Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 28, 2015

3 Basics of Author Online Presence

Sierra Godfrey

You might remember a hullabaloo in August on Twitter called Pitch Wars. It’s a contest where writers submit queries to agented and published writers in the hopes of being taken on as a mentee. The contest is a terrific opportunity to get detailed, one-on-one coaching from an experienced writer, but the sheer number of people who enter and talk about it also provide an excellent opportunity for something entirely different: learning about how to present yourself online.

Christopher Keelty, an active writer in the #PitchWars feed, began to notice a few things about potential mentees based on the flurry of mentee bios going around: the way writers presented themselves online varied greatly.

And it really shouldn’t. Not when it comes to the basics. And that’s what I’ll tell you about today.

First, know that Keelty did a little data gathering after looking at a hundred or so Pitch War mentees in one of the many blog hops going around, and posted about what he found. He noticed that:

  • Only about a third of writers had their own name as the URL.
  • About a third of sites he looked at didn’t feature the author’s name anywhere.
  • Many sites were missing an email address or contact form.

Some of these things are obvious to me, but it’s my business to pay attention to the way things are presented on websites. Your website is your calling card, brochure, brand—and it works 24/7 for you.

Here are a few tips on keeping things clear, whether your site is a custom-designed affair or a WordPress/Blogger/Tumblr site:

Your URL

Keelty said, “Another third or so owned “TheirName.[Something].com,” as in Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger. The remaining third use a URL that is basically unrelated to their name–in almost all cases, because the URL matches the title of the web site.”

Domain names are cheap, but I know that’s not what’s holding a lot of you back from getting your own domain name. It’s that sense of permanence – of holy shmoly-ola, I’m really doing this. Yes, you are! Look. It’s just you and me here, so lean close: You’re here to stay. Domain names are a relatively cheap investment.  It shouldn’t cost you more than $15 or so per year. Get one.

Additionally, having yourname.com increases your Google ranking. You can get a domain name no matter what type of site you have—Blogger, etc. You can also simply purchase a domain name from webhosting sites like GoDaddy and forward it to your free blog. (Note that whatever site you buy your domain name from, they’re going to offer the domain at a low intro rate, but they almost all go up to the $15 at the end of the promotional period.)

If you just can’t be convinced to buy your own domain name no matter how many chocolate cakes I offer you, then please get your name in your blog, so it’s “yourname.blogger.com” or wordpress or whatever. If one of your objections is that your domain name is already taken, add books, author, or writer in there, so it’s “yournamewriter.com.”

Your Name

Consider this fact: websites are like billboards. Your visitors are flying by at 85 65 (really, Officer) miles an hour and they spend about five seconds looking at your site before deciding to move on or engage. There’s a whole industry around the effort of getting people to simply click on something--anything! Just please don’t leeeeave!

Keelty wrote: “In some cases, their name might be in a sidebar somewhere, but several writers didn’t have their name anywhere on their site. In some cases the only clue to the author’s identity was their embedded Twitter widget.”

Get your name up there on every page. Try to avoid putting it in an image (Google searches like it better when your name is in text), and make it large. Don’t hide it as a teeny, tiny little monkey peeking out from behind something else. And don’t be afraid to be big! Yes, it will feel weird to put your name in large letters. Sit with it for at least two weeks.

Keelty noted that Blogger and Tumblr users “were particularly likely to omit their name from their page.” It’s not clear why this is, but a lot of bloggers like to name their blog. That’s fine. Look at the lovely Jenny Hansen’s* blog. Her blog is called More Cowbell and that blog name is large, but her name is also easy to see, consistent, and clear at the top.

*Jenny is lovely on her own, but especially lovely because she is my editor here at WITS today. And also, she knows Weekends in Las Vegas Things about me.

Contact information

Oh, I know. You don’t actually want anyone contacting you. But yes you do, because you have no idea who is looking at your website or blog. Agents! Editors! Employers! They’re all looking. (Stay tuned for a super duper secret bonus trick for learning how to see if they’re looking.) So give them a way to reach out to you. You might find yourself with an award, or money, or a package of fresh cookies, and we all know you don’t want to miss that.

If you’re worried about putting your personal email address on the web, you’re right to be worried. It’s going to be picked up by the Evil Spam World Order and then you’ll be getting emails about resurfacing your garage floor and promises of anti-wrinkle secrets. A contact form solves this problem nicely, as does setting up an email address for this express purpose through Yahoo or Gmail. (Just remember to check it now and then.)

Super duper secret bonus tip: Confirm Everything.

So how do you know people are looking at your site? If you have a WordPress site, you may be able to install Google Analytics or the Jetpack plugin depending on your theme, both of which give you site statistics in a handy toolbar format. Blogger also offers some basic site statistics in their settings area.

