The other day I was driving to the grocery store and thinking about author websites when I passed through a section of road under construction. A man in an orange vest with a sign controlled the flow of traffic. I had to divert down a side street; the whole thing was annoying.
As I inched along with my fellow motorists, I got to thinking about that guy with the sign. The power of his vest and sign let him direct an entire line of cars. I imagined the power a digital traffic sign and orange vest could wield. Guiding people to our websites is a never-ending struggle—fighting mega-retailers like Amazon who capture search results and other niche authors like yourself looking for readers too.
What if we could pick up a digital traffic sign and point people where we want them to go?
Understanding What Matters
If you’ve done any marketing or even just researched the topic, you’ve likely encountered ‘marketing-speak.’ That obtuse version of English, laden with acronyms and pseudo-psychology. You’ve probably read about how you can maximize your ROI if you focus on SEO and SEM with high-value keywords, while making sure your USPs are clear above the fold and your product is well-positioned among buyers in it’s category.
Let’s clarify before I get into my list (since I’ll probably slip up and let an ROI or two sneak in); the first goal is to get people to visit your website. Your final goal is for those people to buy your book. And you might have other goals in between (like people signing up for emails), but at the most basic, you need to connect people visiting your site and sales.
But no matter how awesome your site is, you need to help people find it. Build it and they won’t come. In fact, build it and no one will notice. You have to get on the rooftops and shout about how awesome you, your books, and your website are.
Here are 7 ways you can shout about your author website (without literally shouting, I promise).
#1 Build A Great Author Website
Before you can even start working to convince people to look at your website, you have to create something they’ll want to look at. I’ve gone into a lot of detail when it comes to preparing your author website so I’m not going to belabor the point.
But from a top-of-the-funnel (dammit, there’s one of those marketing terms) perspective, your website needs to quickly meet the visitor’s expectations. There are a few principles to keep in mind when you’re preparing your website:
- The first thing they see should be some combination of you and your most recent book. Make it easy to go from your home page to purchase that book.
- Navigation that guides visitors to your About / Blog / Books.
- Simple design that tells visitors (or at least hints at) the genre you write.
Remember that first goal? Get ‘em to your site. The other six points will exclusively look at users finding your site, but for this first point, I’m going to cheat a tiny bit. Because yes, we’re talking about how to get users to your site, but that’s all irrelevant if your site doesn’t work or is set up poorly. Getting them to the site is just your first goal.
Once they’re on the site, you’ll have other goals. You need to have these goals in mind while you build (and continually update) your author website and during the promotional phase after publishing your site.
Here’s an example from Commanding Life, an online community that offers a journal to supplement its inspirational messages.
First, note the simple navigation. You know what to expect if you click any of those links. And above the fold (marketing-speak, I mean what you can see on a website without scrolling) you have three sections (plus search) that address three goals: selling the journal, building an email following, and building a social following.
This is perfect for a site offering inspiration and building community. The book is central, but visitors aren’t just navigating to commandinglife.com to buy the journal, so they rightly give space to meet their visitor’s expectations.
Okay, that’s all I’ll say today about the goals that come into play once they’re on your site. From here on out, we’ll examine how you get that click in the first place.
#2 All Links Lead To Your Author Website
As a marketer, I think Instagram is dumb. Not the platform exactly. I like quick, image-based sites and they’ve mastered satisfying whatever it is that makes us want to keep scrolling. But you really can’t add links? Really? Everything has to point back to my profile, which points to a link tree, which finally gets someone to my site? Gross.
Now, I know there’s Instagram Shopping. It’s a cool feature that looks to alleviate the need for users to leave their app to buy your products.
The problem with cool features like shopping directly from social media is that the buyer (your reader!) isn’t connecting with you. Yes, your social followers are important, but data shows most of us prefer advertising and promotions in our email.
This leads me to the point—your website is the hub. Not your Facebook page or YouTube channel. Your website is where you point all users. From your author website, you can control how they find you on all your other locations (like pages and social channels you might use).
Luckily there is a pretty easy way to drive links to your website: use your site to host content! Write blog posts and link to them. Make landing pages on your site to promote a new book. If your site is actively being updated you’ll have plenty of links to share!
#3 Optimize For Search Engines
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is an entire branch of online marketing that aims to connect a business or product with people using search engines. Which people do. Use search engines that is. To the tune of 3.5 billion searches per day.
‘Winning’ at searches means one of your pages appears first or near the top of a search results page. It’s a proven and (somewhat) easy way to drive traffic to your author website.
First off, you need to make sure that great website you built is well optimized. That means carefully selecting the Heading 1 for each page, adding alternative text to your images, and ensuring pages load quickly.
If you’re using a platform like WordPress to build your site, there are plenty of great SEO plugins you can use to help optimize your site (and blog posts). I recommend Yoast or All In One SEO. Both have solid free options and affordable paid plans.
