Five steps to help you build a better website

Picture of a websiteBefore I left the rat-race to become a full-time author I used to work in IT, designing, building and testing web sites for large corporations. The basic techniques I used for them will work just as well for smaller sites. So, if you’re ready, let’s begin.

1. What is the purpose of your site?

Sorry, but ‘I read somewhere I need a web site’ isn’t good enough. Are you selling something? Are you providing people with information so that they don’t have to ring your office? Are you promoting a cause, trying to get people to donate or just raising awareness? If you’re a writer, you’re probably trying to attract more readers, sell more books (if you’re published). You might have more than one purpose. That’s fine. Go and make a list and then order your items by importance to you.

2. Who is your audience?

Think carefully about this, and get as specific as you possibly can. If you’re a writer, you may be able to say your audience is the same as the audience for your books. But be careful. If you write children’s books, the target audience for your web site is the people who buy books for children. If you write ‘women’s fiction’ your target is not just ‘women’ – it may be a specific age group or tailored to women interested in fashion etc. Specific is good.

3. What should my content be?

This is where ‘audience’ is all-important. What will your audience want to see? What will engage them, have them coming back? For a writer, free content such as short stories may be useful, or excerpts from your books. If you write romance or chick lit, fashion photos or pictures of hunky men might be appropriate. Interviews with other authors, reviews of books, factual articles about your topic (eg. Science-based articles for science fiction writers). But don’t forget the PURPOSE of your site. Always aim your content at your purpose, remembering your AUDIENCE.

My advice would be to keep your content simple – especially early on in your web experience. I refer you back to my earlier post on 5 things I hate about websites. Do read the comments, too. These people may well be part of your audience.

Studies have shown that dark text on a light background works best. Sure, you might think blood red text on a black ground suits your horror novels but it’s bloody hard to read. Also, short posts are more likely to be read than long ones.

Choose your graphics to suit your purpose and your audience.

By all means use videos like book trailers or the like. But bear in mind that if you ONLY offer people a video on how to do something you might be limiting your message to those with fast internet connections.

4. How should you structure the site?

Do what the professionals do – create a site map. Sit down with the drawing tools of your choice and map out how the user will get through the pages on your site. For instance, on my site I have a menu item called ‘Books’. From that page the user can select either ‘historical fiction’ or ‘science fiction’. For each of those pages I have other pages for reviews and for historical fiction I have pages for those interested in the history. (Since I wrote this I split the historical content into a different blog.) The top level of your site map is the menu which appears on your header. People should be able to look at that and have a very good idea of what they’ll find under each item. For very complex sites, that does become difficult. It’s usually circumvented by grouping content in a way that’s understandable to the target audience, bearing in mind the purpose of the site. Remember, too, that users may land anywhere in your site. Make sure they can navigate, regardless.

5. Test

I am amazed at how many large sites have so obviously never been user tested. In my past life, we would write scripts to test our website and pay members of the public to test them by going through the tasks on the script. We also asked people to choose between colour schemes and graphics. You may not want to pay people, but get your friends to take a critical look. Also, try to get hold of somebody who has a slow connection to find out how fast your site loads.

And finally…

There’s no right answer to any of this and if you use a package like Blogger or WordPress.com you will be restrained by the limitations imposed by the package. Some things you just have to work around. My blog is my ‘home’ page because that’s how the package works – and also because the content is constantly being refreshed, which is an important factor for the search engines. As far as I’m concerned, it supports my purpose, and attracts my audience.

Thanks for stopping by. I hope this has helped and good luck with your web presence.

10 thoughts on “Five steps to help you build a better website

  1. Greta van der Rol

    Since I wrote this article, I’ve split my historical fiction to a separate site. This was because people who read SF very often can’t be bothered with the 17th century. It’s back to ‘who is your audience, and what is your purpose?’ By rights, I should split my photography into a separate entity, too. But I justify it by telling myself it makes me human, shows another side of who I am.

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  3. Greta van der Rol

    True. I haven’t wanted to pay so I play within the restrictions. When I start earning something from this writing lark I might go to WordPress.org, where you have much more leeway.

    1. pattyjansen

      What I meant was that available WordPress themes change all the time, and new ones often don’t look like a blog at all, so it might be worth getting a new theme if you want a new look, rather than doing the more complicated stuff.

  4. pattyjansen

    Another thing is: if you use WordPress, visit their site regularly. I just bought two themes and one of them doesn’t look and act like a blog at all

  5. maryde

    Lots of great ideas, especially to help a mewby like me. Thank you.
    And I agree that honest feedback from friends and family can be helpful. I tell mine to holsd no punches and let me know what does and doesn’t work for them.
    There is still so much for me to learn about and what will be important for my blog.
    As I also write children’s books and I fear the contrast between them and Historical/Romantica is too dramatic to combine the two.
    Not sure where to go with this at present. Two blogs maybe awfully time consuming
    🙂

    1. Greta van der Rol

      I see your problem. I have that with the split between historical fiction and science fiction. They’re all in together because I couldn’t handle two sites. Most of my writing related posts tend to be towards the science fiction. That’s one reason I have the extra info on the historical fiction pages. It’s not perfect – but it’ll have to do for now.

  6. Coleen Kwan

    Good tips, Greta, especially the one about dark text on light background. There are so many blogs out there that I don’t bother with ones that are hard to read.

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