Nothing promotes credibility like a professional looking public website that contains all the information about the author, his/hers books, contact information, and latest news. And in this article we’ll talk about just that – building websites for authors.
Having a personal website it paramount to optimizing your success as a published writer. A website is a medium through which you can stay in contact with your readers, gather fans, make business acquaintances, launch projects, and promote and possibly even sell your works – with much greater profit margins than on any third party store.
Sounds awesome, doesn’t it?
Yet too often you see authors ignoring this marketing aspect completely or setting up a bare bones site which often hurts them more than it helps.
To many people, making a website seems an incredibly complicated, time consuming and expensive task.
However this does not have to be the case. Setting up a great looking website does not have to be difficult, it does not have to take countless hours nor empty your wallet.
Below, I have written a short guide with some recommendations on how to set up your very own website with minimal effort, time, and expenses. I will also add additional links to various services and products for those who wish to go the extra mile.
First off, every website needs to be hosted on a server that’s connected to the internet. Such hosting opportunities are offered by countless companies all over the world and their prices can range from completely free to as high as thousands of dollars a month for the very best hosting environments.
For many of you, the free option will no doubt seem especially appealing. You may have already heard of or even been using sites like Blogger or WordPress who can set you up with a fresh website in minutes.
However, I strongly recommend AGAINST free options. While they’re great if you’re simply writing a personal diary for yourself and a few friends, you most definitely want something a lot more professional looking and with a lot more features at your disposal for something that may one day represent your entire livelihood as an author. Websites for authors should not look sub-par.
Here are a few reasons why I recommend against free hosting sites:
- You cannot choose the full URL ie. the internet name of your website. In most cases you will be required to accept a prefix or suffix in front of your chosen site name. Something like yourname.blogspot.com or some such. That, as you can imagine, does not look professional and it immediately identifies you as a cheap-skate or an ignorant web user who either does not have the funds or the know-how on how to set up a proper site. You do not want that reputation.
- The amount of customization you can do is low. While free hosting sites often give you a bunch of pre-made site templates to choose from, they are neither particularly professional looking nor do they offer many customization options. These days you can do just about anything you can think of on a website. Want a floating ad? With sound? With a video playing? No problem. Want images of your books flash onto the screen with sparks flying out? Piece of cake. IF you have access to modify the site to a sufficient degree that is. Free sites rarely offer such deep modification options and you’ll be left with a website that is bland, unimaginative and counterproductive for representing a creative writer.
- You’re not in full control of your own site. You’re often forced to display certain ads or notices, while forbidden to use others. If you’re interested in having full creative freedom on your personal website, you really need to step away from free hosting. One day you might want to display ads on your site for additional income. Maybe write articles that promote certain services and websites. But these may end up in conflict with the ToS of the free hosting package.
- The site will be slow, especially as you start getting more visitors. There’s a good reason why good hosting costs money. Websites need to be hosted on a server and every time someone interacts with the website, that server needs to utilize its hardware to make things happen. And a server can handle only so many interactions on a website until it slows down notably. Free hosting sites will host countless websites on the same server, meaning you will share the processing power of the server with a very large number of other people. That means there’s very little power available per website. A slow website can be very annoying and is likely to turn away visitors. In addition, search engines like Google penalize slow sites because of the same reason – it will annoy visitors and they in turn may be angry with Google for sending them to a slow site.
So, as you can see while free options can save you some money, they aren’t really worth it to anyone who’s looking to establish a professional presence on the web for the long term.
So. What are the alternatives?
There are numerous popular and highly respected hosting providers to choose from. Prices for basic, but high quality monthly hosting usually averages between $5-20, which will allow you to build a high quality website(s) that can handle the traffic weight of thousands, possibly tens of thousands of monthly visitors without slowing down. For most people, this is more than enough.
I’ve been building websites for a while and I’ve looked through and used a bunch of different hosting services over the years. When it comes down to it, I think the best choice for anyone, at the moment, would be SiteGround. (this, and the banner below, are affiliate links – I will get a small commission if you decide to purchase their service)
Looking into some stats, it’s quite impressive really.
With prices starting as low as $3.95/month, I don’t see much reason to look to competing services as the moment. It’s definitely possible that another, better provider will come along eventually, but for now, it doesn’t look like there’s much competition.
Once you’ve settled on a hosting provider, you need to make certain of a few things when signing up with them. Firstly, the location of the server is of some importance. You really want the server on which your website will be hosted on, to be located in the country or area where the majority of your readers will be located. If for example you’re targeting the US market, you want your server to be located in the US. Probably somewhere in the central US.
