Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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August 18, 2021

7 Things Every Author Website Needs

by Lisa Norman

I'm expecting my first grandchild in a few days. When I hold her in my arms for the first time, I'm not going to be judging her ability to run a marathon or write novels. I'm going to be happy if she looks up at me. If I keep our first encounter simple, connected, and welcoming, it will be the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

When authors build their first website, sometimes they want their website to be as fancy as big-name authors' sites - and I'm not saying they can't be - but this is a distraction.

The important thing is this: Be there. Now.

On occasion I do consulting for Search Engine Optimization specialists. I was called in to consult for a big firm that had an absolutely stunning website. Problem: they weren't getting new customers.

Meanwhile, their tiny upstart competitor with a plain website was getting more work than they could handle. Why?

Because the simple website was first on the search results. The fancy website didn't even show up. Why? The fancy website was full of gorgeous video. Moving pictures. Immersive.

But search engines can't see pictures. Search engines see words.

What does your website really need?

For this post, I want to talk to you about the absolute minimum you need for a functioning website. I'm going to tell you my favorite plugins where appropriate but understand: these are not the only options. They're just my favorites.

I'm not going into detail about hosting and domain name here, because those are choices you want to make based on your budget. Generally, you want to get your name or your pen name as your domain name, and before you pick a hosting company, read a lot of recent reviews.

A website needs a place to live on the internet (hosting) and a domain name that people can type in to get to it.

If you don't want to spend any money, WordPress.COM is essentially a hosting company that only runs WordPress software. They will give you a free domain (yourname.wordpress.com) and set you up with the basics. This is the internet equivalent of living in your parents' basement. You live by their rules, but you are safe and you won't starve.

Once you get your own domain name (yourname.com - for example) you'll need to start paying them rent, and then it is cheaper to move out and live in your own space. The good news is that you can take all your furniture with you.

I'm a huge fan of WordPress because I've never seen an author outgrow the platform. I've seen a lot of folks outgrow other platforms and struggle to move their content. But if you are using something other than WordPress, most of the points that follow still apply. Just ignore the names of specific plugins.

(Note: on WordPress.com, you can not add plugins. Just use what they provide, it is sufficient.)

Your Necessary Seven Items

1. A Security Plugin

When my daughter moves out, she wants to get a German Shepherd. Wordfence — even the free version — acts like a big, protective barking dog. You can turn off the notifications if the barking bothers you, but it is handy for reminding you when to do your updates! This is the first plugin I install on any WordPress website. It will keep you safe from hackers.

2. A Contact Page 

This page needs a form and some type of anti-spam so that people who you do want to talk to can reach you easily while spammers get stopped.

On WordPress, this may look like Contact Form 7 with the CleanTalk plugin to block spammers. (CleanTalk is one of the very few paid plugins that I recommend strongly. If you get just the basic package, you can get it for under $7/year. That's a bargain for keeping spammers away from your website!) Contact Form 7 generally sets itself up correctly when you install it. Pop the form onto a page and be done.

3. An "About me" Page

Include a simple bio with a headshot — this is what will be used to introduce you at speaking engagements or harvested by media personnel when your book hits the NYT bestseller list. Have fun with it. Headshot is optional, but great to add when you can.

4. A newsletter signup form on EVERY page

There are many options here, depending on what you want. I love the Newsletter plugin for a free version that keeps the emails on your website, but MailChimp and other well-known brands work, too. Newsletter will walk you through the basic setup when you install it.

5. A Privacy Policy

This one scares a lot of authors, but it shouldn't. Treat it like a writing exercise. By current law, a plainly written one is much better than a bunch of legalese.

Write something that sounds like you, something that sounds like your books. And if you are completely terrified of this, WordPress includes a sample and information to help you. I actually know someone who got a contract because an agent loved their privacy policy.

6. A Home Page

This can be a simple "welcome to my website, I'll put something cool on this page eventually" or it can show your blog posts if you are up to writing one every month or so. (Hint: hide the dates!)

7. A theme you can live with

My current favorite is Kadence. Not too hard to set up, and it covers the basics that people ask me for most often. If you want something easier to set up, try Bard.

Final Thoughts

A website doesn't have to be hard. If I have the author's bio and a few words of welcome, I can build a website with these bits in well under an hour.

I had a client who needed a website urgently. I built her one in 2 hours and she used it successfully for over 10 years. Sure, I have some know-how, but I share it in my classes. I promise you, anyone can build a website these days.

