Monday, July 2, 2012

6 Tips for a Friendly Author Website

I've done a lot of posts on web sites for both unpubbed and pubbed authors on why you'd need one or not. For some reason I simply can't fathom, I haven't been heralded as the next web site theory oracle. :) (jokey joke)

But: I do design web sites for many types of businesses, including pubbed authors. Here are 6 tips to making your website more user-friendly, with the goal of retaining your readers and gaining new ones.

6 Tips for a Friendly Author Website

Tip #1: Be Friendly to New Readers
I recently visited the web site for an author I hadn't heard of before. She writes in a category I love to read (women's fiction), so I was interested in her books. But on her home page, her books weren't front and center. Instead, praise took up the main space, and her books were listed by title out of site. Praise is good, but I don't care how much people love the book until I've seen whether the book is something for me. Praise comes second in my decision making factors.

The Solution: Make sure your home page is simple and draws the reader in for more first. Make things clickable. Don't make them wade through your reviews or bio first.

Tip #2: Make it clear what your books are, and provide links.
Put up pictures of your book covers, and make them clickable, because people expect to click on book covers. One author's website listed her book covers--but the covers themselves weren't links. The only way to learn more or --ahem-- buy one was to click on a "buy" link no where near the actual cover images. But there, only book titles were listed and no cover images! I didn't know the difference between her books, and I hadn't taken the time to memorize her titles after being shown covers, so I was frustrated with nothing to click on. 

The Solution: provide pictures of your book covers, and let me click on them right away. Or, give me a "Books" link. This author had neither. I couldn't figure out how to get at her books easily. I left her site.

Tip #3: Don't use alternative terms for standard navigation items.
One author's site I visited recently used "Profile" for the author bio link. Use something simple, like "About" or "About me." The word "About" is understood instantly by everyone. So is "Bio." But "Profile"-- what is that? Profile of your books, or you?

The Solution: Don't make your site visitors think. Give them what they expect so they will click on things. When you make people stop to figure things out--even for a second--you lose their already short attention spans. Use web-standard terms. If you're not sure what those are, check around other websites and make a note of the terminology.

Tip #3: Don't separate out information that should be grouped. 
This echoes the linking tip above. One mega best-selling, household name author, who has upwards of 20 books published, made a fatal mistake on her website. She has a Books page with her huge list of books. You can click on each book cover for more info. Is there a buying link on the list of books page? No! Is there a buying link on the specific page for the book? NO! Instead, there is a nearly useless separate page called "Where to buy books." Why? Why? I'm not looking in the menu bar for that. I'm looking on the book page for a link to buy. Give me what I expect, and I'll click it. Make it hard to find, and I won't. Not out of spite--but because it's harder.

Note, too, that if you make your visitor open up a new web browser, type in, and then cut and paste that book title into Amazon, you've already wasted three steps that didn't need to happen if you'd just provided a link. And guess what? No one likes doing the work.

The Solution: Just add links everywhere. It's not hard and links aren't obtrusive.

Tip #4: Make sure all your links work.
Nothing is more frustrating then clicking on a "subscribe" link and getting a page full of code. Hey, things go wrong. But quality check your site. It reflects personally on you if things are broken. Sad, but true.

The Solution: Whether you're doing your own site or having someone do it for you, perform a quality check by clicking on all links and playing with your pages. Links get broken. Sometimes a single letter is off in a link and it doesn't work. Pay attention--your website represents you.

Tip #5: Make sure your name is the largest piece of text on the page.
Why? Because if you make everything the same size, I can't pick out who you are. And you want me to. You want me to remember your name. 

The Solution: Stand back about five feet from your screen and see what jumps out at you the most. If it's not your name, get back in there and fix it. Look at my name on this blog. Are you confused as to who writes this blog? Look at my website. Are you clear whose site it is?

Tip #6: Think through who might visit your site.
When I design web sites for clients, I always ask who they think their target audience is. This is a really hard question to answer, because you have to open your mind to varied scenarios. For example, you might think you need an author web site for potential readers, and therefore potential sales. But you'd be ignoring other types of visitors: people who are already fans and want to learn more and connect and tell other people about your work, or people who are writers but not necessarily readers, and writers want to share your info and further your name. Or, journalists writing an article and your name came up in a search.

Or, did you know your website might be useful enough to serve as a resource for people? Do you look at your site differently if you knew it could be seen as a reference tool? Likewise, let's say you have a list of recipes that you've posted from your books, which feature characters as chefs. Now readers might want to visit your site specifically for the recipes. You've built a cooking site and you didn't even know it. Those visitors may be readers, too.

The Solution: Brainstorm and make a list of everyone you can think of who might visit, and why. What can you do to give them what they're looking for?

BONUS Tip #7: Provide an index for information that you regularly feature.
This is really applicable to blogs--but again, blogs are seen as part of the greater website, when you've incorporated it in. What's an index? It's a list of your content. Let's say you have a running series of a certain topic--say, books you recommend. You do a series of blog posts about the books, and even tag the posts with a "Recommended books" tag. But you don't have an index of the books, and someone might want to use your blog or site as a reference tool because you regularly reference bloopers in Star Wars films (see tip #6 above). Give them an index of those references. Don't make people wade through tags or other convoluted info for your content.

You might be wondering, "How does providing lists of recipes result in more book sales for me?" A good website is about providing information that people want. You have a good website with good content, and people will be more likely to buy your books, because they like you. Make it easier for them.

The Solution: Create simple, bulleted lists of things you have a lot of.

Hope these tips help. Let me know if you have any questions.


nindogs said...

Great post, Sierra! There is nothing that frustrates me more than non-linky websites and having to search for things that should be easily located.

Handy Man, Crafty Woman said...

Yes! It frustrates me when I find books that aren't linked as well. If I REALLY feel interested, I'll look it up. But if I'm on the fence? Nope. I'll move on. Just let me click! I agree about having an index or group of tags, as well.

Sierra Godfrey said...

Thanks Nindogs! Websites are not books...the beauty of the web is that it clicks and jumps!

Handy, thanks--you captured it perfectly. I move on even if it's easy, just because it requires steps.

D.R. Shoultz said...

Good suggestions. I recently put up my site and went back and incorporated a couple of your ideas. I hate complexity. Simple and functional works. Thanks.

Roni Loren said...

Fab tips. I hate when I have to jump through hoops to find out about a book. I also hate when people call their blog something else than "blog" or "news" on the menu. "Thoughts" isn't going to make me click over.

AND authors need to list the order of books if they have series. That drives me nuts if I can't figure out which one is first.

Steven J. Wangsness said...

Thanks. Lots of good thoughts.

Now, according to my little blog thingie, you wrote this five hours ago, which would've been at 3 in the morning. True? Yikes! Get some sleep.

Karin Bilich said...

Love it! These are all really great pieces of advice.

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