Another Reason to Perfect the Mobile Version of Your Author Website

mobile-friendlyLike it or not, mobile is the wave of the future. As each year goes by, a larger and larger percentage of people surfing the web are doing it on a smartphone. This further enhances the need for every author to have a mobile-friendly design.

But, apparently, having a functional mobile version of your author website can now even impact your desktop users. How? Google.

As Google begins to acknowledge the growing impact of the mobile audience, they are changing the rules. According to a recent article on Mashable, starting this month, “when you do a Google search on mobile, search results will prioritize websites that the search engine deems “mobile-friendly.”

Here are some common questions about this change.

Who will this affect?

The truth is that this change will impact nearly everyone. Forrester Research estimates that a whopping 38% of web sites for businesses with 1,000 or more employees don’t meet Google’s criteria for being mobile-friendly. That number is expected to be much higher for small businesses — let alone individual authors.

Also, if your author website is more than a few years old, it’s likely not to be considered up to snuff.

As the Mashable article explains, “The change will impact millions of sites, more than Google’s last major search ranking algorithm update, Google Panda. Panda, which was launched in 2011 and has been updated several times since then, downranked 12% of all sites that Google rated low-quality.”

What’s the impact of the change?
The change is simple to explain, but may have devastating results. If your site is not mobile friendly, you are likely to start appearing lower on a user’s search results. In other words, if you wrote a book on divorce, and your site had been showing up near the top for a search term related to divorce, you very well may lose that placement to sites that are more mobile-friendly.

What makes a site mobile-friendly?

There are a lot of criteria, but here’s a basic overview…

  • It avoids software like Flash
  • It features larger text
  • Most importantly, it has what’s called a responsive design that adjusts for mobile users

How can I tell if my site is mobile-friendly?
Whether or not a user would rate a site as mobile-friendly may be relative, but that’s irrelevent. Because all that matters here is whether Google finds your site mobile-friendly. So use their mobile-friendly test. You’ll get a quick and simple answer.

How can I make my site more mobile-friendly?
There’s no easy answer to that question. It depends greatly on how your site is built, when it was built, what platform it was built on, etc… It could involve a few simple and quick fixes, or you may be better off with a complete redesign.

But if you’re interested in making your site more mobile friendly, contact us at Smart Author Sites. We’ll help you make sure you stay near the top of search results.

Happy Googling.

The 5 Most Common Author Content Mistakes

contentI am a content person. There’s no way around it. And as much as I may write about website design or layout or usability, my real bread and butter is content.

With that in mind, here are some of the most common content mistakes I see authors making on their websites.

1. Writing for print, not the web. Writing a book is drastically different from writing for the web. Even writing for a magazine is different. People reading print — be it in the form of a book or a magazine — are more willing to sit down and actually … you know … read. People “reading” on the web are far more likely to skim. So any content written for the web needs to be broken down with subheads, bullets, bolded text, etc… In other words, in less than five seconds someone should be able to understand everything that’s on a page of your site. That is drastically different from the type of writing most authors are used to.

2. Being too sales-y. Yes, you want people to buy your book. But you probably should refrain from literally asking people to buy your book. To borrow a quote from a piece I recently read entitled The Counterintuitive Art of Promoting Books, “Really, almost no strategy that starts with trying to get people to “buy your book” works. Instead, good platform building starts years ahead of time and is not primarily focused on selling books, even if publishing and selling books is part of your larger strategy to expand your audience and influence.Those of us on social media, especially Twitter, have all seen the classic mistakes that authors make in book promotion. Their book comes out…and then they join Twitter! Their feed is all about…THEIR NEW BOOK. They use Twitter bots to get tens of thousands of followers…TO BUY THEIR BOOK.” You get the point.

3. Not writing shareable content. Take a look at what people are actually sharing on Facebook and Twitter. They are all different types of pieces — from ones that are funny to ones that are helpful — but they all have an interesting angle. Take the time to pay attention to what your friends are sharing, and then test out writing your own blog entries that are similar in nature until you find something what works. Many authors just write about whatever comes to mind, and have no idea if and when people are sharing. But social sharing is one of the best ways to drive traffic — and ultimately, new readers — to your site. So it shouldn’t be ignored.

