author website questions

10 Things About Author Websites That Might Surprise You

author website questionsOver the last decade, we have built websites for hundreds and hundreds of authors. And since we do this for a living, we tend to know the ins and outs of author websites like the back of our hands. But, surprisingly, there are some basic facts that I’ve found that many of the authors we work with don’t know or don’t understand.

With that in mind, here are 10 things that might surprise you about building and maintaining an author website.

1. Building your site doesn’t pay for hosting your site. I can’t tell you how many clients I have worked with who think that once they pay to get a site built, that their site can then live on indefinitely without paying an additional penny. That’s not how it works. I like to explain that a site hosting fee is like paying rent for your space on the internet. Think of it like a store: you pay a large one-time fee to get the store launched, but you still have to pay rent each month for your store space. Hosting is similar.

2. Domains are separate from hosting. Along those lines, there’s often a lot of confusion about paying for hosting vs. paying for your domain. So let me clear that up here. Think of your domain as the name of the store you want to open. You need to first decide on and purchase your domain. The fee for that is nominal — only about $15 per year. You then own that. And YOU need to own it — not whomever is building or hosting your site. You can then build a site and point that domain name over to it. To continue with the analogy, that’s like putting your store name on the awning in front of the space you’re renting. For as long as you’re going to be in that space, you will keep the domain pointing there. But if you ever decide to have another site built or have your site hosted elsewhere (i.e. move your store to a larger location), you can simply then re-point the domain to the new server. But the two are distinctly different.

3. Email boxes can fill up. Yup, it can happen. Over the course of five years or so, you might accrue 50,000 emails. Each and every one of those is taking up space on your server. Eventually, your server will tell you that it can’t house any more email, and the address will stop working. Be proactive about this and clean out your email box every once in a while.

4. Google Analytics is a free service. So many people ask me about if/how they can get a website traffic report. If anyone wants to charge you for a report like this, they’re hosing you. That’s because Google Analytics offers free website traffic reports to anyone who wants them. You can sign up easily with any email address associated with Google. You can then get an account number, which you simply have to put in the right place on your site. Then, voila! You can log back in to your Google Analytics account any time to view your traffic numbers.

5. Today’s sites are built off templates with modules. This is sort of a long and complicated point, but I’ll try to keep it brief. Today’s websites are built off templates. Each of those has a pretty structured layout. And each page follows the same layout. What this means is that it’s super important you choose the right template. A design firm like Smart Author Sites can help you adjust that template somewhat — to insert your own color scheme, logo, widgets, photos, etc… but the structure is pre-built. This means that you can’t have each page look different, and you can’t simply “move,” say, the social networking icons from the bottom to the top of the page. So choose your theme wisely.

6. Sites and themes need to be updated. The internet is ever changing. And there are people out there getting into and hacking sites each and every minute. As a result, the good guys have to keep trying to stay on top of things, and continually update security settings. So if you have a WordPress site, it’s essential that you log in at least once a week and run any updates that they recommend. If you have a site hosted through us, we will do that for you. But either way, it’s essential for your site security that it be done.

7. People don’t always enter a site through the homepage. I have this conversation at least once a week. Clients want to, say, feature their book on their homepage … and nowhere else on the site. This comes from a natural assumption that visitors always come into a site through a homepage. This is especially common among authors, who tend to think of sites linearly — like a book. That’s not the way people use the web, though. In this particular example, let’s say someone does a Google search for the author’s name and comes into the site through the author bio page. They may never have seen that homepage. And let’s say they’re then looking to learn more about the book. They go to the site navigation … there’s no “book” tab. Would they know to go to the homepage to find the book details? Not likely. So it’s important to remember that the homepage is like a teaser — not a replacement  — the other sections of the site.

8. Site design affects load time. I’ve worked with many authors that want the most beautiful site in the world. They want rich photos, illustrations and detailed design. Can it be done? Sure. But is there a cost? Yes. It’s load time. The more images there are on a page, the longer that page is going to take to load. And longer load times cost you site traffic — both in terms of frustrated users who can’t get the page to load and the search engines who punish you for having a site with long load times. So it’s important to find the balance in your site design between functionality and appearance.

9. Site content is distinct from site design. When you look at a page of an author website, you see many things: a header, a logo, a navigation, and maybe a photo and a lot of text. But for developers, that one page can be divided into two very distinct areas: the design and the content. In other words, the site design is the more complicated, code-based section of the page. It’s also the stuff that stays consistent throughout the site. For example, every page will have your logo, your name and your navigation. It’s the text and photos that differ from page to page that qualifies as your site content. That’s the stuff that’s super easy to swap in and out — either from page to page or from day to day. This may not make a lot of sense or have a lot of meaning to you, but it’s huge to us. Because your site design is a whole lot more complicated — and difficult to make alterations to — than the words on your bio page, for example.

