Your website is both a hub and a communication device. It performs important outreach for you, the owner. It represents your brand and acts as a marketing tool to “sell” you, your product or service, and to encourage visitors to share what they find there with others and come back for more. You don’t want a website that looks like it needs help – it should be attractive, easy to navigate, and have lots of interesting content for its target reader. Those are just the basics.
Lots of folks begin with a free WordPress blog and move on to a self-hosted blog from there. Self-hosted blogs allow more freedom in areas like design, functionality, and monetization. A self-hosted WordPress.org website will cost anywhere from $75 a year and up. To maximize your investment, you’ll need to be sure you’ve covered all the bases and included these basic essentials.
1. A top-rated hosting company
I use Bluehost*, which ranks among the top three hosting companies in the blogosphere. Costs are reasonable and their Tech Support people are good. Although Go Daddy is almost a household name, professional website developers typically don’t recommend them. Stick with one of the best.
2. An attractive theme and a design that’s easy on the eye
First impressions are everything, so an attractive site is essential. Your design should reflect your “brand,” meaning if you’re an author, it’d be great to incorporate the flavor of your genre and/or your book cover art. The theme you pick will dictate the design, so choose carefully.
Some experts advise that we “stick to two main site colors.” I use lots of white space on mine, which jives with my home decorating philosophy: I like neutral backgrounds (meaning neutral colors on the walls) so the eye is drawn to what’s in the room, and I’ve translated that to my website. Whatever your decorating philosophy, be sure your text’s font size is large enough to be read easily, and avoid bright background colors, images, and designs that interfere or distract too much from what you’re trying to say.
3. A site that loads fast, is mobile friendly and painless to navigate
Your website should also be easy to navigate. Links to blog, books/product, and About You pages should be easy to locate, and there should be a link to the home page from every internal page.
We live in the age of the smartphone, so your website design should be easy to view and navigate from a mobile device. Most current website themes take that into account, but if your theme is not up-to-date (read *ancient*) it might be time to update it. Be sure to check your site on a phone and/or tablet to see how the design displays. WordPress Touch can help you go mobile.
Your site also needs to load fast so potential visitors don’t give up and go away. What will slow it down the most? Overly large image files. Right from the get-go, learn to size images correctly and reduce the file size to the smallest possible. This will help: Are You Sizing Images Correctly?
4. An appropriate website title and sig line
When a visitor lands on your home page, they should be able to get a good idea what you’re about right away. Your website’s “title” or header and signature line can tell visitors who you are, and what you do. If they want to know more – and hopefully they will – your About page (see below) should provide details. My title and sig line announce that I am …
Molly Greene: Writer
Author, Blogger, Blogging Specialist & Coach
5. A well-developed About page
Did you know that a website’s About page is one of the most often-visited pages? Take it seriously. Flesh it out, develop yours into a well-delivered elevator speech about why people should employ you, buy your books, hire you to give a presentation, or whatever. Look at this page as an opportunity for a non-aggressive sales pitch, and a way to put your best foot forward. Include a photo if you want, and a bio for sure. Tell folks what your blog is about. Add clear contact information. If you’d like, you can also create a separate “Contact” page that appears in your menu navigation bar.
6. A way to regularly keep in touch with fans and readers
That means a blog, newsletter, or email about new releases – or all of them. Okay, so I get that the need for regular blogging is controversial and it’s not a requirement for every author. But for most authors intent on discoverability and/or keeping in touch with fans, a blog is THE way to go. You can use it to publish appearances, book launches, announcements, contests, articles, sales, and a million other things. So don’t think of a blog as simply a vehicle to discuss your innermost feelings. Make your posts fun, interesting, relevant, inspiring, educational, and/or informative, and keep your name in front of readers and keep them coming back.
7. An email subscriber list
I’m about the fifty-five millionth person to say this: Email is king. It’s hands-down the best way to sell product and keep in touch with your audience. So don’t put this off. Begin to build an email list as soon as possible, whether for your blog or a newsletter or new release announcements, or all. I won’t go into why here, it’s all been said before, so just do it. And don’t abuse your lists, or they’ll leave you in droves.
If you want more info, Kim Grabas of Your Writer Platform has an entire series about building email lists. Read it! Email List Building Series.
8. A method to send blog posts and/or newsletters to subscribers
How are you going to let your subscribers know you’ve got new material on your blog? It’s easiest to begin with the WordPress plug-in Jetpack, which will automatically send new posts to the subscribers who have signed up to receive them. Later, when you’ve mastered other elements of your site (yeah, there’s a lot to learn), you can easily move your subscriber list to Mailchimp or another email vendor for blog post and/or newsletter sends.
9. An incentive to subscribe
This is not a #MustHave right from the start, but it will definitely pay off in increased sign-ups if you eventually offer a freebie or giveaway to encourage visitors to register for your email list.This could be a free ebook, deleted or “extra” chapters of your books, a novella, a single sheet flyer that’s a how-to for something that will resonate with your readers, or recipes your characters have used in your stories. You name it. A freebie will encourage people to share their email address and stick with you for more.
10. A “call to action” to subscribe
A call to action is a direct invitation for readers to subscribe to your blog and/or newsletter. I use several – one across the top of my site, which magically appears via the plugin Notification Bar, another in the sidebar to the right, and a third is a text-based invite that appears at the bottom of every blog post.
11. Social media share buttons on every post
The best way to get the word out about your blog is to make it super easy for visitors to share your posts and pages across their own social media accounts. That means you must add share buttons for various social media platforms, place them in a conspicuous place, and invite readers to use them. The free WordPress plugin Jetpack, mentioned above, will provide these for you. Other popular plugins like Digg Digg also fill the bill.
Important Note: See Barb Drozdovich’s comments below – Digg Digg may not be the way to go.
12. Essential plugins and widgets
Plugins and widgets add functionality to your website. In general, plugins work in the background and widgets are visible, but that’s not always true. There are several must-haves, such as Akismet to deflect the hordes of spam comments you’re going to attract. If you don’t use Jetpack, you’ll need a social-media-sharing plugin that will add buttons that allow readers to share your blog posts with their social media accounts (see above), and Wordfence Security or some other security system to discourage hackers and keep your site in tip-top shape.
These are the BARE minimum. You can also add a caching plugin, an image optimizer, and a plugin such as Evergreen post Retweeter (or some other incarnation of Tweet Old Post, Tweetily, etc.) that will auto-share your past blog posts with your Twitter account.
13. Follow links to your social media accounts
You want to make it easy for visitors to connect with you via social media. You can use an official social media account linking plugin, or simply add text links in your sidebar like myself, Kait Nolan (my guest next week!) and Lindsay Buroker – either way works. You’ll also need to set up Google Authorship to help your search engine rankings.
14. Cover thumbnails, blurbs, and sale links for all your books
If you’re an author, consider including book cover images that link to your Amazon sales page in your sidebar and/or on a separate page. After all, you’re bringing folks to your website so they can get familiar with your books, correct? Don’t hide that information away.
15. Blog Category and Archives widgets in your sidebar
You need to give visitors lots of reasons to hang around and browse your site. A list of your past blog posts can do that. Be sure to activate the widget that will display your post categories, popular or recent blog posts, and an archive of all the articles you’ve published in the past.
Readers, what have I missed? Do you have any pet peeves about blog design or navigation? What have you done right – or wrong – with your blog? Leave a comment and share!
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