You may be thinking that you want so much more for your website. But like my soon-to-appear granddaughter, give your website time to grow and develop. Meanwhile, NOW is the crucial time for connection. A baby website is better than no website at all. And ask yourself: Is there anything easier to fall in love with than a baby?

Are there items that you think should be added to the must-have list? What are your author website challenges? What questions do you have for Lisa? Please share them down in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Lisa

Lisa Norman's passion has been writing since she could hold a pencil. While that is a cliché, she is unique in that her first novel was written on gum wrappers. As a young woman, she learned to program and discovered she has a talent for helping people and computers learn to work together and play nice. When she's not playing with her daughter, writing, or designing for the web, she can be found wandering the local beaches.

Lisa writes as Deleyna Marr and is the owner of Deleyna's Dynamic Designs, a web development company focused on helping writers, and Heart Ally Books, an indie publishing firm. She teaches for Lawson Writer's Academy.

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18 comments on “7 Things Every Author Website Needs”

  1. Read every word while I looked at the plugins on my baby site.

    I see "Anti-Malware Security and Brute-Force Firewall."

    Will that conflict with Wordfence?

    1. Dave - is that the one by CleanTalk? Yes, I think they may conflict. I'd use one or the other. If you are happy with the one you have - you should be good! Two big guard dogs can fight unless they know to play nice together, and I don't trust those two to behave. They may, but I have not tried it.

  2. Got almost all your bases covered, plus book pages. I have a tab on my menu bar, plus a signup notice on my home page, but I never thought about a newsletter signup on every page. Maybe I'll ask my guru to add it to my sidebars.

    1. Terry - that is one of the things I didn't think about when I first started designing websites. Then I saw how author posts perform in search results and realized that our social media push for posts could drive traffic right to a great article and then let them leave without being invited to stick around! I was on an author's site and WANTED to sign up...and couldn't, so I added it to my short-list.

      You can skip it on some lesser pages - like a contact page, for example, but even on that you can add a checkbox to sign up. Might as well! If they're interested enough to come there, might as well invite them to stay! I've also seen some designs work with a button in the header that leads to a signup form. One extra step, one more chance to lose people, but the truly interested will find it.

  3. Great post, Lisa. My web guru has discouraged me from having a newsletter signup on every page. Mine appears only on my homepage and blog page. But I have a pop-up subscribe box that appears regardless of the page. Do you think the pop-up is a good substitute for a signup form?

    1. Karen - the pop-up makes sure that it is still there, so you should absolutely be fine. Going deeper into the concept, you want it on every page where someone might be sent by search engines. Individual blog posts, for example, are the most common missed opportunity. As long as I could come to your site to finish reading a blog post and then have the opportunity to sign up - as in an exit-intent pop-up, you're golden.

  4. Thank you for this post. I'm getting ready to have someone redo my website. I tried to change things on my own, and that did not go well! Nice to know if can be basic and still meet my needs.

    1. Just make sure that they set up the website in such a way that it is easy for you to maintain. You should be able to edit the content on any page and post your blog posts / book updates easily. Those areas can be both pretty and easy to update.

  5. Thanks, Lisa! I'm still working on the Contact and Privacy elements, but I'd like to add another recommendation. Use only two main font sets for your content: one for headers and one for text. Here's one resource on choosing complementary fonts: https://bonfx.com/29-principles-for-making-great-font-combinations/ Oh! Recommendation #2: Do not use light text reversed out of a dark background for anything but very small blocks of text. Your readers' eyes will thank you.

    1. Excellent tips. You can also find fonts via fonts.google.com. And while I agree that light/dark needs to be carefully considered, be aware that there is a design trend that favors dark backgrounds - as evidenced by "dark mode" now available on many devices, even e-readers. The key is maintaining readability. If it generates a neon-effect...it is definitely going to be painful to read! An additional tip: make sure the site looks good and is easy to read on a phone!

    1. Hi, Pamela! This depends on the theme, so I can't give you a blanket answer. Some themes - like Kadence - will give you the option to control your metadata on your posts. There's a little icon of an eyeball next to the fields, if you click it, that hides them. If that doesn't work, in your Appearance->Customize, you should have an area for "additional CSS". You can add a line there that will hide the date, but it is different for each blog.

      For yours, you'll want to probably use:

      .post-meta {display: none;}

      Include the period at the beginning. This'll hide not only the date, but also that "uncategorized" that is showing. (grin)

      Hit publish to save the change and it should be all set. Email me if it gives you any grief.

      It could be different for others. Some people also need to adjust their permalink structure...but that's another topic.

      Pretty website, by the way. And I read your most recent post. I live near that bridge that collapsed. Heartily agree!

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