It amazes me the number of authors who don’t have websites — or worse, have a website and do absolutely nothing with them. In this technology driven-era, it is imperative to have your own digital home beyond the realm of social media.
We are so reliant on Facebook and other social channels to carry our digital presence, and that’s a risky approach to take. Far too often have I seen authors land in “Facebook Jail” at critical times like release week or get completely banned from running ads.
But rather than wax poetic on the importance of having a website, I want to talk about some of the key elements you absolutely, positively, 120% HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE TO HAVE on your author domain (and yes … you want an actual, ownable domain).
So why am I qualified to speak on this subject and blah blah blah? Part of my day gig is website analysis. So I’d like to think that I have a semi-good handle on the good, the bad, and the ugly of digital design from a professional standpoint.
Before we get into it all, I should preface with you don’t have to hire some highfalutin, pricey digital company to create your website. There are TONS of cost-effective options in the indie community. And with a little bit of gumption, you can do it yourself. My entire website has been self-built via WordPress and I know an iota of code. I’m a firm believer that with a little bit of patience and some internet smarts you can build your own kingdom.
I know you’re probably rolling your eyes, thinking “But Barb … nobody comes to my website as it is? Why should even I bother?!” To which I ask … are you actually giving them a reason to come? Maybe … maybe not. That, too, is a lesson in traffic-driving for a rainy day.
So those key elements of anatomy you need to have on your radar … ready? Here we go …
1. An Own-able Look and Feel
Each and every day you have an image of yourself in your real life. A “personal brand,” so to speak. So why wouldn’t you have an image in your digital life as well?
It should be a reflection of you. My personal brand is full of artsy flair, but is still clean and streamlined. And this is a direct reflection of my personality. Those who know me outside of the book world and see the visual approach I take online immediately say “that is SO YOU!”
I also strive to make my personal brand consistent across platforms. You’ll see this color palette and watercolor approach on my various social channels, my business materials, and even my banner at signings (which recently arrived, hooray!).
No, you don’t have to have a logo or an author tagline (though they do help). You just need something that is own-able to you. Maybe you have an icon of a quill integrated into your digital channels? Maybe you always stay within the same color palette or leverage the same banner image? Maybe you hang your hat on a particular font? Or a very specific set of lifestyle images?
Whatever it is … find a way to differentiate yourself from the other thousands of authors in your genre, so when your readers come across something that is uniquely you, they know it is YOU and not someone else. (And no, this isn’t me saying to go off and trademark common word because you feel that word is identifiable to you … *ahem.*)
2. Simple, Clear Navigation
This sounds like a no brainer, right? But it’s amazing just how many websites lack this basic functionality. If you don’t explicitly tell your visitor what it is you’re offering, how the heck are they going to know?
On this site, I use the links just under my header image. Then, when needed, I have drop down menus to drive a reader to the relevant subtopic.
It’s simple to navigate. And it’s mobile-responsive … so it doesn’t matter if someone visits my page from their SmartPhone or Desktop computer, they have a consistent brand experience.
So determine which categories are most important to you, and allow those to be your feature items.
Also, I would highly recommend having individual pages for books (including any WIPs) that house all of the important information — buy links, cover image, teasers, links to exclusive content, excerpts, whatever else your heart desires.
3. A Way To Buy Your Stuff
Just the other day, I was tooling around on a friend’s website and looking at a page for one of her titles. Then I went to buy the book. Except I had reached a dead end. Nowhere on her page did she tell me which retailers offered her book. There were no outbound links to make my life easier. And had she not been a friend of mine, she would have lost the sale.
What you need to do is hit them upside the head with the links. That cover image sitting next to the blurb on your book page? Link it to the Amazon buy page. When you say the title of the book in the copy … link it to the buy page. People react really well to buttons. Create a “BUY NOW” button (which is really just an image of a rectangle that says “BUY NOW”) and drive them to the buy page.
