It would be nice if we all had a virtual set of Tupperware that allowed us to take out nice fresh pieces of our websites or blogs when things get stale. Let’s face it—even if your website or blog is professionally designed or a straight-off-the-shelf template, and whether you’re promoting a book or just building an audience or community, we all have the same problem after a while.
Websites get stale.
For as long as I’ve been involved with designing or creating websites, it’s always come as an unpleasant surprise to clients that they actually have to put some work into running a site after it’s designed. The web moves fast and you need to adapt to keep your site interesting and visitors coming back. If you’re promoting books, then you need to count your website as an important part of your overall publicity—whether or not you can see the results of people visiting.
Here are seven tips for keeping it real:
1. Make sure your site is up to date with your work. There’s nothing worse than a website that looks like a ghost town. You know, tumble weeds flitting by on your About page. A blog with broken, swinging saloon doors that hasn’t been updated in two years. A cobwebby book page that still says “Stay tuned for the new release, coming October 2009!” Go through and clean it up, sweep away the dust, and get the most current book information on your site, front and center. If you aren’t yet published and aren’t promoting a book, keep your blog front and center.
2. Consider removing features that force you to update too often. Examples include a “What’s new” section that almost every new visitor to your site will click. If your latest news has been “Welcome to my site, I just updated my site from Geocities!” for six years, then it’s a no-go.
3. Look at other author sites. What are other authors doing? How are they presenting their news? How active do their sites look? Are people adding excerpts, recipes, and character sheets with their books? How about digital autograph tools? Playlists?
4. If you do decide to redesign, beware of current fads. It’s tempting to look “techy” with a parallax style website. Parallax is a wide-screen format with vertical scrolling, and it’s the current trend with high tech companies. Parallax can be great for mobile users with websites that tell a story but in most cases, author sites don’t tell stories, you sell them. I hate to see people using parallax because it looks cool in lieu of actual content. By the way, if your reading audience is a bunch of teenage girls, then you might consider updating your site to be more mobile-friendly. There are several ways to do this that are beyond this post, but you can definitely Google that.
A parallax example
5. Update your look to your latest book. It’s great to have a site that looks just like your book cover, like using a background that matches the cover. I’ve worked with several authors on their websites who wanted sites to match the tone of their first release. Inevitably, they write more books! I’m thrilled for them, but then their site needs updating. I always advise sticking with a neutral theme that matches your personality and preferred writing genre. That way you don’t get stuck with the look of your first book.
6. Check your site stats. You should have a basic site statistics tool installed. Google Analytics works with pretty much everything including WordPress, and I also like the Jetpack site stats tool for WordPress because it’s easy to use. If people are visiting one section of your site in particular, consider expanding that section to offer more. Rewrite the content, add more pictures. And then consider combining the unused section of your site or deleting it altogether.
7. Finally, kill your darlings. Oh sure, we know this one as it applies to writing, right? But if you’re dead set against changing your menu graphics because you like the way they are, but they no longer serve the right purpose (reminder: that purpose is to get people to read your site content!), then change it! I recently spoke to a friend who knew her links were confusing but she liked how they looked. If she wanted to move forward with the site update, she would have to let go of her darlings.
What about you? What ways have you found to keep your site fresh? Is this is something you’ve heard about before, but haven’t addressed? I’d love to see your websites—put them in with your comment!
Sierra writes fiction that features strong heroines who grow from the challenges they face (and there’s usually a guy involved; you know how that is) A graphic designer by day, she lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a grateful quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm. Her non-fiction essays have been featured on Maria Shriver’s Shriver Report and Architects of Change website, and in the anthology, Nothing But The Truth So Help Me God: 73 Women on Life’s Transitions.
You can find more of her sass at www.sierragodfrey.com and she’s pretty mouthy on Twitter (@sierragodfrey), too. Come talk to her, she loves it.