The issue of whether to have a website or not has been previously discussed in Why have a Website? and will therefore not be further considered here, except to say the conclusion was: An author should always have one. (The issue of whether a blog alone is sufficient was also considered. The conclusion: No.) The topic of Websites – Hosted v Self-Hosted has also been previously considered therefore neither will that be further discussed here.
No doubt many reading this, who do not already have a website, will groan at the prospect of needing to create an additional online presence to those they already have. After all, most people are pressed for time these days. However, there is no need for them to get unduly concerned because an author website does not have to be complicated. Sometimes simple is best. Website Design – Basics, as inferred in the title, deals with the actual creation of a simple website. This article does not further consider creation but relates to, and contemplates, the various elements of information an author should consider including.
As stated; a website does not have to be complicated. Neither does it need to be ‘all singing all dancing’. Naturally, there are many things an author could include above and beyond what should be incorporated. The following is therefore broken into four parts: What should be included; Desirable additions; Optional additions; Other features.
Note: Readers need to bare in mind, as discussed in other articles, a website should have a ‘static’ ‘Home’ page with the option for other pages which may be static or interactive. Consequently, it is possible there may be some overlap or even duplication of the information suggested be included, though it would normally be presented in varying formats. e.g. Concise or Detailed; First or Third person; etc.
What should be included?
Though the term ‘should’ has been utilised the following are in reality ‘musts’.
Before continuing: The simplest website comprises a single ‘Home’ page. Though this may be acceptable to some, a majority of experienced authors and author related businesses will recommend also having additional pages such as ‘About’; ‘Books’; ‘Contact’; ‘Blog’.
Visitors to a website, unless they have followed a link to a defined article, will first be presented with the ‘Home’ page. This is where the author has the opportunity to quickly raise the visitor’s interest. Statistics imply this opportunity only lasts for a few seconds, perhaps ten, twenty or at most thirty. If their interest is not piqued by then they are most likely to move on to something else. So, what are the elements an author should consider for their home page?
- Author biography/Website purpose: Which to include depends upon the intended, primary, purpose for the website. Whichever it is the content needs to be concise and relevant. If the site has been designed to be purely about the author and their books, include a short author biography (suggested 100 – 300 words written in third person). However, if it has been set up for a broader purpose, as is the case with this website, a brief description of the aims and purposes. A visitor will want to quickly assess whether it is a place of interest and relevance for them.
- Products: Small book cover images with a very brief description. These could simply define the genre, as has been done on the home page of this website.
- Contact details: How a visitor may contact the author or website owner. This may simply comprise a link to another page or a list of contact options.
- Policies/Terms & Conditions: Of course not everyone has such things but if they do links should be provided to where a visitor may read them. Example: many authors review books they have read but may have constraints on genre and who may request a review, etc.
The important thing to remember with ‘Home’ pages is, they need to be concise and quickly capture a visitor’s interest.
As already stated, it is not absolutely necessary to have additional pages to the Home page. However, the following information should be readily available to visitors and to include it all in the Home page would make it unwieldy and extremely full with the consequent danger of turning a visitor off. As already stressed, initial contact needs to have an immediate impact.
So as not to make this article longer than necessary, the sort of information to include is presented in one combined list without stating which page each item should be included in. In truth this will, mostly, be self-evident. Reminder: the type of pages an author should consider adding are: ‘About’; ‘Books’; ‘Contact’; ‘Blog’; etc.
- Full Author Biography: Though this should be as complete as possible it needs to be relevant for purpose and not meander. A profile photograph/image should always be included.
- Contact Details: Readers; Fans; Followers; Bloggers; Journalists; etc. may wish to ask specific questions or obtain further details. Options: Contact form or if preferred actual e-mail address(es); telephone number(s); etc. Important!: Security and privacy issues must be taken into account as any such information will be openly public.
- Book Details: Covers; Synopsis; Retail links; Reviews.
- Testimonials: Most likely to be positive reviews of the author’s books. However, some may have also commended the author for other matters in which case these could also be included (relevance should always be the guide).