Statcounter.com is my most favorite site statistic tool, even better than Google Analytics. It works with most types of sites (although I have only used it with WordPress), and it’s free. My goodness—it tells you who came to your site, what they’re looking at, and when they left. That means if I have a page about Real Madrid on my website that I put all my time and effort into, but I can see from my stats that no one is looking at it, and instead they're all looking at my page about Atletico Madrid (because they’re a more fabulous team, obvs), then it’s time for me to switch focus.

And, gratuitous soccer reference aside, I’m just saying that if you happen to know where in the world someone is located, someone like an agent in New York for extremely random example, and then you see someone in New York is looking at your website right after you happened to send her a query… well. You might feel prett-tty, rootin-tootin’ pleased with yourself, is all.

So what’s your experience with getting your name, URL, and contact info on your website? You DO have a website, right? Leave your URL in the comments—I’d love to see it.

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Sierra

Sierra GodfreySierra Godfrey writes fiction with international settings and always a mention of football (soccer) or two. She is a member of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association and a quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm. She writes weekly about Spanish football for various sports sites, and is also a freelance graphic designer. She lives in the foggy wastelands of the San Francisco Bay Area with her family.

Come visit her at www.sierragodfrey.com or talk with her on Twitter @sierragodfrey.

37 comments on “3 Basics of Author Online Presence”

  1. My name was taken, and the doctor who uses it has a fairly strong web presence. So, I shortened my name for my url and all my social media. Then I put my real name on the website in several places. She and I pop up pretty evenly on a Google search, but we are both clearly identified by what we do. Do you think that works? http://www.kathynick.com

    1. Hi Kathy! I Googled your name to see what you meant, and you both do pop up. I think what you could do to subtly enforce the difference is add "Kathy Nickerson, Author" in as many places as possible -- text, header, and also your meta tags. That will help with the delineation. If readers are looking for you and Google you, that will help them out.

  2. Hi Sierra,
    Great post! Over the years I've noticed the same things Chris Keelty did. I tried to design my site with all of these things in mind when I first started it in 2012, but recently decided it needed a completely different type of functionality now that I have a book coming out in a couple weeks. Going from writer to published author meant I needed a page for My Books with buy links (not just a page about books I was reading), a newsletter signup (something I should've actually done earlier but I'm catching up fast), an events page and a contact form. I hope I've covered everything. Hey, at least my name is larger than life, LOL. (Something I did feel self-conscious about when I first had it done that way. I'm glad I'm not the only one who struggles with over-humility.) You can check it out here and let me know what you think http://marloberliner.com

    1. Isn't it funny how we feel weird about the size of our names? Honestly I hear from most of my author clients "Gah! My name is so HUGE" -- but it's necessary! Yours looks great. It's clear, and it's YOU.

  3. I have had a website for a very long time, with my name as the domain name. The host of my site hasn't entered this century, however, so I'm in the process of having a new site created by a friend/author/graphic artist so I can move away from having to use html coding to include links (i.e., typing each link with Library of Congress) to one built in Wix.com. The current host also limits me to one image per blog post, so I'm switching my blog site to WordPress. I've already moved my newsletter to MailChimp for the same reasons as stated. It's been very frustrating to me to have such a cumbersome and unfriendly web site hosting system. That said, if you want to see what I've been doing, my site is at http://www.bettybolte.com. I agree with your post and the required elements, too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Betty, yes, WordPress is the most friendly platform and it's pretty flexible. I tend to use a blank template so I can customize the heck out of it. It irritates me how many unflexible platforms there are out there, but they prey on people who don't know what else to do.

  4. Ha! When my comment posted the html code was translated into a URL. So let me try again in a way that the system won't interpret. Each link has to include NAME OF SITE TO PUBLISH. It all takes time to key in, especially when having a guest author post with all their social media and buy links to type in and then check that I did so correctly and they work. So fed up!

  5. Okay, sorry! Trust me, it's coding and using left and right brackets and slashes and such. This system is much more user-friendly!

  6. Sierra, thanks for the Statcounter.com recommendation - I find Googleanalytics so un-user-friendly that I seldom look at it. I'll check out Statcounter today.

    And for anyone trying to decide on a website platform - don't make the mistake I did . . . use WordPress to begin with. I started with someone else, and used their proprietary website building tool...which worked great, until they jacked up their teaser rate the second year, and I left - I had to recreate my entire website in WordPress.

    WordPress is the industry standard, so if you for some reason want to go away from them down the road, wherever you're going should be able to port your site over.

    Thanks as always, for a great topic and meaty blog, Sierra!

    1. Thanks Laura. I have to agree, Google Analytics is nearly incomprehensible to me. StatCounter is easy to view and I have to say, it's FANTASTIC. And free! I use it for all my sites.

