Authors and small publishers must have their own mobile-friendly, professional looking website—it is, by far, the most important element of a book marketing strategy. I've developed over 150 author and publisher websites in the last 20 years, and although a lot has changed when it comes to developing websites, some things remain fundamental. This blog is the complete guide to creating an author website—from domain names and costs all the way down to specific content categories. Read more and learn how to create a professional author website today.
There's a lot to cover when it comes to creating an author website, but it's worth paying attention to—especially if you're a self-published author. In this post, we'll look at the purpose of your author website, what to consider when you're choosing a domain name, and how much an author website costs. Then, we'll dive into the content you need to include on your website and how to use your author website as part of your overall book marketing strategy. Are you ready to create a professional author website and sell more books? Let's get started!
What is the Purpose of Your Author Website?
First of all, you have complete control over the content of your website, and you can put just about anything and everything on it. Many people jump into the process of hiring a web developer before thinking about the purpose of their site. Obviously you want your author bio and book information. What else? Is your purpose to communicate with readers? If so, you should have a mailing list signup form on your site and connect it to your social networking accounts. Do you plan to blog regularly? How do you want to sell books: with links to online retailers or directly using ecommerce? Thinking about the purpose of your site will help you plan a site that serves your author goals and needs for the long-term.
You need to decide on your domain name before you launch your author website, and you should probably decide before you develop your website because it could impact the design if it becomes the title, or name, of your site.
What Domain Name Should I Choose for My Author Website?
Ideally, your domain name should be yourname.com.
If you have multiple books, this should be a no-brainer. Obviously, you wouldn’t get a domain name for just one of your books if you have an author website with multiple books. What if you already have a website using the domain name of one of your books? Now might be the time to consolidate under one website using your name. Your name is generally more searchable and by putting all of your books on one site, you allow readers looking for one book in particular to naturally discover your other works. Even if you are a first time author with one book, it should still be yourname.com.
I've encountered authors over the years that started building a new site for every book or series. This splits your book marketing efforts, money, and time. Not to mention, it increases your updating headaches exponentially.
Domain Name Availability
What if your name is taken? In many cases it will be. Mine, johnburke.com, was already taken when I first checked in 1996! But there are other options. You can use johnburkeauthor.com, johnburkebooks.com, or john-burke.com. In some cases, if all your preferred options are taken, you could consider johnburke.net, or even johnburke.org. But think of “.com” as Main Street — it’s the preferred location.
Buying a Domain Name
You should buy your domain name yourself with your email address and credit card. You should always know the username and password of your domain name account and where it’s registered (GoDaddy, Network Solutions, Register.com, etc.). You should be listed as what’s referred to as the “Registrant,” meaning you own it. If someone registers it for you, make sure they follow these guidelines, and that you have the username and password to the account. It should not be registered in the web developer’s account with other domain names, because then you will not have access to it.
If your website developer registers your domain name for you, make sure you know what happens to your domain name registration if you want to move your website hosting elsewhere. Can you leave it there and still have access, or do you have to transfer it out? Transferring is a hassle, so this is another reason to register your domain name at an independent registrar like GoDaddy or Network Solutions, not through your web hosting company or website developer.
Domain names usually expire, or come up for renewal, every couple of years so keep an eye out for emails reminding you to renew it. This is another reason why you want your domain name registered in your name and email address, so you will get the renewal notifications.
Some of the bigger domain name registrars also offer email addresses using your domain name, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s an additional charge, but a relatively small one. If this is something you want, check into the registrar’s offerings before you use them. You can also use Gmail’s G Suite to do this. The advantage of doing it with your registrar or G Suite is that it’s permanent—no matter where you host your author website, now or in the future, your email, and domain name, is set where it is and you don’t have to move it.
How Much Does an Author Website Cost?
Many authors and publishers struggle with choosing the best website option for themselves and their companies. Few people have a technical background, so setting up a DIY author website seems like a daunting task, and many authors and publishers don’t feel confident talking or negotiating with a potential website developer. Some authors have told me that sometimes “it can feel like negotiating with a used car dealer.” It doesn’t have to be so difficult.
How Much Does an Author Website Cost?
It depends on how you build it. There is such a wide range, from doing it yourself on platforms like Wix, Pub Site, or WordPress, to spending many thousands of dollars hiring a website designer/developer to do the entire project for you.
