Lately I have been receiving a lot of comments regarding my website; this one that you are on right now. As many people know, there are a lot of ways that one can make/create a website. My first days of websites involved something called HTML coding. It is a very ugly, but logical, computer programming language that I taught myself. I actually wrote my own webpage on Geocities back in the 90’s. It took me 3 months to write ONE page of code. It was, and still is, very difficult and something like a slash / or > can totally mess up the entire page/site.
Later in life I moved onto other software. There was this really confusing program called Dreamweaver, and another even harder called Macromedia Flash. Just the thought of it gives me the shivers. So much work for so little reward. Not my favorite tools and at some point Microsoft got into the game and created FrontPage. It was somewhat user-friendly, and you could make basic sites without a lot of programming knowledge. FrontPage required the server to install “extensions” for it to be compatible. It also required extensive knowledge of cPanel, which is the server side interface that manages the domain, email accounts, redirects, subdomains, 404 pages, FTP access and a whole lot more. At some point Microsoft does what Microsoft does and they discontinued the product and released something called Microsoft Expressions. Again, not the most easiest product to use, but I managed to still create somewhat decent looking websites.
Flash forward and I discover this new platform that everyone is switching to called WordPress. There is nothing I love more than learning something entirely new. So I immersed myself in the WordPress Bible among dozens of other books that were not designed for a beginner like me. I knew code. Fortunately I am also a designer, and a wiz in Adobe Photoshop. You really can’t be a good web developer if you aren’t a web designer. WordPress took me about a year to master, and the things I was forced to learn included tweaking CSS code, using a true CMS system, databases, and of course, plugins. A plugin is another term for WordPress software. Some plugins are free, others cost money.
Probably the single most reason a person would NOT want to use a WordPress.com FREE account, is that you are unable to access the code to modify it, OR install any plugins. Sure you can upgrade through their site to get the functionality, but you end up pay WAY more than if you hosted it yourself, or had someone host it for you. When you decide on a server/host, it should be on a UNIX system (my preference, more stable), and if you can afford it, an SSL certificate so you can sell products. Unlimited everything is great, however realistically, your site will get less than 100 hits per day when you first launch. The standard WordPress installation is only 10 megs. Yes, you heard me correctly. With WordPress you can link all your pictures from somewhere else, such as DropBox.com, Pinterest, or wherever, so you never really need to host big graphics on your account. The same goes with video. You link your YouTube, don’t host it yourself.
Do anything you can to take the load off of your server for when you do have a lot of traffic. I also use a caching plugin on my site. It creates static files to serve to users when they return so it does not take as long to load the site. My site also does something called a “lazy load” where it loads each pages one at a time, from top to bottom. Why? Your reader can only read so fast, why load all pages equally (like old school) when you risk losing your reader. There is something that I call the 8 second rule. After analyzing countless website statistics reports I found that the average user only gives your website 8 seconds before they leave, shut it down, or just give up. Yes, we are impatient people. Using scrolling websites with good text, graphics and organization I am more likely to keep a user on my site than if I let them navigate through the menu alone.
I like to use analogies. People can relate. You can think of your website like a car. In this day and age, almost everyone has a car, just like everyone has a web presence. It may not be owned by yourself, such as your personal Facebook page, but most people have something. Is everyone’s car the same? No. Is everyone’s website the same? No. Could I build a car? Perhaps, with the right training, education, mentors, and on the job training, I am sure I could at some point. Can everyone build a website? Again, same answer.
I am not here to sell you building your own website. Chances are, you already have one and you find it confusing, overwhelming and “Googling” your question gives you a plethora of answers that don’t answer your question. You know I am right. How do I know? I’m psychic. Heh heh. Actually I had those same questions myself long, long ago and there was no one there to answer them for me. Sure there is a huge community, but it takes a lot of research to finally find what you need to know. Notice how I say need.
So what do you need to know? I will decide you are an aspiring author, as I was once upon a time. You need to brand yourself. I can help with that. What do you stand for? What does your book stand for? Who is your audience? How do you know? Prove it. Sorry, that’s how I am. Write it down. You need to pick a font that you like. You need a professional photo. All of those things will be used in your header on your website, the footer on your letterhead and the signature of your email. If you need an example take a look at mine. One thing you might notice is I don’t brand myself as an author immediately, with the major group. It is something that I do, not who I am. There are a lot of things that I am, just as there are a lot of things that you do. What do you want your readers/fans/audience to know you when they think of you?
I add an additional line of branding, using a red font, stating a worldwide best-selling author. I include “The next New York Times …” In this day and age most people don’t give too much attention to the wording and the eyes scan over the words, and brain puts the association where you want them. To think you actually ARE on the New York Times list, when you haven’t made it just yet. The day you have readers/fans from more than a few countries, then you too can call yourself a worldwide critically acclaimed international author. When you break some records, you can call yourself best-selling. I hit #3 on Amazon in my category, so I can call myself best-selling. Some people say top 100 of your category, some say top 50, and others say top 10. Whatever floats your halo works for me. The only person it should really matter is you anyway. You will have your competitive edge that gives readers a reason for liking you and your writing.
You need a biography. Who are you? What have you done? What would people find interesting? Go read other authors’ bios. The day I decided to create this site, I decided people wanted to know a lot about me. I was getting messages daily on Facebook and Twitter so I felt it was time to put something decent together. So my bio is lengthy, but as you know, all of my writing is lengthy. Let me remind you that it is YOUR bio and you can write anything you want. If you aren’t interesting, people will skim over it. I find that people like to “relate” to you. They want to connect and feel that there is something in common. There are thousands of alumni who went to the same University, as well as alumni from graduate school. Guess what? What people connect with you on some level, they are more likely to like you, and also trust you.
Your website should also list your writing. It should be your blogs, online articles, and of course any books you have currently for sale. If you are a debut author, meaning, unpublished, be sure you give your potential readers lots to read. Your blog is free. You can write as often as you like. You can write as much as you like. People like to read, and they like to read for free. There is nothing more satisfying than to have someone get lost in your work, thoughts, and ideas.
Your blog should be incorporated into your website. If it isn’t, you are just redirecting someone to a blog somewhere else, then you lose all your SEO marketability. Ultimately, your goal should be, your blog answers a question, that someone, at some point will type into their browser. When you DO … then Google, or whomever will send them to the site where the article lives. WordPress is not just a bunch of webpages, it is a database. A posting, which looks like a page, is not a page. It is filed and categorized differently. Your postings have categories, tags, and other things that help search engines index your site better. The longer the blogs, the better the SEO. Every time I write a new blog with valuable WordPress knowledge, a new sitemap is submitted to Google, Bing, and MSN.