Very simple design mistakes can get in the way of a website’s mission: to help you promote yourself and your books. Here are five common web design fails and how to fix them.
Mistake #1: No Strong Call to Action
As an author, the primary goal of your website is most likely for people to buy your book. Is your call to action (“Buy the Book!”) easily seen? Can users easily identify where to go to buy your book from any page on your website?
If not, you may be missing the opportunities to make the sale. When in doubt, ask a friend to visit your website and try to find their way to the place where they can buy your book. Ask them to give you honest feedback about their experience. Was it easy? Obvious? Frustrating?
- Place your purchase links in a position of prominence on your book description page close to the book jacket and summary. (While it’s perfectly wonderful to put them on the home page, don’t only put them on your home page–not everybody accesses your site from this page.)
- Wherever possible, use bookseller logos when you’re linking to their transaction pages. Logos are hard to miss and provide an instantaneous visual cue.
- Make your call to action area obvious by giving it visual weight. You can achieve this by using contrast (e.g. make it bigger, or use a contrasting color for titles and buttons), and tone down everything else wherever you can.
- Don’t forget to ask! Make it clear what you’re asking and title the area next to your purchasing links: “Buy the book,” “available now on amazon” or “purchase today from your favorite bookseller.”
Mistake #2: Navigation is unclear and/or inconsistent
When evaluating websites I see this mistake all too often: navigation labels aren’t intuitive or the navigation changes as the user clicks deeper into the site. Getting your navigation right is a very simple thing, but getting it wrong frustrates users and hurts your chances of achieving your goals.
- Stick to web conventions when deciding what to title your links. This is no time to get fancy! Users know what to expect when they see “about the author” or “books” but they may not immediately understand what “the rest of the story” or “blood sweat & tears” mean. Users are more likely to click a link when they’re absolutely confident they know what they’ll find when they get to the next page.
- Your main navigation must be the same (same links, same position, same order, same labels) on every single page of your website. Every single one, no exceptions. Even if you are hosting a blog elsewhere, the navigation still must remain consistent. (If this totally stumps you, at least make external links open in a new window and then provide an obvious link back to the main site).
Mistake #3: Making the home page the most important page of the site
I’ve seen many author websites promote their book on their home page, but provide no direct link to a single web page where that book’s information is stored.
Why it’s a mistake: Web users are not necessarily going to access your site by beginning on your home page, it’s not a linear process like that. They may follow a link from a social media site or search engine result and if that’s the case they may never click on the home button. Nowadays, users consider the home page simply orienting, providing an introduction to where else they can go.
Also, without having a unique page for each of your books, it will make sharing more difficult and you’ll miss out on search engine optimization advantages.
- Use duplicate content. Think of your home page as a place you’ll duplicate important information that can also be found elsewhere on your site: your latest book release, your latest blog post(s) and or your event calendar, making sure that each content element appears globally or has its own separate page or section to navigate to.
- Tease people further into your site. Examples: the first few lines of your book excerpt with a [read more] link to a complete book description page or the last few blog articles you’ve written with a short summary and a [read more] link leading to your blog section.
Mistake #4: Forgetting Mobile Users
No longer can we ignore mobile users. As of today, 34% of cell internet users go online mostly using their phones.
What does this mean to you? It means that you want to test your site on mobile devices to understand the mobile user experience. Is it easy to find information about your book? To buy your book? You can test your site on http://mobiletest.me/
- Provide a separate, mobile version of your website. There are tools you can use to make it easy, see 8 Tools for Easily Creating a Mobile Version of Your Website
- Recommended: Use a responsive design that optimizes your website for the device it’s being viewed on–whether tablet, mobile or desktop. Unless you’re a wiz-bang coder this is no easy task to DIY, so it might be worth enlisting the help of a web designer. Or, if you’re on WordPress, there are a plethora of responsive themes and frameworks to build on.
Mistake #5: Too many design elements
Good design is like good writing: the magic happens in the editing. One of the biggest reasons an author website might come across as home spun or unprofessional is the use of far too many design elements. This means: too many colors, too many fonts, too many graphics — overall, just too much for the eye to take, leaving nowhere in particular to focus one’s attention.
- Edit, edit, edit until your site has lots of breathing room. What’s the most important thing you want people to see on your website? That’s what you want to stand out. When you emphasize everything, nothing is emphasized at all. Ramp up the important bits with visual contrast and weight, tone down the rest and give your users’ eyeballs a break.
- Try limiting the number of fonts you use to one or two. Google fonts has a great feature that allows you to look at font pairings (two fonts that go well together), and searching for Google Font Combinations will provide you with some excellent examples.
- Limit the number of colors you use. When you use red text, then green text, then purple text, then orange (I just saw this on an author website this very week) for no obvious reason other than you like decorating your site with pretty colors, you’re causing a lot of visual distraction. When in doubt, it’s better to play it safe and stick to a basic light colored site background (white or a light neutral tone) with dark text (very readable!) and one or two contrasting colors you can use for links, headlines, navigation and/or site title.
Happy designing! If you would like a professional website evaluation, we would be delighted to look over your website and offer recommendations on where you can make improvements, here’s how to get in touch.