4. Being all over the place. Quick. In five seconds, tell me what your online persona is about. If you can’t, then there’s a problem. Someone should be able to understand who you are at first glance of your site. And then everything else you publish on the site should back that up. So if, for example, you are someone who provides an inspiring message to divorcees, then every post you write, every page on your site — even your bio — should be part of that message. It all needs to fit under the brand. Even sharing the fact that you have a dog on your bio page should be tied into your message about companionship. Too many authors try to bring too many things to the table — sometimes they’re funny, sometimes they’re serious, and sometimes they write a blog post about a trip to the supermarket. Find your message and personality and use your content to back it up.

5. Too much text. Sure, you have a lot to tell your audience. But does your book description really need to be seven paragraphs? Could you say the same in two? And what about video? Could you create a book trailer in video format that might accomplish the same thing (if not more?) We are all writers at heart, and we lean towards words. But remember: the general public does not. In fact, the success of YouTube and Pinterest over the last five years are a direct result of the fact that many members of society (your readership!) would prefer to look at pictures or watch videos on the web. So think about how you can minimize the text on your site and you very well may be able to increase your appeal.

Happy writing!

FAQs About SEO for Author Websites

SEO_search_resultsI apologize in advance for the abbreviations in the title. I know that terms like SEO can be kind of confusing (and even intimidating) at times. And I often get questions about what SEO is, why it’s helpful and how to execute it properly. With that in mind, here are some of the questions I get asked most often about SEO for author websites — starting with the basics and moving on to the more advanced.

What is SEO, anyway? What does it stand for? 

SEO stands for search engine optimization. The most popular search engines are Google, Yahoo, and Bing. Search engine optimization refers to making tweaks to your site so that it shows up at the top of search results on these search engines. In other words, if someone searches for “self-help book” on Google, your site may show up near the top of their results with proper SEO.

How would SEO help me?

By showing up at or near the top of search results for particular terms, you’re going to increase traffic to your site, thus increasing your number of copies sold, fans of your book, etc…

How do you choose the right keywords?

We offer something called an advanced SEO package. This means that not only do we optimize your site for various keywords, but we actually help you choose those keywords. To do that right, we use the Google keyword tool that allows you to enter various search terms and learn how many people are searching for each type of keyword, which variations of each one are most popular, and what the level of competition for each keyword is. By weighing each of those three results, you can select the specific keywords that will offer you the best bang for your buck.

Is SEO based on single words or would a book title or person’s name be counted as one keyword? What about versions of the same word? (nurse / nursing, for example)

The industry term might be “keyword,” but it definitely does not refer to one word. So a keyword could be “self-help books” or “resume building.” And yes, versions of the same word are important. So if your book is about becoming a nurse, you would want to make sure to work in both “nurse” and “nursing” as part of your keywords.

In choosing keywords, is it better to be more general or more specific?

The more specific the better. So, for example, rather than “nurse,” you’ll be much better off selecting a keyword like, “how to become a nurse.” This may seem counterintuitive — since it would reduce the number of people searching for your keywords — but there are two big benefits that come with the specificity: 1) you have far less competition, thus making you more likely to show up at the top of results; 2) you are reaching an audience that you know is looking for books specifically on your subject matter.

Does any keyword optimization come automatically with a web site, such as my name or book titles?

This type of basic SEO should come automatically with any website build. This is just a piece of the advanced package I described above. As long as your site is readable by the search engines (which someone would have to go out of their way not to be), your site should start showing up relatively quickly for your name or your book title. After all, unless your name is Jane Doe, it’s not like you’ll have a huge amount of competition for those keywords.

How long does it take to see results from SEO?

