If you’re an author just starting out with a new website, or even just overhauling an out-of-date website, WordPress is a wonderful platform to use.
Here’s why I like it:
- You can create a super simple site, or something more fully-featured, and it works just as well either way. Once you get the basics down with WordPress (for which there are extremely wonderful tutorials online, especially on YouTube), you can do just about anything with a WordPress site.
- It’s easy to find help. Like I mention above, there are countless amazing tutorials online to help you figure out how to do just about anything you need to do with WordPress, because it’s a ubiquitous platform. And, chances are, you can find a family member or friend who already knows how to use WordPress who can give you simple advice. If you can’t, there’s likely a class in your area to help get you up-to-speed.
- It’s solid. Unlike other platforms that haven’t been around very long, there’s a long history with WordPress, which is good when it comes to counting on your site to be there for a long time with great support.
- There are themes to make it look & behave in countless ways. If you’re looking for something that just works right out-of-the box, there are countless WordPress Themes designed for every conceivable website. The better ones have been designed not just to be beautiful, but also usable and easy for you to maintain.
With all that said, as an author, how do you choose from among the hundreds of WordPress Themes available for you? How do you know which one will be best? Here are some things to consider…
- Make a list of what you want your author website to do & why. I see lots of people make the mistake of picking a WordPress Theme based on how it looks, without first thinking about what the goals of their site are. Sure, you can jam your content into a theme so that you can take advantage of some swanky theme functionality, but that won’t make for a great website unless that content is there for a reason. Things on your list might include: a featured content slider to promote your recent projects in a limited amount of space on the Home page, a blog that allow for beautiful featured images so you can promote photos from author events & encourage more people to participate in future events, or an event calendar that looks good whether you have 3 upcoming events or 30. You should give more thought to coming up with this list/outline, than you do to just about anything else on your site. If you’re not sure where to start, this is the time to do some research — check out sites you admire and analyze what’s there and what it’s doing for the site owner — then compare to your own goals. I wrote a blog post about what to include on an author website that might help get you started. When I work with an author on a new website, establishing this list/outline is the first step of the process and makes everything that comes after it much easier because you have something against which to measure future decisions.
- Think forward. You’re likely planning to write another book, even if you don’t have a publisher at the moment. Or, you may be an author who has already written a number of books. Either way, think about what you’ll do when you need to feature a new book on the site. If you choose a theme that is awesome for promoting a single book, but doesn’t have a clear & easy way for you to add another when the time comes, it’s not the right theme for you unless you want to redo everything at that point. Just as it’s a bad choice to choose a theme that allows you to display a number of books but doesn’t let you feature your latest or most popular project in a special way. Consider what kind of flexibility you’ll have with the theme & consider that even if you want something relatively simple now, having more options might be worthwhile in the future, so plan for that.
- Consider maintenance. If you’re doing your site yourself, then beyond the basics of regularly updating WordPress and your Plugins to keep things secure & optimized, you also need to be able to easily update your website. You shouldn’t need to take a Xanax each time you think about updating your site. There are great themes out there that are designed not only with the usability of the published site in mind, but also with the usability of the person managing the site in mind. Look for words like “page builder” or “shortcodes” — these are bits of functionality that can be built into a theme that make it easier for you to update. Even if you’re working with a designer on a custom theme, they should be designing the theme to keep it easy for you to update based on what you’re going to be doing.
- Think about your use cases. Every WordPress site should be designed so that it can be utilized on as many devices as possible, from a huge desktop monitor to a mobile phone, but there are a bunch of ways to go about this. You can pick a theme that has different designs built into it so that it appears differently on variously sized devices, or you can choose a theme that looks similar & equally great on variously sized devices. Either way, be sure to check out the theme demo a various sizes to make sure you like what you see. This is true even if you know that a very small percentage of your site visitors are visiting from mobile devices, as that number will continue to grow.
- Use a reliable source. If you’re choosing a theme, make sure to choose one from a site that allows people to rate them and where you can see how popular different themes are. Rating systems will give you great information about things like ease-of-use, but also how much support is there for a theme, and whether anyone has run into a devastating bug. And popularity will let you know not only how many websites might be out there that are similar to yours, but also which themes deserve that kind of popularity.
With a little consideration & investigation you can choose a theme confidently!