Tuesday, February 18, 2014

So you want a website for your writing

Websites. Can't live with them. Can't live without. It's the place on the internet you can call your own. And it's a pain keep up. We've all been there, pushing on Facebook, Twitter, G+, GoodReads; what do you need a website for? That is a very good question. I'm not going to answer that for you as that'll take the fun out of figuring it out for yourselves. So decide, then either stick around or scram to the next blog.

You're still here? Nice.
So now you have or want a website but don't have a lot of money to spend and you want it to do everything and look really good while doing it:
  • A blog to show off your writing talents, a Twitter stream to show off your engagement, a Pintrest page to keep your friends together and above all, a place to sell yourself.
  • A great domain name that is easy for everyone to find.
  • Top organic search engine placement on keywords so you can be found.
  • Sharp graphics and layout that says you are contemporary and relevant to the new UI technologies.
  • Fully responsive to ALL the desktop and handheld devices, and IE 6 because your mom's friends will be visiting your site on a weekly basis for updates.
  • Most important, to spend as little money as possible.
That's quite the list you have there sunshine. What if I were to tell you that most of that is doable for free? I'd say I have some swamp land to sell you. Sorry, each of those items requires resources; mostly time and money which would be better served towards your writing.
But let's not fret too much. There are some hidden gems in that list that we can work through. Let's review each point and find some truth.

Super Blogging Website
  • Having a website with a blog is quite easy and you can be up and running in a very short time. Wordpress.com and Blogger.com are examples that allow you to create your own blog and in quick order you are up and running for free. You can choose and adjust themes and colors to help make it your own. Some of these have modules that bring in streams from other services, like Twitter and Pintrest. That all sounds pretty easy, right? Well slow down sparky, you need to review terms of service for these sites and understand that they are going to be placing ads on your site. Blogger is owned by Google and in the Google TOS: "you give Google (and those we work with) a worldwide license to use, host, store, reproduce, modify, create derivative works" Yep. You should consider this.
  • Then there are the ads these sites will put on your blog because nothing is truly free. Do you want some content marketing company pushing your competitors work?
Roll your own. Think you have the nerd chops? Comfortable with HTML, css, javascript and git? You can create your own site and host it, sometimes for free, on any number of hosting options. Examples?
  • Bluehost, GoDaddy are among the frighteningly large number of hosting companies out there that will give you space, domain name and a CMS (content management system like Wordpress), but all at between $8 and $12/month. Not free, but there are no ads and there is technical support
  • Red Hat's OpenShift This PaaS (Platform as a Service) allows you to build out with simple clicks of a mouse your own space that can run your Application (Wordpress, Drupal or roll your own). Once your site is in play you can point your domain name at your server and your done. Cost? They have very reasonable plans for business's large and small, but to start your cost is $0/month. Yep, free, and no ads. This is really for development but for sites with limited traffic it'll work great.
  • github pages If you are looking for a very simple space to put up static pages, this may be an answer. You are allowed one free site per your github account (free). There are some limitations to this server as you can only run static pages, but there is a blogging option for the developers out there. Be warned, this is for the true geeks, but no ads! I will be getting (or git'ing) into this in a couple weeks.
  • These options will require some technical know-how. How much depends on where you are now. For example, can you setup an ssh key or use the basic git commands? No? This may cause some trouble. (ftp is so 2007) You can install your own Drupal or Wordpress application in Openshift just by using a mouse, but then you will also need to learn how to use the said applications. This can be a rabbit hole. Caution is required.
  • DrupalGardens is an easy work around with a very active community. (Free account will have ads)
Remember, there is some ramp-up speed in understanding the technology of your website. Every hour not spent writing, another kitten dies.

 A Great Domain Name
  • So you want to buy a kick-butt .com domain name? You do realize it is 2014, right? You are a little late to the game; all the good ones are taken.OK, not all the good ones, but they are running out fast. You can find one, it just takes a little digging and creative gumption. 
  • Not everything has to be a .com. There are some interesting and new TLD's coming down the pike. .cool, .ing, .kids, .book, .art, .coffee.  Be creative!
  • Be thoughtful about your address in regards to how long it is, remember-able, brand-able...and most of all don't be like:
    • www.whorepresents.com  (Who Represents)
    • www.expertsexchange.com (Experts Exchange)
    • www.therapistfinder.com (The Therapist Finder)
    • www.speedofart.com (Speed of Art)
  • Yes, somebody thought those were a good ideas.

#1 on Google

Yes, you can be organically ranked on the first page of your favorite search engine for word terms that your readers will be searching on. Well, within reason. All it takes is time, knowledge, content, time, more knowledge and more content, content, and content. Quality content. Very high quality content. This isn't easy and companies make a lot of money guiding other companies up the rankings. But let's not scare you off too quickly. Let's break this into two challenges: the Technology and the Strategy.

A word of caution: This can be a sticky wicket and if you get over-zealous or start thinking you are smarter than the search engines, you site could loose ranking, or worse get blacklisted.  The key to being new with SEO is baby-steps, and measure every step of the way to see what works and what doesn't.