For a brand new site, it can take weeks to months for the site to start showing up on the search engines. And even then, it won’t immediately start off at the top. The search engines value time, and the longer a site has been around, the higher it will appear on search results. So expect your site to take a good few months before you actually hit your final placement. If your site has already been around for a while, however, and you are simply making changes to improve its SEO, expect those results to start paying off in about two to four weeks.

Are there any WordPress plugins to help with SEO?

Yes, there are many WordPress plug-ins that can help with SEO. Two that we recommend include “All in One SEO Plug-in” and “WordPress SEO for Yoast.” These types of plug-ins allow you to select keywords for both the site and for individual pages. In addition, the Yoast plug-in babysits your blog posts to make sure you do everything possible to optimize each post for the selected keywords. Best of all, these plug-ins are totally free.

Will redesigning my site impact my search engine rankings?

Generally, redesigning a site does impact SEO. At first, a site can take a brief hit from a redesign, and fall slightly on search result pages. However, almost always, the change ends up improving a site’s rankings (assuming it’s redesigned properly) and it should start showing up with better placement on search results within a month or two.

Is SEO work mostly on the front end (what users can see) or the back end (what users can’t see)?

The answer is really a little bit of both. There is a lot of work that can be done on the back end to improve your site’s search engine rankings — including alt tags for images and links, metadata, and more. However, there are a fair number of things that can be done on the front end as well, including ensuring that one or more specific keywords appear as a header or in the first paragraph of a particular page. So, in essence, proper SEO is done by both you (in terms of making sure you use the right terms in the right places) and your developer (to make sure that everything on the back end is optimized as well).

Have more questions about SEO? Post them in the comments box below and I will be happy to respond!

Special Deal for SAS Clients: 50% off Advanced SEO

seoThe first quarter of 2015 is coming to an end, and Q2 is just beginning. With that in mind, it’s time to announce our special deal for current clients in the second quarter.

From April 1 to June 30th, any current Smart Author Sites client can take advantage of our advanced SEO (or search engine optimization) service at half the cost!

This $500 value, available now for only $250, gets you the following:

  • Google keyword research to determine the 10-15 top keywords your site should be optimized for
  • Optimization of the site’s homepage for the 3-5 top keywords
  • Optimization of the remainder of the site pages for the remaining 10 keywords
  • Guidance on how to use your blog, YouTube, etc… to further optimize for the appropriate terms
  • Re-submission of your site to the major search engines

You should start to see a difference in your placement for those keywords within weeks of implementing these changes. Reach out through our ticketing system if you’re interested in taking advantage of this special offer.

Thanks as always for your business!

Ask Us Anything About Author Websites!

spring_flowersSpring has spring, and that puts us in a pretty good mood.

With that in mind, we are launching this “Ask us anything!” blog post.

The team here at Smart Author Sites has over three decades of experience working on the web — most of those years specifically building and maintaining author websites. We are strategists, editors, designers, developers, producers, and social media gurus.

If you want to build your own author website, or have one and aren’t sure what to do with it, post your question here and one of our team members will respond. Examples of the types of questions you might want to ask us include:

  • Should I build an author site or a book site?
  • Where should I host my site?
  • How do I buy a domain name?
  • Should I get involved in Facebook, Twitter or both?
  • What do you think of my current site?

Ask your question in the comments box below and we will be happy to provide answers and guidance (assuming it’s within reason).

Fire away!

New or Improved? Mapping Your Author Website Relaunch

author-website-decisionsI’ve worked with many authors who have had websites or blogs in the past, and want to start over again. Maybe they have a new book coming out and want to re-focus their author website or blog. Or they know that their previous efforts weren’t as professional as they’d like, and they want to do it right this time. In some cases, they haven’t touched the old website or blog for years and want to start fresh.

In many of those instances, I get asked the question: “Should I start a brand new website or blog? Or should I simply resurrect and improve the one I had before?”

While “starting fresh” always feels and sounds nice, there are a variety of reasons why I recommend that you lean towards working with the site domain or blog you already have and simply planning an author website relaunch.

