Creating Your Website: Your Home on the Web.
The place to start your social-media strategy is on your website. This will be your home, your nexus. Bilbo Baggins had his hole in the ground in Hobbiton on Bagshot Row called Bag End. You have your website.
No matter how far you roam, off to the far-off kingdoms of Facebook or Twitter, your website is the place you’ll return to after venturing There, and Back Again. It’s where you’ll hang your coat and store your dishes and relax in your comfy chair and smoke your pipe.
It’s the place you control. You can have as many pages here as you want, and sub-pages if you desire. You can tell your stories long into the night, or place family portraits on a shelf or hang brief quotes like embroidered samplers above the fireplace.
You can invite friends over, and show them a good time. This series of posts will help you do just that.
Your Website is More Reliable Long-term than Social Media Sites.
For better or worse, social-media sites (like Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and all the other places where you can post and have profiles and interact with friends) have their own interests at heart. They are businesses, and have site structures and policies that benefit themselves first and foremost.
They also have problems with security, privacy, bullying, and copyright issues (they often claim ownership of images you post, for instance).
Furthermore, their policies often change. They may start out free, and then later tighten up what’s really free and what you need to pay or do to boost or maintain your presence.
All this makes it unreasonable to build a long-term strategy around third-party sites. It is the reason most major companies don’t focus on these sites: the costs are high and the benefits are small and uncertain.
In a later post, I’ll offer tips for using these sites to your advantage. For now, the point is that these third-party social-media sites are not good places to call your home. To continue the hobbit analogy, it would be like trying to live in the corner of The Prancing Pony inn in Bree. Nice place to drop in for a drink and bowl of soup, but not good as a permanent residence, as the proprietor can kick you out, or the parties of others might drown out a more intimate conversation you’d like to have with valued friends.
Get your own smial (Tolkien’s word for a cozy hobbit home, your personal burrow).
Social Media: Use It to Send People To Your Website.
To foreshadow what I’ll talk about in more detail later, use third-party social-media sites like Facebook to send people to your website.
Your posts on other sites should – not always, but fairly often – be just a teaser, some useful info or sample material followed by a link to your site.
In essence, your posts elsewhere will say: “Interested? Want to learn more about [this subject or me]? Visit my site at [link provided].”
If you consistently invite people from all your other social-media sites to your website, it will boost your home website traffic. Make people click through to learn “the rest of the story.”
Each Page (or Post) is a Potential Entry Point.
As you employ your presence on other social-media sites to encourage people to click through to visit your site, you will soon realize – ah-ha! – that each page or any post on your website is a potential first entry point.
For instance, if I write a post on my home site (www.GreatLakesLit.com) titled “Six Writing Tips from J.R.R. Tolkien” (as indeed I did), and i mention that short article on my social-media sites by posting “Here are 6 tips for writers from Tolkien” and providing the link to that post, people will click through to that page on my site. There, I can provide links to my books on fantasy literature. I can offer a sidebar with more links to my books, or provide a list of other related posts on my site, etc.
A good post can be as popular a gateway to my site as my home page. And for me, that particular article attracts a specific type of visitor: one who might well be interested in my books on fantasy lit.
Hmmm. That suggests some things I’ll want to include on that post . . . If you understand this, you’ll make sure that every posts and sub-page of your sits offers a good first impression – along with targeted links to learn more about your books, to key services, your bio, and such.
Everyone’s not going to knock on your front door and ask for a guided tour. Many, maybe most, will slip in through side entryways. Make sure they feel welcome . . . offer them a chair, a snack, and something nice to read.
Simple SEO: Page Title, Headers, Footer
Here’s a link to another post of mine, titled “SEO for Writers: Magic Bullet or Hokum?”
The summary: good SEO (search engine optimization) is rooted in common sense. Make sure the key elements of your post – the post title, the section headers within the post, the closing tagline or footer – all clearly tell someone what the post (and it’s author) is about.