10. Yes, it’s easy to link out. This question has probably surprised me more than any other. I’ve talked to so many authors who have asked me if they can have links from their author websites to buy their books on Amazon, B&N, etc… Yes. Absolutely. Linking out to a bookselling site is one of the easiest things you can possibly do. It’s a no-brainer.

Do you have additional questions like these? Anything you want clarification on? Post them below!

should i be blogging or using social

Should I Be Blogging, Posting on Social, Or Both?

should i be blogging or using socialAuthors have limited time on their hands. In today’s busy world, who doesn’t?

So I frequently have authors who are wondering where they should invest what little marketing time they have.

If you’ve ever asked the question, “Should I be blogging or investing my time in building a following on social?” we finally have some answers.

Thanks to our friends at Contently, who recently published Does Your Content Need a Permanent Home? we have some important questions you can ask yourself when making this decision…. I’ve taken their recommended questions and customized them for authors…

Questions to Ask Yourself: Should I Be Blogging, Posting on Social, Or Both?

1. Who’s your target readership?
Who will be reading your book, anyway? Is it 50-year-old businessmen? Fifteen-year-old girls? If you’re primarily looking to reach an older, more academically-minded audience, a blog is probably a good place to dedicate your time and effort. That will allow you to drive them to your site, where you can offer additional materials and really sell your brand. If your audience skews younger, you’re probably better off offering snack-size bits — in either text or video format — that they can enjoy for a quick moment, and then go on with their day.

2. How important is ownership to you?
Do you know what the biggest difference between a blog and a social presence is? Well, it’s that you actually own your blog, and you have no ownership of anything on social. Not only does that mean that a social networking platform can take down anything you post if they’re so inclined, it also means that if they shut down their site, everything you’ve written there can disappear completely. And here’s another downside of lack of ownership when you post on social … you don’t really own the list of followers you acquire through social. So you may have 50,000 people following you on Twitter, but if Twitter were to cease to exist, that list would vanish completely. And if Twitter became less popular and people stopped paying attention to it? You would have no way to reach out to those followers again, short of getting them all to follow you on a new platform. Collect the same list of followers on your own site, for example, and you can collect contact info, etc… That is then yours, and you can use it for ever and ever. So if owning your material and your contact list is important to you, then blogging makes the most sense. If not, social will do just fine.

3. Do you regularly post about time-sensitive things?
Unless your blog grows to the point where it’s rivaling CNN, your blog posts are never going to be showing up at the top of a Google search result on the same day that you post it. Your social posts, on the other hand, very well might. So here’s a scenario: Let’s say you write a book about global warming. And then there’s a tropical storm, which you attribute to global warming, about to hit the US. You want to write about that, right? If you do it in blog format, it may get read … but certainly not when the search term “Tropical Storm Alberto” is trending on Google. If you post in social, with the proper hashtag, you have a much better chance of jumping on that opportunity.

4. What’s your primary online goal?
I frequently ask authors what their primary goal out of their website is. It usually falls into one of two categories: getting his/her name out there and building a following, or selling books. If your goal is the former — building your name — then social may be a good place for you to focus your efforts. By building followers on Facebook/Twitter, you are getting your name and your posts in front of a large number of people. They will regularly see you in their feed, and they will get to know your name, your face and your brand. Mission accomplished. If, on the other hand, you want to focus more on selling books, a blog may serve you better. People are far less likely to go out of their way to buy your book off of a series of cute social posts. In order to take the plunge and actually make a purchase, it usually requires something a bit stronger: an impressive blog post on an impressive website that nicely ties your book in to your overall message.

5. Is your website mobile-friendly?
While this isn’t directly related to the social vs. blog question, it is something to keep in mind. I wrote a post just a few weeks ago about the damage that can be done to your site if it’s not mobile-friendly. If that’s the case, and your site is less than optimal for the mobile audience, then it’s probably not worth your time to invest heavily in a blog on that site. Unless you plan to redesign in the near future, focus on social.

6. Do you write fiction or nonfiction?
This is another common conversation I have with authors. The truth is that marketing a fiction book is very, very different from marketing a nonfiction book. That ties back to two big reasons.

  • People read fiction books for pleasure, and nonfiction books for learnings.
  • People usually get fiction books recommended to them by friends/colleagues, while they very well may find out about a nonfiction book through browsing sites on topics that they find especially interesting.

Both of these scenarios spell out the following equation:
fiction books > nonfiction books on social
nonfiction books > fiction books on blogging

Now, you may have answered these six questions and still felt unsatisfied. After all, you might have answered three questions in one direction and three in the other. In short, we haven’t answered the question yet: “Should I be blogging?”

