PUBLISHED MARCH/APRIL 2019
by Lee Foster, Travel and Literary Book Author —
How and why authors and publishers should invest in their websites.
Whether you’re a self-published author or an independent publisher with multiple authors, we all share a common goal: sell more books.
How will we sell those books? One important element in the selling strategy for most of us is our website or blog. This tool allows us to contact new customers efficiently. We need to build traffic to our websites where folks can become aware of our books.
But how effective are our current practices on our websites? Could they be improved?
The Only Cyber Real Estate We Totally Own
It’s good to get the metaphysics straight at the start. Cyberspace is a big place, and there are black holes that can swallow us up. There is only one place in cyber real estate that we totally own: our websites. For me, that is my Foster Travel Publishing website at fostertravel.com.
On our websites, we can encourage people to sign up for our email announcements. No one will ever be able to take these fans away from us.
Beyond our websites, we also need to be active in social media. However, we don’t control the social media algorithms that send us traffic, so we must always be prepared for a change. I post on my website once a week and announce the post on social media. For me, the most effective platforms, in order of engagement, are Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. Your experience may vary.
Do you notice that one likely contender in my social media lineup is now missing? That would be Google+. The platform is shutting down. While I don’t depend on it, I know others who have found much success using it. One of my journalism colleagues amassed an amazing 1.8 million fans on Google+. That was once worth a great deal; now it is worth nothing. Who knows which social media platform will flourish tomorrow?
The important reality to internalize about social media is that it is necessary but beyond our control. We can work hard to achieve results, but all your gains can be eliminated. By contrast, we have total control over our websites.
What Google Suggests
Google Search dominates our world and has a profound effect on our success. It alone provides 80 percent of the traffic to my website. Will Google give our websites the search results we long for? Most immediately, it appears that Google is making three requests to those who want to remain in Google’s good graces. Your website needs to be:
- Mobile friendly: About 50 percent of the traffic to my website comes from folks on their cellphones. Check with your web designer to confirm that your website is mobile friendly.
- A secure site: Folks are increasingly concerned about their security and privacy, both for their identity and their transactions. They want to see that little green padlock on the left side of the URL for your website. This means your website is Hyper Test Transfer Protocol Secure, or HTTPS. It means all communications between your browser and the website are encrypted.
- GDPR compliant: The General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, is a regulation from the European Union to provide privacy for those living there. It gives users the ability to control their personal data. Your website should have an opt-in opportunity for folks to agree to let you capture their personal info, including where they are from.
For all these issues, it’s helpful to have a website designer watching over this for you. If you wait and do nothing, the risk is you might wake up one morning to learn Google has demoted your website because you are not compliant. Google can change the algorithm to emphasize GDPR at any time.
Does Your Website Need Refreshing?
Websites should be seen as living, breathing entities that need to grow and evolve.
My website began in 1995 as a basic HTML site at the birth of the internet. I had one of the first viable travel journalism sites. By 2009, WordPress emerged with many followers and a projected future dominance. It was helpful to rebuild my website in that structure. WordPress should be your structure today. The strategy I wanted, and recommend, is “managed website hosting.” Choose a theme, buy space on a host, and get a designer to help you set up the website.
In 2016, I had anxiety because my designer moved his family from San Francisco to Europe and discontinued his website design business. WordPress had also evolved in the interim years with stronger themes, requiring less “custom coding.” But who would be my new website design partner? I found my match in Jeffrey Samorano (wpinoneclick.com), who lives in Chico, California. Samorano says there are perhaps 100,000 potential WordPress website high-level design people available to you worldwide.
Three aspects of your website should be reviewed in consultation with your web designer to see whether your current practices will meet your needs for tomorrow.
- Your host: I started with GoDaddy, moved to HostGator, and then moved again with Jeffrey to WP Engine, which I now recommend. WP Engine only hosts WordPress websites. With my “managed hosting” strategy, I pay for space on the WP Engine server but can choose my own theme and plug-ins and move to a different host if I wish. WP Engine is more expensive than the other options, but it’s worth it to me. I want speed, security, reliable up-time, and a live human being on the end of the phone when I call.
- Your theme: I had a good theme from 2009, but Samorano’s recommendation of the theme Newspaper in 2017 was better. The Newspaper theme could handle my subjects (California Travel, Publishing/Literary Writing, and Worldwide Travel) in detail. Very little custom coding work was required.
- Your plug-ins: I have a dozen different plug-ins on my website that handle various tasks. My most important new plug-in is Yoast for search engine optimizations. About 8.5 million people have installed Yoast for their websites. I pay $89/year for their premium version, partly because I can then ask direct questions and get a live human being response.
A good website designer can set you up so you do all the routine content swapping yourself. That’s what I want to do with my time. The website designer handles structural changes, updating of the theme and plug-ins, and my possible desire to add more functionality to my website in the future.
If you put some attention into improving your website, it is likely you will get more traffic and ultimately sell more books.
Lee Foster is a travel and literary book author who has 18 books on his Amazon Author Page, including four indie books. His advice on all aspects of self-publishing is expressed in his latest book, An Author’s Perspective on Independent Publishing: Why Self-Publishing May Be Your Best Option. Lee has more than 250 worldwide travel writing/photo articles on his website at fostertravel.com and has published in all the major US travel magazines/newspapers.