Have you been thinking it’s time to start establishing a home base online? Wondering where or how to get started? We asked author Rumer Haven (What the Clocks Know, Coattails and Cocktails) to share a bit of her experience crafting an author website. The process doesn’t have to be difficult, and you can keep the project as slow-paced or as light as you’d like. Read below for advice from Rumer.
Red City Review: Why should authors invest their time (and money) in building a website? What return will they get from this?
Rumer: In all honesty, I haven’t driven many sales from my website, but I’m okay with that—for me, its primary value lies in anchoring my brand. At the very least, an author website makes you look more professional, expanding your online presence and validating your business as a writer. Until authors can grow their discoverability by growing their book catalog, online presence is the best chance to be found. The more sites that contain your name/titles in their content, the more optimized your name/titles become in online searches, so it doesn’t hurt to have a profile wherever you can create one in case readers are searching there for you (or related topics that could lead them to you). In addition to being yet another corner of cyberspace where readers can find you, the author website is useful for centralizing all of these other online profiles.
Put simply, a website enhances your credibility as a real and professional author, and it gives you a home base. Also, rather than limit yourself to the appearance/capabilities of a particular social media interface, you can customize each and every page of your website, tailoring its style and content to your unique brand and voice. You might need to pay annual fees to maintain this site and a personalized domain—as well as paying a web developer, if not building your own site—but in my personal opinion, that cost is well worth having a website that bolsters your brand, links to all your profiles, news, and retailers to become one-stop shopping, and can easily be shared online and in marketing materials as a quick way to find you and your books.
RR: How can authors measure this return on their investment of time and money?
Rumer: Google Analytics is a great resource for measuring the performance of your website. When connected to your site, it tracks and reports any number of metrics like how many people visit your site every day (as well as what time of day and for how long), what pages and links they’re clicking on, what brought them there (referring sites and search terms), and their demographics. These factors can help you determine if you’re reaching your target audience and how you might tailor your content to do so more effectively—not only in getting them to your website, but engaging with it.
RR: What resources are there to help authors in building their websites?
Rumer: I personally use Wix and have had a great experience. Its tools are straightforward and easy to use, and its functionality seems to be always increasing. You can either work with a ready-made template that fits your brand or start from scratch, and Wix lets you simultaneously design both the desktop and mobile versions of your site. Wix is also free if using their assigned domain, but you can instead choose from a range of paid plans for a custom domain, increased bandwidth, and other features. You can likewise create a custom email address and manage email marketing through the site.
Wix also offers a multitude of stock photos (for free or purchase) to use on your pages. Other good sources for royalty-free photos include Bigstock, Shutterstock, and iStock (Bigstock usually offers 35 photos with a free initial trial, so is a great place to start!). For editing these photos, you can use whatever software is available on your computer (like iPhoto), but I usually just use the editing tools available through Wix. Another brilliant (and free!) resource for graphic design is Canva.com, which has become my go-to for all types of promotion.
RR: Now that they’ve invested their resources, how can authors get the most out of their new (or newly revised) websites?
Rumer: Update your website regularly, whether with new books, links (e.g., retailers, press releases, social media profiles), images, or small modifications/additions to other content (e.g., author bio, book summaries, trailers, fun facts, etc.).
An effective way to update your website frequently is with a blog, where you can post new content daily, weekly, monthly, or however often meets your fancy. As I didn’t care for the blog interface that came with the website builder (at least not at the time), I ended up linking the “blog” tab of my menu to an external Blogger page, which I customized to match the look of my website. The blog menu also corresponds with the main site’s to redirect visitors back home.
When creating content on your blog and other web pages, it’s helpful to use keywords that could lead readers to your site based on their web searches—words and phrases related to books and reading in general but especially your particular genre, themes, and subject matter that would appeal to your target audience. Repeating these keywords can encourage Google’s algorithm to list you higher in its searches (sometimes it also helps to emphasize them through bold, underline, and/or italics, or using them in subheadings). Just be careful not to overdo it; clogging your content with overtly repeated terms can stilt your online voice and turn readers away if it sounds too forced toward search engine optimization rather than sharing a genuine message. For as much as you can follow SEO strategy, simply talking about you, your books and what they’re about can be just (if not more) effective in creating content that genuinely attracts and engages readers. Bringing people to your site is one thing; keeping them there is another.
I personally prefer the organic approach for giving content substance and personality. Not only is it just easier, but readers want to see the person behind the words. Sharing insights into your writing process, inspirations, interests, the books you both write and read, etc. should supply you with limitless topics for blog articles. And sharing your personal reviews of popular books—with an established fan base that might also enjoy your books—could increase your discoverability by association.
More pages on your website means more discoverability as well, and within both your web pages and blog posts, definitely include links to your Amazon (and other retailer) pages and social media profiles. Post links back to your website/blog from these profiles, too! For Amazon links, I recommend using Booklinker.net. A free service, Booklinker generates universal links so that anyone clicking on them is directed to your book listing at their local country’s Amazon site (as they are less likely to redirect themselves manually from a foreign site).
And since people also browse (and buy!) on their phones, it’s very important to optimize your website for mobile screens in addition to computers, as layouts are not always compatible across devices. Luckily, Wix (as one example) makes this easy, allowing you to toggle back and forth between mobile and desktop versions as you build and edit your site. Even if I have no updates to my site, I try to check back on both its versions from time to time, just to see if any new kinks need ironing out, which can be caused by browser updates or Wix’s own changes to its platform.
RR: What’s something you wish you knew about managing websites before you started your own?
Rumer: I guess I STILL wish I had more of a marketing mind when it comes to designing and measuring my website. There’s surely a more strategic way to align my images and content, more text and buttons I could add to foster engagement and sales. Truth be told, I don’t blog or use Google Analytics nearly enough. But my present aim is just to be me and have a core web presence that gives readers a sense of my stories and style at a glance. Since my tagline is “Fiction with a penchant for the past and paranormal,” I want to evoke something vintage and somewhat dark and romantic. So, I’ve simply worked toward that aesthetic and try to keep it consistent across my web pages and social media. That consistency is key where branding is concerned.
I am still learning about all of this as I go along and hope to eventually make more use of the metrics available to me. Meanwhile, I’m very casual about my online presence in general and just check in on my site/profiles to the extent it’s still enjoyable and readers know I’m there if they need me. I have peace of mind just knowing my website exists should anyone stumble upon it, deliberately or at random—it’s always out there working for me, even when I’m doing nothing marketing-wise. And I know once people see it, they’ll get an immediate gist of what my writing’s about. It’ll be their cup of tea or it won’t. And if it is, and they’re interested in learning more, then they will indeed find more as they peruse my pages and links. They’ll be able to see where else they can find me online and then visit me at their site of choice. My URL (www.rumerhaven.com) is also easy to remember and share as my business card of sorts. So, for now, I find great qualitative value in my website if not quantifiable as yet.