There’s not a lot more to say about this. There’s no reason not to optimize your site for search engines and once you’ve done the setup, it becomes second nature to add alt tags and meta descriptions to your new pages. From there, you’ll need to keep up with what readers are searching for and create new content to meet those needs.
#4 Search Engine & Paid Marketing
Paid advertising has a distasteful ring to it, I know. But it works!
Paying for ad space can be expensive, so you have to be very careful if you do choose this route. I recommend if you found search engine optimization fun, that you consider Pay-Per-Click (PPC) advertising.
Basically, you’ll research Google and bid on keywords. When those keyword conditions are met and you win the bid, your ad appears. If a searcher clicks the ad, you pay Google. And ideally, that user pays you (by buying something). I’m oversimplifying, but that’s the idea.
Pay-per-click is the best return on investment (ROI) of all marketing methods. If it works for you, it’s a great way to earn more traffic on your site, drive sales, and gather data about what people using search engines will click on. Using search for paid advertising also dovetails with Search Engine Optimization—if you learn what people click on when they search, you can make content to win those top spots, rather than paying for it!
#5 Go Where Your Readers Are
And offer them value!
I spend some time almost every day browsing a variety of writing and publishing forums. There’s one in particular for self-publishing that is pretty active. About two years ago, a user joined and started posting a lot of comments.
Most of what this user posted was decent advice. But some comments were just dismissive or wrong. They clearly offered publishing assistance and came to the forum to attach expertise to their name (and their business). But their dismissive comments added up and eventually that user just stopped posting.
While this particular user failed, their intentions were in the right place. You need to go where the people you want to visit your site are. For common genres like Romance or Fantasy, you’ll have a variety of options. The more specific and niche you can be, the better. Seriously, get specific. If you write pirate-romance stories with strong female protagonists, you need a high-seas romance group that will appreciate your work.
The more time you spend and the more value you offer (in the form of feedback, advice, or even just fun memes), the more memorable you’ll be to these potential readers. Using communities to drive traffic to your author website is a slow process, but the benefits are huge. Not only are you finding the most interested kinds of readers, but you’re building up your network of peers and followers.
Plus you might get some free critiques or advice on your own writing!
#6 Get Social
You don’t need to be an expert in Facebook posts or Instagram filters to take advantage of social media. In fact, getting social for authors is more about finding the right platform. Because once you’ve found the people who will want to read your book, getting involved (getting social!) should be a breeze.
And just because Facebook is huge, it doesn’t mean you have to be on Facebook. More importantly, you need to find where your readers (and potential readers) congregate and join in on those conversations. Let your audience define how you engage with social media, rather than trying to force a particular platform to work for you.
The point of social media isn’t to mindlessly post images of your book with catchy tag lines (though doing some of that isn’t a bad idea). You need to forge relationships. When people join small groups that focus on a single topic, that’s what they want to discuss. Which should be great for you! You’re there to talk about the same topics.
Do it. Give feedback on shared stories. Comment on people’s posts. Obviously, the actions change based on the platform, but that too is part of finding the right place to be social.
#7 Write More
That actually made me feel a little gross just writing it. Write more. As if you’re not already writing constantly. As if thinking up, drafting, editing, redrafting, and finalizing a book isn’t already an unreasonable amount of writing.
Still, if you want to drive traffic to your author website, you absolutely have to consistently offer new content. Period. No one is going to return to a website that isn’t updating.
I advocate for writing more, but you can use other media too. A podcast or YouTube series might be what your readers want, so give it to them! Essentially, you need to think and create like a content marketer.
The best way to use your writing to drive more users to check out your author website is to guest blog. That means finding other bloggers who will let you post on their blogs. This is awesome to do because it builds your network of peers and helps expand your audience. But the real gem of guest blogging is the backlinks.
If you publish a post on another blog and include a link back to your author website, you’ve got a backlink! Yes, that’s dangerously close to marketing-speak, but it’s too important to pass up. When other websites link to your site, search engines see that your site is valuable. So guest blogging is not only great for building relationships and accessing new audiences; it also has some built-in search engine optimization potential!
Your Author Website Is Where It’s At
It all boils down to how you intend to sell your books. For most authors, the best way to earn more revenue per sale over the long run is to develop and maintain their own website. Retailer sales will supplement direct sales, but you’re giving away degrees of control over your work and a lot of money.
When your readers are on your site, you own the message. You can adapt and grow as your audience changes. That’s the kind of control and direct connection that builds lifelong fans and helps ensure your success. If you’re on the fence about creating an author website, get down and just do it. You won’t be attracting any new readers from up on a fence anyway (unless you write about fencing I suppose).
Paul is the Content Marketing Manager at Lulu. When he's not entrenched in the publishing and print-on-demand world, he likes to hike the scenic North Carolina landscape, read, sample the fanciest micro-brewed beer, and collect fountain pens. Paul is a dog person but considers himself cat tolerant.