And that’s not for us to answer. That’s for you to ponder and figure out. Hopefully this post is a good first step in helping you do that.

mobile-friendly-author-website

Do You Have a Mobile Friendly Author Website?

mobile-friendly-author-websiteWhat makes a site mobile friendly? And what’s the problem if yours isn’t? How do you even know if your author website is mobile friendly? Today, we break down these questions and help you better understand the hows and whys of a mobile friendly author website.

What Does Mobile-Friendly Mean?

As its name implies, a mobile friendly website is one that is easy to use on the small screen of a mobile device. This can also be referred to as a website using responsive web design. In other words, a website that is only designed for a full-size desktop screen may be difficult to use on a smartphone. It may involve scrolling left/right to view the full page, or zooming in to read words. A mobile friendly site, which is built using responsive design software, is actually able to detect the size of the screen that you are viewing it on and adjust how the site appears accordingly so that it becomes more vertical than horizontal, compresses the navigation, and more.

How Do You Know If You Have a Mobile Friendly Author Website?

If your site was built in the last year or so, it’s very likely mobile friendly. But if it’s older than that, it could be hit or miss. Start by taking a look at your site on multiple devices. Visit it on a smartphone, a tablet and more. Does the design change based on the size of the device? Is it easy to use on a small screen? You should know pretty quickly.

How Does Not Having a Mobile-Friendly Author Website Cost You?

There are two big problems with having an author website today that’s not mobile friendly. One is fairly obvious. The other is not.

First, the obvious reason … you’re going to lose visitors. About 50% of web browsing in 2016 is done on mobile devices. That means that half the people who visit your website are likely to have a difficult or unsatisfying experience. Maybe they have to scroll to the right to view the full page. Maybe they have trouble using the navigation that was built for a desktop. Maybe they have to zoom in to read words. Not only is your site going to be difficult for them, but it’s also likely to appear out of date … after all, just about every site designed today is mobile-friendly. That’s not a good impression to leave with potential readers.

And now for the lesser-known problem with a site that’s not mobile friendly … Google is going to punish you for it. Google is well aware that larger percentages of people than ever are using mobile devices to browse the web. And what’s most important to Google? It’s that their users have a satisfying experience on whatever sites Google sends them to. So it’s in Google’s best interest to ensure that the sites they recommend are mobile-friendly.

As such, Google put together a page about the hows and whys of mobile-friendly sites. It even includes a test you can take to determine if your site meets Google’s mobile-friendly criteria. And if your site doesn’t pass their test for being mobile friendly? Well, then you very well may see a drop in your search engine rankings. In other words, Google will likely demote you on search result pages, below other sites that are mobile friendly. This can have a significant impact on your website traffic.

How Can You Make Your Site Mobile Friendly?

So now that you understand why it’s important to have a mobile friendly author website, how do you go about getting one? There are various ways you can do that — at varying costs, of course — but nearly all of them involve a redesign of the site. You can’t take the currently site that you have and simply make it mobile-friendly. It will need to be rebuilt from scratch with a code that is mobile-responsive.

There are free options, of course. WordPress offers a variety of templates that are mobile-friendly, and you can simply select one, migrate your content over, and get your new site up and running from there. If you’re willing to invest a little more, though, you can work with a design and development firm like Smart Author Sites to recreate the things you love about your current site in a mobile-friendly version. Plus, we offer expert advice on setting goals for your site, driving visitors there, and more.

Either way, if your site isn’t mobile friendly, you may be unknowingly costing yourself a lot of site traffic and a lot of readers. That’s a mistake most authors don’t want to make.

building-an-author-website

6 Steps to Building an Author Website

building-an-author-websiteThis seems like such a simple concept for a blog post. After all, I’ve been blogging about everything having to do with building an author website for more than five years now. It’s kind of shocking that I have never simply laid out all the steps to getting there, since I’ve covered such minutia surrounding it — everything from metadata to content partnerships, YouTube strategies and more.

Well, now it’s time. In the theme of simplicity, here are the steps to building an author website — from the day you decide to do it through the exciting site launch.

1. Purchase your domain name. 

Yes, you need to do this yourself. If you work with us, we are happy to walk you through it. We can also consult with you on the best domain name choices available. Here are some guidelines I’ve covered in previous posts.

2. Build your site map and strategy. 

I’m a little biased here, because this is where my heart lies. I work closely with each and every client to clearly map out a site map and site strategy. This includes deciding on your key actions (getting people to buy the book? encouraging newsletter sign-ups?), as well as what information should be front and center on your homepage, and what other content you want to include (book discussion guides? youtube videos? press kit?). It’s not always easy to figure out how to organize all of that content so that it’s easily found by readers, publishers and press. This is a key part of the process of building an author website, and I think it’s crucial that this step come before the design begins.