1. You get to keep whatever SEO value you’ve already built up. Do you know which sites Google (unfairly) punishes? Brand new ones. And do you know what makes your site climb in ranking (without you having to do a thing?) Time. In other words, the longer a website is around –whether or not it’s being touched — the higher it will climb on Google’s search rankings. So by shutting down an old site and starting fresh with a new one, you will lose any SEO value that you’ve already built up.

2. There’s no need to direct old followers to a new domain. You probably built a list (even a small one) of followers on your old site or blog. There’s nothing they’d like better than to have your site be new and improved. Why would you want to redirect them so that they have to visit a new site in order to continue to follow you? Just give them more of what they already like.

3. You already have a mailing list/followers on the old site. Again, you’ve probably collected some email addresses on your old site or blog. Maybe you have a few subscribers who receive email updates whenever you post a new blog entry. You have a legal right to continue emailing them through your old site. You do NOT have a legal right to continue emailing them from a new domain. This is yet another thing you’d be forfeiting by starting anew.

So how can you make this old site new again? Here are some steps to take (without changing the URL, of course)

Step 1: Redesign. Make sure that the new design is also mobile-friendly, as more and more users are using mobile nowadays.

Step 2: Integrate your new site with social media. Make sure there are links to Twitter/Facebook/Pinterest on the new site, and announce your website “relaunch” through those social media channels.

Step 3: Write a first post on your new site/blog explaining the relaunch. Talk about why you were away, what has changed, and what you hope visitors will get from the new site.

Voila! You have a new and refreshed site, without losing all the benefits you gained from having your first site or blog. It’s a win-win.

6 Things Elizabeth Gilbert Does Right on Her Author Website (and You Can, Too)

elizabeth_gilbert_screenshotBestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert (known best for Eat, Pray, Love) has an amazing author website. And no, we didn’t build it.

But when I stumbled upon it today, I was immediately impressed by it. Why? Here are six reasons…

1. The font and logos at the top give it some personality. From the moment you arrive, you notice her name at the top and those cute little icons next to each tab in the navigation. Without having to use words to explain who Elizabeth is, the site gives you a sense of the books’ genre and Elizabeth’s writing style just from these simple images.

2. The slider on the homepage lets you see all her books immediately. Sliders are all the rage in today’s world of web design. Sometimes they’re overused, but this is definitely not one of those cases. When you land on the site’s homepage, you get little thumbnail images of each of her book covers, and clicking on one allows you to see a larger version of it, along with a description and a “learn more” links. This is a great way to feature multiple books without taking up a lot of real estate.

3. It’s easy to buy the book … in different formats and from different vendors. See the right hand column of the homepage? It highlights her most recent book (the one people are most likely to buy) and ways to purchase it in hardcover, paperbook or e-book format, from Amazon, B&N, iTunes and a wealth of other publishing companies. It even offers a bonus: a signed copy if you buy it directly from Two Buttons.

4. The “upcoming events” section is current. Admit it. You have trouble keeping your “upcoming events” section current. If I browsed most of the author websites I built over the last few years, I would be likely to find an upcoming events section with dates that have gone by. But Elizabeth (and her team, I assume) are keeping this up to date with events that are truly upcoming. This sends the message to readers that Elizabeth is paying attention to her site … and they should, too.

5. It highlights video. I wrote a post recently about how video is the future of the web. Author websites are no exception. On Elizabeth’s site, video is featured the site’s navigation. That’s where all her videos — promo trailers, interviews, etc… — are all housed.

6. It includes unique content. Elizabeth keeps a blog, which is great. In it, she covers current events, personal stories, and just general commentary that she’d like to share with readers. She also has a page on the site that she calls “Thoughts on Writing,” in which she shares some insight into what inspired her to write, the challenges she faced along the way, and what advice she would give to up-and-coming writers. All of thise content is unique to the site, and gives people who are fans of her books reason to visit the site and come back regularly.

