I’ve had a few people ask me what ‘makes’ a good author website. Granted, I’ve talked about what I believe constitutes a good author blog in the past, but the blog is only one part of the package.
Without further ado, here are five things I believe every author website needs. It isn’t necessarily a complete list, but these should be the five things you think about before anything else, in my opinion.
1. A blog
Okay, a little bit of an obvious one to start off, but I’ll forever sing the praises of blogging. Take a look around at the best author websites: Joanna Penn has a blog. Jeff Goins has a blog. Joe Konrath has a blog. Getting the picture?
A blog is a great way to reach a new audience. I’ve made loads of new friends and built my audience through blogging, so I really am not exaggerating its impact. You can set one up for free over at wordpress.com, or self-host one through wordpress.org if you’re feeling a little more ambitious.
Whichever option you pick doesn’t really matter; what matters is content, and regularity. I post three times per week on the topics of marketing, writing, and publishing, so my readers know what to expect. You don’t have to start with a niche – you can grow into it naturally – but it can help to have a sense of direction.
Be patient, and keep blogging. If you’re interesting, your readership will grow. Promise.
2. An ‘About’ page
I prefer dynamic home pages, like blogs, to static home pages. Static home pages can feel a little corporate, and although that might be a good thing if you’re simply looking for a place to sell your book, if you’re planning to blog regularly, a home page is just an unnecessary wall between a potential new blog reader and your blog. You’d be surprised how reluctant people really are to click the mouse more than they have to.
Obviously, if you go with a dynamic blog as your front page, then you need a place where people can find out about you. What better than an ‘About’ page?
I use my ‘About’ page to slap a lovely mugshot on there, as well as talk about who I am and what I do. I use first-person, but that’s just a personal preference. I feel it’s consistent with the conversational tone of my blog, so encourages engagement, but it’s not a crime to use third-person. Be consistent, be honest, and you’ll be fine.
3. A mailing list
I talked a while ago about the benefits of a mailing list over advertising. You’re going to want to capture those readers who enjoy your content, aren’t you?
Let’s be honest: how many times have you vowed to return to a website, only for it to slip from your consciousness completely? I do it all the time. With an RSS button on your site, people can subscribe to receive your posts via feed, either through external applications like Google Reader, or direct to their inbox.
As well as blog subscription options, a mailing list sign up form is absolutely crucial. Not everyone who visits your author website is interested in your blog, but just wants to know about your written content. I use my mailing list to send out irregular updates on new book releases. I offer a free mystery writing guide to tempt people to sign up, but may change this to a short story soon in order to keep up the consistency.
There are no rules on creating a mailing list. Just promise not to spam, and deliver only the mail your readers sign up to. People are more likely to pay attention to that one post in three months from you, than the fifth of the day.
Oh, I use Mailchimp by the way, but Aweber seems to be a popular (albeit paid) option too.
4. Social networking links
Do you tweet regularly? Have a Facebook author page set up? Then you should signpost your social media links on your website.
Think of the internet as a big cobweb. Yes, I know you hate spiders, but just hear me out for a moment. All content across the web should be linked together. You should have a link to your website on your Twitter page, and a link to that same Twitter page on your website. You want to capture as many people in this web as possible. Except they aren’t um, flies. They are people. Nice people. I’m going to stop now because this analogy is going nowhere.
Similarly, you’ll want a contact form or email address, too. People are going to want to get in touch with you at some stage or another, so give them an easy way to do so. This could be as simple as listing your email address in your sidebar, or as I do things, a dedicated contact page complete with a form. This can help dodge that nasty spam, so I’d recommend it.
5. A good website name
Perhaps I should’ve put this higher up the list, but truth be told, I’ve been making things up as I go along. Registering a domain name for your website is important if you’re looking to be in things for the long-term.
It’s not essential, mind. David Gaughran and Joe Konrath use the free alternatives, and they score a hell of a lot more traffic than me. It’s just a personal preference really, so decide what you want to do early on. You don’t want to be changing your mind a few months down the line when people are already used to the one you’d chosen at the start.
Pick a good name, too. It can be tempting to title your website after your book, but I wouldn’t recommend this. What happens to the website when you want to bring another book out? The more websites you set up, the messier things get. Build a hub, where everything goes, and work from there. Name it after yourself, too.
What do you believe every author website should include? If you had to choose just one feature for your website, what would it be?
Image courtesy of J. Paxon Reyes via Flickr