There are three elements that some author websites use that make all the difference in their web presence. It may be surprising to you that none of these secrets have to do with how the site looks, how fancy it is, what its budget is, or what platform it uses. All of them have to do with the content itself and how you use it:
Before you think about anything else (what the site looks like, for example) you need to think about how people will find you. Search engines don’t “see” anything on your website — they’re just robots behind the scenes that look at the code & text that makes up your site, how it fits into your overall web presence, and figure out where to rank you for words and phrases that they think are important to you based on how you use them.
If a word or phrase is important to you, and you want people to find you for it, here are a few things you should do:
- Create a dedicated page of your site for that word/phrase. Make it the title of the page (including using it in an h1 tag), and use it in the body text on the page more than once (including the first paragraph).
- Make sure the images on the page reflect the word/phrase (in the image filenames, alt and title tags).
- Link to your dedicated page (see above) from elsewhere (internal and external to your site) using that word/phrase.
- If at all possible try to use a word or phrase that isn’t too generic: trying to compete for the phrase, “romance novel” is much more difficult than trying to compete for the phrase, “historic new england romance novel”, for example.
Your most important word/phrase should be used consistently, as a brand, everywhere you appear online. So use it in your social media profiles, use it on Amazon, and add it to your GoodReads profile. To go back to our previous example, all your profiles might read: “Firstname Lastname, Author of Romance Novels Set in Historic New England”.
Surprisingly, few authors are doing this specific kind of branding, so it’s not difficult to stand out this way. Also, for the journalists and bloggers putting together book lists for holidays (eg: Summer Reading Lists) you can call more attention to yourself as an author this way. When journalists and bloggers are searching for who to include in their book lists they often want to distinguish their list by narrowing the focus — if they don’t already know about you and you’re a good fit for their list, make it easy for them to find you.
Sure, your website can be a static place where you put up some information about yourself and your books that you update periodically when a new book is released. But you can also make your site a destination for your readers regardless of where you are in the book creation/release cycle. By doing this you’re creation a targeted, interested audience to whom you can announce news and information.
If you love sharing videos, then create a YouTube channel and share the videos on your site in a blog format and invite comments. If you love getting feedback from your readers, then share short stories or have them vote on possible plot lines for your next project. If you are constantly researching your topic and discovering new things, then share interesting resources that you come across and invite commentary. Sure, you can do all of these things on a social platform, but then you’re not bringing people to your own website where they can discover lots more about you and your projects.
I suggest finding a way to use social platforms on your website where you can leverage work you’re already doing (like uploading a video to YouTube), but in a way that brings the audience to your site rather than only letting that content work for you elsewhere. Let your community of readers be centralized around a site that you own and control, rather than somewhere else.
If a new reader finds you through search, that’s great, and basic content about your book will hopefully be interesting to them. But what about an existing reader who wants to know what’s coming next? Or a reader who wants to tell their friends about you? Or a book club that wants to discuss your book? Create a destination not only for new readers, but ideally to serve and build a community of readers. If you create a space for your fans to interact with you and each other, that will benefit you much more over time. And providing supporting information to your work that promotes conversation among your audience is a reason for them to visit your site again and again. It also gives you a reason to create chatter about your work in a time between projects, when things my otherwise be slow.
A thriving online community is sustained by regular injections of new, relevant content, and especially content that gets them talking. So think of creative ways you can do that for fiction and nonfiction alike.
Remember, you can have a great website at any price point — whether you make it yourself or hire someone to help you — it’s what you do with it that matters!