Now, it’s true that Elizabeth is a bestselling author and probably has more time and money to dedicate to her site than many of you. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t take a lesson or two from what she’s doing right and replicate some of the same ideas on your own site.

And finally, hats off to Dave Cahill, by the way, of Rivernet Computers, who built this site for Elizabeth. Good work!

What Is a Book Landing Page and Do You Need One?

book-landing-pageYou may or may not have heard the term “landing page” in the context of an author website. But you very well may not know exactly what a landing page is. It’s time to learn!

What Is a Landing Page?
The term “landing page” refers to where someone will enter, or “land,” on your website. And despite a common misconception, that’s not the same thing as a homepage.

While a homepage is essentially a table of contents for the entire website, a landing page is a much more focused beast. In other words, it takes one section of your website and becomes the place that people land when they want to learn more about it. And you want them to do one very clear thing while they’re there. The industry term for that is a “call to action.”

The definition of a landing page on Wikipedia is as follows:

The purpose of the … landing page is to persuade a visitor to take action by completing a transaction. This is accomplished by providing a form that needs to be filled out. The visitor information is obtained in order to add the visitor’s email address to a mailing list as a future prospect. A transactional email campaign can be established in the future. The goal is to capture as much information about the visitor as possible. The ultimate goal is to convert the visitor into a customer.

We even have a landing page on our own site. Check out this page and you will see that we have one very clear call to action here: give us your contact info! Make sense?

What Is a Book Landing Page?
So how does this concept of a landing page translate to a book?

Think about it this way: On your author website, you may offer a blog, links to connect with you via social networking, an email sign-up, a link to buy the book, downloadable PDFs and more. On a landing page, you reduce the confusion for visitors and give them one very clear direction. In this instance, it would be a large “Buy the Book” button — and no other options.

Statistics show that the fewer options you offer, the greater the chances that people will follow the one option that does exist. In this case, book sales.

What Would Be on a Book Landing Page?
If the primary purpose of your book landing page is to sell copies (which we are assuming it is), then everything on the page should be with the goal of convincing someone to buy the book. Examples of what to include are:

  • A large photo of the book cover, along with the title and publishing details
  • An eye-catching list of reasons why someone would benefit from the book (i.e. Double your salary in one year after reading this book!)
  • Testimonials/review quotes about the book
  • A large “Buy the Book” link, with options to purchase through Amazon, B&N, etc…

Who Should You Send to a Book Landing Page? Who Should You Not?
Since we’re assuming that the main purpose of your landing page is to sell books, then anyone who you would like to buy a copy of the book can — and should — be sent to your landing page. So if, for example, you’re talking about your book at a book club meeting or at the public library, you can hand out business cards sending people to the landing page of your book.

But there are plenty of people whom you might want to visit your website and NOT buy a copy of the book. For example, if you’re talking to an agent about the next book that you’re working on, or if you are encouraging someone who has already read your book to sign up for your email newsletter, you do not want to send them to a landing page. Instead, you want them to peruse the rest of the site and take a different action.

This is why a book landing page is simply one page of an entire website. It will be perfect for some visitors, but it’s not where you’d want to send others.

So Do You Need a Book Landing Page?
That depends. Here are some questions to ask yourself when making that decision:

  • What percentage of your audience fits into the category of people who you would want to simply purchase your book?
  • Would you rather visitors to do more than one thing when they arrive (say, buy the book AND sign up for your email newsletter)
  • What is the biggest strength of your site? Is it the book? Your blog? Would someone “miss out” if all they did was buy the book?
  • Is your main website an author website? If so — and is named after you (JaneSmith.com, for example) — then you may want to consider having a book landing page with the book title as a URL for clear differentiation.

Not every author needs a book landing page. But it’s definitely a tool that any author should have in his or her back pocket to boost book sales.

Happy Landing!

JK Rowling and “Book Secrets”

pottermoreWhen I put together a proposal for a fiction author, I often recommend adding a feature to the site called “Behind the Book” or “Book Secrets.”

