Everybody will have a different opinion of what a good author website should be. Online, readers are now at home with being able to do more than just look at a page and are probably expecting a more interactive experience. Because a good author site should be more than just a static brochure, this article explores the online possibilities that can help make a website noticeable.
Your online audience has a very limited attention span. They may have stumbled onto your site on accident. The web user remains in the driver’s seat with the ability to click easily to, or away from, your site and more worryingly, with literally millions of websites at their fingertips, the attention span of the average web surfer is measured in seconds.
Splash screens were certainly all the rage some years ago but have become unfashionable since for the following reasons:
The home page is the most important page of a website. It is the one page that most of your visitors will view. A poor home page can destroy any chance of achieving a good impression within a few seconds.
Your home page can be THE most important page as far as Google is concerned. From experience it can take approx 7 – 21 days for Google to spider (find) a page on your website. Their spider software visits the home page (index.html) more often as it assumes that this is the most important page on your website.
The homepage can contain a welcome message from the author; this can be updated on a need to basis and is a technique used by many authors. The ubiquitous carousel is also used on many home pages such as on crime fiction author Ashley Dyer.
It is a always a good idea to keep any copyright date on the bottom of the page current or a visitor may assume that the site has not been updated since the date specified.
Web pages are also capable of playing background audio. For music sites this may prove worthwhile, but even then, after spending more than a minute or so on any one page this sound could prove distracting and even annoying to some people; this would be a problem for anyone viewing pages in a library for example. It is not recommended for any sites to use background audio, but if you do, please provide an option to switch it off.
A books page on an author site goes without saying. There would be a good opportunity here to have links leading to a reviews page and most definitely sales pages i.e. Amazon or another online book seller.
Having reviews of an author’s books or other literary works gives people a chance to read other peoples opinions of published works.
This is a very important page as it engages the visitor. It gives the reader (or fan) a good reason to keep returning to the site and because of this it is crucial to keep it up-to-date on a regular basis even if it is just a Blog style entry.
A vital ingredient!
Multimedia content is a good idea. This can include downloads of the following:
We all know it is much easier to keep a reader that it is to gain a new one. With this in mind, an email newsletter (even if it is only one every six months) is a great way to keep the level of interest going within a fan-base.
A quality author newsletter offering something genuinely interesting or valuable to your readers will ensure that they are reminded about you and your books. This would also be a good opportunity to inform about new publications – and, perhaps, even give valuable introductory offers. If nothing else, it should encourage readers to pass on your details to friends and colleagues.
One company that offers a mailing list service is 'Your Mailing List Provider'.
Having a guest book on an author site allows a fan-base to engage interact by giving feedback; this in turn gives an extra reason why a site is ‘sticky’ (makes people keep on coming back).
The beauty of the guestbook is that it is possible to receive feedback without having to contact readers direct. Guestbook’s can be free if using a service like ‘Bravenet’; although they make their money by including adverts at the top. You can set up a guestbook so that a post cannot go ‘live’ until it has been checked – this stops spam and the very occasional abusive entry.
An additional idea for an author website is to include a poll that can be embedded into your webpage. Polls can answer questions that you may have of your readership: ‘What is your favourite book or character’ etc.
Forums have mostly now been replaced by social media. However if you still wish to have one, a forum allows your readers to communicate with each other via your website. Once again entries can be screened before going live, although this editing would probably prove tiring if the service proved popular. One note of caution with Forums is that unless the service is used regularly, then it can look a bit ‘tumbleweed on the prairie’.
If there are audio book versions available, it would be very useful to have a page dedicated to the advertisement of these products. This would also be a great place to place streaming audio samples. (Streaming means that the visitor does not have to download the file before he/she starts to listen.)
The links page is a valuable tool in Internet networking. It is possible to have the best website in the World, but should nobody visit, then it defeats the object. One of Google’s algorithms is that it uses inbound links to rank the importance of your website; it assumes that the more people that link to your website, then the more important it must be.
All inbound links are good (unless they are from a links farm), but as far as Google is concerned the inbound links only really count if they are from another website with a good ‘Google Pagerank’.
Test your website’s pagerank with a Google Page Rank Checker Tool.
Check how many links there are to your author site by searching on Google for 'linkto:' then include your site domain.
Example: linkto: www.findmeanauthor.com
On a final note about links, it is customary on the web to contact people that you would like a link from and offer them a reciprocal link in return.
Placing video on your website means that your bandwidth usage will usually rise. The way round this is to upload video clips onto Youtube or Google video and then embed them onto your web pages. An example of this can be found at http://www.margaretmurphy.co.uk/about_margaret.htm
The type of video you can use can range from interviews through to book trailer videos http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=kx_ihf41SaQ
Additional ideas for video content could be filmed short book readings by the author (‘Jackanory’ style). One unique idea that has been done recently by author Chris Simms, is to film actors recreating a scene from one of your books.
An additional idea might be to include an interviews page where you can collate and link to all your interviews that are currently of you on the Internet. If you are unsure where online interviews are, a quick search on Google will reveal most online author interviews.
A Blog (Weblog) is currently trendy and gives people a reason to keep coming back to visit your site on a regular basis, it is also a way of involving your fan-base on a personal level. One note of caution is that a commitment to keep it updated on a weekly basis is necessary or the page will soon look old and tired.
Extracts from each book is a very good idea for giving a taster of each book. Some authors even publish the first chapter of their book online to entice a reader to find out more.
The biography page is used on most major author sites. One additional section of a biography page could be a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section similar to the biography of author P.D. James.
Having some sort of free entry competition to win a signed book is a good idea as all additional things like this make your author site more and more ‘sticky’. One option may be to give away a prize every quarter to a person who signs up to your newsletter thus encouraging more people to sign up; the only draw-back to this would of course be the postage costs.
Having a search facility shows on your site shows that you care that the visitor can easily find what they are looking for. It is possible to have a Google search embedded onto your site.
One tried and tested option is to have a free Google custom search facility on your website where it's possible to have your site searchable in minutes.
Another search facility available is at Free Find. By registering and then installing a small piece of code on all of the pages you want to keep track on, they email you once a week to let you know exactly how many people used the facility and what they typed into the box (very useful info).
Do you need a sitemap? If your website has a small number of pages that can be easily reached from hyperlinks throughout the site, then the answer is no, not really - although it won't do any harm. If your website is getting large, you may wish to generate one automatically. More information can be found at the Google Webmasters - what are sitemaps page.
This is a feature used successfully by Minette Walters http://www.minettewalters.co.uk/books/international/index.htm
This section allows the book covers from different Countries to be displayed and also gives a link to the publisher in that region.
The idea of having a ‘press kit’ page on your site is to make it easy for the press to access your promotional media at all times with MS word document versions of press releases, promo photos, biography and praise. Along with web quality, high quality resolution versions of your book covers can also be accessed from this area for printing purposes.
Many readers are curious about the creators of the books they enjoy. Good author websites deliver this information and more with aplomb. Sometimes readers find a book they like, and they want everything they can then get their hands on!!! Whether it’s more in that series or another series you may have!
It’s all about a reader getting the most out of your website! If they know the information is at their fingertips – then that’s the first place they’ll go!