Happy Friday everyone! This week I’ve been looking at author websites and gathering smart ideas to share with you. Before I get to talking about those smart ideas, I want to go over some of the common mistakes I found. If you are making these mistakes, consider it an opportunity to improve your website. If you’re just starting out, they’re things to be aware of and avoid.
#1. Not knowing their website is broken
I really couldn’t believe the number of sites I visited belonging to professional authors that were slow loading, had broken links, weren’t online at all (or their home page was simply an error message), or had outrageous formatting errors rendering the content virtually unreadable.
The mistake, I will assume, is that once the author set up the website, they walked away and forgot about it. It happens, we get busy. But when that happens and years pass, technology changes and the site may render differently than when it was launched. Your domain name or hosting service can expire if one is not paying attention, and then the site will simply disappear. (Seriously, so many authors listed from their publisher’s website directed to “this domain is for sale” or “account suspended” pages it made me cringe. Yikes!)
Thoroughly test your website when you launch it — view it in all the browsers you can get your hands on on both Mac & PC; test it on as many devices as you can — tablets, mobile phones, etc. Ask your friends to test it and let you know if they experience any problems. Then, regularly check in on your website to make sure everything is still copacetic. Make sure your domain and hosting providers have your current email address so you’ll get warnings when your accounts need renewal or account payment information needs updating.
2. Not asking for the sale
I’m going to assume that the primary goal for an author to have a website is to increase the number of books they sell. That being the case, why is it often so difficult to find the “buy” links? It may be a matter of not feeling comfortable with asking for the sale in an obvious way, or it may be a lack of understanding of how users interact with websites.
Make sure that the paths to your book sellers are clear and obvious. If you upload your book jacket and link it to Amazon, it may not be obvious to the user what action to take to buy your book. A better approach would be to put the Amazon logo in an obvious spot and create a link that reads “Buy on Amazon.” You may find it less aesthetically pleasing, but it’s a courtesy to the user who is genuinely interested in buying your book — make it easy for them and you have a better chance of making that sale.
An example of the technique I just described is masterfully done on Susan Kay Law’s website. Upon landing on the home page, you immediately see the book artwork and find that you can read an excerpt; the book seller icons are always in clear view for when the reader is ready to buy. http://www.susankaylaw.com/
#3. Not found in search
When I discover a new author and begin reading their book, I often to go Google to find out more about them. I may want to find out how I can connect with them on Facebook or learn about other works past or upcoming. Sometimes, it takes quite a bit of digging around to find an author website (if I find it at all) because when a search for their name or book titles doesn’t show their website as a result on the first page of Google, I give up. I may find their GoodReads profile on that first page, or their Twitter account — but you would be surprised how many social media profiles neglect to include a home page URL.
Make sure your website shows up on the first page of Google by doing some basic SEO (search engine optimization); and, I like using BrandYourself.com to monitor what appears in search when people are trying to find you. Search for yourself (don’t be afraid!) and take control of what shows up in organic search results; if you’re seeing Amazon or other social media sites show up — make sure your profiles on those accounts are up to date and include your website URL.
Check out what happens when you type “Dennis Lehane” into Google as an example of what you want to happen. His website ranks #1, followed by Wikipedia, Amazon, GoodReads and review links. And, his Google profile is optimized so I can see his photo, quick bio and links to his books without ever leaving the first page of Google. Like that.
#4. Information Overload
A common mistake people make with their websites is thinking first about the kind of information they want to share or promote and then putting that information all over the front page; or setting up a three or four column site for the purpose of cramming in as much stuff as possible.
It’s not inherently bad to put lots of information on a web page, so long as there’s a clear visual hierarchy so the user can scan the page and land on what’s most important, orient themselves, and feel comfortable they can find what they’re looking for quickly. When there are too many competing elements happening on a web page, users get overwhelmed, feel uncomfortable and are likely to click away.
Think about the reasons users are likely to visit your site and make those things really stand out or easy to find. Make it a priority to first meet user objectives, then your own. Layer information as necessary. Label your top level pages with easy-to-understand language in your main navigation.
#5. Provide no way to stay connected
Many author websites I visited this week offered no opportunities for me to create a connection with them. I don’t mean that I expect them to put their phone number on the site so I can call them up and ask them to be my BFF, but by not offering any way to stay connected means I’ll likely never be back, and an opportunity for them to tell me about their upcoming works, events, etc. is missed.
If you’re on Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr, Youtube or any other social network, put those links (icons are a great visual shortcut, we love icons) on every page. Even better, capture email addresses and begin an email program for your fans — this is the ultimate win in permission marketing and a great opportunity for author’s to stay connected with their biggest fans. Setting up an email link on your website is very easy to do (and sometimes free) using services like Mail Chimp, Aweber, Constant Contact, Emma, etc.
Next week, I’ll explore some of the smartest techniques authors are using on their websites, so be sure to sign up for updates on Launch The Book. Until then, have a great weekend and see you next week!