For those Do-It-Yourself types, there is no reason why you can’t create an author website that ‘looks like a million bucks’ (while costing less than $100 to set up). Today’s templates and graphic features for hosted websites can compete with sites created by professional designers and coders. I’m not kidding. These website builder programs allow you to:
- Embed video
- Automatically format for mobile devices
- Add a Pay Pal button for customers to purchase your book
- Create a blog page
- Install an “email capture” pop-up box
The basic version can be upgraded (for more money) to add WordPress or the Pro version of the builder you’re using. This gives you unlimited pages (rather than the 6 pages you get with basic) and the ability to customize the pages and interface (i.e. take visitors from one part of the site to another seamlessly and track their interest in your products and content).
This article will take you through the basics of designing a simple site, explain two important new developments, and point out some advanced features to keep in mind. To learn about maximizing your site for Search Engine Optimization (including setting up a site map and Google Search Console) stay tuned for Part Two of this article which will run in a few days.
There are a number of online companies providing website services – two of the major ones are GoDaddy and iPage. They both check availability of domain names and offer an array of services, including website packages with drag and drop templates. Also, they have blogs with useful articles on ways to improve your website. Weebly was one of the first basic hosting programs, but many others have cropped up recently that I find have better templates and include all the options I mentioned above.
My preference is the iPage Website Builder (that’s proprietary to them); they have a Pro version if you want to upgrade to more pages and features (i.e. a full-blown Store with all the bells and whistles). The templates and graphic possibilities are amazing; it’s practically a custom job, which is not surprising since iPage is part of a larger company, Endurance International Group, which includes Constant Contact, the company that pioneered professional-looking email newsletters (in a glossy magazine format) more than 15 years ago.
Standard Pages That Authors Use
Home Page – This is your initial landing page and should have that Wow Factor to keep those eyeballs on your site. Visuals are key (ideally you have great photos that enhance your message). Post brief interesting content (that can link to longer versions) and include short video, if you have it, that visitors can watch right on the page.
About Page – This is where you normally include a bio, photos, endorsements, etc. to reinforce why visitors should buy your book above others. If you’ve written a number of books, they can be listed here.
Blog Page – To showcase your expertise, and to get a decent ranking in search algorithms, you need to update the content on your site on a regular basis. One way to do this is to post new blog entries, at least weekly.
Blog Pro Tip: You can also add a widget to have these blog entries appear automatically on your Author Page on Amazon, which adds to your credibility there. Remember to fill in the box for tags/keywords and use a catchy title for each blog entry.
Store Page – You’ll want a Store section where visitors can learn more about what you’re selling (in this case your book and possibly related consulting or products) and buy it on the site, or see a link to buy it elsewhere (more below).
Don’t feel bound by these guidelines. I created a site for my Paris guidebook and wanted to condense and simplify the pages, so there is bio information on the Home Page, and the “Store” section is on the page describing the book: http://www.carolinestraveltips.com/romance-in-paris-guide
Selling Your Book
On Your Site — You don’t need the advanced Pro version of the hosting software if you’re just selling your book, or a few items. You can set up an account with Pay Pal and insert the software it gives you to the Store section you’ve created on your site. Pay Pal now accepts payment via credit card as well as through a Pay Pal account, which gives customers more options.
On AMAZON — If you don’t want the hassle of dealing with shipping and taxes, you can refer buyers to Amazon to purchase your book. When you crunch the numbers, you will be making less money per book, but every sale on Amazon helps improve your ranking, so other potential buyers are more likely to find it when they are searching there. Be sure to add an Amazon Affiliate button to your site, so that when people click and buy your book on Amazon, you’ll receive a small percentage from that sale (in addition to the royalty you get from your publisher).
Website Design and Goals
Website Design – The templates come with suggested fonts and colors, but they can be changed. The goal is to keep things simple and uniform, i.e. use the same font, include some white space so it isn’t too busy, and use colors that reflect your message. Feel free to call and use the customer service reps to take you through some advanced options that are part of the basic package (like changing the background color and moving sections around). Here is a GoDaddy blog post on Website Design.
Website Goals – Keep in mind that your main objective is to get people visiting and engaging with your site and is even more important than having it look attractive and authoritative. Think through the elements that will further that goal, including encouraging people to sign up for your email blasts (by offering them a giveaway), making it easy to contact you by including an email (not just a box they fill out to send you a message), and building components on the site that are intuitive and easy to navigate. Here is an iPage blog entry on Four Website Goals.
Social Media Icons
Facebook & Twitter – You’ll definitely want to have Facebook and Twitter accounts that are linked to your site (their icons should be placed in a “footer” on every page). For more on ways to maximize your Facebook platform, see our article, Starting Out on Facebook Like a Pro.
Facebook Pro Tip: If your book website is accepting orders, consider installing the Facebook Pixel code on each page to track and analyze visitors’ actions on your site. You can find more information here.
Instagram & YouTube – If your book has a visual message, you can take advantage of the huge audiences on Instagram and YouTube to post your photos and videos (with messages and links back to your site). Again, their icons should be in your footer that appears on every page. For more on using YouTube to showcase your ideas, see our article on Starting Out on YouTube Like a Pro.
Two Important New Developments
SSL Rating — The Google Chrome browser will now “flag” sites as “not secure” if they don’t have the SSL security certificate (which is seen in the URL as https – the added S refers to the enhanced security). And sites that don’t have the SSL rating will probably drop lower in search results. Luckily, companies like iPage and GoDaddy make it easy for you to add this enhancement to your basic website.
GDPR Compliant — The European Union instituted a new “General Data Protection Regulation” regarding data collected by websites on their visitors. Basically, this means you need to add a pop-up box asking visitors’ permission to use “cookies” to track their movements on your site. This is not necessary if you’re only doing business in the U.S., but, again, it’s easy to implement and could become more widespread than the EU.
(Read Part 2 of this article: Tips for Search Engine Optimization)
EDITOR’S NOTE: City Book Review designs affordable websites for authors. Get in touch with us for a quote.
CAROLINE O’CONNELL founded her author publicity firm 25 years ago, so she’s well-versed in traditional media pitches and has booked her clients on every major national TV show and print outlet. She has also written five travel guidebooks, so she understands an author’s priorities.
JOE WEHINGER graduated from Chapman University with a BFA in Film Production. He is a member of the Directors Guild and has spoken or hosted workshops at dozens of entertainment, marketing, and technology seminars. Joe’s company, United Digital & Associates, specializes in creating ‘Remarkable Results in the digital world’. He has produced hundreds of YouTube and online videos for influencers, charities, authors, and lifestyle brands.