An author website is an essential marketing tool for any writer, whether your books are self-published or commissioned by a trade publishing house.
These days, readers and reviewers expect to be able to find an official website dedicated to every author, and if you don’t have one, you’ll disappoint your reader. The absence of a website or any other online presence that you’ve devised yourself (Facebook page, Twitter profile, your author page on Amazon etc) also means the reader will have to find his information about you elsewhere. Sources devised by a third party are unlikely to be as accurate or comprehensive as those you compile about yourself!
Maintaining Your Author Website
So if you’ve set up an author website – well done! Your next trick is to regularly update it, not only to ensure that it has your latest information available, but also because frequent updates to a website will make it more likely to be selected from the seething hordes of other websites whenever anyone searches for you online.
The internet is a big and crowded place, growing by the day, and clearly search engines can only show up so many websites in answer to every search. There are few searches these days that don’t run to many pages of results, listed in the order of priority that the search engine thinks fit. Your challenge is to make search engines choose your site over others – and the more common your name, your book’s title and your genre, the harder it is to rise above the masses.
How Search Engines Work
Search engines do not have an easy job, though their instant response to any request might make you think they do. If they have access to thousands of websites that appear relevant to the word or phrase you are looking for, how do they prioritise which site appears on that all-important first page of results?
Although the algorithms they use change constantly and are closely-guarded industry secrets, it’s safe to assume that search engines give priority to:
- large sites (the bigger, the better) i.e. with lots of pages
- frequently updated sites (the more often they’re updated, the better)
- sites with more inbound links, i.e. where the site’s URL (website address) is featured in lots of other places on the internet
- sites with lots of daily hits
- sites that have more frequent mentions of the particular search string that you’re looking for
They assume, quite reasonably, that sites fitting these criteria are likely to be the most helpful to the searcher. If a search string relevant to your website and your book appears on lots of other sites that are bigger, longer-established, more often updated and accessed than yours, then they will be given priority over yours. If you’re an author with a very modest website of just a couple of pages and not many visitors, your book’s mention on an online bookstore’s vast website can reasonably be expected to appear higher up the list that your own site.
Searching for Authors’ Names
This is when it’s helpful to have an uncommon name. As Debbie Young, it’s taken me nearly 4 years of blogging on my personal blog, www.youngbyname.me, to rise to the top of the Google search under “debbie young”, even with around 300 blog posts. I’ve been jostling with a Rabbi Debbie Young, a local councillor Debbie Young, an astrologer Debbie Young and a Jamaican poet D’bi Young for years.
Not that a very uncommon name is necessarily the answer – at least mine has the advantage of being easy to spell. When I set up a website for the author Rob Collinge last year, I was partly pleased that his name was unusual (there’d be so much more competition if he was the more common Rob Collins), and partly anxious as to whether people would guess how to spell his name if they’d only come across it by word of mouth, rather than seeing it written down.
The good news is that there are plenty of things that you can and should do to increase the chances of your author website being listed further up the search engine’s pages:
- Keywords Include the most likely key search terms throughout every page of the site, without disrupting the text (search engines will penalise your ranking if you overdo this). Mention your name and your book title frequently, spelled out in full – “Debbie Young” rather than just saying “Debbie” or “Young”, and “Sell Your Books!” rather than “my book” or “SYB!”
- Links Ensure that wherever else online you are mentioned, you add a link to your website. Where your book is listed in online stores, add your website details (on Amazon, for example, you can do this by setting up an AuthorCentral page).
- Social Media If you have accounts on social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, etc, write posts there with links back to your site.
- Emails & Online Comments When commenting on other websites and blogs, include your URL in your signature, and also in the footer of all your emails.(Set up a template to make it easy.)
- Updates Keep updating and adding to your site. The more pages and the more frequent updates the better. Add new reviews, reader feedback, plans for your next book, events, photos – anything that is relevant to your work as an author.
- URL Meet searchers halfway – make your URL (website address) easy to find! Put it on your book covers, bookmarks, business cards, and anywhere else it might be seen by your readers. That way, they won’t even have to use a search engine to find you – they can just go straight to your address!
- Blog Add a blog to your website. Every extra blog post helps lure in the search engines. A website with just a few pages and no blog will always be lower profile than a big one with lots of pages and a new blog post every few days.
The Author’s Guide To Blogging
I realise that last point may sound daunting to many authors, who may be wondering how to set up a blog, what to blog about and how to sustain a blog long term. Because I believe passionately that all authors will sell more books if they blog, I’m currently working on a book to answer all those questions and many more. The Author’s Guide to Blogging will be published in April 2014 by SilverWood Books, and I hope that it will help authors everywhere raise their profile online. To be kept informed about this book, click the “Follow” button to get new Off The Shelf posts by email. For free previews and the chance to win copies on its launch, just sign up for the Off The Shelf Newsletter by sendng a request via the Contact Form.
- How to Use a Blog Tour to Raise Your Author Profile – with Lucienne Boyce
- How Authors Can Gain New Readers Via Guest Blog Posts