3. Kick off the design process. 

Now it’s time to design the site around that structure. When we are working with clients, this is when we start talking about the nitty gritty in site design — from layout preferences to color, fonts, photography and more. And if you’re working with a designer like us, it’s always helpful if you come prepared with a few other sites you’d like to model yours after — whether they belong to authors or anyone else. But even if you’re designing your own site off a template, this is where you make important decisions about how your site appears. It’s super important that it look professional and maintain the feel of your book cover and your genre.

4. Populate the pages with content. 

So the site has been designed. And you absolutely love it. Now it’s time to fill in the blanks. In other words, you now have a canvas to work with and it’s time to start doing what you are best at — writing. Create your tantalizing book blurb for the homepage. Craft the author bio. Start blogging. We provide clients with WordPress training at the beginning of this phase so that they can really feel like they own the site from this point forward, and can be comfortable adding or changing content — both before and after launch.

5. Get all your ducks in a row.

Now your site is populated. But do you have the link to buy the book working yet? How about your Facebook and Twitter accounts? Are they synched up with the site? Have you tested your contact form to make sure the email is coming through? Consider this your final dress rehearsal. Walk through each and every page on the site, click on every single link, and make sure it’s all functioning exactly as you want it to. Then…

6. Launch and promote! 

That’s right. This is when it all becomes very real. When we are working with clients, this is the final send-off. We then move the site from our private domain (where it wasn’t available to the public) to the final domain name the client has purchased. Finally, we submit the site to all the search engines (so that it can start appearing when people search for the author name, book title, and any other keyword we’ve optimized for) and also direct the client to start promoting it through social channels, email, etc…

Voila! That’s really it. Six simple steps. In reality, one or more of these may be a little more complicated than they sound, but I hope that breaking them down into buckets may help simplify the process — whether you’re working with us, another firm, or going it on your own. Here’s to building a great author website!

author-blog-seo

5 Common Author Blog SEO Mistakes

author-blog-seoI just got off the phone with a marketing consultant who helps self-published authors promote themselves. We spent a long time talking about author blog SEO … and I was really surprised just how little even professionals understand about the dos and don’ts of search engine optimization.

With that in mind, here are five common mistakes I see/hear about from authors…

1. Optimizing for too many keywords.

How many keywords was your most recent blog post optimized for? Five? Ten? The truth is, each post should have one primary keyword. The days of entering 10 keywords in the traditional meta keyword field and thinking that your post is optimized are long gone. Nowadays, it takes far more work than that to get your post to show up on a search result page. Pick your primary keyword and then optimize your entire post for it. Speaking of which…

2. Not using headlines, URLs, images or h2/h3 tags.

Yup, these are the places that really matter. The primary keyword you select should be worked into your blog headline, your URL, your intro paragraph and in h2/h3 tags (subheads). See how the words “author blog SEO” appear in all those places here? This post is properly optimized. Unless you work your keyword into each one of those places, you’re not doing your post justice.

2. Optimizing for keywords that are too general.

Let’s say you wrote a book about the history of baseball. Common sense would say that your blog post should be optimized for the keyword term “baseball,” right? Wrong. There are probably hundreds of thousands of blog posts out there optimized for the word “baseball,” and the chances that you could compete with them is minimal. After all, ESPN has kind of mastered this stuff. So you need to get more specific in your keyword choices. For example, “Babe Ruth,” “1919 World Series” and “the origin of baseball” are keywords that are far more attainable. It’s a much better use of your time to focus on those. So how do you find those keywords?

3. Not doing author blog SEO keyword research.

I’m a big fan of the Google keyword tool to analyze keywords; it tells you how many people are searching for each one, and how much competition there is. But even if you don’t have this service, you can simply go to Google and start typing keywords into the search box. See how Google is actually finishing your search for you? Take a look at the keywords Google is filling in. This is a good starting point for determining what people are actually searching for. Identify those keywords first, and then optimize your post accordingly.

5. Reusing the same keyword in multiple posts.

Is there such a thing as too much of a good thing? In terms of keywords, yes. If you already have a blog post optimized for, say, “the best author blogs,” and then you create a second blog post with the same keyword, what’s the result? Well, according to the experts, it in no way makes your site any more of a destination for that search term. Instead, it basically just sets you up to compete with yourself. It’s recommended that you have one destination (or in this case, blog post) for each specific keyword, and that you’re better off optimizing future posts for a variation of that keyword.

Now, SEO is an ever-changing field. What I’m telling you today may or may not still be applicable five years from now. But these are some good guidelines to start following to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck in terms of SEO for your blog. If you’re looking for more advice on building your author website, feel free to contact us for a free consultation.

beverly-ovalle-author-website-design

Good Marketing. Poor Author Website Design. Does It Matter?

beverly-ovalle-author-website-designI stumbled across an article today from a local newspaper published in Wisconsin. It’s a personal profile on a local author, Beverly Ovalle.

