Whether to have a website or not has been previously discussed in Why have a Website?. That discussion also considered the option of only having a blog. The conclusion: if an independent (indie) author or entrepreneur is serious about their ‘business’, a website is required.
The issue of whether to have a hosted, self-hosted or managed website, together with descriptions of what they are, have also been previously discussed in Websites – Hosted v Self-Hosted. The advantages and disadvantages of each were also considered.
It is a fact, the majority of indie authors/entrepreneurs have limited resources. Consequently, most will opt for a ‘hosted’ website. This topic will therefore be viewed from the perspective of limited resources/hosted website.
Note: Despite limited finances the purchase of a unique Domain Name is advised: it provides a more targeted online presence. These are inexpensive and should be within the reach of most pockets.
Now to consider some basic design principles for a website.
As with any project, the first consideration must be what the intended purposes and aims are for the end product.
As usual, this discussion will take the perspective of an indie author though, of course, many aspects will apply equally to others.
Is the website intended for:
- Author promotion (e.g. about them as an individual, especially their writing skills);
- Publicising book(s) (make known). (Different to marketing and selling.);
- Sharing experiences;
- Interacting with fellow authors;
- Building relationships (readers; book clubs; retailers; etc.);
- Marketing book(s);
- Direct selling. (In this instance a self-hosted or managed site will be required.);
- The media/press.
Naturally, there are other possibilities. The above simply provides some conceivable ideas.
Hosted sites e.g. WordPress; Blogger; etc. provide a series of readymade templates/themes. The decision, regarding which to use, is very much personal one though, of course, the purpose/aim for the website needs to continually be born in mind. The benefit with the templates/themes offered is, they have been tested and meet all necessary system requirements. In addition, they have built in security features.
The choice, in some systems, can be mind-boggling. It is therefore advisable the user researches the possibilities before deciding. Care should be taken as it is easy to become distracted by the multiple options. Though, in essence, as already mentioned, the design of a website is a personal matter, there are some points that should always be taken into account.
To emphasis: the purposes and aims for the website need to be continually born in mind as are the following points.
The templates/themes offered by host systems come with ready installed colour pallets and/or acceptable options. This, naturally, has a limiting effect nevertheless, it is usually possible for the user to find a pallet or scheme that goes someway toward what they would like.
There are two principle matters to take into account when choosing a colour scheme:
- How professional it will look;
For example: A fluorescent ‘princess’ pink will hardly encourage a visitor to take the site seriously. This may be fine for an entertainment based website but not for one that wishes to present a professional persona.
- How the colour choice will impact upon the eyes.
For example: A subdued parchment background with a small, dark, font or a dark-mid blue and green background with blue writing (these are examples of some come across by the writer) will, for many, prove difficult to read. Readers may be easily lost as a consequence of poor visibility.
This website: ’T. R. Robinson Publications’ is a hosted website consequently, the choice of template was restricted (though, in fairness, it must be acknowledged there are many choices). The colour pallets/schemes within the theme were also limited. Several were considered too dark or too light/bright (these may also be a problem for some). The choice made is considered to be the most appropriate for purpose. Admittedly, it may not have been the website owner’s first choice but, as far as the writer is able to determine, it appears to work.
Keep it simple. Avoid intricate or mobile (constantly moving) backgrounds. The aim is to get visitors to read the content. If there is too much distraction they may not be able to take the text in or, and more than likely, will give up and move on to something else. Not desirable!
It is best to keep to a fairly ‘normal’ font. Anything too quirky, squiggly, etc. may make the text difficult to read or may prove distracting which, is the last thing wanted. The aim is to engage the reader not put them off.
The font colour should be tested before making a decision to ensure it sits well upon the background. Of course, some templates/themes come with ready made font style and colour that may not be changed. If these are considered problematic the person setting up the website should look at alternative templates.
When first establishing a website, there is, frequently, a temptation to make it highly visual. After all this is primarily a visual age. However, that is not always the best option. Again, purpose and aim are paramount. If the website is for a photographer, artist or other visual creative, then yes, of course, it should be as visual as possible. Authors on the other hand should be considering the presentation of their writing skills. Naturally, book cover images need to be added but not so as to completely dominate, assuming the author also intends to add informative, interesting, helpful, etc. content for their readers.
Any images/photographs used should be relevant to the website’s purpose and aim. Just because an image is a favourite it does not follow it should be utilised. Naturally, the owner will wish to portray some of their character and personality in what is chosen but should ensure this does not end up counterproductive by being too busy, confusing, distracting or irrelevant.
All templates/themes come with the option to add multiple ‘pages’ e.g. ‘About’, ‘Contact’, ‘Blog’, etc. Some also come with the option of having columns to the right, left or both, of the main presentation.
Pages: Naturally, there are some pages which an author should always consider including e.g. ‘About’, ‘Books’ and ‘Blog’ (if they intend to share regular information with their readers). With most templates there is no limit to how many pages a user may add however, the author should avoid making the site too busy. An excessive number of pages tends to a dizzy presentation. Many people have limited time and will be put off if they feel they have to plough through numerous pages for information. In addition, probably due to ready availability of information on the internet and modern visual society, many suffer from reduced attention spans. The number of pages should therefore be limited to what is essential and relevant. As has been mentioned in other articles, users are advised to ensure the website has a ‘static’ Home page in which the overall purpose and aim for the website is defined. This will be the page a visitor will first encounter when coming to the website by means of its unique URL (Uniform Resource Locator).
Columns: Again, a clean, non-busy, presentation should be to the forefront of the author’s mind. Besides the option of having columns, most templates/themes also enable a full-width presentation that omits columns all together. Columns can be useful for adding information the author would like to be constantly displayed no matter where in the website a visitor is looking e.g. social media links, blog post history, categories, etc. nevertheless, if utilised, these should also be kept ‘clean’ and non-distracting. It should be noted; it is not necessary to have a column in which to add such things as social media links. Most templates/themes enable for these to be added to top or bottom rows. Many websites utilise this unfussy yet clear option.
A website should be designed to be clean, unfussy and relevant.
Purpose and aim must constantly be born in mind when selecting style, layout, colour, font, images, etc.
Templates/themes should be tested before final decision. (Most systems enable a change of template/theme but it does not look good if, once made available to the public, the presentation is frequently altered.)
As implied by the topic heading, this has just been a consideration of top-level basics. Obviously, there is much more that could have been discussed but the aim was simply to cover fundamentals. What should or should not be included in a website is entirely another topic to be considered and discussed separately.