Happy Friday, everyone! Last week I highlighted common mistakes authors make with their websites, and as promised, this week I’m going to talk about five really smart tactics I see authors using on their website — ideas you can and should steal!
1. The text is very readable
This may seem obvious, but you would be surprised how many author websites I found that are extremely difficult to read — vibrant text colors that strain the eye, small text, use of fonts that aren’t appropriate for screen reading, and too little or too much contrast. A primary goal for author websites should be to encourage people to read (your blog, excerpts, etc.); this way, your audience can sample your work, get to know you a bit, and then buy. Is your site readable? Is it comfortable for your users to stay on your site for a length of time reading long passages of text? Check out this article on readability principles by Smashing Magazine as a place to start to learn how to make your website content more readable. (This tip comes first for a reason, it’s critical that your design supports readability.)
2. Consistent, standard and clear navigation
Again this may seem obvious, but some of the “prettier” author websites I stumbled upon had big problems with usability. Navigation labels were clever but unclear, and the placement of navigation links jumped around from page to page — a sure way for users to feel anxious and abandon the site. I am conservative when it comes to navigation and always advise my clients to use clear language and web conventions to help the user feel confident they can click around without getting lost. Some simple rules of thumb:
- Use web conventions — keep your navigation at the top of the site or on the left-hand side
- Be clear in your language — e.g. “about the author” rather than “background” (background of what?)
- Keep it simple — use plain links rather than elaborate graphics and buttons, and don’t provide too many links in your top-level navigation
- Use indicators to tell users where they are — on any given page, can users determine where they are and where they can go? Help users orient themselves by providing a “current page” navigational state and keep your navigation in one spot, never move it around, it really freaks people out.
3. The tone of the website matches the tone of the writing, much like a great book jacket
When the design of an author’s website complements the tone of the writing, it provides a shortcut to understanding for the user (much like a great cover artwork helps readers understand what they can expect from the book). Take Kathy Reich’s website for example: the imagery tells a story, and makes one want to click around and explore (and the more time people spend on a website the more likely they are to take some action — buy, connect, etc.). Dan Brown’s website is a stunning example of appropriate use of imagery. Don’t have Dan Brown’s budget? Not a worry. Getting the tone right doesn’t have to be overly-complicated, it just has to be appropriate. Rather than thinking about what colors and images you like as a foundation for your design, think about kind of colors and images will support the tone of your work. Check out this Smashing Magazine article about color theory in web design as a place to start.
4. Provide a mobile experience
This one is tough, I know, because designing for mobile is something we’re all catching up to speed on, but if you don’t consider how users are experiencing your site on all devices — desktop, tablet, mobile/smart phones — then you may be missing opportunities. There are various approaches to designing for mobile — we happen to like responsive design (the design responds depending on the device it’s being viewed on); you can also feed a completely separate site to mobile users by using what’s known as a “sniffer.” A really fantastic example of a responsive design is NicholasSparks.com. Don’t have Nicholas Sparks’ budget? Not a worry. There are many responsive WordPress themes that you can use as a starting point for your website. We’ll cover this in more detail in upcoming posts.
5. Clear call to action
Every great website has a clear call to action. You may be comfortable with shameless self-promotion (if so, good for you!), but surprisingly, many of the most savvy and talented business people and authors out there are afraid to ask for action — but you gotta ask: buy the book, add to GoodReads shelf, follow me on Facebook, sign up for my newsletter, etc. Where possible, use high contrasting colors or even images (e.g. book seller icons) to call attention to your ask (toning down other areas of the site if necessary so the eye is drawn to it), and put it in obvious placement on the site and in as many places as appropriate without being too obnoxious about it.
Hope you find these basic tips helpful, let me know if you have any questions! Until next week, have a great weekend everybody and happy reading/writing! ~Taughnee