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7 Secrets for Amazing Author Websites

Most author websites fail to sell enough books to reimburse the author for the cost of building the website.

The reason is because most authors don’t know the following seven secrets.

Secret #1: People Don’t Care About You.

This is a painful truth. People care about themselves. They care about you to the degree that you can make their lives more enjoyable. This is the hardest secret for many authors to grasp. Most authors want their websites to be all about them.

The result?

Each author’s website looks pretty much the same. They all have the same pages: About, Books, Contact, and Store. They also don’t get much traffic. Even best-selling authors often get  few visitors because they don’t know the secret that makes websites successful.

The secret? Provide value.

Your website has to help the visitor in some way. Answer the question “What is in this site for me?” for your visitors. As an author you need to face the reality that no one wants to come to your websites to see photos of your children. For anyone to visit your website, it has to be the most interesting thing on the entire Internet…  for that person at that time.

How you can provide value depends on your book. For nonfiction books, providing supplementary materials for the book such as fact sheets, tips, and guides often works well. A good blog on the topic can also get a ton of traffic.

For fiction books, podcasts can often work well. Think of your website as the bonus features on a DVD. What do you like to see on a DVD? Deleted scenes? Character backgrounds? Character photos? Think about copying movie websites instead of other author websites.

Secret #2: Be Remarkable.

Seth Godin has an interesting definition of “remarkable.” He says that for something to be remarkable, it must be worth making a remark about. Is your author website remarkable? Do people start talking about it on Twitter and Facebook after they visit?

There are many ways to be remarkable and one good way to be unremarkable. To be unremarkable, all you need to do is be normal, fit in, and copy other authors.

To be remarkable, you need to be different, edgy, or unique. A website can be remarkably bad or remarkably annoying. You want your website to be remarkably helpful, funny, or insightful. How is your book remarkable? Expand on that for your website.

At Author Media, our goal is to be remarkably helpful. We want authors to be so pleased with our site that they tweet a link to their Twitter followers and share a link with their Facebook friends. We measure success in tweets, not in comments or hits.

Secret #3: Have an Audience for Your Website.

Target Audience

Who is your website for? Many authors think their websites are for themselves. This thinking is a shortcut to obscurity. Successful websites are for their readers, not their owners. So, who are your readers?

Knowing who you are not targeting is the key to thrilling the people you actually want to reach. If you are writing romance, don’t try to target men. Remember, for anyone to visit your website, it must be the most interesting thing on the entire Internet. You won’t become that interesting by trying to please a big group of people. But you can thrill a few. Focus!

Even when you slice the Internet super thin you still get a huge number of people. By naming this site Author Tech Tips we turn off 99% of potential visitors. But this site would be a failure if it were just Tech Tips. There is simply too much competition for tech websites out there.

Secret #4: Have a Mission for Your Website.

Most authors I have talked with have no idea what they want their website to accomplish. They also have no idea if their current website is effective or not.

Successful websites have one clear goal. To help my clients pick a goal I ask them the following questions:

  • What does the ideal visitor outcome look like?
  • What do you want people to do after visiting your site?
  • Why do you have a website? Guilt is a bad reason to start a website.
  • What do you want your website to accomplish?

If the goal of your website is to:

  • sell books then you had better have a big shiny “buy now” button somewhere on the homepage.
  • build your platform you had better have a very prominent subscribe form for people to get email updates.
  • increase the number of visitors you had better have some remarkable content and some “share” buttons where people can easily share your site on Twitter and Facebook.
  • connect with readers you had better have a way for people to leave comments.

You can have secondary goals, but if you don’t know where you’re going you will never get there.

Secret #5: Integrate Social Bookmarking and Social Media.

Okay, so now you have a remarkable website that provides value to a specific target of readers you can thrill. Now you want to make it as easy as possible for them to share your website with one another.

The best way to do this is to integrate social media into your website. Buttons like “Share on Facebook” and “Share on Twitter” are key to growing your traffic. If your website is run on WordPress, there are some great plugins that will do this automatically. I use Sociable among other plugins for my clients.

Secret #6: Integrate a Blog.

Websites with blogs built in get 55% more traffic than websites with no blog.

They get more traffic because blogs posts are more likely to be shared on social networks than static content. Blogs also boost your rankings on Google. Each blog post is a chance to get Google points to rank high in searches. Think of it as a lottery ticket. The more blog posts you write the bigger chance you have of hitting it big.

You want your blog integrated into your website. This means the address is on yourdomain.com, not blogger.com or wordpress.com. Why?  When you blog on Blogger, you give all your Google points to Blogger and get nothing in return. Blogging is a big time investment and it is foolish to spend all that time working for some other site. Author Media, specializes in building websites with integrated blogs for authors. We even post our author website prices right here on the site.

Secret #7: Focus on Content Over Design.

A pitfall many authors fall into is that they keep redesigning their websites instead of adding value to them.

When they first get their website, it is the most beautiful site on the web. Like the mother of a newborn, they can’t see the flaws and only see the beauty. After a while, they begin to get tired of the design and start to nitpick. After a couple of years, they hate it and want to start over. They forget that their visitors don’t spend hours looking at their sites like they do. Their visitors don’t notice the subtle “problems” of their site.

Most author websites look just fine. The problem is there is nothing to see.

Think of the design as a picture frame and the content (blog posts, articles, podcasts) as the picture. My recommendation is to spend ten times more time and money creating a good picture (the content) rather than a good frame (the design).

Creating a valuable and remarkable content takes time and effort. It takes months and even years to rank well on Google, so don’t let how your site looks distract you from making it excellent.

