Your author website serves as your calling card and the place where the universe of you comes together – your writing portfolio, bio, blog, and more.
Building your own website can be daunting, so I’ve gathered four of the most important lessons I learned along the way.
1. Know what you’re looking for.
Each website platform service offers largely the same basic features and functionalities, but there are some key differences. If you’re just getting started, Jane Friedman has a comparison of WordPress vs. Squarespace, and Bookbub has a breakdown of the pros and cons of several platforms.
A few specific questions to ask yourself include:
- Is ease of use a priority, or is having full control over design options and technical features more important to you? WordPress is more complex but offers more control, whereas Wix and Squarespace are easier to use but more choice-constrained.
- Do you plan to eventually integrate a newsletter into your website?
- Do you want access to Google Analytics or another advanced data service?
- Does the free or lowest-cost subscription include website templates that you like?
2. Consider the long-term costs.
A platform may be free or low-cost at the most basic subscription level, but it might not include all of the functionalities you want. Let’s use WordPress as an example:
- If you want a custom domain name (“yourwebsite.com,” as opposed to “yourwebsite.wordpress.com”), you have to choose one of the paid subscriptions. The most basic Personal plan starts at $4/month.
- The Personal plan gives you access to the free website templates only. In order to access the premium templates and additional features, like search engine optimization, you need a Premium plan that’s $8/month.
- The Premium plan does not support plugins, so if you want to link your website to MailChimp or Google Analytics, you have to subscribe to the Business plan, which is $25/month.
Whichever platform you choose, do your research thoroughly upfront to avoid any financial surprises down the road.
3. When considering design, choose simplicity.
In one of my favorite episodes of Mad Men, the ad team explains to Rachel Menken, head of Menken’s Department Store, that in order for her to attract the clientele she wants, she has to model her store on the luxury retailers: less is more, one item per display case, drawing the viewer’s eye to what counts – the product.
Similarly, your site should focus on you as a writer and person, not on a fancy design. The general rule of thumb is, “less is more.” Before you start creating your website, take a look at other author websites and build a visual inspiration board as a reference point.
4. Make sure you’re getting accurate analytics on your website’s traffic.
Most website platforms include basic data, but they don’t always offer the insight you need to determine whether visitors are actually engaging with your site – and that is invaluable information, especially for indie authors. For that, I recommend using Google Analytics or another advanced data service, which can show you:
- How long a visitor spends on your web pages. Is it a few seconds (they’re not engaging at all), or a few minutes (they’re deeply reading your posts and pages)?
- Detailed breakdown of how visitors find your site – are they clicking through from twitter, Facebook, finding you through Google searches? This can help guide your marketing.
- Dan Koboldt, #SFFpit founder and all-around awesome author, breaks down how he uses Analytics on his own site here.
Google Analytics is free – but remember, some website platforms charge a premium to connect it.
The most important thing is to be patient with yourself as you learn the ropes, allow room for trial and error, and remember that your website doesn’t have to be perfect – it has to be good enough for now as a place for readers to find you. You can always redesign it in the future!
Yours truly, one word at a time,