On a recent post about author websites, I mentioned the importance of a mobile responsive theme. It's now even more critical to get this sorted for your author website as Google have made changes to their algorithms to favor mobile-friendly sites.
I've also written in the last few weeks about the rebranding and retitling of my first 3 novels. As part of that change, I've rebuilt my fiction site, JFPenn.com with a new theme. So essentially, I've been immersed in website fun for a while now!
As I get so many questions about this from other authors, I've asked Sara Whitford, an author and website designer, to go into more detail. Hopefully, this will help with your website redesign or optimization, something we all do as part of the author journey.
1) Why do authors need a mobile responsive website?
As authors, we must know that these days, potential readers will primarily discover our books online. In addition to writing a fabulous story and taking whatever steps are necessary to publish a professional-quality product (such as hiring a copy editor, making sure the book's cover and interior design looks top-notch, etc.), we also need to establish our author brand by having a website (or two – more on that in a minute), as well as making smart use of social media and diverse marketing techniques to drive those potential readers to our websites where we can accomplish a few things:
- Introduce them to our library of available content, including our published and forthcoming works, as well as related blog posts;
- Let them know various places where they can purchase our books;
- Provide links to our social media profiles in one place so they can connect with us on those sites;
- Get them to sign up for our mailing lists so that we can communicate with them directly when we have something to offer that we think might interest them.
That said, a huge amount of Internet browsing is done on mobile devices. Joanna has told me roughly 43% of JFPenn.com traffic (the site for her thriller novels) is viewing the site on a mobile browser. I am seeing similar figures – averaging about 40% of traffic to my own sites – is viewing on mobile devices or small tablets.
What kind of browsing experience do you think someone will have if they go to your website and it is not mobile responsive?
They'll not likely stay for long. It's not much fun, and it's quite frustrating, trying to navigate a site by pinch-stretching the screen every time you want to click on a link, or read or enter a bit of text.
And now, Google is doing its part to make sure the mobile web experience is as user-friendly as it can be, and if your site isn't up to their new standards, its search engine rankings will likely tank.
Recently, Google enacted new search algorithms that prioritize mobile-friendly sites in search results.
This change effectively penalizes sites that are not mobile-friendly by not ranking them as high as their responsive counterparts. While a lot of other variables go into website SEO, making sure your site is mobile responsive should be at the top of your list.
I published an article on my author blog ahead of Google's algorithm change that explains what a mobile responsive website is, as well as some easy steps you can take right now to make your site responsive.
2) What are the top 3 issues that you see on author websites?
In no particular order, I'd say my top three issues with author websites are that they either don't look professional enough, they don't have fresh content, and they often aren't responsive, or mobile-friendly.
You need a professional-looking website. It doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg to get a decent looking website. If you're willing to do the work, you can learn to put something that looks quite professional together for yourself. I'm always teaching myself new things when it comes to website development and you can too!†Nevertheless, even if you decide your time is better spent elsewhere, go ahead and set a little bit of money aside and hire someone to help you set up a site that you can maintain yourself. Your website might be the first place a potential reader comes into contact with you before ever even reading one of your books. You just don't want it to look amateurish.
- You need fresh content. Give readers a reason to keep coming back. If your site is nothing but a billboard advertising your current books, they'll (maybe) spend a few minutes looking to see what all is there, but that'll be the end of it. Ideally, you'll have a subscription form of some sort for your e-mail list. Joanna has some great information about that right here. While you write fresh content, try to keep it timeless. That way, you can employee a fantastic auto-sharing plugin like Revive Old Post, which will automatically (and randomly) share your content on the social media networks of your choosing based on a schedule you set up.
- You need a mobile-friendly site. See number 1. Here's some advice on how to make your site mobile-friendly.
3) What are some of the other key aspects an author needs on their website?
In addition to the obvious author site must-haves such as information about your available titles, editorial reviews, forthcoming projects, and an author bio, I also suggest the following:
Connect with your readers.
Are you using social media? You should be. You don't have to answer every tweet or Facebook post, but you should at least give readers a means of connecting with you on at least two or three social media sites. If I had to pick just three, I'd choose Goodreads (because of all the readers!), Twitter (because it's fun), and Facebook (because you likely already have a built in network there and it's so easy to share new blog posts, book news, and so forth). I have a longer article about Social Media for Writers.
Use share buttons.
In addition to making sure that your site has fresh content regularly (whether it's weekly or monthly, whatever you can manage), you should also have share buttons at the bottom of any articles so that people can post them easily to their social networks. Don't worry about grabbing share buttons from all of the social media sites. There are plenty of plugins that can help you accomplish the same thing.
Use attractive images.
Please don't decorate your site with clip-art from your word processing software. I mean, the occasional cutesy image is ok, but otherwise, try to keep it professional. Don't worry if you don't have Photoshop or Illustrator. Two great tools that can help your site look its best are Canva and Dollar Photo Club.
- Canva.com is a site that will let you create professional quality graphics in sizes specific to different social media (such as those perfect Twitter banners, Facebook covers, etc.) or in whatever dimensions you need. You can upload your own images to incorporate (such as a book cover or your photo), plus they have a variety of free elements you can use to build your graphics, or you can purchase premium elements for a dollar a piece.
- DollarPhotoClub.com is a massive high-res stock images library where you can find the perfect graphics for any project for only a dollar each.
4) Many authors are confused about branding and colors for websites – what do you recommend in terms of branding?
Most authors will want to focus on developing a site that accurately reflects the tone of the books they write – that is, if they stick to one genre. For instance, someone who writes serious military thrillers probably doesn't want a website full of cheerful pictures of kittens and rainbows.
Take a look at your book covers and try to find common elements such as colors, fonts, and related imagery. When a reader visits your site, you want to draw them into the world of your novels and other content that is relevant in some way.
Occasionally, authors will write in two or more wildly different genres. When they do, they might want to consider setting up more than one site – like Joanna has done with thecreativepenn.com and jfpenn.com. The former, she uses for her non-fiction writing books and related blog. The latter is for her thrillers.
In my case, while I don't have plans to write many non-fiction books like Joanna, I still enjoy blogging about the tips, tricks, and hacks I'm learning as an independent author-publisher and giving back to the indie community by sharing those with my fellow writers online. Still, I realize the readers of my Adam Fletcher Adventure Series probably don't care much about how I use Scrivener or that I'm a fan of plotting my novels on index cards. For that reason, I have two websites: one is my author site, the other is for my book series.
5) What do you recommend if people want to do it themselves?
In short, I recommend is a site built with the WordPress platform and using the Genesis framework by Studiopress, along with one of their brilliant child themes. Right out of the box, all of their themes are mobile-friendly and they make SEO easy.
[ From Joanna – I have a tutorial here on how to build your own author website in 30 minutes.]
6) What do you offer if people need help?
I'm always happy to answer questions via my website if I am able, but I also hire out my services to help create high quality, professional-looking websites at affordable prices.
I'm a newly published author, so I'm still dependent on my day job designing websites to pay the bills. I've been building websites for nearly two decades with all varieties of technologies, but for the last five years, I've become a huge fan of helping people build WordPress sites using Studiopress themes. I'm also experienced at integrating social media, setting up podcasts, content planning, SEO, and much more.
My hourly rates are competitive and no job is too big or too small. If you're interested in finding out what it might cost to develop, or just upgrade, your own website, you can contact me via the form on this page.
Sara Whitford is a writer, historical researcher, editor, website developer and homeschooling mom of one very cool boy.