If you’re interested in reading the full story, you can find it here. But, in short, it talks about how she became an author, the books that she’s written that are selling well on Amazon, and the various marketing efforts she’s using to promote her books, including Facebook and Twitter. She also joined the Romance Writers of America and the Wisconsin Writers Association and ROMVETS, a group of women veterans who write romances. She even entered one of her books in a contest (which it didn’t win).

There’s nothing about her story that’s shocking or exceptional. She’s an average person who tried her hand at writing, invested some time and energy in promoting her books and did pretty well.

Just the fact that I found this article means that she was able to pitch her story to the local paper and get it picked up. This is some great publicity for her! So she’s really doing something right.

But as I dug into her efforts, one thing caught my eye … and not in a good way: her website.

What’s Wrong With Her Author Website Design?

When I clicked through to her site, my first reaction was that it looked … well … amateurish. Here it is. Take a look for yourself: www.beverlyovalle.com.

It’s not awful, but it didn’t exactly blow my socks off either. My first guess was that she had designed it herself. And as I scrolled to the bottom, I found that I was pretty much correct. Right where the credit to the design team usually goes, it says it was “proudly created with Wix.com.”

For those of you who don’t know, Wix is a free website design service. It allows you to pick a website template and then customize it to your needs. The templates themselves aren’t bad. The problem is usually the customization.

In this particular case, Beverly decided that she was going to make the website look exciting and splashy. She wanted to add boxes that feature news, have words/image moving around, etc… None of these are bad things in and of themselves. It’s just that when the things that you’re adding are self-made — not made by a professional designer — they can fall flat. That was my reaction when I saw Beverly’s site.

When you work with a professional design team, (like us — the perfect time for a plug) you get a full package of design services. We start by helping you choose a template, and then we work with you to customize it to your needs. If you want splashy, you’ll get splashy. And you’ll get it with the professionalism of a true designer. You’ll also get lots of expert advice on what works and what doesn’t for other authors. We’re not afraid to push back on an idea if we think it won’t convey what you want it to convey. That’s the personalized service you get with a professional author website design firm, and not with a free service like Wix.

So here’s my question for you …

Does It Really Matter?

Clearly, Beverly is doing a lot of things right. She’s selling copies of her book. She’s active on social media. She got the local paper to cover her story. So her website is less than ideal in terms of its design and functionality. Does that matter? Is that hindering her success?

Ultimately, that’s for each and every author to decide for him or herself. Some might argue that getting a professionally designed website is a waste of money. I can’t argue that’s wrong. But I can tell you this. If I looked at Beverly’s site and thought it was missing something, then what reaction would agents have when they take a look? What about publishers? How about readers? You know what they say about first impressions.

What do you think? Is having a professionally designed author website important? Share your thoughts below!

googletrends

Marketing Your Books Through Current Events

googletrendsQuick. Check out Google Trends. What do you see?

In case you’re not aware of Google Trends, it’s the branch of Google that shows you which search terms are being entered the most right now. And what is the thread that always seems to carry through each and every one of them? That would be news.

In other words, on the day of the Super Bowl, the most popular search terms were “Super Bowl,” “NFL,” “Denver Broncos” etc… On the day of a presidential primary, the top search terms are the names of the candidates, the state that’s voting, etc… This isn’t rocket science. People are searching for what’s top of mind that day.

So why does this matter to authors? Because taking advantage of these top trends can play a role in marketing your books. Let me explain…

Making the Connection

“What does my book have to do with today’s news?”, you might ask. For some people, making this connection is easy. If you’ve written a book on politics, it’s a no-brainer to think about how to tie your book in to the conversation surrounding the presidential election. But for a large majority of authors, this isn’t such an easy connection. That’s where your creative mind comes into play. Here are three scenarios of book topics and things in the news as I write this … and how you can link them.

Romance Novel and the Super Bowl

These two things seem to be polar opposites, correct? Well, that’s exactly where the connection lies. What a great opportunity to bring up the fact that chances are, if you’re a fan of romance novels, you are not all that into watching the Super Bowl. This is where you create, say, a live chat with the author during the Super Bowl. Or you remind people that your book is the perfect one to read while their significant others are wrapped up with football.

Psychology Book and the Presidential Election

This year’s Presidential election is … well … fascinating. We’ve got competitive candidates in both parties, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who are using extremely non-conventional approaches to the election. And no matter how you feel about these candidates, studying their tendencies — and their supporters’ devotion — is practically a psychology experiment. This is the perfect time for an author to step in and talk about the intensity of the feelings behind the support for these candidates. Are they feeling angry? Why? What’s the best way for them to express this anger? Is there room for personal growth for either these candidates or their followers? Or are they MORE in tune with themselves than the other candidates? Again, this is ripe conversation for fodder among authors who dabble in the spirituality/self-help/psychology arena.

