As an author website designer I’m constantly thinking about how to make sure my clients’ websites are not only created to meet their goals, but also easy for them to maintain and update. I regularly talk with new clients about how difficult it was for them to update their previous sites: how they ended up spending more time and money with their previous designer because they were the only ones who could make most updates and how much of a pain point it was. Maybe you’re in the same boat?
Creating author websites in WordPress certainly makes it easier for site owners (with or without coding knowledge) to make updates themselves, but even WordPress can quickly become difficult to use unless your website designer has considered how to keep things simple for you. I like WordPress — and build all my client’s author websites with it — because it’s a great mixture of simplicity and flexibility. So what kinds of things do you consider in the design to help keep things simple now and in the future? And where and how do you make the trade-off of unique beauty and flexibility?
- Start with the navigation menu. If you plan to grow your website over time by adding new pages as you release new books, or adding services or resources for your audience, you need to make sure your website’s navigation menu is up to the task of growing easily. If you have a super clever navigation menu design where each page has an attractive image and a special font, you’re not going to be able to update it easily. Think about things like how much space is available to add to it over time, whether you can have submenus, and what happens if you need to remove a page in the future.
- Images — standalone and backgrounds. Any text that is embedded in an image isn’t text you’ll easily be able to update unless you both have, and are fluent in, the program used to create that image (like Photoshop). If your book cover is part of a larger background image you won’t be able to easily swap out the background, or use the cover image separately. And composite images can be beautiful, but also require fluency in the program used to create them if you want to swap out an element.
- Font colors and sizes. Ideally all your text styles, like the font choice, color and sizes, are determined by your WordPress theme’s stylesheet. That means that by updating the theme’s stylesheet (or theme altogether) you’ll automatically update all instances of a particular kind of text. If you are overriding (or asking your designer to override) individual headings or paragraphs in various places, it means that you’ll have to go through each page and/or blog post and manually update each one if you want something different in the future.
- Custom post types. You may not have run across this in the past or even know if you’re using it already, but WordPress makes it easy to create a new category of content on your website via your theme, and then use that content in specific places. If you’re familiar with Widgets in WordPress, it’s a similar concept. The difference is that when you use a custom post type you’re often building up lots of content, while with a widget you’re only using a limited amount. If you place lots of your website’s content into custom post types, rather than the Post, Page or Widgets that come with every WordPress install, updating your site to a new theme in the future is going to be difficult because often the custom post type is theme-specific. That means you may need to recreate that content to work with your new theme.
- Being mobile-friendly. There are a few different ways to be sure your site is friendly to mobile devices, and one of those ways is by creating a design unique to the mobile environment. That means that whenever someone on a phone visits your site they see something designed specifically for them. Likewise, when someone on a large desktop computer visits your site, they see something different and designed specifically for them. That means you now have two places to make changes each time you want to make an update. If your site is designed responsively, that means that a single design adapts to the display on which its being used, so you only need to update things once.
Even given all of this, you might decide in some cases that it’s important to you that your site stands out by using unique images, or a fancy navigation menu. I’m not saying you shouldn’t pursue those options — there are some really beautiful author websites that break many of these rules. But I am saying that the owners of those sites either pay someone to keep those websites updated (and work with that person’s schedule), or have the skills themselves to make changes themselves when they need them.
So what’s a good alternative to make sure your site stands out from the crowd without making your life more complicated when it comes to updating your author website?
- Get creative with the stand-alone images you use — these can be photos or even illustrations — and ensure that swapping them out is a simple task that won’t break your site.
- Use great typography throughout your site. Without sacrificing legibility, the size and font of your website’s text adds a great deal to its design and your brand. So get creative, but keep everything centralized in your theme’s stylesheet.
- Use backgrounds and leverage a grid to lay out your content in creative ways. You can play around with colors, textures, and images as backgrounds to your content, and organize rows and columns to present it in a unique format.
Sometimes you might not even know what to ask (or whether to ask) to ensure that your author website will be as easy for you to update as you’re hoping it will be. So keep the above principles in mind to ensure your site is as sustainable as it is beautiful.