In the last 10 years, I've used the principles of content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) to build my multi-six-figure creative business off the back of this website.
In today's article, Debbie Emmitt delves into some tips for how you can use SEO on your author website.
Search engine optimisation (SEO) simply means giving your website the best chance to reach the top of search engine listings. The goalposts are forever changing, the launch of Google’s ‘Mobile-first’ indexing system back in March being a prime example.
This post offers the latest insights into easy steps to take on your author site to maximise your chances of being noticed.
I love web data. And lists. And analysis of web data and lists. So SEO is a constant source of fascination to me.
But I totally appreciate that not every writer is a web nerd like me. So I’m here to help you make sense of the world of SEO for your author site.
Why bother with SEO?
SEO is a must for any author who takes their online marketing seriously. Let’s face it, what’s the point of having a website if no-one can find it? Or of settling for a placement beyond page 1 of search results, especially Google?
Most web users don’t click to page 2, indeed few look past the top 4 or 5 results on the first page.
[Graph from Advanced Web Ranking, showing the sharp decline in click-through rate after page 1 of results, from a study in June 2016.]
Search engine algorithms are constantly evolving as user behaviour changes (e.g., increase in mobile usage). The amount of web content is increasing exponentially, and what we know about SEO at any given point quickly becomes irrelevant (e.g., Google no longer uses the keyword or description metadata fields to understand the content of a page).
Based on the latest research and on the latest changes implemented by Google, the tips in this post will help you keep up with what’s current in the world of SEO.
1. Add ‘behind-the-scenes’ text for non-text elements
Your page content needs to be readable by search engine spider bots (bits of code that “look” at your site to determine what it’s about and what to do with it). They have the opposite appetite to human visitors: they like text, not images/videos/non-text content.
To please these critters, make sure your images have meaningful alt text (that accurately describes the image content) and any videos have good descriptions, ideally with captions or a transcription, or both.
All this ‘behind-the-scenes’ text serves double duty, as not only do search engines love it, but it also boosts the accessibility of your site, as screen readers (e.g., those used by visitors with visual impairments) can only make sense of text-based content.
2. Include relevant keywords in headings and content
Work out the relevant keywords for each page on your site. Think of your users. What search terms are they using to find your content? What problem or question do they have that you can solve for them?
Some keywords to consider for your author site are:
- your name
- your book titles
- your genre / subgenre
- languages specific to your book
- themes covered in your book
- geographical setting
See the ‘Fantastic content’ section below for more ideas. Joanna’s post on finding keywords for your Amazon page will also help you to find some words to use in your webpage content.
Include these keywords in the content on the relevant pages. The higher up the page they are, the more search engines will take note. So include them where possible in the URL (a good reason to use your name as your domain name), title and first sentence.
3. Write fantastic content
It’s all very well getting people to your page, but if they don’t like what they find, they’ll leave quickly and search engines will notice this.
From 2015, Google has used an artificial intelligence system called RankBrain, that notices how many people click through to your page and how long they stay there.
To be a friend to RankBrain, you need to answer your potential audience’s question or problem better than anyone else out there.
If you are an established author, this isn’t too taxing as people already know your name, or book titles, so may be already searching for these.
However, how do you do this if you’re less well-known?
Take a few minutes to think about answers to the following questions, then include them in your site content:
- What is it about your genre that people love (and therefore might be searching for?)
- What is the subject matter of your book/s that people may be interested in? (e.g., location, time period, genre, characters, sexuality, setting, occupation, disability … this list can be as long as you want to make it!)
- What do the best-known authors in your genre include on their site that people may be searching for? (e.g., maps, freebies, book signings/readings, conferences)
4. Include compelling content in search engine summary listing
The main bits of your page information that appear in search engine listings are: page title, URL and page description. Make sure these are as inviting as possible, to encourage people to click.
How to do this, you may ask? There is a quick and easy bit of research you can engage in over your next cup of coffee:
- Enter search terms people may use to find your site, until you see a Google Ad at the top of the search listings. For example, “illustrated books”. (This may take a few attempts as there won’t be Google Ads for every search term).
- Notice what words the ads use in their page titles and descriptions. As people are paying for these adverts, you can virtually guarantee you’re looking at the winning results of testing, and therefore stand the best chance for that site to get clicks.
- Use similar words (obviously as long as they are relevant to your content), in your page titles and meta descriptions.
The meta description of a page isn’t displayed on the actual page, only in snippets such as search engine results, social media links etc.
Although search engines no longer rely on it to determine what your page is about (their spider bots can now access all the text on your page in order to get a clearer idea of this), a quality description of each page on your site has a small impact on your page ranking.