Historical Biography and the Flint Water Crisis

So we’ve all heard about the awful situation in Flint, Michigan. Kids — and let’s not forget pets — are being filled with lead through the drinking water. The results are already awful, and could only get worse over time. So what does this have to do with a historical biography? Well, let’s look at the leadership in Flint, in the state of Michigan and in the US government. What are they doing to fix the problem? What caused the problem in the first place, and who is responsible? If you have written a biography on, say, John F. Kennedy, Jr., you probably know something about his position on the involvement of government in this type of issue — both on a local and national level. Maybe you even know if he worked on any bills related to clean drinking water. If nothing else, this is your opportunity to write a piece along the lines of “What Would JFK Do?” in response to this current crisis.

Obviously, you are not likely to fit into one of these three scenarios exactly. But this (hopefully) will give you some ideas about how to think outside the box and find the link.

Utilizing the Connection for Marketing Your Book

So now that you’ve found the connection, what do you do with it? Here are a few different ways to take advantage of the news cycle and use it as an opportunity to market your book. All of these routes will help — in one way or another — get a mention of your book in front of a portion of the many, many people searching for these popular keywords.

  1. Blog, blog, blog. Yup, it all goes back to blogging. This is the easiest and quickest way for you to get your message out there. Write one or more blog posts specifically tying your book to a top news story. Make sure to use specific tools/plug-ins that allow you to properly optimize the piece for those search terms. For example, here are dummy titles for each of the three scenarios outlined above:

    “Forget the Super Bowl! Read _____” (optimized for “Super Bowl”)
    “Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, and the Psychology Behind Them” (optimized for the candidates names)
    “The Flint Water Crisis: What Would JFK Do?” (optimized for “Flint water crisis”)

    By properly writing and optimizing these pieces, you can try to break through to the audience specifically looking for more on these news items. Is it easy to compete with top news organizations for these keywords? Of course not. But a good effort might just sneak you in. And if your title is interesting and clickable enough, it will attract the perfect audience of potential readers.

  2. Pitch articles. There are hundreds of sites out there just looking for good writers to pitch good story ideas to them. Giving an interesting slant to a popular news story is just icing on the cake. Think about local publications/news sites that you can easily reach out to, and also think big — like HuffPost — and pitch your ideas there as well. It may be as simple as finding other bloggers and asking them if you can guest blog on their site. Depending on the specific subject matter, identify five or so relevant sites that accept story submission ideas and make your pitch.

  3. Use social media. How many people are talking about top news items via Twitter or Facebook? That would be a lot. Just look at how many tweets were sent out during the Super Bowl. Do some quick sleuthing online to find out which hashtags are being used for tweets related to the news item you’re connecting with. Then use that tweet to inject yourself into the conversation and make the connection with your book. For example, a post that reads, “#superbowl Bored to tears? Buy an e-copy of ____ now” can reach your target audience. Ditto with Facebook … find conversations going on related to hot news items, and chime in with your quick blurb (or link to your blog post).

Again, there are a million ways you can go about this — both how you make the connection and how you get the word out. But no matter what type of book you’ve written, piggybacking on today’s hot news items can be your ticket to reaching a whole new audience.

 

journey

Marketing a Nonfiction Book: Using Your Website to Enhance the Journey

journeyI’ve said it before and I’ll continue to say it: marketing a nonfiction book is totally different from marketing fiction. In the latter, your story takes people into a fictional world that gives them a break from their daily life. In the former, you’re most likely educating people on something that will help them enhance their daily life. That’s true no matter what type of nonfiction you write: whether your book is about a war that happened hundreds of years ago, tips on home decor, or a way for people to find meaning and purpose through spirituality.

In essence, your nonfiction book provides a lesson to you readers. By the time they’re done reading it, they’ve been through a journey that has taught them something they didn’t know before. And, hopefully, that’s a journey they’re happy they took.

With that in mind, here are some interesting ways to use your website to further enhance that journey (and hopefully, increase the number of people buying your book). Depending on the subject matter of your book, one of these ideas might work better than others.

