6 Mistakes Authors Make with Their Websites

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

No matter the industry, the tech you use everyday requires regular maintenance. You take your car in every few thousand miles, the office copier gets monthly visits from the service tech, and the software you're using to write your next book gets regular updates from its developer.

But what about your website? 

When was the last time you looked over the site and made sure everything worked right, that the site looked good, and was up to date?

If you are like most people, your website is probably the last thing on your mind, and with good reason.  People rarely visit the public-facing parts of their own websites, so it is easy to forget to update important info and check to make sure it is operating smoothly.

If you haven't checked your site recently, now is a good time to do so, and I have a few suggestions on things to look for and improvements to make.

Here are six mistakes I have seen far too often on author websites.

1. Adverts On a Free Site

One piece of advice commonly shared with new authors is that they don't need to invest in hosting or a domain or site graphics; they are told that they can get a free website on Wordpress.com and it will be perfectly fine as an author website.

They are right in that you can do this, but I don't think it's a good idea. The problem with the “free” sites is that they aren't actually free; they come with adverts.

Wordpress.com may choose to defray their hosting costs by running adverts on a site. The adverts will be placed in the sidebar, and they might also be put in the middle of your blog posts, or interrupt your book description.

Solution: If you don't mind your carefully crafted words being interrupted by adverts for athlete’s foot treatments and cures for ingrown toenails, then by all means get a free website on Wordpress.com. Or, you can get rid of the adverts by paying $60 per year for the “personal” hosting plan.


2. Broken Links

The link is the fundamental part of the web. It has been around since before any of us used the internet, and it will likely outlast us all. The same cannot be said for the sites we link to, however. 

That site you linked to last month might be shut down tomorrow, or it might move its content around, breaking your links.

The site's owner might decide to change their company's name and its domain, or they might decide to abandon a site entirely, let the domain registration lapse, and give someone an opportunity to register the domain and point it at a porn site (this actually happened to me).

And let's not forget that republishing your books on Amazon.com will change their location on the site, breaking any links you have to your books.

Solution: About once a year you should use a service like BrokenLinkCheck.com to scan your site for broken links. You will need to decide whether to remove a broken link, or update it so it points to a new or different location.

3. No Contact Info

This might sound like hyperbole but I actually have a couple favorite authors who I have never been able to tell how much I love their books. The reason I can't tell them this is that they never bothered to add their contact info to their websites.

Their websites have no email address, or contact form, or even links to the author's social media accounts! (One author doesn't even name their agent as a point of contact.)

Solution: Give visitors to your website as many ways to contact you as you feel comfortable with. It is understandable that you may want to limit contact (some authors need to keep their pen names separate from their day jobs) but you still need to give visitors some way to reach you.

Free Online Social Media Course for Authors

4. Not Mobile-Friendly

Everyone knows that half or more of web traffic now comes from mobile devices, so you might think that all websites would work well on smartphone-sized screens, but you would be mistaken.

It would be rude to name names, but you would be surprised at the number of authors, including famous names, who have websites that are not mobile-friendly. Some don't realize that their site looks bad on a smartphone, but others probably thought that using a site theme like, for example, the TwentyTen theme from a big-name developer like Automattic, would guarantee that the site would work on a smartphone (alas, no).

Test your site by visiting it on a smartphone, and then visiting it on a tablet. Is the text easy to read? Does the menu and other features work? (Does the site even load?)

Solution: If your site looks bad on a smartphone, your best solution is going to be to replace the site's theme with a more modern one. This will give your site a new look that works on all screen sizes.

5. No Facebook Pixel

Many authors have taken to boosting their sales by buying adverts on Facebook. You might not fall in that group today, but you could change your mind tomorrow, and a Facebook Pixel will help.website

If you install a Facebook Pixel on your site, you will be able to use the data it provides to target Facebook ads. With pinpoint accuracy. You can have Facebook concentrate your ads on your site's visitors, increasing the chance they will decide to buy your book.

Solution: You can install a Facebook Pixel by following these instructions. A tip: Have the instructions open in one browser tab while you follow them in a second browser tab (Facebook's ad menus are super complicated).

6. No Website At All

This might be hard to believe in 2019, but I know of authors whose solution to website problems is to skip even having a website in the first place. They just use a Facebook page, or send fans to their author page on Amazon.com, or just not bother to keep any kind of online presence at all.

This is a mistake of the first order.

An author's website is the one place on the web where the author is truly in control. Amazon might pull your books tomorrow, Facebook might remove your account, and your favorite forum might shut down on the owner's whim, but your website is safe from anything short of legal action.

Even a simple site with a single page, a brief bio, and a few book description is better than nothing.

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Bonus Tip 

Before you make any major changes to your site, be sure to take the time to line up six or eight friends who will look over your site and help you spot errors like placeholder text left on a page, or missing cover images, or typos.  For example, if you want to test your site and see if it's mobile-friendly, you should ask on Twitter or Facebook.

I cannot tell you the number of times I finished a website update, fixed all the errors that I could find and that the client could find, and then had someone point out an error weeks or months later! 

Nate Hoffelder

Nate Hoffelder has been building and running Wordpress sites since 2010. He blogs about indie publishing and helps build author futures one website at a time. You may have heard his site, The Digital Reader, mentioned on  podcasts such as The Creative Penn or The Sell More Books Show, or on news sites such as the NYTimes, Forbes, BoingBoing, Techcrunch, Engadget, Gizmodo, or Ars Technica.