- Social Media Links: It is likely if someone has taken an interest in the author and/or their book(s) they would also like to follow/connect with them in social media. These days a majority of the population are active in social media and it therefore makes sense for an author to provide such links. Rather than clear, long form, URL (Uniform Resource Locator) addresses most users favour social media buttons to which the url link is attached. Note: Many ‘hosted’ templates already have the buttons available as part of their widget systems.
- E-mail newsletter signup option: As a means of communication an e-mail newsletter is considered an important, desirable addition. However, it is not to every author’s liking to have responsibility for issuing a regular newsletter. There are also the issues of privacy because, by law, most newsletter systems/formats are obliged to also include the author’s actual postal address, usually in the footer. Though it is possible to utilise something like a business or postbox address there are still privacy risks: some jurisdictions require the address of a postbox holder be revealed if someone submits such a request.
- Blog: An excellent way to share things that will be of interest to, as well as inform and entertain, readers. By default what is shared will also reveal, at least a little, about who the author is as a person which many readers like. Nevertheless, it would be better not to include a blog if it will not be kept regularly active. Gives a very poor impression if it is left to stagnate. Note: As stated in Why have a Website? best practice is to have a Website with an integrated blog rather than separate sites.
- Calendar of Events: Some authors, though has to be said few independent (indie) ones, participate in or hold public events such as: Book signings; Readings; Speaking engagements; etc. Contact with readers, fans and followers is always advantageous and therefore it would be sensible to publicise when and where such events are being held.
- Author Press Kit: Useful to have this to assist anyone one who takes an interest in the author and/or their book(s) e.g. Bloggers; Journalists; Editors (magazines etc.). The article contains further detail and explanation.
- Media Kit: Whether to have one or not depends upon the overall purpose/aim for the website e.g. whether it deals with more than the author and their book(s).
- Podcasts: An increasing number of internet users, not just authors, now favour the medium of podcasting. To be expected in these far more visually/internet orientated days. If an author does podcast it would make sense to either imbed them, or at least some of the most relevant, in their website or provide links to where they may be viewed. Note: To embed the website would have to be a self-hosted one.
- Bonus Material: Some authors, to gain additional followers or attention, offer free books or other related material e.g. backstories. Their website is an excellent place to provide access or, if the website is self-hosted, to enable downloading of such material.
- Website follow option: Naturally, any website owner will want people to ‘follow/visit’ their website on a regular basis. Note: Hosted websites, which most indie authors utilise, usually have a follow option automatically built in. If a self-hosted site, the programmer should ensure such an option exists.
- Navigation: Most authors will undoubtedly chose to have more than just a ‘Home’ page. In that case they will need to ensure a visitor may be able to easily find their way round the website. Consequently, navigation needs to be clear and easy. Besides page tabs that are displayed by default, a ‘menu’ may also be considered appropriate. Note: A majority of hosted website templates have menus automatically incorporated.
- Search facility: All part of providing easy access/navigation to information by enabling a visitor to enter a word or phrase relevant to the topic they are interested in. Note: Hosted templates usually include this option in available widgets.
- Category List of Topics: Most relevant when there is an integrated blog. Note: Most hosted templates have such a facility built in: The author simply has to enter relevant category titles.
- Archive of blog posts: Obviously only relevant to where there is an integrated blog. Note: Hosted templates usually incorporate this by default.
Note: Though not mentioned above, in addition to having additional pages to the Home page, most templates enable users to include one or two side columns. Some of the options mentioned e.g. social media buttons/links; e-mail sign up form; category list; archive; etc. may be incorporated in these rather than within a page. In fact, many templates already provide for such things as category lists and archives to be held in these.
Authors are advised to have a website with or without an integrated blog.
It is essential they include, at a minimum: An author biography; Book details (titles & retail links); Contact details; Social media links.
It is also desirable they have: An e-mail newsletter sign-up form; An integrated blog; A calendar of events, if relevant.
The option for other elements is there and totally at the discretion of the author, though some should be seriously considered.
Overall: Website content should be drafted so as to quickly catch a reader’s/visitor’s attention and to show them, within a very short period, whether the website is relevant to them and their interests.