Location matters because the farther away someone is, physically, from the location of the server where your website is hosted, the longer it will take for the page to load. The actual electronic signals that carry the data from the server to the browsers computer will have a travel time. The longer the distance, the more time it will take. While even the farthest server will have reasonable speeds, you really do want to get every advantage you can.
Once your account is all set up, you will now need to decide on the URL address/name of your website and what, if any, website creating software you will use.
The URL address of your website is also called a domain name. And it’s something completely unique to every website on the planet. No two sites will have the same URL. As such, you will have to come up with a unique name for your site. Most hosting providers will also offer a domain registration service, sometimes even for free with your first sign-up. The costs for registering a fresh domain is usually very cheap, about $12 or so per address. And the registration will last a minimum of 1 year. That comes to a measly $1 a month or so.
It’s always recommended to register a domain with the .com ending, as that’s the most trustworthy. It’s also the ending most people type in by default when searching for a site. So if there are two sites with the same base name, but different ending, you can be certain that the .com site will get more visitors by default. But if you’re really set on a URL name and .com is not available then .net is probably the second best choice. Those who’re targeting a local demographic, can also consider local country endings like .co.uk, and such.
When it comes to choosing a website creating software, my recommendation would be WordPress. In my opinion, and that of many others, it’s the best software in the world for creating websites quickly and easily. The basic templates that come with a fresh installation will allow your website to be operational in mere minutes.
When you’ve logged into your hosting provider, and looked around their user control panel, I’m sure you’ve noticed the option to install wordpress on your newly registered domain. (If not, check out the hosting providers FAQ and Tutorial pages, or contact their Support to guide you)
Once you’ve found the place, go ahead and do so.
In most cases you only need to click “install wordpress” and fill out some basic details about the website. Like the name, description, contact e-mail, user names, passwords and such. And once that’s done, the hosting provider will install WordPress in a few minutes.
After that, it’s just a matter of typing in the URL of your website into your web browser and waiting for a couple of minutes until the website goes live. And once it does, you can select the WordPress Login option (by default the address for the administrator log-in should be yourwebsitename.com/wp-admin) and log in with your chosen user name and password. And there you go. Your website is up and running and you have full control over everything.
Now, it’s just a matter of filling the site with some content and making it all look pretty and functional.
WordPress allows for easy visual changes to the website in the form of “themes”, which are visual styles that change the look and functionality of the whole website. Every wordpress installation comes with some basic themes that are nice enough, but you really do want to look for something more interesting to make your website stand out.
There are a myriad of both free and paid premium themes to choose from. And even though I’m sure you’re once again interested in free themes, I would suggest against them.
The issue with free themes is similar to free hosting. Most often the free themes are of lower quality and functionality, their customer support is low or even non-existent (because who can pay support staff when the theme isn’t making them much money). As such, a free theme can be a somewhat risky choice. You may find that as WordPress gets updated over time, your theme with low support will no longer work with the newest versions and your site will be left vulnerable to attacks or simply ends up looking or working bad because of compatibility issues.
These days you need your website to be viewable and functional on mobile devices, and not all free themes offer this functionality.
Premium themes on the other hand tend to have dedicated support staff and excellent compatibility, as well as higher general quality and functionality. However, choosing between premium themes is no easy task either. There are so many.
Personally, I would recommend the Divi 2.0 theme by Elegant Themes. (this, and the banner below, are affiliate links – I will get a small commission if you decide to purchase their service) It’s probably the most powerful theme in the world right now. What makes it special is that it allows full customization of the website with 0 knowledge about coding. You can literally change your website to look like whatever you wish, without understanding a single piece of code or how the website works. Pages can be built using the “page builder” feature that makes creating a page like putting together a Lego.
Their site has an excellent preview module that will showcase all the capabilities of the theme, or any theme they offer. And they do offer quite a few different themes, if you’re looking for something more specific right out of the box.
And for a more practical look, this very website of mine is also built using the latest version of Divi. With a few clicks I can change how the entire website looks or alter any tiny aspect of it. And if I happen to desire something extremely specific that the basic user panel does not offer, official Divi support staff will answer in minutes with unique code pieces you can input into the theme to make it do amazing things.
This is how writing this post looks right now:
And here’s an example of my front page “lego”:
It’s quick, it’s easy and the end result is great. I suggest you try it out.
I hope that this short overview about creating websites has gotten you excited for getting started, but don’t think it ends here. Making a successful website also involves a fair bit of – let’s say “marketing” work. Things like Plug-In’s, SEO and overall optimization are things you should eventually tackle. But I’ll leave that for another article or maybe I’ll just refer you to some other great articles already written.
Have fun creating your website!