Welcoming a visitor to your website is a lot like meeting someone new for the first time. You start with some cursory introdcutions, shift awkwardly from foot to foot, delve into some surface level stuff, like what you do and where you come from, and if you hit it off, you might start talking about your latest favourite books and the best restaurants in your neighbourhood and before you know it, you’re exchanging numbers and meeting up for croissants and coffee. Or nachos and ciders.
Just like meeting someone new, your website is all about making a good first impression. You want people to stick around (click around haha) and get to know you. To make this happen, you don’t need a fancy, expensive website, you just need an effective one. Sometimes people get stuck on creating the perfect site, and it causes the kind of creative quicksand we can fall into with writer’s block. Whether your site is one page or one hundred, if you follow the steps below, you’ll be well on your way to having an effective author website.
10 Author Website Must-Haves
1. The name of your site (or your name) must be visible right away.
This usually means your site name should either be in the top left corner of the page, or the centre. On Stephen King’s site, he has the site name in the top left corner. Sarah Selecky opts for front and centre. The goal here is to make it really easy for your site visitors to figure out who you are, and why they should care, which brings us to number 2.
2. A visitor must be able to establish what your site is about in seconds.
We’re all fickle internet browsers. Official counts say visitors spend between 15 and 59 seconds clicking around a site on average before they click away somewhere else. Whichever count you go by, it’s safe to say you have mere seconds to entice your visitors to come in and stay awhile, cozy up in your easy chair, have a cup of tea, and hopefully buy your book. To keep people on your site, make sure they can figure out what it’s all about right away. A good way to do this is to have a site tagline under your name (or site name) that describes what people can expect from the site, or to have a banner image or block of text that does the same. Chuck Wendig’s site, Terrible Minds, is a great example of this. He has a blurb right beside his site title letting people know what to expect (swearing, cursing and profanities of all kinds).
3. A clear navigation so visitors can get to the page they want quickly.
The navigation, or menu, for your site is prime real estate. It not only helps visitors find their way to the information they’re looking for quickly, but it also serves as a secondary way to figure out what the heck your site is about. On author Pam Houston’s site, her navigation includes items like “Appearances”, “Books”, and “Teaching”. This tells us that Pam is a speaker, writer and teacher. Site visitors don’t want to work hard to find the information they’re looking for. Make it easy for them by putting your most important pages in the navigation (or menu in WordPress). These pages are usually your About page, Contact page, your work or portfolio, and your blog (if you have one).
4. A way to follow you/subscribe.
This is one of my biggest pet peeves. I come across a great site, with lots of interesting content, and I want to make sure I’m notified the next time they post something. I hunt through the right nav, the footer, the bottom of the post… and nothing–no way to subscribe to their posts. I’ve had people who shall remain nameless because I like them in all other ways tell me if someone likes the site enough, they’ll remember to come back. We won’t remember. There are so many websites. So many! Even if we bookmark it, it’s pretty unlikely a visitor will come back without that email reminder in their inbox. Even if you aren’t producing a lot of content, your author website should have a way for people to join your mailing list, just in case in the future you start putting out content, or say, a book :)
5. Links to your writing samples and/or places people can purchase your work.
This is likely an obvious one (sorry), but if you have writing that is accessible online, you should definitely link to it. Make this one super easy to find by including it in your navigation. I often see authors include a page just for their latest book. For example, on Alice Kuipers’ site, she has a banner on her homepage that links to an information page for her latest YA book, Me (and) Me. If you have published short stories, or done writing other places on the web, you can gather this on one page, which can also double also a kind of portfolio or writing resume. You can see mine here.
6. Links to your social media accounts.
Thankfully, most themes for pre-packaged sites come with built-in social media icons these days. If you have a social presense, be sure to link to your various accounts, either by using widgets in your sidebar, or by linking icons at the top, side, or bottom of your site so people can go follow you other places too. You can even get crazy and throw those social icons in at the end of every post, if you’re blogging. The more points of contact you have with people who are interested in your work, the better.
7. An awesome About page.
I feel like I go on and on about this one, but your About You page is likely going to be one of the most popular pages on your site. We humans want to know about other humans. We want to know if you’re legit, we want to know if we’re going to like you, we want to know what you can do for us, and we want to know that you are also a human. Nikki Elledge Brown has my all-time favourite write-up on how to create an About Page here. The main thing to remember when writing your About page (or really your whole site) is: It’s not really about you. It’s about you in the context of what other people want to know about you. So make yourself human, but also let other people know what’s in it for them.
8. A responsive design (aka make it mobile).
The good news here is that most templated sites today are mobile-friendly. Except for some die-hard hold outs (hello to my friend with a flip phone), most people are browsing the web on their mobile devices. Visitors will spend even less time on your site if it doesn’t work on the device they’re on. It’s like being invited to a friend’s house only to get there and find out they only have a broken chair that smells like one million cats with springs that poke you for you to sit on. Be sure to check your site across multiple devices (iPhone, Andriod, iPad, desktop) to make sure it’s working comfortably for everyone.
9. A way to contact you.
So now your visitor has been on your site for more than 59 seconds. They’ve clicked around through your writing samples or blog posts, they’ve followed you on social, they’ve subscribed to your newsletter, and they want to ask you a question. Your site needs to have a clear way for them to get in touch. If you’re using WordPress, this is super easy. There are widgets and plug-ins galore to help you add a contact form. You can also just include your email address, but without a spam filter, this can get messy. Whichever method you choose, it’s a good idea to have a full page dedicated to getting in touch with you. You can include this in your top nav or footer for easy access.
10. A colour scheme that incorporates 1-3 colours.
Unless you have mad design skills, I’d recommend using a colour scheme for your site that has between one and three colours. If you start mixing and matching in too many places (text, links, site name, buttons), your site can become as overwhelming as a 1970s living room. Which is now trendy again, but a bit hard on the eyes for the web.
Following these ten tips will help ensure that when visitors do land on your site, they can figure out who you are, what you can offer them, and why they should care right away. Do you have any tips or pet peeves about websites? Share them below!