Why I wanted to change my website

On the weekend that I reveal my new website, I thought I’d take a look at what I’ve done in the past and why I’ve invested in a new layout.

I also took the opportunity to chat with my “website guy”, Darryl King from ireckon.com, to discuss the importance of the best way to think about how to use the web in growing your author business.

Here's what I've learned over the past 12 months...

Curtains image for website reveal blog post

In the beginning

When I first started out as an indie author, I had a very basic website that was hosted via Weebly. All I had was a home page, a contact page and a blog. That was back in 2011.

Out of the blue in early 2014, I was approached by a traditional publisher and within two months I’d sold the Italian foreign rights for White Gold to Fanucci Editore. I discovered that they’d found me via that very basic website and based on reviews for the book, offered me a contract.

My next steps in maintaining an author website

That Italian deal got me thinking – if a publishing company could find me by accident, what would happen if I learned something about how to make the most of metadata and basic search engine optimisation techniques? Could readers find me a little more easily?

I retired the blog and then spent two weeks at the end of 2014 reading everything I could about SEO, chose a new website template and tied all this in with the overhaul of the book covers for my Dan Taylor spy novel series at the beginning of 2015.

I tweaked the website over the following year, adding landing pages for marketing purposes and then, as I saw that readers were starting to find me, I restarted the blog with a renewed focus, interviewing some of my favourite crime fiction and thriller authors.

I’ve written here about the launch of the Detective Kay Hunter series and the effect that has had on my writing life, and so when I was approached by a website designer who encouraged me to overhaul and rethink my website once more, I was more than willing to invest time and money into the work.

After all, this website is my home.

It’s where I often meet you for the first time; it provides an introduction to me and my writing; and it’s where you can contact me, or download more information about each new book release.

Planning and launching a new author website

This latest overhaul has been in a planning stage for almost 12 months while we’ve developed a scope and discussed how best to deliver an experience that readers will enjoy.

I started by moving my hosting to Siteground in anticipation of the work that was to come, and then began the process of working with Darryl King of ireckon.com to develop the concept that you see here.

To give you an idea of what’s been involved in this current iteration of my website, I sat down with Darryl and asked him the questions you might want to consider when preparing to take on a website overhaul like this or start a new website for your author brand.

Hi, Darryl. First of all, thanks for doing such a fantastic job of creating this new website to showcase my writing. For any authors who might not have a website yet, why should they have one?

Hey Rachel, it was my pleasure. We had as much fun working on it with you as you did seeing it develop.

The main reason authors need a website in my opinion is much the same as why traditional businesses have a premises, people own homes etc. It’s a place that they can own online that they can use to grow their business.

Darryl King author photo

When you go to all the trouble of building an audience but then only ever point them to a Facebook page or social media account, your whole identity and business as an author is in someone else’s hands. With all the time it takes to create and build your author business, you want to make sure you have somewhere that doesn’t disappear.

What if an author has a blog, but no website – can you explain why that’s not enough for visibility?

I look at a website as a combination of fixed content and transient content for users, as well as how search engines see content.

Technically a blog is a website but it’s posts that you keep updating. A well combined site will have a blog (or news section) and fixed pages that you can focus on optimising for both search engine discovery as well as conversions.

That is, we want people to find us for the topic of our books and also, while they’re there, to click and buy books or join our lists, etc.

Essentially we don’t just want posts about things to do with our books: we want to coral content into silos and topics and help people find us. Pages about our books that are indexable and help everyone find all the outlets they can buy them on is like a form of customer service. You’re helping your readers with better content and options.

It allows you to link to key permanent landing pages, as well as other sites that want to link to you, and it helps search engines know about your books (and products). It’s a bit like a department store – you want to be able to help people find the right sections of content and all the important parts and then once in that section drill into the content.

What sort of things should authors consider before creating a website?

In my book The Complete Website Planning Guide, I highlight how their goals are the most important thing they need to clarify.

If they want a central place from which to conduct their author business, they should be thinking about the hierarchy of goals that matter most to them. This helps them choose between what to highlight and what can have less priority in placement and design.

In your site, we wanted to make it easy to find the latest book, but also all of your other books and then make it even easier for people to get to any of the places that sell it, including you selling direct.

We also need to make sure we think about longer term goals: importantly, we want to make sure when we get it built that we rank for our brand, our name and our books. Make sure you consider how much time you really have. Committing to a regular blog is a big time commitment, so be realistic about it. Think about your budget and what other types of business activities there are.

On your site we have a shop with your merchandise, lots of ways for people to join lists that you promote and things like media kits that enable you to quickly provide images and book blurbs to people in a time efficient way.

And of course there are more long term surprises coming up on your website over the coming months that make up a bigger vision for your business. (Hint: sign up to the Readers Group to be the first to know about these! – Rachel)

For authors with existing websites, what elements should they ensure the website has?

A clear information architecture that is user focused.

Too many sites are author focused or “join my list” focused. Think about the user, make sure everything has a logical flow, make sure you have a series page for your books, individual book pages, contact and about information.

I think the media kit is another great item that everyone should provide, together with good list sign up options.

Think about your business of being an author, what would your customers (readers) want or need when they come into your business, how can you easily provide that in a simple and clear way?

What sort of issues do you encounter on a regular basis with websites that could be easily avoided?

Too many people make decisions based on what they see someone else do.

You’ve invested in a serious website and early stage authors shouldn’t be aiming to replicate this.  The same is true for other sites: don’t add lots of things to your site because someone else has it.

Keep it simple to start with, making sure your content is clean and correct and everyone can easily find your books. Many bad websites have either too many widgets and plugins all over them with way too much information overload or they don’t work correctly.

Make sure your site is secure (SSL), loads fast, is very good on mobile devices (where most of the traffic is coming from) and use it like a user regularly. Don’t ignore it because it’s too hard to fix, or leave it in the dark ages i.e. a 1990s design or style.

Anyone that offers advice about web who doesn’t believe you should be secure or mobile optimised is giving you bad advice.

The number one rule I have I learnt in the famous book ‘The Richest Man in Babylon’ in a nutshell, it’s this: if you want to get advice about jewels “go to a jeweller”.

So, if you want to get advice about websites and making them work for you, then be circumspect about what you hear within the industry.

Sometimes advice given with the best of intentions might actually be incorrect or damaging to your author business, and sometimes it’s influenced by an affiliate link so might not be the best advice.

Ultimately you need to learn about websites, whether you like it or not. In my business I have to know about accounting rules and leases etc because that’s how you run a business. Websites should be an author’s asset so they need to learn a little so they can make smart decisions about them.

Finally, if authors want ireckon.com to create a website for them, where can they find you?

Well ireckon.com is my work website and www.websiteplanningguide.com is my book site. The book has lots of simple tips on how to plan a website before spending too much time or money on getting it built.

Thanks again, Darryl – I can’t wait to hear what people think about my new website!

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