Part 30: quickly create your own author website via Blogger, Joomla or WordPress to act as a focal point for your writing and publishing.
Okay. By now you’ll have a number of pages on various websites and social media platforms (Amazon, Amazon Author Central, Goodreads and Facebook, at least). Your own author website is just what you need to gather all these links alongside a showcase of your writing.
Free website or paid hosting?
It’s not necessary to design and host your own author website but, like frosting on a cake, it adds a certain something. You can start a free website with a blog host like WordPress or Blogger. If you really struggled with the coding segment of your ebook, this may well be the best option.
That theme really ties the website together
For the price, (and given that you are learning HTML anyway), it’s not outrageously difficult or expensive to set up a website on your own space, which you rent from a web host. There are open-source and intuitive content management systems you can install in your hosted space which remove 98% of the hard work you’d encounter if you designed a site from scratch. Confusingly, the most popular of these is also WordPress, and you can read more about differences between a website hosted by WordPress and a WordPress CMS website stored on your hosted space here.
The level of difficulty will come with how fussy you are about the design – if you are happy using an existing WordPress theme or Joomla template and adding your own content in a WYSIWYG editor, it is a very simple process indeed. Tinkering with the site comes with a learning curve, although the popularity of WordPress means there are multiple solutions for most things you want to do.
A completely inadequate guide to starting a website
Buy a domain name
Consider getting a .com and your specific country’s domain extension – in Australia, that’s .com.au. It shouldn’t cost more than $10 per year per domain, although some countries charge insane amounts for the privilege of using their domain extensions and, in that case, just stick with the .com. Most web hosts sell domains, and you can transfer your domain from host to host if you decide there’s a better hosting deal elsewhere.
Set up at a free host or buy hosting
Basic hosting should run at US$50 a year with a reputable site if you sniff around for special deals and coupons – for this price, your site should load in a couple of seconds and be sufficient in terms of space and bandwidth for your needs. I use the budget Aussie provider VentraIP; elsewhere, I’ve heard that Bluehost provide a great balance of value and functionality.
Map or point your domain
You can use your domain name (called ‘mapping’ a domain) with a free site hosted on WordPress or Blogger, but may have to pay for the privilege. If you have web hosting, then you’ll need to point your domain to your host’s nameservers.
Install a content management system
Install WordPress or Joomla in the back end (the hidden engine of a site – what the public sees is the front end). Most hosts will provide detailed instructions on how to access the back end to achieve this – I installed WordPress via Softaculous on my VentraIP account with a couple of mouse clicks.
Install a theme or template
Once you have your platform, you can install a paid or free WordPress theme or Joomla template.
There are simple themes, elegant themes, customisable themes (most themes include some degree of basic customisation) – go crazy with your search terms because there are lists for every adjective you can think of. There is also the option to install a framework, such as Genesis, for additional functionality and support.
Decide on a site structure
Have a look at the structure of some author sites and decide on which pages you’ll include, where they will be and how the menus to reach them will be set up. Get a big sheet of paper and draw the structure on it, with the goal of allowing users to reach pages with the fewest number of clicks.
Upload some content and experiment with themes
Don’t worry, you can change themes in seconds. Upload some content and install as many themes as you’d like, then see which one suits you best. The big thing right now, with the sudden explosion of internet capable devices with a dizzying range of screen sizes, shapes and resolutions is responsive themes – that is, themes that are engineered to reshape themselves elegantly across those devices, without cutting parts of the page off or, worse, forcing viewers to scroll back and forth to read text. (This site is not built on a responsive theme, but it works quite well on smaller devices because of the white space and comparatively narrow text column.)
Tinker with your site
You can start customising your site by changing small things, such as adding Google web fonts (this site uses Droid Serif for the body and Raleway for the headings). However, you should actually build the site pages before you start messing with the window dressing. You’ll be a lot more encouraged if you have content online, rather than spending hours chipping away at the design and feeling like you’re rowing against the tide.
Add plugins and widgets
The great strength of site platforms like WordPress is the ability to add an almost unlimited array of plugins and widgets to set your site up the way you want it. For example, I have installed plugins to block spam comments, provide users with breadcrumb navigation of the site, and insert a robust contact form and a home page slideshow. SEO plugins allow me to control what Google says about my site when it is shown in search results. Another plugin speeds the loading time of the site. And these are just scratching the surface of the level of customisation available.
Add more content
When it comes to attracting visitors to your website, the constant maxim is ‘content is king’. Regular, high quality content will gradually drive people to your site, and these people’s actions will drive your Google rankings higher, in turn driving more people to your site in a kind of feedback loop. Hopefully, visitors will wander through your site, sample your writing and *fingers crossed* purchase one of your books.
Get the design right
To quote Chris Lema, “if content is king then design is queen”. People want information from stylish, uncluttered, visually appealing sources with plenty of white space to relax the eyes. (I’m not saying this site is any of these things … it’s a work in progress!) Spend time studying websites you visit and interrogate what is about the site that you like so much. Emulate those elements. For example, I read a story for the first time today at The Verge and found the site design incredibly attractive.
Search engine optimisation is the process of making your site more attractive to search engines (read: Google), which places you higher up on search results for various terms, which leads to increased site traffic – people who will read and perhaps purchase your writing. It’s as simple as installing Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin and writing a title and description for each of your web pages.
Five reasons you should go to all that trouble
1. Your ebook coding skills will improve
I won’t pretend that setting a site up isn’t without its share of drama and minor tantrums, but it’s become easier in the couple of months I’ve spent seriously working on it, and I feel much more confident about undertaking renovations to make the site attractive for users.
2. You will (gradually) attract more attention for your books
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that, by building a website, you’ll have throngs of people knocking on your digital door. In the first month of serious operation from mid-December to mid-January, I had 19 unique visitors (that is, people who have never been to the site before). In the month just gone, after I started telling people about the site and posting this series of articles, the visitors increased to almost 200, with many more return visitors.
3. You feature in Google search results
Climbing the Google rankings is a slow process that is difficult to accelerate, but the sooner you start, the sooner your site will begin to climb. If you can get your site onto the first couple of page of certain Google search results – and I’ve already managed to do this: try searching for ‘ISBN and ASIN’ and ‘cataloguing in publication’ – you’ll have a much higher chance of catching people’s attention.
4. Your writing career will seem more professional
It’s worth mentioning that there is a certain inherent professionalism in having your own URL and matching email account(s): http://yourname.com and firstname.lastname@example.org. It becomes very simple to direct people verbally to your website when the subject comes up in conversation, as they already know your name and just need to tack the .com onto the end. It may seem silly, but having a website is quite a big deal to non-technical non-writers and raises what you do in their estimation.
5. You may gain motivation
This will depend on how you are wired. There is a reason that I have a gym membership rather than working out at home, and that is because when I am in the public gaze, I do a much better job of what I’m doing than when I’m slouching around at home. (As pathetic as that may sound, it’s how it is.)
I find the same enhanced motivation with a website, which collates and exhibits my writing to date. Every morning now, I wake up thinking, what can I do that I can add to the site? This includes redrafting stories and novels that have been rotting in folders for years, thinking about aspects of writing that I can write articles about, and just becoming more active in my writing career. I have what I’m doing for 2013 loosely mapped out, and in 18 months I hope to have moved from a pipe dream, to a fully functional website and six ebooks published on Amazon.
Proceed to Part 31: ‘15 thoughts from an Amazon indie publisher’, or return to the article index.
While I’ve endeavoured to provide you with accurate information, what is considered ‘accurate’ will change over time. If I’m wrong, or you’d like to ask a question or share your thoughts, I’d love to hear your take on things.