  1. Serial blog posts. You can use the material in your book (or come up with additional material) to use blog posts to help people along the way. So, for example, if your book is about how to reinvent your career midlife, you could write one blog post each week about the specific steps you have to take to get there. For example, the first post could be a brief explanation of how to do a self assessment to determine what you’re good at. The second could be full of resume-writing tips. The third about how to build a strong LinkedIn profile, etc… And by getting interested readers to your site regularly, you’re able to promote your book wherever appropriate.
  2. Weekly emails. This is building on the serial blog post idea. In this case, let’s say you write a book about getting organized. Allow your readers to sign up for your “Organization boot camp.” Each week, you would send them a separate email (these would all be pre-written, of course) with specific tips on what they could do that week in order to meet their personal organization goals. And it goes without saying … each email would tell them that they could get more detailed information from your book, along with a link to purchase it.
  3. Chapter-by-chapter discussion guides. What better way to sweeten the pot for a potential reader than to tell them that after they have purchased the book, they can come back to your site at the end of each chapter for a downloadable discussion guide that will help them better understand what they’ve absorbed. So if your book is about, say the Great Depression, the discussion guide that you offer will allow them to go on the site after reading chapter 1, and ask/answer a few questions that will help them have an even better understanding of what caused the Great Depression before moving on to the next chapter.
  4. Podcasts/videos. To say podcasts and videos are popular today would be an understatement. They are the most popular forms of media out there. So maybe you want your weekly lesson plan to be in video or podcast format instead of a written email. Maybe you want your chapter discussion guides to be actual discussions between you and another expert, talking through the most interesting things you covered in that chapter. Maybe you’re even debating the subject. Take about a great way to reinforce a concept and make the reading experience even more satisfying!
  5. Ask the expert features. People love being able to ask a question of an expert. And if you’re a nonfiction author … well, you’re an expert. After reading your book, people might have questions that are gnawing away at them, like, “How do I know if renovating my kitchen will really be worth it?” or “What would really happen if our country really embraced libertarianism, as you recommend?” By providing them with an avenue to ask you these questions – and get responses in real time – you are offering a truly satisfying journey. That can be done via a live expert chat, or simply exchanging comments via Facebook or your blog.

Embrace the fact that people will be in a new and better place in their lives after reading your book. Then, you can start to figure out which of these ideas – or others – will truly make the journey more satisfying. And yes. Like it or not, it is a journey.

SuperwomanSmarts

Case Study: What One Author Website Does Right … and Wrong

SuperwomanSmarts -- an author websiteI stumbled upon a press release this morning about an author website that was just re-launched: www.superwomansmarts.com/.

There are a bunch of things about this site that I like … and a lot of elements that I didn’t have quite as good a reaction to.

Now, I don’t claim to be the final word on this. Some people may disagree with my opinions. But here’s my assessment of what this site does right — and what it does wrong — based on my experience building websites for authors.

What This Author Website Does Right

Design
Whomever designed this site is good. The site was clearly built in WordPress, but with enough customization to really stand out and look different and unique. The site is also mobile-friendly, a huge plus in 2016.

Message clarity
The bulleted list of what Superwoman Smarts has to offer, along with a “welcome” message, is crucial. It allows people to clearly get their bearings when they arrive. Thankfully, this isn’t one of those sites that plops you into the latest blog entry and leaves you trying to figure out what it’s all about.

Video, video, video
Having video on your site is crucial. This site has it front and center as a way for people to understand what the site is about.

Offering benefits for signing up
I have a lot of authors ask me what the secret is to collecting email addresses. The answer? A reason for someone to give you their email address. This site nicely tells people exactly what they’ll get for signing up — from access to podcasts and webinars to private discussion groups that let you connect with other members.

What This Author Website Does Wrong

Now we get to the good stuff, right? Well, here goes…

Serious branding and URL confusion
So you come to SuperwomanSmarts.com, and you think you’re on the site’s homepage. Well, you’re not. And that’s a problem. You see, the main URL for the site is AundreaYWilcox.com. SuperwomanSmarts.com is not its own site — it’s a subsection of Aundrea’s site, and the URL simply directs you to that subpage. Plus, no matter where you click around on the site, the URL is still SuperwomanSmarts.com. And that leads to a whole bunch of confusion. For example:

  • You might wonder, as I initially did, why the header of the site says Aundrea Y. Wilcox if the site name is Superwoman Smarts.
  • Here’s a question: What happens if you click around the site (as I did) and then attempt to go back to the “homepage”? You would click on “home,” right? And then you’d be on Aundrea’s homepage, even though it still says you’re on SuperwomanSmarts.com. Incredibly confusing!
  • There’s clearly some brand confusion here. What is it that we’re supposed to be buying into? SuperwomanSmarts? Or the speaker Aundrea Y. Wilcox? Personally, I think that if Superwoman Smarts is its own brand, then it needs its own site. Period.

Unexpected music
This is just my personal pet peeve, but I can’t stand when you come to a site and it starts blaring music at you. If you accidentally left your sound on and, say, are at work or have a sleeping baby next to you, that’s experience is sure to make you start whispering obscenities at the site. And then leave!

