How to know when it’s time to update your author website design…
Until last week, the current iteration of my website was around for 7+ years. That is a long lifetime in terms of a website. That old saying about the cobbler’s children having no shoes applies here too — I am lucky to be really busy with author website design clients so rarely have time to update my own site. But after developing a few frustration points with it, I realized it was time for me to prioritize myself and my business, and get things in order. I thought I’d write about what led me to this decision as people often ask me when they should think about updating their site:
It was good for my business. I’ve been lucky enough to have been working on my author website design business full-time since 2008. And before that, I worked on it as a side gig for a number of years too. In the intervening time, I’ve created and removed pages, service offerings, process information, portfolio projects, and more as my business has evolved. While it’s good to keep an archive of your work, it doesn’t all need to be on your website forever. Your website is a destination for what’s relevant to you now. You want to be showcasing what you’re most excited about and what’s most relevant to your target audience currently, as well as the current iteration of your brand identity. Each time I do a website revamp I revisit the entire sitemap and ensure there isn’t anything that is part of the site that no longer needs to be, or that doesn’t reflect my brand. After all, the website projects I did back in the mid-2000’s might have been impressive at the time, but the internet has changed in a massive way since then!
I was frustrated by some aspects of the WordPress theme itself. The theme I selected for myself in 2015 did all of the things that were important to me at the time, and was the first time that I used an off-the-shelf theme for my own site rather than building it from the ground up. It was mobile-ready, it had the features I wanted, and it came with built-in functionality that was relevant to me. As my business has evolved, my needs have changed. Beyond that, WordPress itself has changed, as have the features available with my web host, and how Google ranks sites in search. While I always look for WordPress themes for my clients that are well designed, flexible, feature-rich, relatively simple, and a good fit for their project — meaning they’re sustainable for the long haul — sometimes after enough time has passed you need something new. That said, I could have continued to make the previous theme work, but since I was updating everything across the board I decided it was the right time to make the switch.
Design trends have changed. As a designer, I’m keenly aware of trends. I’m also aware that as soon as you make a decision to use a particular design, the more trendy it is, the more quickly it will look outdated, and the sooner you may regret the decision. I use this same philosophy whether I’m considering updating my website, my kitchen, or my wardrobe. As someone without unlimited resources, I want to be sure that whatever design decisions I make will stand the test of time, or be easy enough to update should I want to switch them out. It’s the same idea as investing in a sofa with classic lines, and switching out the throw pillows more frequently as trends change. It’s much (much!) easier and less expensive to switch out modular details than to overhaul the foundation. Sometimes you can just update a color scheme, a font, a background, or your photography, and the website has a new lease on life. But other times you need to rethink how everything is put together so that you’re building on a solid foundation for the next number of years. It’s easy to phase in modular details, but you need a complete overhaul when your foundation needs fixing.
For authors, in particular, those with multiple books under their belts have the interesting career flow of releasing books on a schedule from every few months to every few years (and everything in between and more). More often than not, each book has its own cover design with its own color scheme, font, and imagery, and if you’re working with a traditional publisher, many of those details aren’t up to you. Not to mention that just like with websites, cover design trends change over time too, and if you’re working with different publishers, each has its own approach. This means that if you design your website to closely coordinate with a particular cover design, but your next book is dramatically different, you’ll need to rethink the entire design.
My advice is to create an author website where the design is tied to you as the author, and the modular details can focus on a particular book. Making your author website neutral enough to work with any cover design you might throw at it means that it will be far more sustainable for you in the future. If your current author website design is tied to a particular book, and you plan to write more books in the future (especially across genres), it’s a good time to think about creating an author website design that will grow easily with you as your career evolves when you have time for it, and not in the manic lead up to your next book’s release.
Lastly, it’s possible you just really dislike your current website. I’ve worked with authors who (sadly) felt pressured into the design they have and never really liked it, or created a site that mimicked someone else but realized it wasn’t right for them, or had their nephew build their site and it never worked well but they felt bad about changing it, or they selected a platform that they thought they’d love but it wasn’t right for them. In all these cases and more, if your site isn’t something you love and are willing and able to update, prioritize how you can change it on a schedule and budget that works for you. Living with a site that you hate or can’t update is holding your career hostage, and no one wants that!
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