It used to be that the homepage of your website was always the first page people would see when they visited. That’s not the case anymore. Google now makes it possible for people to land on deep, internal pages of your website, especially if people are searching for specific things on your site.
Even though people might not see your homepage first, it’s still important. If people type in your website URL, they will land on your homepage. You never get a second chance to make a first impression, and your homepage is typically where people “see” you for the first time.
If your homepage is constructed correctly and your website is optimized, then a Google search for your name should yield your homepage as the very first result.
My company has built over 100 author websites, and I’ve consulted with perhaps twice that many authors, looking at their websites and giving them feedback. I’ve also taught at conferences, and I’ve seen many awful author homepages over the years.
Most people simply don’t know how to construct a good homepage, so they make several common mistakes.
10 Common Homepage Mistakes to Avoid
Mistake #1: Welcome Letter
A “welcome letter” typically starts with “Dear Reader.” I’ve looked at hundreds of author websites, and I’ve never been compelled to read a “welcome letter.” No one reads them, and it makes your website look dated. Worse than that, they indicate that you have no idea what to do with your homepage.
A good homepage should be clear about what the reader should do, and the reader should know their next step.
Just as the opening line of your novel has to capture the reader (or shock Broca, as we call it), your website’s first line must also be captivating.
If the first impression your website visitor gets is a boring welcome letter, they won’t be entertained or hooked. They won’t stay to look around on your website.
Mistake #2: Cramming content above the fold.
Years ago, newspaper writers were taught that the prime real estate of the newspaper was at the top, “above the fold.” It was the first part, and sometimes the only part, of the newspaper people would see.
In web design, there is no fold. You can easily scroll down, and no “barrier” of a fold stops people from seeing what’s below.
People aren’t usually visiting your website on a computer. They’re using tablets or phones. So, thinking about your design in terms of “a fold” is overly desktop-centric thinking. When you start with wrong premises, you end up with wrong conclusions. If you think you have to cram things above the fold, you’ll have a cluttered website.
Mistake #3: Desktop-First Design
Although you’re building your website on a computer, most people will use mobile devices to view it. The temptation is to design the homepage for desktop computers first and mobile devices second. But mobile design can’t be an afterthought. It must be your first thought.
If you’re looking to work with a designer, check out their portfolio of mobile designs before you look at their desktop designs. Your website must be mobile-responsive.
Mistake #4: Focusing on the Author
Authors usually think that since the website is theirs, readers want to know about them. Many authors will only talk about themselves on the homepage. But here’s a key marketing principle: your reader only cares what you can do for them (WIIFM: What’s in it for me?)
No one wants to read your bio on the homepage. They can learn about you on your About page. But when they first land on your website, they want to know what you have to offer them.
You can still include your headshot on your homepage. People will recognize you and know they’re in the right place. Your photo gives web visitors a person to connect with. That’s how humans are wired. Serve your visitors by letting them know they’re in the right place, but wait to share your bio until they’ve clicked on your About page.
Mistake #5: No Clear Next Step
This may be the most common mistake authors make. Most authors want their websites to be beautiful. They view their website as a new outfit and want to make themselves look as good as possible.
But a website is less like an outfit and more like a road. The point is to get people from one point to the next. It’s nice if the road looks pretty, but a dirt road will get you to the same place.
But if there is no clear road, and people don’t know what to do next, the road has failed.
Most of the time, the next step should be “join my email list” or “buy my book.”
If you only do one thing to improve your homepage, make the next step very clear. A beautiful website with great photos and fonts is fun, but if readers don’t know what to do, your website has failed.
To be extra clear and persistent, place your newsletter sign-up on every page of your website. Frequency sells, so frequently ask people to sign up for your email newsletter list.
If you need help starting an email newsletter, check out the following posts:
To entice people to sign up for your email newsletter, give away a short story or reader magnet. When readers sign up, they’ll receive your story and have the promise of being notified via email when your next book comes out.
Learn more about reader magnets here:
If you’re not sure what step your reader should take next, spend some time thinking about the purpose of your website. Write a purpose statement for your website. “The purpose of my website is ….”
How you fill in that blank will give you clarity as you’re reworking your website or building it.
If you’re still struggling, ask yourself, “What’s the number one thing I want people to do on my website?”
You’re not allowed to use the “browse” in your answer because no one wants to browse. Unless you have dozens of books listed, no one wants to browse your website.