      Note that there are two ways to approach WordPress: WordPress.com is the free version. They give you free space and a limited number of templates. WordPress.org is the software you install on your own web space and then you have no restrictions, and can do whatever you want with it.

    2. WordPress IS the industry standard. But I want to point out the difference between WordPress.com and having a self-hosted WordPress. With wordpress.com you will pay more for less functionality. I always recommend getting hosting through somewhere like Godaddy or Bluehost. If you are even mildly tech savvy, or just not afraid of looking around and reading tutorials, you can install your own wordpress platform. With Godaddy (and I'm told with Bluehost) it's just a matter of clicking a few buttons and filling in usernames and passwords. It's actually easier now on Godaddy than it was just a few months ago. With the "Jetpack" plugin, you can have all of the perks of WordPress.com, but with the functionality and control of your own website.

  7. Good points, Sierra. I started with a blog long ago, more personal than anything, with a title.wordpress.com as the URL. No, I take that back - I started with jenniferjensen.net, which I didn't like at all. And had no idea what to do with it or how to make it look nice!

    I did, however, keep an eye on jenniferjensen.com while I tried to think of what I wanted. When it shifted to a Geocities site, I contacted the owner and he was nice enough to transfer it to me before it came up for auction. And when I started blogging as a writer, I took one of Kristen Lamb's WANA classes (*waves to Jenny H*) and I can't say I've always made the right decisions, but I'm getting there.

    Oh - interesting people DO contact you on your blog. I've had requests to reprint blog posts, but I also really was contacted by an agent! It didn't work out for various reasons, but it was an exciting time.

  8. Very interesting. I don't use my name because I've dealt with/am dealing with identity theft. I do keep all of my sites the same, I do have my name on the sites and an email address, though it might not be front and center. I'm not sure how to remedy the name thing unless I flat out change my name.

    1. Just keep in mind that what you have now is part of your ongoing brand. So if you want to use your name on your books in the future, then you will want to brand your site now with your name. Sorry about the identity theft....that's awful.

  9. Thank you for the tips. I pulled up my site to check how I fared and lo and behold, I don't have a contact form! I'll have to fix that immediately. I'll also check out Statcounter.com. Google Analytics has always seemed overwhelming to me.

  10. Oh, and here's how great Statcounter is -- it told me how many of you went to my website as a result of this post, because it shows the link you came from 🙂 Because I knew that would happen, I prepared a tour of my site on my blog for you.

  11. Great article, I really enjoyed it! I set up a website with my author name also, but I bought the domain name and then used the free wordpress.com site. I don't have any experience in setting up a website, but at least using their templates doesn't seem too difficult (for a newbie). Of course, I haven't actually published anything yet...but this is my first attempt to establish my online presence.

  12. I read everything Jane Friedman had on different options for author websites and decided to go the Bluehost route. Day 1 was scary. Week 1 was scary. But they have good support. I'm happy. Do you think it's working? I pop up first with Bing and Yahoo searches, but Google still lists my social media first then the website. It's still on page 1, but I wish the website would be first. It does come first if you Google "patricia beal author." I don't know what else I can do to change that... http://www.patriciabeal.com

    1. Patricia, Bluehost is an excellent host; I use them for all my sites and recommend them to my clients.

      As far as your name and Google rankings, Google has changed their algorithms to play very heavy emphasis on social media. So if you can link back to your website in all social media, that will help.

  13. I'll vouch for the "you never know who's going to find you on your web" ... several years ago I received an email out of the blue from an agent who just happened to stumble onto my website and was intrigued with a blurb for my WIP. A year later when the ms was ready, she responded immediately to my query. While I didn't end up signing with that agent, my website - and a kickass blurb - opened a direct line in the most unexpected way. So yeah, get that website up, folks!!!

  14. This is wonderful information. I am participating in Robert Lee Brewer's 2015 Platform Challenge via Writer's Digest and boy, did I learn a lot about online presence. There is still much more to learn: SEO refinement, hyperlinks, utilizing images in posts, key words for posts, etc. I haven't bought a domain yet, but I'm working on that one. With Robert's help I have changed my name to be as uniform as possible across the board on my Facebook, Twitter, WordPress and Google+ pages. Thank you for this post.

  15. Thanks for this post! I'm wondering if you think using first+middle initial and then your last name as the URL is worthwhile for search purposes (it's what I chose to do for reasons I can't even remember), or if it would be wise to go for the full name? Thanks!

    1. Jessica, the answer is whatever you think READERS would search for you with ...and that's probably your full name unless you publish or plan to publish with your middle initial included.

  16. Thank you for an informative article - I would love to have your feedback on my blog: glendawarburton.com. I have done somethings right, but being a latecomer to the computer generation I really struggle with things like widgets, embedded whatevers, URLs etc. Why, oh why can we not talk plain English anymore - everything is unintelligible capitals thrown together. Tres confusing!

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