This is the second in a series of posts focused on building the best author websites. Read the first post, Set Your Foundation, for insider info on the basics of your author website.
The first installment of this series showed authors the basics of building an outstanding author website, going through the terminology, how to work DIY or with a website professional and much more. Here we get into the nitty-gritty of the essential components author websites need to stand out and reflect glowingly on your brand.
As a web and marketing professional with a decade of experience, I've pulled the recommendations below from my research and experience building professional websites, and a review of the best author websites out there. There are, of course, a million opinions on the subject, but for me, these items are non-negotiable.
1. A Proper Foundation
Build in WordPress and self-host. Yes, it makes set up a little more involved, but you will thank me for it long term. You own all of your data and don't have to rely on anyone but yourself and a reputable host for full access to your site.
WordPress also makes it a breeze to update and, crucially, expand your site as your author brand grows. There are literally tens of thousands of free and paid themes (software to style your site), plugins (software to create new features and functions) and tutorials on using WordPress on the web. As a publishing platform, it now powers more than 28% of the web, and this makes it the most supported option out there.
- WordPress.org set up guide from WPBeginner
- GoDaddy hosting
- WordPress Themes from ThemeForest
- Getting started using WordPress from WPBeginner
- Author Blogging 101 on BookWorks
- How to Start a Blog Online.net - Great comprehensive resource on setting up your own blog
2. Mobile Friendliness
Most sites get approximately 45% of their traffic from mobile devices. If you have a site that is not mobile friendly, most of those will leave right from the first page they visit (a "bounce"), and they definitely won't convert. (A conversion is when your site visitor completes any goal like signing up for your list, viewing a video, etc. but it most commonly refers to a sale.)
3. A Cohesive Voice and Narrative
This shouldn't be hard—you did just weave your voice through an entire book, after all—but it's amazing how disjointed a website can feel when an author tries and fails to connect a number of web pages together. Don't forget to tell your story with images as well. I was reading a piece at IndieReader recently where Smashwords founder Mark Coker, speaking on the subject of covers, remarked, "In addition to promising what a book will deliver, the [cover] image also promises (or fails to promise) that the author is a professional, and that the book will honor the reader’s time."
That's the core right there. It's not about looking good, it's about showcasing your brand (books, bio, design, etc.) and convincing the reader that the 6 hours that they will spend with your book will be worth it.
4. A Signup for Your Email List
Don't think you'll get away without one—it is the highest-converting way to keep in touch with your audience, and every high-performing indie author that I've ever seen is also a master of utilizing their email list to keep readers informed of upcoming work, engage them in promotions and make them feel like part of the author's fan community.
The smartest authors do a "drip" sequence—that means they auto-send emails to their signups in a pre-determined order, in order to introduce the prospect to themselves and their work. Coming up with a drip sequence can be one of the most difficult parts of getting your author website (and it's component marketing) completed. It's beyond the scope of this article, but BookBub has a great article with real-life examples on how to set up a drip, with emails successful authors use and a formula that you can copyright out of the gate to get your rolling.
If you really want to supercharge your email signups, offer a free eBook download or other spiff when people sign up. It's easy to set up through WordPress or your email marketing provider, and in my experience makes a huge difference in the number of emails you capture. See Tim Tigner's website for a great example (notice the heading "Free eBook", not "sign up for email list" or something similar).
5. Social Media Tie-Ins
These usually take the form of icons or links that lead a reader to your Facebook, Twitter, etc., and that's fine—but it's far from all you can do for social tie-in. Using the developer tools from social media sites like Facebook and Twitter allow you to do so much more.
For instance, one can easily place a Facebook "Like Box" (known in Facebook parlance as the "Page Plugin") on your site with a single line of code, easily added directly to a page in your WordPress system:
Which results in this rendering right here in the post I'm writing:
Go ahead—you can really like the page for Well Design Studio, my firm, from that box. And it took literally 15 seconds to add to the page. If you have a Facebook page for your author brand (and if you don't, here's a tutorial on how to set one up by BW Social Media Expert Frances Caballo) you can easily add that to the Facebook Page Plugin creator, in the same way that I've done here for Well Design.
For more excellent ideas on utilizing Facebook in your author website, see WP Beginner's great intro to integrating FB without a single line of code needed.
6. Foolproof Author Website Content Plan
The foundation of every website is a content plan and can be as simple as a bulleted list of the main pages and their child pages. This is the blueprint for the site, and creating this first makes building the rest of the site that much easier. I think that the best content combination for author websites includes the following:
Required Author Website Content
Homepage - An engaging place for visitors to land. The old wisdom is that the homepage should contain easy ways to get to the 1-4 places you most want visitors to go or clear starting points for the 1-4 tasks you most want them to accomplish.
About the Author - Your bio (about 300-500 words) should go here, along with a professional headshot (or a high-res photo that you think you look great in). You really should invest in professional headshots—not only for your author website but for your book jackets as well. It adds a finished touch to your books and marketing that does not go unnoticed by readers.
Contact - Your readers are going to want to get in touch with you. Providing contact information to reach you directly, or even a contact form, is a great way to build personal relationships with your readers.
Reader Reviews - What's known in the marketing industry as "social proof"—some kind of recommendation from the customer's peers (or betters) telling them that this book or author is a great fit for them. This comes in the form most often of reader reviews, but professional or paid (e.g. Kirkus, IndieReader, etc.) reviews will do here as well.
Don't have enough reader reviews? Check out Randy Stapilus' advice on how to get them.
Book(s) Page - This main book(s) page can be as simple as a grid with the covers that click through to the book page to get more information and purchase.
Book(s) Detail Pages - You can't fit all of the information about your book on your main book(s) page, so book detail pages are necessary for each of your titles. At the minimum each should include:
- Large book cover image
- Book title
- Book blurb/short description
- Book full description
- Book metadata (such as ISBNs, number of pages, Publisher, and Publication Date)
- Book expert or sample
- Purchase links
Most authors will simply send their customers to Amazon, but setting up a simple eCommerce system to enable them to purchase directly from your site is done relatively easily (I recommend WooCommerce for this purpose). You can also find more about selling directly from your author website in this post from Tech Expert, Carla King.
Optional Author Website Content
Blog - This one is really only sort of optional. A blog is one of the best ways to build your readership and connect directly with fans. It allows you to give them exclusive content, fill them in on updates and announcements and generally give them a lot more of your voice.
A blog is also an absolute must for SEO and adding valuable keyword-rich content to your site. The only consideration is whether you can keep up with a blog—there's nothing worse than a neglected blog where the last post was two years ago.
For the Media - For more advanced authors, use a For the Media page to store resources that media members will be interested in using in stories. Items might include:
- Press Kit - See Joanna Penn's blog for a great breakdown of the pieces of a professional press kit
- Headshots or Other Photos - Ideally downloadable as a .zip file, but also shown as samples for individual download
- Hi-res Cover Photos - For download as individuals or a grouped .zip file
See a good example of a simple For the Media page from academic author Adriel Hilton.
A great author website is not hard to build, and there are countless resources to help you do so. If you have questions about building the best author website, please leave them in the comments below, and I will be happy to answer them!
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