Mistake #6: Sliders
The joke in the professional web design world is that the purpose of a slider is to let your boss put his pet project “above the fold” without worrying about anyone ever seeing it.
Sliders only work if everyone reads at the same pace. Sliders also don’t work well on mobile, and as we just talked about, we must think of the mobile user experience first.
When I’m scrolling with my thumb and hit that slider, I can scroll side to side, but I can’t easily keep scrolling down. It’s irritating. If you want to include the information or images, just make the homepage longer.
Mistake #7: Paragraph Text
Homepages are built for headlines, images, and buttons. You have seven seconds to hook a reader; some studies show it’s even less. In those seven seconds, your reader must understand three things:
- Who you are (You’re an author.)
- What you do (Write [genre] for [readers].)
- Why they should stay and look around on your website (What you offer them on your site.)
Remember that on their first visit to your website, visitors will only read text that stands out, such as headlines.
However, if your homepage lists your recent blog posts, you can have one paragraph of text per post. For example, your list of blog posts on that type of home page would consist of the headline or title of the blog post, the accompanying image, and a brief paragraph of text to capture the reader’s interest and cause them to click and read more.
Mistake #8: No Clickable Book Cover
If you are published, your book cover image should be on your homepage. People want to be able to buy your book right away, and that might be the only reason they came to your site. If they click on your book cover image and nothing happens, they’ll believe your website is broken, and they’ll get frustrated and leave.
Everywhere else on the internet, book cover images are linked to a webpage where someone can either buy the book or get a preview. Serve your reader by making it easy and intuitive to buy your book.
Mistake #9: No Sign-Up Form
Email is the most effective way to sell books. Therefore, you always need to be growing your list.
James L. Rubart had a lot of success growing his email list with author scavenger hunts. Other authors have used group promotions and newsletter swaps. To learn more about how to grow your email list, check out our episodes on how to use BookSweeps, BookFunnel, Facebook ads, QR Codes, and reader magnets.
Always include an email sign-up form on your homepage and make sure it stands out so that readers notice it and sign up. Authors are tempted to want to make the sign-up form pretty, but it’s more important to make it stand out.
I know authors with the world’s ugliest sign-up form, but they offer something readers want. The fact that it’s ugly draws the eye, and readers sign up like crazy.
Remember, your website is a road, not an outfit. The goal is to get people to the destination.
Mistake #10: Ugly Design
With that in mind, however, creating an ugly website is also a common mistake. The problem is that an author doesn’t usually know their website is ugly. Authors who design their own websites are usually too emotionally attached (It’s your baby! It’s beautiful!) and can’t objectively evaluate the design.
Design is a skill. People spend four years and lots of money to earn a degree in design. Just like writing, design takes practice, and it takes years to master the craft. Most likely, you are not a designer.
If you have a knack for design and enjoy it, you may be a passible designer. But be honest with yourself about your skills.
A beautiful design will not automatically make your website successful. As we’ve just mentioned, there are many elements you need to have in place to make your website successful.
However, an ugly design will reduce your credibility, and your website will not be successful. If your design makes your website look like an unsafe road, people will not want to stay on it. A good design makes people feel safe on your website.
Most authors can’t pay a professional web designer $10,000. Fortunately, you can buy many web design templates for $15- $200 to help you DIY your website. The key is to stay very close to the theme’s default settings.
How do you know whether you are a good designer? Ask yourself to explain the difference between hexadecimal, RGB, and CMYK and when and where to use which one in design. If you don’t know, hire a professional or stick with a template.
The easiest way to have a passable design is to stick with a white background and black text. Let the color come from your photos.
Good design will not make your site, but bad design can break it.
The Key to a Good Author Homepage
Put yourself in your reader’s shoes and evaluate your website from their perspective.
If you can, get feedback from friends who can be brutally honest about your design and clarity. Ask them what is and isn’t working,
Then, answer these two questions from your reader’s perspective:
- Where am I?
- Where do I go from here?
Those are the questions your web visitors are asking, and you must answer them within the first seven seconds of their visit.
Most people will want your book or your newsletter, and your homepage must provide obvious answers to those questions.
- Where am I? (I’m on the author’s website that I was searching for.)
- Where do I go from here? (Where can I buy the book or sign up for the newsletter?)
If your homepage is clear and easy to navigate, your readers will be happy, and your sales and email list will grow.