Author websites are essential marketing tools even in a world filled with social media platforms such as Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok (with their all-important #booktok hashtag) that quickly engage readers and offer instant updates. This is particularly true for nonfiction authors who can get lost in a sea of new releases with mesmerizing cover images offering action-packed entertainment away from real-world problems.
Author websites serve as a permanent “home base” that provides links to buy books, blog posts, photos and publisher updates that are easily navigated (presumably). Unlike social media, there are no interruptions from ads from competing books or another author’s posts. A website is part of an author’s brand and is a familiar place for long-time fans. Growing your authority as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) is a key component to a nonfiction author’s success, and a website will be the foundation for that branding process.
Author Website Design
As part of the brand, the website must be professional, welcoming, easy to use and informative. Creating a successful platform for websites depends on User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI). People often refer to both as UX design, but there is a difference:
- UX focuses on the user’s impressions of the website, how easy it is for them to use and how quickly they find the information they’re looking for.
- UI focuses on aesthetics. How attractive is the site? Can the text be easily read? Is there enough contrast between the background and text? Are links and buttons in an expected location?
The key to both is ensuring visitors do not become frustrated and presenting you and your books in a persuasive manner.
Here are some steps to help you on your journey if you want to build your own website or if you’re managing the development while others do the work:
1. Read this overview on website design from Nielson Norman Group: https://www.nngroup.com
2. Understand perceived value. Having a professional-looking website is critical for success. If you can’t manage that, then don’t have a website. It’s better to rely on social media than to advertise that you’re not focused on quality and professionalism. It’s easy for readers to click on your competitor’s site, so you need to stand up in comparison. The actual product won’t matter because they won’t see yours. It’s not that different from the adage about not judging a book by its cover. People will judge a book by its cover and an author and publisher by their websites. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/perceived-value/
3. Make sure your site works on different devices. According to StatCounter https://gs.statcounter.com/platform-market-share, just as many North Americans accessed the Internet on mobile devices as they did with desktop and laptop computers in 2022. The number was slightly higher for cell phones in Europe and the UK. With so many devices and browsers available, this can be challenging, but if you’re using WordPress to build your site, having it function well across devices is a built-in feature, but there is a learning curve.
4. Have well-designed menus.
- Make sure menus are in familiar locations and easy to find.
- Create menus that are large enough to be read easily.
- Ensure menu items look active, so users know to click or tap on them.
5. Use lots of contrast (black text on a white background, for instance) and avoid drop shadows or filters that make menu items less accessible.
No one wants to spend 10 minutes trying to find the login or locate the link to the page with your latest book series. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/menu-design/
6. Mind your taglines. Inexperienced web designers often overlook these, but this article will explain why they might be more important than you think. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/tagline-blues-whats-the-site-about/
7. Avoid clutter. Users prefer simplicity. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/simplicity-vs-choice/
8. Know that users prefer the convenience of recognition over recall. Links, menu items and other important tools should be accessible and recognizable on every page and not depend on the user remembering where they were. We’ve all been frustrated by trying to find “that page” on a site where we were sure we read something. https://www.nngroup.com/articles/recognition-and-recall/
9. Remember that accessibility matters. Making sites accessible to all is important; in some instances, it’s a requirement. People have all sorts of challenges, some as simple as requiring reading glasses, screen readers, and not speaking your language.
- Simple is usually best—black text on a white background.
- Avoid drop shadows on any text.
- Don’t use coloured body text. Here’s a link to a PDF that includes a 2009 study on colored text: https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED510610.pdf But, Colin Wheildon’s research, although older, is cited far more often. His book Type & Layout is a good investment for anyone designing books, websites, signs or ads: https://www.amazon.com/Type-Layout-Communicating-Kickstarting-Business/dp/1875750223.
10. WordPress has many accessibility plugins available, and several have free versions that will ensure your site is available to as many people as possible: https://blog.hubspot.com/website/wordpress-accessibility-plugin. Here is one I use: https://equalizedigital.com/accessibility-checker/ For a quick and free check right now try: https://accessibe.com/
One of the most important things I’ve learned about web design is knowing when to ask for help. I rely on professional web designers for the sites I manage because they’re working on a wide variety of sites every day and it makes far more sense for me to pay them for 30 minutes than to spend 2 hours I could be spending on writing or designing book covers.
Cathi Stevenson has been working in the printing and publishing industry for decades. She opened BookCoverExpress.com in 1999 and since then has created more than 2500 book covers. She has both academic training and professional experience in website management.
If you like this blog post, you’ll love our Author Toolkit covering websites, blogging and social media for authors. Check it out!