So, you're ready to create your very own author site, or maybe you're updating your old one. We all know there's a lot that can go wrong with a website (server gone down?) but there's also a lot you can do in the early stages to avoid some mishaps down the road. Here's a checklist that you can take with you as you work through the design elements of your website:
- Cluttered: Let's just start there. A cluttered site is the kiss of death to conversion. Make sure the site you choose is clean, uncluttered and easy to navigate. If you can't figure it out, I guarantee you your visitor won't, either.
- Confusing: Tell them what you want them to do. Several times. In order to make a sale, you have to tell your visitor what you want them to do - over and over and over. When we were redesigning our website, I kept hearing this from my web designer: let's tell them again and again what we want them to do. I responded to her, "But my visitors aren't stupid, they'll know what to do!" The problem is most surfers don't. We're busy, we're distracted, we want information and we want it now, also we want to know right away if we've landed on a site that can help us. If you repeat your primary message, they won't be able to miss it, and if the site is what they're looking for, they will stay. Which takes me to...
- Too Many Messages: You must have one primary message and objective for your website. Yes, I know you want to do so much with it. You want to sell books and get speaking engagements and maybe even some consulting gigs. But all of this starts with one, clear objective. Take my site, for example. I have books, I am a speaker, I also sell marketing services and we are a full-service marketing and publicity firm. Wow, that's a lot, right? Yes, it is, but if you look at our homepage you don't see my books or my speaking. Why? Well, as much as I'd love to sell my books by the truckload, and speaking gigs are always fun to do, they don't keep the business going the way new business does. That's my primary objective.
- Not knowing what your consumer wants: Once you figure out what you are selling, now you have to package it in a way that will entice your buyer. Knowing what they want and how they want it is key. Let's say you've written a cookbook for a busy parent. And let's say your only objective is to sell books. That's a great goal! Now, your site needs to be designed around that goal. That means the book is front and center on the homepage, and because your user is probably busier than most, there's a big 'buy now' button just under the book that takes them to a page where they can purchase and download an eBook or order a print copy. Easy! You may also want to add a sign-up on the homepage so your reader can get cooking ideas, recipes and tips in their inbox a couple of times a month!
- Cropsharing: This is what I call those folks who use other people's website domains. I seem to recall years ago there was something called Angelfire. Anyone could get a free site there. You could never own it, or upgrade, it was on their server and that was that. The problem is when their site goes away, so does yours. There are a lot of freebie websites out there, there's nothing wrong with this per se (other than I don't think we should design our own sites), and if you're strapped for cash this is a great, initial way to get started. But be sure that you can own the site at some point. Often free sites have an upgrade option, look into it before you build your website!
- Copying your competition: It's great to love what your competition is doing, but don't copy them pixel for pixel. Not only is it not a nice thing to do, but consumers landing on both sites may not be able to tell the difference! Additionally, of Google spots this type of duplication, you could get your site pulled down.
- Uh-oh, typo: Please spell check your website. Really. I don't understand why anyone would launch a site that wasn't spellchecked.
- Staying Static: No one likes a site that never changes, and a quick and easy way to make sure you don't have a static site is to add a blog to it. A blog is a fantastic way to keep your site looking fresh and it's great for SEO, too.
- Not understanding your traffic: OK, I admit this has less to do with website design, but it all flows into the same pot. Get to know your stats, and if you aren't sure how to read your site analytics, get someone to help you. Many authors I speak to don't even know if they have traffic reports. To me, that's sort of like having access to a bank account you never check!
- Nowhere to go: Regardless of how you will sell your book, you want to be sure that the sales process is super clear on the site. Additionally, you don't want your consumer to go through a lot of steps to buy your book; with each step you lose a sale so keep that in mind. Ideally, no more than three steps to a buy!
Follow Penny C. Sansevieri on Twitter: www.twitter.com/bookgal