Expert tip: don’t provide the complete answer to a user’s question in your page description. They need to click through to your site to help your search engine ranking, and if you offer total satisfaction in your text snippet, they’ll have no need to click through.
If you use WordPress for your site, there are plugins that can help you to easily add page descriptions, as well as improving your content for search engines. The most popular one at the time of writing is Yoast SEO.
5. Inbound, outbound and internal links
There are three types of links to know about, all of which contribute to SEO.
a. Inbound links (external sites linking to you)
The higher a site’s quality (and the higher it ranks in Google), the better it is for you to have a link from it to your site. However, first bear in mind whether it is a relevant link. Don’t just reach out to the top dogs because they are the top dogs. Steve Napier, SEO consultant, has provided an extensive list of what makes a quality site.
Some ways to attract quality inbound links:
- Get active on social media, for example, create a Facebook page, and include your web address on your profile. While a link from Facebook or Twitter is not counted as a high-quality link, people may copy your link to their site. Plus it creates traffic to your site, which further helps your SEO.
- Comment (usefully!) on relevant blogs, and include a link to your site. Make sure the link doesn’t come across as shameless marketing, but as a genuinely useful link that is pertinent to the blog post.
- Guest blog – politely approach the owner of a blog where your target audience hangs out, and offer to write a guest blog post. Make sure a link back to your site is included. [From Joanna: You can find details about guest posting on The Creative Penn here.]
- Appear on podcasts – you can announce your web address on the episode, and it can also feature in the episode blurb on your host’s site and/or in the show notes.
b. Outbound links (from your site to external sites)
It may seem counter-intuitive, but outbound links, especially those of high quality, can have a positive effect on your SEO. This has been proven in research such as this 2016 study by Reboot.
Some tips on using outbound links:
- If you blog, include a couple of relevant, quality, external links per post, then inform the link owners. This is great networking and gets your name out there. Plus, you never know, they may link back to you!
- Moderate all comments on your posts before publishing. This will ensure that low quality or spam links do not get auto-posted to your site and negatively impact your SEO. Incidentally, a healthy level of interaction on your blog posts is another small boost for your search ranking!
- Force outbound links to open in a new window, so your visitors can close that window and still keep your site open. Simply add target=“blank” to the end of the link.
c. Internal links (between pages on your own site)
These are good for SEO because they encourage people to explore your site, therefore staying longer, which search engines will notice.
This is probably the easiest link tip to implement for two reasons:
- you (hopefully!) know the content on your site, so can easily pinpoint places to add internal links
- you are in control of your own site (either directly, or via a site administrator).
6. Optimise your site for mobile
It is now crucial that your site is optimised for mobile if you want to improve your SEO.
[Graph from StatCounter, showing how mobile usage is now significantly greater than desktop.]
In March 2018, Google unveiled its revised indexing system: Mobile-first indexing.
Mobile-first indexing essentially means that if your site has a mobile version (the URL begins with “m.”), Google will use that as the primary version of your site, rather than your desktop version.
Google are rolling out this indexing gradually. To ensure your site is ready for this massive change in the search engine world, follow this advice:
- If your site has a mobile version, remove it and instead ensure that your desktop version is responsive (will display well on mobile and other devices).
- Don’t hide content behind a ‘Read more’ drop-down, to make your content shorter for mobile users. Search engine spider bots can’t access this hidden content, so can’t index it.
- Employ a mobile-first attitude to your site. Design for mobile primarily, not as an afterthought. You can check your site for mobile friendliness using Google’s mobile-checking tool.
[From Joanna: I use mobile-compatible WordPress themes for my various sites. Click here for my author website tutorial, which includes a theme demo.]
There are lots of other small things you can do to improve your site’s SEO, including making sure your content is well laid out, easy to navigate and written with the user in mind. All these will ensure people stay longer on your site, and keep coming back for more.
It’s debatable whether frequent updates will have a positive impact and this probably isn’t worth worrying about if you don’t have a blog, or don’t have many updates to make.
Just make sure that the content you do have is not out-of-date, or this will turn people away. It’s far more important to focus on providing quality content and links than worrying about if you have published new content in the last two months.
If, after reading this post, you’re suffering from information overload, please don’t panic! Start working slowly through each tip, a little each day or each week, and before you know it your site will have more visibility and more traffic.
Have you thought about SEO for your author website? Please leave your thoughts below and join the conversation.
Debbie Emmitt is the founder of Helping Authors Online, a website offering sound, practical advice to authors for their online platform.
She has worked in the field of web content and marketing for 20 years, and as an avid reader and novice mystery writer, is enjoying sharing her professional web skills with the author community.
Sign up to her email list for your free guide on avoiding common website mistakes.