The Tech
  • You need a website that the SE's (search engine) can crawl and index. A few things to remember:
    • Use HTML standards
    • Populate the page title, description, keywords, alt and titles tags, properly named images, SE safe url's. Where ever an SE sees a piece of content, it must be relevant to what is on the page. (more of what to exactly have in the next part).
    • Remember that if is in javascript an SE won't see it.
    • Speed it import. The faster your page loads the happier the SE will be. This is your code, images, hosting...everything.
  • You need analytic's
    • See where your visitors are coming from (SE's, social media, QR Codes, etc)
    • How they are finding your site (what keywords did they use?)
    • How long did they stay on your site? Where they engaged?
      • This is called a Bounce Rate, the percentage of visitors that immediately leave. The higher this number, the worse it is. Strive for between 20 and 30%. Over 50% and you have a problem.
    • How far down the funnel did they go?
      • Funnel? Yep, each of your visitors should be tracked
        • Anonymous visitor arrives at your site
          • Do they leave or do they stay?
            • They stay, so do they click:
              •  Facebook like
              • Twitter follow
          • Do they provide their email address for updates?
      • All of these are the process of turning an anonymous visitor into a sell-able visitor.
    • Make the sale. Make lots of money. 
  • Remember, you don't want a lot of traffic. You don't want to pay for the hosting and bandwidth. You want the Right traffic.
The Strategy
  • Understand your target audience
    • Who are they?
    • Where else are they on the internet?
    • What else are they searching for across the internet?
  • Create a list of your keywords and phrases as your "targets"
    • See who ranks with those targets
    • Are they your competition?
    • Refine your list
  • Go through your site and pepper it with these targeted words and phrases.
    • Image names, along with titles and alt's
    • Page titles, descriptions, keywords and page urls
    • When you write your content don't stuff all your targets. Be judicious
      • This is probably going to raise some hackles of professional SEO people. Behind all the tech is a subtle art which is why they get paid the mad cash. Hopefully one or two will comment below.
  • Analytics
    • Measure everything. Remember, everything that gets measured, gets done. And if it gets measured well, it gets done well.
  • Intelligence
    • See who is linking to sites that you like.
    • Start building your inbound link strategy. Yep, another strategy. You need people linking to your page, which means you need content that people want to link to.
  • Social Media. Matt Cutts (The Google SEO guy) stated that Google does not rank Twitter of Facebook for their ranking. He said nothing about Google+. If you don't have a G+ account, get it and join some writing groups. Create thoughtful posts. 
  • Author referral tag. Use it
Keep this in mind about SEO: Search engines want to provide their clients with the best results for their clients query. They do this by scouring your site and indexing the language, the location, relevance of the inbound links and your history. What you are selling a search engine is trust. Trust that what you have is truly what their clients are looking for. Break that trust, lose your ranking. Gain that trust and get ranked.

There is a lot there, and so much more. Perhaps for another blog post. What should become apparent is that this can quickly become a full-time job, which it shouldn't because you already have another job. You should be writing!

An Award Winning Design
  • First understand this: Ugly websites make money. Don't believe me? Craigslist.
  • Secondly, your website is a reflection of you, your brand and your product. It's nice that you found that really cool theme for free, but so did a bunch of other sites, including possibly your competition, or the writer that is really, really bad but their site looks just like yours. 
  • Most business websites work from the logo, meaning the logo is on every page, the Twitter account, the Facebook page...everywhere. Well, you are an author and usually that means it's your mug that's the logo. Don't fret as it doesn't have to be, but you need to choose. What will be the point of contact across the internet for your product that will send the same message? Remember, continuity is important here. Your visitors don't want unwelcome surprises. Reward them. Make them eager to share what you have. Make them emotionally involved with your product. Make them Mavens!
  • Go to your local community college and put up an ad for a web designer. These kids need beer money.
  • As a last ditch effort spend a couple dollars at fiverr.com Here you will find graphic artists that will design a logo for $5. Remember, you get what you pay for. Fivrr is also an interesting place for book covers. Now, I'm not saying you can get a book cover for $5, but you can spend $20 for 4 different artists to see how your ideas translate to image, then take what you like to your graphics professional for visual ideas.
Browser Wars
  • How many of your visitors will be visiting your site via their phone or tablet (remember when I talked about analytics?) 
  • Does your website resolve properly on these devices? Does it have to? Well, it does, sorry. But on the bright side that is getting easier and easier to do. If you use the above mentioned Drupal or Wordpress site that functionality will be "mostly" built in. (That is going to raise an argument from some designers. Suck it Trebek. It's my blog post.)
  • This also gets into the topic on design and the ultimate question, what are the visitor expectations? Do they want to read snippets? Find out more about your research or process? Connect with you as a fan or friend? Find out where you are signing books, or speaking, or where they can sign up for the latest updates from you?
Round up
Well, that's a lot to do, so get busy, right? Well, not yet. First we go back to the original question, is a website really needed? Will a Facebook page do just as well, if not better? Perhaps. Are all your potential customers on Facebook? With Twitter, Facebook, Pintrest and your website, what is the reason? What is the goal? To sell more books, or gain followers where will sell the books for you? 
What I have brought up is all just the tip of the iceberg and in no way gospel. Engage in the comments below, think out loud and question everything.

SEO Tools

  • Combinator, a small tool I built for combining keyword combinations (bigbadgun.com)

From my domain registrar, r4l.com, these tld's are now available:

  • .bike
  • .camera
  • .clothing
  • .construction
  • .contractors
  • .directory
  • .equipment
  • .estate
  • .gallery
  • .graphics
  • .guru
  • .holdings
  • .kitchen
  • .land
  • .lighting
  • .plumbing
  • .singles
  • .technology
  • .today
  • .ventures

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