DIY Website Platforms
The free, do-it-yourself, options are appealing if you are so inclined and willing to try. Wix is probably the most popular right now, along with WordPress and SquareSpace. Pub Site is relatively new, but its advantage is that it was developed specifically for books, authors, and small publishers, and is very easy to use. These platforms are not just free to set up your site, but you can do the updating yourself, which can be a significant cost saver over time.
You can also hire someone to develop one of the DIY options for you, which may save you some money. There are many levels of development in this scenario — from using a basic template with no modification to using a template and extensively customizing it. Obviously, the more customization, the higher the cost. These sites can range from maybe $1,000 to $10,000, depending on the customization, the level of graphic design, and the features you want included, such as a blog, mailing list signup, social media integration, video and audio, interactivity, special effects, etc. Maybe you can do the updating after the site is done.
Custom Web Design
You can hire an individual or web design firm who will design and develop from scratch to your particular needs. I’ve heard of sites being done for as much as $20,000. This would be a prominent web design firm who has professional graphic designers and programmers on staff, in very expensive offices in larger cities. If you have the money, and want that level of service, you can go that route, but it’s not necessary.
Finding a Developer Who Understands Book Marketing
Regardless of which path you take, be mindful that a lot of developers do not know a lot about marketing in general, and book marketing in particular, and that’s what your author website is — a book marketing tool. Check out a developer’s portfolio before you hire them. I always recommend going with a developer who has experience with book and author websites. Book websites are different — they are text and content heavy, which is very different from, say, photography or restaurant websites, which are very graphic intensive. That is one thing authors have discovered about Wix and SquareSpace — they are not particularly oriented toward authors and books.
What to Ask When You Hire a Website Developer
When you contacted a potential developer, were they responsive? Did they speak to you in terms you could understand and not in condescending tones? What are their limits on how many design changes you can make? Is there a limit on how many pages your site can have? What’s the cost for additional pages? What are the per hour charges for changes and updates?
Very importantly, are they available to do updates after launching your website? Ask about this before committing to a developer — what’s their turnaround time for updates and how much do they charge? I’ve had many authors come to me bemoaning the fact that after their website is up, their developer is unresponsive, takes much too long to make simple updates, and is very expensive.
What Should I Put on My Author Website?
I often get this question from authors and my standard response is, “Anything you want!” It’s one of the primary reasons for having an author website. You can share the basic information, but also include content readers can't find anywhere else. You can put your author bio, photos, audio and video, book information, excerpts, reading guides, your blog, media coverage, contact information, event schedule, and more — even your cat photos.
What Should I Put on My Author Website?
- Author Bio
- Mailing List Sign Up
- Media Page
The next question I get is, “Isn’t that too much? Won’t they get overwhelmed?” The key is to organize it well. A well organized menu helps — don’t have too many main menu buttons, and instead have drop-down menus, or sub menus, with the additional information. With menus and sub menus, or layers, your visitors can drill down as deep as they want, or just skim the surface. So have no more than about eight menu buttons, and then have submenus or links on the main pages to more detailed content. Below, we'll discuss the major content categories for your website. This is a concise listing and by no means complete, but it will give you a good start.
1. Author Bio
Provide a short author bio and long author bio. The long one goes on your “About the Author” page, and this can be pretty long. Again, if someone gets to that page they want to know more. The short bio can go perhaps on the home page, with a “read more” link to the full bio. Include author photos, and list upcoming author events on your bio page or on a separate page. If they are frequent, make it a menu button.
Each book should have its own page on your author website with a long book description. You can list all of your books on a page, but then link (via a "read more" link) to a dedicated page for each book. If you send a link to someone for a book, you don’t want them to have to scroll down the page to find the book you are referring to. It’s also better for search engine optimization (SEO) if you provide individual book information and utilize relevant keywords and book metadata.
Each book should have the obvious — the title, subtitle, publisher, book cover, and series and series number, if applicable. You should also include information like the pub date, binding, ISBN, and page count. Add video and audio if you have it. You should offer an excerpt for viewing or download, and add book reviews as they come in.
Have links to retailers where your books are available for sale. The key ones in the U.S. are Amazon, Barnes & Noble, IndieBound (independent bookstores), Books-A-Million, and Apple iBooks. Indigo and Kobo for Canada. For other countries, ask local authors or publishers.
