the most important things you can add to a website. Once you have a visitor's email address, you can develop an ongoing relationship with them through e-newsletters: this allows you to promote your books, events and latest blog posts. 

There are a lot of tools out there to help you send e-newsletters: our favourites are probably Getresponse and Mailchimp. Whatever tool you use to capture email addresses however, ensure that you have a prominent sign up form or button on every page of your site, and that you are clearly spelling out the benefits of joining the mailing list - i.e., rather than using a bland 'sign up to our mailing list' call to action, tell your visitors all about the great things they'll receive once they do. (For more information on all this, you might like to read these tips on how to create an email newsletter.)

5. Include prominent links to your social media presences on your site

Like e-newsletters, social media profiles have the potential to help you develop both meaningful and profitable relationships with your readership. So make sure that your social media icons are displayed prominently on your website, and where appropriate, your social media feeds are embedded on the site. 

6. Keep your site up to date...and blog!

By now you've got a great website that's optimised for search, capturing data and increasing your social media following...the next challenge is keeping it up to date. A stale website is just not a good look, particularly for authors (they're meant to be adept at writing things after all). There are two main advantages to keeping your website up to date: first, it enhances your reputation. Second, content freshness can be good for SEO.

A simple way to keep your website up to date is to blog regularly (so long as you are producing high-quality posts — quality is definitely better than quantity here). Doing so produces strong, keyword-rich content that both Google's search algorithms and - more importantly - your readers will love. And reader-love is, at the end of the day, the main aim behind building an author website.

If you need an website, feel free to drop Emma Finnigan PR a line - we offer a wide range of digital solutions for authors; just contact us today for more information. 

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