Heavy promotion
Unlike many author websites, this one actually aims not to sell just books, but also retail wear, like t-shirts and the like. And while, if successful, that’s a great idea, I wonder if there’s a little too much pushing of products when you arrive here. After all, the first thing the site needs to do is sell you on the ideas behind it, and once you’re deep enough, it can start encouraging you to spend money on products. Instead, it feels a bit like there’s a huge ad right on the homepage.

Still to Be Determined

Requiring payment
This is honestly one of the boldest things I’ve ever seen done on an author website. Aundrea and Superwoman Smarts (still not clear on which one it is) wants you to “upgrade” and pay for full membership to the site. Here’s the description of what you get with a full membership:

“… upgrade to a VIP Member for $17/month—the cost of a movie ticket and popcorn (and a bottled water if you’re lucky)—and gain expanded access to member detail pages with direct contact information and special offers (and a PREMIUM listing for yourself), live webinars, podcasts, video trainings, the mentoring program, and more exclusive content! If you have the time and the drive to do more with what you have—no matter how little you think you have—these deliverables will help you finally execute on your vision.”

In other words, Superwoman Smarts is offering women the chance to connect with other female professionals, promote their own services, and receive special offers, trainings and professional mentorship if you pay a monthly fee. That’s a tall ask. Personally, I would love to see how many people have already signed up for this. My hunch is that it’s probably not many. But this is something to keep an eye on … because any new way for authors to make money is worth watching.

 

Do you have a site you’d like me to do this type of assessment of? Submit your URL in the comments box below and I’ll be happy to offer my two cents.

Photo credit: Eleaf via Foter.com / CC BY

6 Questions You MUST Ask an Author Website Development Firm

Photo credit: Eleaf via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: Eleaf via Foter.com / CC BY

I’ve been running Smart Author Sites for a decade now. I’ve worked with hundreds of authors (and, truth be told, put together hundreds more proposals than that). Many authors that have come to me have done so after developing a website previously … and then regretting it for one reason or another.

If you are considering having an author website developed, or if you’re talking to an author website development firm, here are five questions you must ask — and answers that should make you run the other way — before signing anything or giving out your credit card number.

  1. Will I be able to update the website myself? When I started this business 10 years ago, content management systems were only used by huge, content-rich sites (like CNN, for example). Now, just about every site is on an easy-to-update content management system, like WordPress. Make sure to ask if the site they will be developing for you will be on a content management system that allows you to easily log in and make changes to the website on your own. It’s essential for authors to be able to log in at any time and post blog entries, site updates, photos, and more.
  2. Is there a charge per page? I’ve actually been asked this question multiple times. At first, it sounded crazy to me. Why would you charge per page? But I’ve come to understand that there are actually companies that charge you on a per page basis for site development. Here’s what you need to know: The significant cost of building a website is in the design and development. That code is then duplicated on each and every page of the site. There might be a small degree of customization that goes into laying out the text and photos in the body of each page, but that’s minimal. In WordPress, adding a page is as simple as clicking a button. So anyone who wants to charge you more for a five-page site than a three-page site is selling you a bag of goods.
  3. Is the site mobile friendly? It’s 2016. A large percentage of people are viewing the web via a mobile phone and/or tablet. For a site to be built today and not be mobile friendly is insane. And yet, this isn’t a crazy question to ask. The same sites that are not built on a content management system (i.e. they are hand-coded) may also not be mobile friendly. So make sure to ask this question and confirm that yours will be before moving forward.
  4. How much will hosting cost me? Have you seen all those commercials in which companies offer to build you a website for free? Have you ever stopped to think how they make money? The answer is: hosting. In other words, they will build you the website for free and then charge you an arm and a leg to keep it up and running after they’ve built it. So make sure you get a price quote on hosting before moving forward with design. Speaking of which …
  5. Who owns the site? So this company will build you the site. Maybe they will build it on their own server. If so, it’s important to make sure that you actually own the site going forward. In other words, let’s say they build you the site, and then let’s say that you decide down the line that you want to have it hosted somewhere else, or have another company manage it for you or make changes to it. Can you do that? If they own the site, you can’t. So this is a crucial thing to know.
  6. What kind of services do you provide post-launch? There are too many design and development firms out there that build you the site, hand it over to you, and wash their hands clean. That’s not a situation you want to be in. What if you need larger-scale design changes made down the line? What if you have a simple question about how to add an image to the page? Make sure that the firm you work with will continue to work with you after the site is launched — helping you keep it fresh and making any changes you need going forward. There may be a small cost associated with that (in our case, the only qualification is that you keep the site hosted with us), but it may well be worth it.

Have you run into any other pitfalls working with companies designing your author website? Any other words of wisdom you’d want to give to other authors? Share them in the comments box below.