3. Mailing List Sign Up
Start collecting email addresses even if you are not sure what you’ll do with them. When you decide you want to do a newsletter, you’ll be thankful you did. Use a service like MailChimp or Constant Contact. They give you the form to put on your author website and the signups go directly into your email list.
To blog or not to blog? Most marketers will say it can only help. Some tips:
- Write on topics related to your books, or on topics in which you are fairly knowledgeable.
- Try relating them to current news events and use relevant keywords to try to improve your organic search volume.
- Announce posts on social media to drive traffic back to your website.
- Blog at least once a week so you appear active.
You should encourage readers to contact you. Few authors will get too many messages, and the upside is interacting with your readers and possible opportunities. Use a form that hides your email address so it doesn’t get “harvested” by spammers. Be sure not to ask for too much information, because the more you ask for, the fewer people will contact you. There is no need to know their phone number or address in the initial contact.
6. Media Page
Now that you have the core content, always add and enhance. A website is always a work in progress and providing frequent updates or new content will give your fans a reason to follow along.
How to Use Your Website as a Book Marketing Tool
Your author website is your primary online presence, your brand, your “home,” and your author platform. This is where people will come to find out more about you and your books, which gives you an excellent opportunity to present yourself and your books in the best way and to brand yourself. You can do it somewhat on Facebook and other social media sites, but your website is the only place you have complete design and editorial control. Make the most of it.
How to Use Your Author Website for Book Marketing
- Your Author Platform and Brand
- Mailing Lists and Newsletters
- Selling: Booksellers or Direct?
- Social Media Links
- Press/Media Page
- Book Giveaways
1. Your Author Platform and Brand
When visitors arrive on your author website, what message do they get? Can they immediately ascertain who you are and what you write about? Ask people—other authors or people who do not know you or your work—what is their first impression when they arrive at your website?
Include some testimonials, which are similar to review quotes but more oriented toward you as a writer, versus individual books. They can be very good in convincing potential readers, and media, that you are a great writer, not just a one-book wonder.
2. Mailing Lists and Newsletters
As mentioned above, set up a mailing list at a service like MailChimp or Mailerlite as soon as possible, and start collecting email addresses on your author website. These services make the process easy, from creating a form for your website to creating professional looking newsletters. Anyone who signs up for your mailing list is interested in you and your work—they are sometimes even referred to as “Super Fans” and are most likely to purchase your books and spread the word. As soon as you're ready to begin promoting your book, you’ll have a ready and waiting audience to announce it to. You can send an email out for feedback when you have a designed book cover, when your book is available for pre-order, on publication day, and more.
3. Selling: Booksellers or Direct?
Obviously, selling books is the ultimate goal of your book marketing efforts. Selling direct often seems appealing. You get to keep a larger percentage of the sale price, but is this something you want to do? Do you want to be taking orders, packing, and shipping books? This could take up a lot of the time you could be marketing your books or writing your next book. Consider selling through online retailers and providing purchase links to their websites where your books are available. It’s a much larger potential audience, and people feel more comfortable buying from them.
4. Social Media Links
Add “Follow Me” buttons for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram—whatever social media pages you have. You can also have your feeds display on your author website with recent posts, encouraging people to follow you. The more followers, the better, because whenever you post a new book or blog to your website, you can announce it to your followers to drive traffic back to your site. This is a great way to use social media in an interactive way—post on social media to drive traffic to your website, and have social media links or feeds on your website to drive traffic there to add followers.
5. Press/Media Page
The press/media page is a collection of author photos, book covers, media coverage, testimonials, review quotes, and anything else that may be of interest to the media or reviewers. This should serve as everything they need on one page. Making their job easy will put you in their good graces, and increases the chances they might give you some type of coverage.
You want media to be able to contact you easily. Have a short form, but then offer other ways if you choose. If you have a separate publicist, agent, or speakers bureau you may want to list them or link to their website as well.
6. Book Giveaways
This can be a good way to generate traffic, get readers interested in your books, and get people to sign up for your mailing list. You can also use your mailing list to announce the giveaway.
Now that you have a website, you need to make sure that you are getting traffic to your website. It is important to engage in online activities to drive traffic by engaging on social media, guest blogging on other sites, sending out newsletters, advertising, or other methods of driving people to your site. So, how do you measure the success of your website and your marketing efforts? You can do both by tracking traffic to your website.
