Not Writing, But All the Other Bits (Part One — the Website)

If I can be honest (which is easy for me right now considering I don’t have any readers yet) I’m still deciding in my mind what I want this blog to be. An informative blog for other writers? Inspiration for those who want to go on a similar journey? A simple catalogue of the whole experience for future reference?

Ultimately, when I’m a published author (how’s that for confidence), I’d like to be as open as I can about the entire process and all the details within. Until then though, I feel that I’m in a bit of a weird spot. I’m not experienced enough to be giving sage advice. I’m not accomplished enough to have firm positions or to know absolute truths, if such a thing exists. So instead, I’m going to just be honest and talk about things as they arise, and how I choose to deal with them. And not just writing, but all the other bits, too.

As the first of these thought-sharing posts, I thought I’d talk about the website itself.

From the business and engagement side of a writing career, a website is a no-brainer. Most authors have their own site, although not all authors use them the same way. Some are purely for self-promotion, others see them as a unique way of creating a relationship with their reader base. I’m a big fan of the latter, and is the driving reason behind creating this site.

So, when it comes to a website, step one is knowing you need it. Step two is actually doing something about it.

Do you pay someone to make it for you, or do you use an existing blogging site like Medium or Ghost? Maybe you want to try a website builder like Squarespace or Wix, or roll up your sleeves and build it yourself as a self-hosted WordPress site?

And what about your domain? Hosting? Analytics? SEO? Mailing lists? Believe me when I say it’s quite the rabbit hole and to be frank, I haven’t quite emerged yet. For this first post, let’s focus on the big ticket items; the things you need to have or to understand. Next week I’ll elaborate on the choices I made and why.

Domain

Your domain is the web address that people type to visit your site, and the first step of the entire website journey is to decide on your domain (and then to make sure it’s available — if someone has already taken it, you’re out of luck). You might want your name, or your name with something appended like ‘author’, or the name of a book series, or really anything you can imagine. My advice is to make it simple and memorable with an eye to the future.

Hosting

Once you have a domain, you’ll need to find a host. This is a company that will allow you to put actual content onto your domain (domain + content = website). A host will offer storage, public access to your site and a whole lot more (I’m fully aware of how much I’m dumbing this one down).

Things can get slightly complicated when you factor in some specialist website building sites such as Squarespace, who offer both hosting and a website backend (see below) all in one package.

Website Backend

The backend is the hidden part of your site, where you actually build the content. This is contrasted to the frontend, which is the bit that everyone else sees. The backend is probably the biggest decision you can make because it really determines how you are going to build your site.

When people throw around terms like WordPress, Squarespace, Wix etc. they are referring to this backend.

As I mentioned above, some services will combine hosting with a backend solution while others, like WordPress, will require that you already have a host.

Analytics

Analytics is how you can start to paint a picture of how people use your site. At its most basic, it will track how many people visit your site per day. But it can also do so much more, if that tickles your fancy.

Where are the visitors from? How did they find your site? How much time did they spend there, and what pages did they visit? When used correctly, analytics can help you understand what is working and what isn’t, and sometimes even why.

SEO

SEO stands for Search Engine Optimisation and, like the name suggests, is all about getting your site higher up in search engine rankings. Or, in plain terms, getting your site to the first page of Google. Could you imagine if you were a romance author and your site was listed at the top of Google if someone typed ‘romance author’ into the search bar? Enough said.

Ads

Ads are a way to monetise your site — to bring in revenue. I’m listing it here because for some, it will be a necessary part of their site. Spoiler alert — I don’t like them or have any intentions to add them to my pages. But here they are for completion’s sake.

Note that this is not referring to me, the author, paying for book ads on other sites like Amazon or Facebook. This is specifically about having ads for other products on my site.

Mailing Lists

The final item that I see as necessary is a mailing list. If you don’t know, that’s the big list of people that enter their details to subscribe to your site. Once you capture all these people, you can send out periodic emails with things like new book announcements and blog posts. Getting a healthy mailing list is super important which is why many authors offer various goodies to entice people to sign up — excerpts, novellas and even whole books.

Why is it important? Firstly, because it increases engagement. If I write a new post and email all of my subscribers, there’s a good chance some of them will click the link, read the post and then leave a comment that either myself or other readers (or both) can interact with. Which is a good thing.

Secondly, in the case of a new book announcement, it suddenly exposes your new release to however many people are on your list, who just might jump onto your selling platform of choice and make a purchase.

Summary

Ignoring the fact that web developers around the world are getting mad twitches from my explanations, that’s the basic list of requirements to set up a site. Next week, I’ll show you what I chose for each of those items and why.

Originally published at https://darcyarmstrong.com on October 26, 2020.