Monday, October 5, 2009
Every author needs a website
It’s extremely important to have a website to provide information about you and your books. It is neither difficult nor expensive to put a website together. If you don’t have a website, you are missing a major opportunity to impress and interact with potential readers. Readers expect authors to have websites. Don’t disappoint them.
I can remember when Fortune magazine told corporate America to assume that a website would take six months to develop and cost $500,000. In Red Hot Internet Publicity, Penny Sansevieri says that a writer’s website could cost as much as $6,000 to set up.
Those numbers are ridiculous and may needlessly scare off a lot of writers who could benefit from having a website. Today you can develop a website for zero dollars and no cents in less than an hour, and pay less than $5 per month to a “hosting company” to make the site available to the world.
Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) also host websites, often for free. Free hosting is also available from dozens of companies which are not ISPs. Be aware that some once-major free services such as AOL’s Hometown and Yahoo’s GeoCities have been canceled. Free websites are generally not a good idea because you’ll get a long, clumsy, ugly, amateur-sounding URL (“uniform resource locator” or web address) like http://billsbook.74322.nrk44.freehosting123.us instead of www.billsbook.com.
You may want to do a website for a specific book title, or one that covers several books, or one for you as an author, or several sites. My sites include www.SilverSandsBooks.com and www.MichaelMarc.us. The more sites you have, the more likely it is that people will find you and the more opportunities you will have to sell books. Your site or sites should have information that will be useful and interesting to potential readers, as well as to members of the media.
Many book websites include an “online press kit” that replaces the once-common cardboard portfolio. At a minimum, the kit (which is really a page or a section of a website) should include a news release (“press release”) about the book, plus photos of the cover and the author, and a brief author’s biography.
Some book websites sell books. Mine don’t. They have links to Amazon and Barnes & Noble which sell my books. I want to write and promote books, not operate a warehouse and shipping department.
Obviously, your website should inform people what your book is about and try to convince them why it is vital that they buy it. The site is a good place to post reviews and comments from readers, reviewers, and previewers, and to note any awards the book has won. You can also show your table of contents, and some excerpts to get people interested.
You don’t need any special talent, experience, or training to put a website together. Most hosting companies offer adequate and attractive templates that you can use as is or modify if you want to. They are WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) and allow you to get online in a few minutes— but you may spend the rest of your life updating, tweaking, and fine-tuning.
If you have stronger creative impulses, you can design a website from scratch using such software as Microsoft Front-Page (discontinued, but still useful), Adobe’s DreamWeaver, and Microsoft’s Expression Web 2.
Many companies offer inexpensive hosting. Prices at 1&1 start at just $3.99 per month. GoDaddy will let you pay just $1 per month for the first three months, and then $4.99 per month (or less if you sign up for a year). I use Network Solutions, which has plans starting at $4.95 per month, and Yahoo ($6.47 per month for the first three months, and then $9.95).
There are books and businesses that specialize in SEO (search engine optimization), the process of getting a website into a top position in Google, Bing, Excite, Yahoo, and lesser search engines. The SEO experts charge for their services, but I’ll gladly give you some free tips based on personal experience.
People search for “keywords” and it’s important that your book website include all relevant keywords, used as often as possible, without seeming obvious or awkward.
Keep in mind that many potential readers don’t know your book exists, but may simply be searching for information about buying or using a product. If you have a book about bicycles or amateur beer making, you want to attract people who are shopping for bikes or hops or need advice about fixing a flat or deciding on dry vs. liquid yeast.
A keyword may actually be a phrase, not just a single word. If you think that people will be searching for “dirt bike” or “comfort bike,” and those phrases are appropriate for your book, they belong in your website, too.
Google’s legendary algorithm that determines a website’s position has been subject to much speculation, and it’s protected as carefully as the formula for making Coca-Cola.
One key ingredient in Google ranking is the number of in-bound links to a website. Google assumes that the more sites that link to a particular site, the better that site is, and the higher it deserves to be in the Google list. Google interprets a link from Susan’s website to Charlie’s website as a vote by Susan in favor of Charlie.
There are lots of schemes for getting other sites to link to yours, but some businesses do very well simply by having a good site with useful information presented in a pleasant way.
You should also create inbound links in any way you can. If you post a comment in an online forum, put your website address in it. If you’re listed in Linkedin or active in Facebook and other social networks, promote your website there. Every email you send can list your site, and of course the web address belongs on you business cards and letterheads. If you have multiple websites, each one should promote the others. You can also ask the operators of other compatible but not competing websites to exchange links with you.
To judge your progress, you can use websites such as www.WhoLinksToMe.com. These are the results for one of my websites: Google PageRank: 4. Google Links: 54. Yahoo Links: 2,940. MSN Related: 309.
Older sites tend to rank higher than newer ones. Even if your book won’t be out for a year, get a preview online right away so you can gradually make your way upward in the lists.
Never get a URL with a hyphen in it.
Short URLs are better than long ones.
Avoid URLs with a high potential for misspelling.
Encourage comments from site visitors.
Track your traffic (“hits”). If few people visit your site , maybe you don’t have enough of the proper keywords or maybe you chose the wrong subject to write about.
Use search engines to find what people are saying about you or your book. If you find an error, try to correct it.
While URLs can end in a variety of ways, including the ubiquitous dot-com, as well as dot-net, dot-USA, dot-CA, dot-TV, and others, it’s always best to use dot-com. If your website is DavidsBook.net, many people will forget it and go to DavidsBook.com. They may find nothing, or a competitor.
You probably noticed that I spelled the sample URL as DavidsBook.com. The web doesn’t care about uppercase and lowercase (and neither does the email system), but by spelling your URL with uppercase letters where new words start, you make the URL easier to read, remember, and type.
Avoid URLs with consecutive identical letters and ambiguous syllable breaks, such as whattoeat.com. They can confuse potential customers and cost you sales.
Resist the temptation to use the dot-net version of a URL that’s already in use as a dot-com.
While it’s been said that all of the good URLs have been taken, your book name is probably unique, so you have a pretty good chance of getting it as a URL. If you want a URL with your personal name in it, you may face some competition.
Pay a few bucks so you will own similar URLs to capture bad spellers and lock out potential competitors. Direct them to your site. You can register the alternate “phantom” URLs at www.NetworkSolutions.com and have traffic forwarded.
Sooner or later the bots (robot indexers) or web crawlers used by the search engines should find your website, but it can’t hurt to tell them you exist. You may get emails from services that promise to Submit Your Website to 300,000 Top Search Engines for only $299. There are not 300,000 top search engines, or even 30. You should care about only a few. When you launch your website, notify the major search engines.
In addition to search engines, there are online directories for resources in every imaginable field, from farming to diabetes. Search for them, and submit your URL. Check often, and if your site drops out, resubmit your information.
A sitemap will help both humans and bots discover all of your site’s pages. A template may create it automatically.
Keep your website hierarchy relatively “flat.” Each page should be just one to three clicks away from the homepage.
If you have a website that’s related to your book’s subject, put prominent links on it so people can order your book. My sites that sell phone equipment have links for my books on telecommunications. You can do the same thing for antique birdhouses, woodworking, baking, travel, anything