Important Author Website Metrics to Monitor
- Number of Visits/Sessions
- Unique Visitors/Users
- Page Views
- Bounce Rate
- Average Time Spent on Your Site
- Top Content
- Social Visits
- Traffic Source Keywords
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Getting this data is essential. You have to know if your website and promotional activities are working for you. It’s important to know what specifically is working well so you can do more of it, and what's not working so you can cut back on or improve upon it. The easiest and most effective way to track your website's progress and discover what’s resonating with your visitors is connecting your site to Google Analytics with a little bit of tracking code. Don’t fear – it's quite easy. You can do it yourself by following these instructions from Google.
Once the code is installed, you can start tracking traffic. However the data can feel overwhelming, so here are the important data points to focus on:
1. Number of Visits/Sessions
Your number of visits is the number of times people come to your site. If the same person comes back more than once, that’s tracked as two visits.
2. Unique Visitors/Users
The number of unique, or distinct, people coming to your site. Each unique person is counted once. So if Mary visits your site ten times that's one unique user.
3. Page Views
Page views are the number of pages on your site that were viewed. An increase in page views indicates that more content is being viewed across your author website. You can see where people are going on your site and how many pages they view per visit. The more pages viewed per visit, the better. It also tells you that visitors are “sticking” – they are not just arriving at your homepage, taking a quick look, and leaving, which is referred to as bouncing and reflected in your bounce rate.
4. Bounce Rate
The bounce rate is the percentage of people who see one page and then leave the site or “bounce” off the page. Aim for a low bounce rate. It means people are finding the content they like enough to keep them on your site, and you are likely achieving reader engagement. If you have a very high bounce rate on the website pages you might want to reconsider the content or layout – does it immediately convey who you are and what you write? Is it compelling? If you are confident of both, then maybe the wrong type of visitor is coming to your site, in which case you might want to consider where you are promoting your site. Is it the right audience? And what your promotion is promising. Is your message not quite right for the page on your site you're directing interested visitors to? Are they not finding what your ad promised once they land on your site?
5. Average Time Spent on Your Site
This indicates how long someone stays on your site. This is a good number to track to see if it’s improving or declining. In conjunction with page views, it gives you an idea of what people are doing on your site. For example, did they spend a few minutes viewing many pages, or did they spend five minutes on one page, maybe reading an excerpt or blog post?
6. Top Content
Track the content that gets the most page views and best traffic to show your high-performing pages and then you know what works and you can do more of it.
7. Social Visits
Find out what social media sites send the most traffic to your website by going to the Traffic Sources section of Google Analytics. You will be able to see the websites that send traffic to your site. If your Facebook posts are driving traffic and your Twitter posts are not, you know where to focus. Or maybe it was your guest blog post on XYZ site. Whatever works, do more of it.
8. Traffic Source Keywords
Track the keywords people use via search engines to get to your site. This gives you insight into the words and phrases people are using to find your author website. You might want to consider using more of them throughout your site, especially on the homepage if possible. For example, a popular search term might be “western romance novels.” If that's your genre, make sure that the phrase is on your homepage and sprinkled throughout your site.
9. Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Keyword search engine optimization (SEO) is important, but so is sounding like a human being. People expect authentic communication, not marketing copy packed with keywords that are great for search engines but less ideal for human readers. Make sure your site isn’t so optimized for SEO it hardly reads well. Book websites are usually text-heavy with lots of keywords and phrases, so it's more a matter of fine-tuning. Consider the traffic source keywords, above, in crafting your SEO.
This is just a basic overview of Google Analytics. You can find more in-depth information on any of the individual topics by searching online or visiting Google Analytics to learn more. Understanding what's working and what you may have room to improve should be a vital part of your book marketing strategy. The more you understand the performance of your marketing efforts, the better you'll be able to perform.
As you can see, there are many types of content you can add to your website and many ways you can use it in your marketing efforts. While it can seem overwhelming to consider all of the thought that goes into creating an author website, if you follow the steps above, you're on your way to an author website that stands out from the rest. Readers want to know more about you, and your author website allows you to control what they see when they search for you. What are you waiting for? Build an author website, connect with your readers, and start selling more books.