Don’t hide the topic of a page in cleverness; don’t beat around the bush before you get to the point. Brevity and clarity are your friends. Pages benefit from having a clear title, a clear intro, clear headers, a final paragraph that sums up you and your work.
Why? In terms of SEO, it’s because the search engines are robots. You want the focused topic of the page clear even to a robot.
“Six Writing Tips from J.R.R. Tolkien” should tell you – and should tell a Google or Bing robot – what will be found on the page, and who might be looking for something like that on the web . . . i.e., who to recommend it to.
Authority = Good, clear, useful, original content (& inbound links from respected sites!)
Authority is something that search engines and real visitors alike will value. It is boosted by several things.
One is original content. If you are creating a website that is just recycled content you’ve scraped from other sites, Google won’t value it highly. Nor will real-life site visitors. If you quote from others, then add some valuable commentary. Point out recommended applications, unseen values. Poke holes at it. Suggests ways to put the ideas of the quoted passage into practice; tell us how & why the quoted material was valuable to you.
Two, a good set of inbound links (i.e, another respected site has a link to your website) will create a signal to search engines that your site has value. It signals, at the least, that this is the best place on the web to learn about you and your writing.
Do what you can to see that links from major sites go to your home page. Some of that isn’t up to you, true. But many inbound links are.
For instance, does your Amazon Author Central account link to your home page? You create that link yourself. Your Goodreads author page? Your state library system’s list of book authors in your state? (You don’t control that last one, but you can make sure they know about you and your website address by emailing whoever maintains that webpage.) If you belong to genre associations (and you should!) like SCBWI, they allow you to maintain a profile, including your website, somewhere on their site in a directory of members.
This creates a certain sense of “authority” that your site is the best site about you. It boosts traffic to your site.
CTA: Calls to Action
Last but not least, if someone does arrive on your site, either through the home page or via a side door like a blog post, what do you want them to do?
Your site should have a purpose. It’s the key thing I’ll ask an author when I build his/her website. What do you want the site to do?
Who is your ideal visitor? A media person? A blogger who doesn’t buy books but recommends them? A colleague? A literary agent? A parent or school teacher? A bookstore buyer? A general reader or someone most interested in the topic or genre of your book?
Basic concepts: Your website (or particular pages) are there to do something. They might provide your bio, a reference about you. They can entertain a reader or provide useful info. They can refer buyers to other sites (indie bookstores, Amazon, etc.) to go order your book. They can sell books directly from your site (if you want to deal with shipping, collecting payment, handling taxes, etc.). They can build a long-term community of fans, or try to get a first-time, one-time-only visitor to buy your book now!
We’ll talk more about CTAs in a future post. But for now, as you plan a new website, or review an existing one, ask these questions:
- Who is this site for?
- What do I want them to do?
- Have i clearly asked/made it easy for visitors to do that?
- Is the site succeeding? (Do I see enough traffic, and then sales, inquiries, etc. from people who actually want what I offer?)
I’ll end here, wrapping up this starting point: let’s create a website that works to promote your success as an author. It’s a central part of your social-media strategy.
It’s your cozy hobbit-hole, with a round green door . . .
. . . with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. The door opened on to a tube-shaped hall like a tunnel: a very comfortable tunnel without smoke, with panelled walls, and floors tiled and carpeted, provided with polished chairs, and lots and lots of pegs for hats and coats—the hobbit was fond of visitors.
– from The Hobbit, by J.R.R. Tolkien
You are very fond of visitors, right? So let’s offer plenty of polished chairs and pegs for coats!
Philip Martin is an author, editor, and indie-book publisher with many years of experience in the book trade. He is the author of several books on writing and literature, including How To Write Your Best Story, A Guide to Fantasy Literature, and The Purpose of Fantasy. Director of Great Lakes Literary (Milwaukee, Wisconsin), he creates and hosts WordPress-powered websites for book authors, along with providing editorial and marketing services to make book projects better.