Over 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!