Most authors have blogs that reach out to their fans and to publishers with information about their lives and work. Some authors may never need more than a basic blogging platform. Yet often, an author would like more flexibility with sales (ecommerce), graphics, and features than a blogging platform offers. A web designer can help with that. Services from these professionals can cost anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on factors such as skill set, project scope, and delivery deadlines.
A web designer will help you to identify the purpose of your website and then create a site that fulfills that purpose. For instance, is it an informational website or will you conduct sales transactions? Does it need to include your blog and if so will that be embedded in the site natively or will you link to a blogging site like WordPress? Will you write things that the visitors can download (i.e. a sample chapter of your book) and if so, do you want to collect contact information for the visitor as a requirement for downloading the content (recommended). If you do that, how will you gather the contact info into a database and how can you use that database when marketing to your contacts? A designer will help you ask and answer these questions and more.A web designer also works with you to lay out the structure of the website. What pages will you have, how will they be organized, which pages link to each other or are ‘child’ pages of another page? What will you include on the site – a contact form, shopping cart, news page, blog roll, twitter feed? What features do you want? For example, do you want visitors to be able to search and sort content or view videos? Do you want a way to share photos from book events? The designer should help walk you through the questions to ask and the options available.
A web designer may also help with graphics for the site. They often incorporate your logo, if you have one, into a design. He or she may use other graphics that you suggest, but a well-trained web designer often creates images herself or leverages a relationship with a graphic designer. Make sure that they have the rights to use whatever images they include on your site. Also, ask about handicap accessibility and the ability to translate the site into other languages if these things matter to you.
A web designer writes code, not content. That means that what is written on your website is your responsibility, or the responsibility of your web manager. Your web manager may only have basic familiarity with HTML and may work primarily through a system to load content onto your web pages. As a web manager, I have found I am happy loading my own content, so long as I am able to contact the original web designer with any layout errors. I also make sure to save copies of the original code so that when I'm messing around with the plumbing, I can always go back and fix any mistakes.
It is always a good thing if both your web designer and your web manager seek to optimize your content for search engines. This means, among other things, that they put simple, often-searched key words into your text or title pages and into the URL for each page. It also means design the layout to include a footer area on each page with quick links to popular areas in the website… and the name of those links should also be key words. There are volumes written about search engine optimization (SEO) and it is a concept that your designer and site manager should be intimately familiar with.
Lastly… be sure the designer builds in a way to track site metrics. You’ll want to know how many visitors your site has, which pages they went to most often, how long they stayed on the site, which links they clicked on most often, and so forth. It will help you to know what parts of your site are working and what parts aren’t. Then you can tweak it to improve traffic and what’s called ‘conversion’. Conversion is when the website visitor does the thing you want them to do. That could be downloading a chapter sample or buying your book. It might be signing up for a book event or posting a review. It could be all of those things. The trick is to identify them early on, design a site that supports that goal, and then track whether you reach that goal. This is a lot to consider… and it’s just the beginning. Be sure to check out other articles here on the Author Learning Center for tips on finding a web designer and tips on working with one.
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