Well, it appears as if JK Rowling is taking my advice (wink, wink).

What JK Rowling Is Doing

I came across this story today about new writings she is releasing on Pottermore.com in honor of the holidays.

According to the Daily Telegraph, “One of the stories that will be published as part of the ‘festive surprise’ will contain details about what Rowling thinks about the young wizard’s enemy, Draco Malfoy.”

This follows her previous Halloween post in which she shared her “personal opinions on the character of Dolores Umbridge, a teacher at Hogwarts whom she compared to Lord Voldemort because of her ‘desire to control, to punish, and to inflict pain, all in the name of law and order.’ … Rowling also explained that Umbridge was based on two real people she had encountered during her life.”

What You Can Do Like JK Rowling

So what do I mean when I recommend posting a section called “Behind the Book” or “Book Secrets?” Well, I like to think of it as a place on the website — be it a page or a series of blog entries — where people who have read the book can get “bonus” material that they can’t find anywhere else. Think of it as a special thank you for those who read the book, and a way to keep fans of your writing engaged between book publications.

Examples of the types of things you can post in this section include:

  • tidbits on how certain characters got their names
  • which characters were based on real-life people
  • segments of the book that might have been cut during the editing phase
  • at which points you might have hit writers block
  • if there are hidden messages in the book that a reader might have missed
  • which characters are your favorites
  • which celebrities you could envision playing your characters in a movie

and the list of options is endless!

So take my advice (and JK Rowling’s, apparently). Think about a Book Secrets page on your author website.

5 Reasons Why (and How) to Include Video on Your Author Website

videoVideo may not be the easiest type of content to produce for an author website. After all, it’s a whole lot easier for a writer to … you know … WRITE than it is to set up a camera, try to look nice, create a video, edit a video and then upload that video.

But here are some statistics that might really surprise you about the future of video on the web.

  1. One third of all online activity now is spent watching videos.
  2. People who watch online videos are more likely to share what they’ve watched.
  3. Video will account for nearly 75 percent of all web traffic by 2017
  4. Users more likely to click on a link in Google search if it shows a video
  5. The second biggest search engine now is YouTube. It has more search than AOL, Bing & Yahoo combined.

Convinced, yet, that video is becoming a must for all websites? Author websites are certainly no exception.

With that in mind, here are a few different ways that we’ve seen authors successfully use video on their websites:

  • Book trailers (examples: http://chipwagarbooks.com and http://newtonfrohlich.com)
    A book trailer, much like a movie trailer, is like a video promo for a book. And book trailers can take many forms — from actual actors telling the story of the book to a compilation of words and photos from the book with a musical background. Figure out how to tell your book’s story in two minutes or less and consider having a book trailer produced to spread the word.
  • Book readings
    Do you ever do readings of the book for bookstores, book clubs, etc..? Why not have those recorded and shared on your website? After all, it shouldn’t only be people in your local area who have the benefit of watching you read an excerpt from your book.
  • Author interviews (examples: http://laurenmbloom.com and http://themanopauseman.com)
    Were you interviewed on local TV? Make sure to get a link that allows you to embed the video on your website. And if you haven’t been interviewed, don’t fret. You can create your own interview! Write out some questions that you envision your readers would be interested in having answered, and have a trusted friend “interview” you and ask you those questions.
  • Live video chats
    Consider having a one-time, live video event during which you invite readers to join you online and ask questions, provide feedback on your book, etc… This can be done via YouStream or a similar service. Then make sure the entire session is recorded — it can then continue to live on your site in the form of a playable video for future visitors.
  • Vlogs (example: http://the3minutementor.com)
    Short for “video logs,” vlogs are basically blogs conveyed in the form of video. And much like blogs, these vlogs are relatively simple to produce and don’t require a whole lot of professional preparation. Just like you would be inspired to write a blog entry, you would be inspired to do a quick vlog. Just turn on your webcam, share your tidbit and post it. Voila!

Do you have other video ideas that you’ve used on your author website? Share them with us now!