I don’t care if you’re linking to an online retailer or selling paperbacks from an e-commerce store built directly into your website … you have to make it EASY for someone to buy your books and pair it with a strong, aggressive call to action. If it’s not in your face and obvious, you risk a lost sale.
Speaking of paperbacks … make sure you let your reader know all available formats! You may be able to convert someone to a paperback or audiobook that will yield a higher return as a result.
4. Fresh Content
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. To grow your website, you have to grow your content. So for the love of all that is holy and good, please make updates and make them often.
If you have a website collecting dust and haven’t touched it in ages, you are doing a huge disservice to yourself, your sales, and to your fan base. You can do it in the form of a blog or it could be updating page content once a month with a new excerpt link or sharing a new teaser image on a page. You don’t have to overhaul everything each month. Just a little tweak here and there is all it takes.
But to stay relevant in SEO searches, you must must MUST be consistently putting new content or refreshing old content on your domain.
5. A Way To Connect With You
A reader comes to your website because they want to learn more. As an author, this is awesome … but you want them to CONTINUE to learn more about you. So you need to give your readers a way to connect with you.
On this website, when you’re on the main page you’re met with a polite pop-up inviting the reader to sign up for my newsletter. I’ve also included the newsletter landing page sign up in the main navigation. There’s also a Contact link in the navigation that drives to a submission form. There’s an opportunity to sign up for my ARC team. Then there’s the social media buttons in the navigation and social sharing buttons on the relevant interior pages. I also use social widgets to cross-promote content and make it easier for someone to engage with me on Instagram or Twitter.
The point is I’m giving them options. I’m opening the door to let them into my corner of the book world and inviting them for coffee. Because I know once I engage with them meaningfully once, they’re more receptive to meaningful engagement with me down the line.
And what are engaged fans more likely to do?
They’re more likely to buy and read and recommend your books.
6. A good balance of images and words
Authors, by nature, are wordy people. People who are piddling around on the interwebs, for the most part, are there to look … not to spend three hours reading your personal manifesto. So make sure any words you choose to put on the page are deliberate and succinct.
And if you have a lot of words, break it up with engaging and relevant images. We like pictures.
When is it okay to be wordy? When you’ve got something to say. Like a blog post or a long excerpt from your work in progress. And even then be sure to break things up accordingly with bullets, header tags, and paragraph breaks.
7. Your Facebook Pixel
Originally I was going to call this section all of the invisible stuff the users can’t see, but really if I had to pick ONE THING that goes on behind the curtain to recommend it would be the Facebook Pixel. Sure, I could go on and on about metadata and h2 tags and hotjar tracking and analytics tools and all the important SEO stuff, but recently I’ve come to terms with just how important that pixel is … and if you’re not currently using one, I would encourage you to take the time to learn.
What is a pixel? It’s a little piece of code you embed into your website. So when a user comes to your page, it essentially reports that visit back Facebook. For example, you’re on my site right now … so if tomorrow I were to run a Facebook ad specifically targeting people who visited my site the past week, there is a strong probability that my content would be served up in your feed.
Now imagine how powerful that is when it comes to your next book launch.
If you make the effort to drive traffic to your website during a cover reveal, you can pay to re-target those exact people weeks later when your book releases. You know they’re already interested in the book because they visited your site in the first place. And with consumers needing exposure multiple times before buying, you’re being significantly more strategic than just blasting an ad without thoughtful targeting.
Because remember … those who are engaged with you are going to be more likely to buy.
If the pixel terrifies you, check out this training course over on Facebook Blueprint that breaks it all down for you in an easy to swallow pill. In fact, if Facebook advertising in general is overwhelming, I highly recommend checking out the course offering over at Facebook Blueprint.
There are lots of other things we can cram into our websites to make them even more awesome, but these … right here … are your basics. If you want me to take a look at your site, or chat about things you could be doing better in the digital drop a message below or reach out via the contact tab above.