Recently, an author, Shelley Hitz, held up one of my websites as an example of how an author should design their sites for their books. I was pleasantly surprised to say the least. My motto is to “keep it simple” because I dislike really busy website designs, with colors bursting out all over the place, random spots for links, and no rhyme or reason for the design. I’ve spent a lot of trial, error, time, and patience figuring out how to design a really good website that looks somewhat professional so I can get readers interested in reading my novels. I’ve found that a lot of people over-think the whole website design thing, along with obsessing over keywords/SEO, but as long as you submit your site to the search engines, like Google, using their webmaster tools or their analytic tools, they’ll visit your site (or crawl) and you’ll be listed on those search engines anyway. After while, people will find your site through Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines, because it takes to time to filter everywhere.
When I first started publishing my novels in 2008, I had been using Xanga or Livejournal to do a little bit of blogging before that, but I found that neither one received very many visits, mostly because I had absolutely no idea about keywords or SEO. When I published Out of Time in 2008, I knew I needed to create a website since I did a little research on the subject, and found that people were using Geocities for their website host. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, Yahoo bought out Geocities and closed it down, so I had to search for another host. I tried out Blogspot (or Blogger as it’s known now), which I still have, but I found the design mechanics to be kind of odd at the time and kind of limiting since it seems like it required a high learning curve. Blogger also seems kind of buggy and really slow at times, so I searched for something else. I did some more searching and found WordPress.com, so I tried it out, and found that I liked it better, but I still found it better suited as a blog more than anything. I use a lot of different blogging platforms mostly to get seen on Google, Yahoo, and other search sites for those random hits I tend to get when they search for a certain keyword.
I finally found out about freewebs.com (now webs.com) in 2009. Having only two novels at the time, I questioned the idea that author’s needed a website, mostly because I had no idea about optimization. At first, I put the picture of the novels on one page and the descriptions along with them, and a link to Amazon. Around this time, I researched how to get hits, and found many, many references to SEO and software that would submit your site to all the search engines and even sites that send you hits if you paid for them, because they said it was all about getting those thousands of hits so you could be ranked on Google. Talk about being one of those suckers born every minute. You pay for hits all right, but they’re random, and nothing happens as a result, and you’re out a couple of bucks. Frustrated, I researched some more, and found out about lacing your site with keywords that will get hits by people searching for those particular keywords, so I tried that, basically putting all the keywords at the bottom of my page, thinking that was how to do it. Wrong! One day, I was looking around the dashboard of my site, where I found the settings, which had the site information for the site tagline, site description, site tags/keywords. I put in everything I needed, and hit save. Then I saw that there was a spot for the Google webmaster tools, so I “googled” the term, and found out that Google had ways of submitting your site to their search engine, so I signed up for that. Once my site was officially seen by Google, they crawled it regularly and I slowly began to get hits from various searches. If you want detailed stats, I found that Statcounter.com works really well. You add your “project” and it gives you the install code for the site you’re using, most of the time it’s HTML, but they have different install guides for various websites. You can see where your visits come from, where they go on your site, countries, visit length, and other various activity.
In 2011, I was taking a Technical Writing class where we had to create an e-portfolio. The instructor used Weebly for her site, so she had us create our e-portfolio on there. I found Weebly was incredibly easy to use and that I could create a site that fit what I wanted. By this time, Webs.com, for me, was really clunky. The way you had to install HTML code was kind of dumb, their templates were sorely lacking, and customization in general was frustrating for me. I ended up with a site that looked kind of unprofessional, to me anyway, and I couldn’t get various things to work correctly. Plus, if you aren’t paying for a premium package, there are only so many pages you can add, which limits an author who has more than a handful of books. I took to creating separate sites on Webs.com for each novel, but I never liked the way they looked, so when Weebly came along, I decided to try that. I like how Weebly is really easy to customize: from landing pages to having headers with pictures or no pictures, and even creating links to various pages your way instead of the default links at the top of the page.
If you want to create a site using Weebly, here are some of the things you can see when setting up the site:
You can customize your themes, even if you know nothing about HTML and CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). Just select a theme and then you can customize it to your heart’s content. There’s ribbon at the top of the webpage that has “Elements,” “Design,” “Pages,” “Editors,” and “Settings.” Click on “Design” to take you to the themes page. From here, you can choose a basic template, and under “Design Options,” you can customize the font, link colors, social media icons, etc. If you’re the type who likes doing everything from scratch and you have lots of patience and time, you can build a really customized site through the “Edit HTML/CSS button on the right hand side of the Design screen under “Favorites.” From there, it’ll take you to the theme editor so you can plug in all the HTML you can stand.
Once you’re done with themes, click on the “Pages” button. This will take you to the page where you can create pages for your site. You can customize the page layout, so if you want a landing page, there’s an option for that. You can create a main menu and sub-menus. You can link a page to another website if you choose not to create a specific page or links on your page. So, if you’re an author who doesn’t feel like creating multiple pages, you could skip creating individual links on a page to using a sub-menu that could link to the various stores for your novels. It’s all up to you.
Also on this page, you’ll see the “Advanced Settings.” When you click on that, what you see in the picture is what will come up. You see the page title, page description, meta keywords, footer and header codes. As you can see from what I entered in my own site settings, it’s fairly straightforward. If you’re using Statcounter, you put the code in the Footer area. When you come to the “Site Settings,” you’ll have to make sure that your page title doesn’t interfere with the site title, because through my own experience, I’ve had “Cliff Ball – Author” repeated at least two times on the site description when I posted a link somewhere, so pay careful attention to that.
Now we come to the “Site Settings.” As you can see from the picture, there’s the settings for “General,” “SEO,” “Ecommerce,” “Mobile,” “Archive/Un-publish.” Under the “General,” you can change your site address to a domain name if you own one. But, if you have a domain name, it has to be parked somewhere else, like GoDaddy or some other hosting site. Weebly doesn’t do hosting. You can change the site title, decide whether you want extra pages to be under a “More” tab, link to a Facebook page of your own choosing, and three other things that require a “pro” account.
Now we come to the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) settings. As you can see, you enter the site description, all of your meta keywords for the site in general, the footer code from whichever tracking site you use, the header code from Google Webmaster Tools, the option to hide your site, and the option to do 301 ReDirects if you’re migrating from one site to another.
After this, you have the “Ecommerce Settings.” It gives you the option of Paypal or Google Checkout, but I don’t think you can use both on the site. This is good if you want to sell something directly from your site.
Next is “Mobile” settings. You enable this so when someone using a mobile device visits your site, they can see it. You can choose whatever color that you choose for that visitor to see your site in.
Lastly, you see the “Archive/Unpublish” link. You can archive your site in zip format or un-publish your site altogether. Once you’re completely done, designing your site, click “Publish” at the top right of the screen, and your site will be published.
I hope this helps you with your website decisions and helps to show you what you can do or what not to do.