This is not to say that design is unimportant. You want your site to look professional. But once you get a professional look, stop fiddling and start writing. Your site is either professional or it’s not. You don’t get bonus points for being extra pretty online.

What do you think? What are author websites that you like? Do they incorporate these secrets?

About Thomas Umstattd

Thomas Umstattd Jr. is the CEO of Castle Media Group the parent company of Author Media. You can follow him on Twitter @ThomasUmstattd. and on Google+ He loves helping people use technology to change the world.

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22 Responses to 7 Secrets for Amazing Author Websites

  1. Dianne Guthmuller #

    Great article very helpful! I think consistent posts are also a must.
    My recent post Sorry… 2 Corinthians 7-10

  2. Nice work with the article Thomas. Yes, stagnant 3-page author websites are exactly what co-author Kev Webb and myself wanted to stay clear of. They do all become the same, especially fiction authors. Our website is as you suggested, "for the readers" with event updates, a free weekly short story serial that is a companion to our retail novel Dream Raider, podcasts, wallpaper and more. We've had fantastic feedback and our target audience, Young Adults/students and teachers have enjoyed all the content available.

    With regards to audience, your article is right on, fiction authors "know your audience", where do they hang out? You'll find that students and soccer mums are not on twitter or RSS, focus on Facebook. Competitions always go down well. New authors if you want new readers to find you outside of your friends and family then learn to leverage 'inbound marketing'. I'm sure here on Author Tech Tips there would be an article on this.

    All the best everyone!

  3. Nicely done! A lot of what you discuss are things I struggle with all the time, particularly the urge to redesign – over and over and over again.
    My recent post Theology and Writing

  4. Madison Woods #

    You've given me a lot to think about here. But I feel so inadequate now! Hahaha, and all this time, I looked at my blog with such warm, fuzzy feelings. So many of the concepts you touched upon have been neglected at my blog (which also is serving as my website for now).
    My recent post The Healing Power of Metaphorical Mud via Zen and the art of tightrope walking

  5. Did you know that your company name is misspelled?

  6. richardschoe #

    Will read and share with writers group on monday night-saw it on fb from a post

  7. Catherine #

    Have few comments.
    Remarkable is too wide notion to cover, so just be interesting and different.
    Design matters!
    Regards, Catherine from thoughts on tablets

  8. Some great tips there Thomas … You hit the nail on the head, with secret #1. Unfortunately, having worked with many authors int he past, I’ve found most to be very self-centered. Most simply can’t grasp the fact that THEIR web site shouldn’t be all about them.
    My recent post Picking a Platform for EBooks- iPad- Kindle- Nook or Kobo

  9. Ant #

    I think this is Great eye opening information for any author period.

  10. Will read and share with writers group on monday night-saw it on fb from a post
    Design matters!
    Young Adults/students and teachers have enjoyed all the content available.
    My recent post Семья и Wow Женам и девушкам посвящаеться!

  11. justajo #

    Great, great stuff. Even for non-authors it’s great stuff, just the kind of thing I’ve been looking for: specific, targeted helps organized in an easy to read format…And for us non-techie, non-social network savvy, that’s a plus. Thanks a heap!

  12. marjilaine #

    Wow! I certainly needed this advice, and I've been pouring through your website ever since your webinar ended. Took pages of notes on that one! Delighted to find your site!

  13. Brilliant advice Thomas. As an author can I also share an 8th secret another author gave me yesterday when I interviewed him and that's to ensure you have a meta-strategy – for what this is about see, http://www.tomevans.co/2011/09/27/whats-your-meta

  14. Great tips, Thomas. Thank you!
    My recent post Tips For Brainstorming

  15. Great tips!

    Although I’m not sure if i agree with #1: “People Don’t Care About You”.

    Usually in marketing this is the case, but books are, in my opinion, sold, more and more, by interest in the authors. The writers are becoming brands and it means that they need to be marketable (aka interesting). I think blogs are a great platform to introduce yourself and become friends with your readers.

    Usually when I like someone’s fiction, I check if they have a website and preferably a blog. I get to know them as a person and usually end up liking them. That will make their fiction even better.

    I won’t be recommending or sharing their blog/website with anyone, but I will become a fan and recommend their books.

  16. As a new writer ( and I do mean NEW) I found these tips invaluable. Thanks, Thomas. You saved me from hours of work with no results.. Thanks again!

  17. Great article Thomas! I do agree for #secret 7

  18. Jamie Beck #

    Thanks for writing this article. I’m a new author with a completed romance manuscript out on query. Hopefully I will land an agent and publishing contract, but if not, I will self-publish within the first half of 2013. So, while I’m trying to peddle my first book and write a second, I’m also trying to learn about the marketing/social media aspect of the industry. I’m very unsavvy about technology and haven’t mastered FB, don’t know Twitter (yet) and don’t have a website. However, I know I need to become an expert with these things. It seems that these suggestions of yours would be very easy to follow for a non-fiction author, but what about a fiction author? Any specific examples you can offer for Secret No. 2?? Thanks!

  19. Rebecca Anthony #

    Thanks for sharing these amazing tips. My husband and I are launching a book soon and are now working on the website. Thanks for giving us great suggestions to consider. I feel much more confident now tackling this huge project, and I’m excited about pouring time and energy into our websites content!

  20. Most of the comments I see here are shameless plugs and not genuine interest from readers. “Great thoughts! My recent post…” Doing spam links like that makes people LESS likely to click on the link because you are trying to hijack other people’s websites to get more traffic to your own. Shame on you.

  21. Thanks for this useful information!

  22. You’re absolutely right. All websites need to pass the “what’s in it for me?” test. Your article is a great reminder to focus on that. Thank you.

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