I recently had the pleasure of taking part in the Wednesday evening #BookMarketingChat hosted by BadRedhead Media. Our topic was easy updates to refresh your author website. To prepare for the chat, I visited the sites of several writers, including those who have left comments here in the past. I figured I would snoop around and find out what kind of slips the average writer is making with this vital part of their online platform.
My verdict? As a community, we need to pull our socks up if we want to show our readers we value their website visits and respect their time. I saw too many websites that were dated in design, neglected in content, or both.
According to a Stanford University study, 75% of users admit to making judgments about a company’s credibility based on their website design. Readers will lose trust in your professionalism and the quality of your work if you can’t present a reasonably spiffy website to the world.
I realize not everyone can afford professional website design (although, naturally, in my line of work I do feel it’s a great investment). However, you can avoid some of the worst mistakes which drag down the effectiveness of your website.
Since it’s October and Halloween is fast approaching, here are the 30 website mistakes I consider the scariest, in terms of turning your reader off. I’ll start with the ones I saw on multiple websites that are easiest to fix.
Scary Website Mistakes: Easy to Fix
- Dated items, which show how long you’ve neglected your website. For example:
- Blog post dates
- A book page which announces a title is “Coming Spring 2018”
- An events page with nothing forthcoming or recent
- Copyright year not current
- Broken links. It can be a full-time job cleaning up links that point to other websites, but within your own site, everything must work, especially on your main pages. If you’re using WordPress, several plugins can help you with this. I like WP Broken Link Status Checker.
- Buttons which do nothing, or lead to pages which are clearly missing key content.
- No discernible brand color palette, by which I mean I couldn’t identify the 4-5 key colors you are repeating for every element of your website. Just as bad are color choices which look like they’re intended to match, but don’t. Try a tool like https://palettte.app to decide on your colors. Then stick to them religiously and across all your online platforms.
- Still, on the topic of colors, play it safe when you choose your main text color and the background it will be seen on. Aside from the courtesy of making your website accessible for visually-impaired visitors, nobody enjoys reading cream text on a mustard background. Check your choices on a site like https://webaim.org. Wacky color choices look dated, too.
- Links to social media accounts that you no longer use. Watch out in particular for an icon advertising Google Plus, which shut down 6 months ago! Here’s a great reminder about cleaning up your social media: https://badredheadmedia.com/2017/12/ready-for-a-social-media-clean-up-heres-how-to-go-about-it/
- Adverts served by a generic widget. Unless implemented extremely carefully, advertising creates a distracting, diluted reading experience. Your reader is less likely to take the key action you want them to take, and you’re sending the signal that a few measly cents are more important to you than their experience on your site. If you’re making less than $25 per month on your adverts, I recommend you remove them.
- Cluttered sidebars. Sidebars are a magnet for outdated distractions, for example: tag clouds, tiny photos of your followers, or badges for everywhere you’ve ever been featured. A little social proof is important, but too much looks desperate.
Scary Website Mistakes: A Bit More Effort to Fix
- Contact form doesn’t work. How long is it since you tested your contact form? Can you have a friend try it too, preferably from a different size of device? Verify not only that the message reaches you, but that the visitor sees something sensible after submission, too.
- An individual blog post is the content of your front page. This is an incredibly dated way to greet your audience, and you shouldn’t rely on a random blog post effectively communicating who you are, what you do, and why the visitor should stay on your website. Create a thoughtful home page, instead.
- A header image that’s the wrong resolution or that gets tangled up with the words of your website title. In general, it’s safer to design a header image with the text incorporated, so the two don’t compete.
- A poor quality, small, grainy author headshot. (Even worse are the ones where it’s obvious someone else has been cropped out… or where they’re not cropped, so the reader isn’t even sure which person is you!) Today’s professionally designed websites incorporate larger, high-quality author photos. If you truly can’t afford a professional headshot, please find a friend with decent photography skills, hold a mini photoshoot, then use a tool like https://www.remove.bg/ to clean up their best picture of you.
- Sidebars! Back around 2008, every blog had a sidebar. But take a look at some online superstars these days, and you’ll see sidebars are dying out fast. Please reconsider whether you need yours, and in particular, get rid of it from your home page. (If you have a double sidebar, then I’m wringing my hands in despair.) You may need to change your website template or theme to achieve this, so it could be a larger project. But if you can ditch your sidebar – and the clutter it’s no doubt accumulated – your site will instantly take a leap forward.
- Mobile problems. It’s essential you check your website on as many mobile devices as you can get your hands on. You might be shocked at how broken it looks, or how features like menus behave entirely differently. These days, all out-of-the-box website designs should be “responsive” to allow for smaller screens, but if your website/blog is older, you might be in for a nasty surprise.
Further Author Website Mistakes Which Let You Down
- No “About” page, and/or no contact information. Even if you’re writing with a pen name, you should still give visitors some context to connect with. Your readers want to get to know you, not just your work. This article explains why Rachel is so passionate about branding the author, not the book.
- “Buy” buttons for your books that are too small, too pale, or otherwise insignificant. Given the prevalence of mobile devices for browsing, your buttons need to bigger and brighter than you think.
- A link to buy a book, with no further information about it. Use your writing skills to create a short teaser, or incentive to find out more. “Buy my book” just isn’t compelling for a reader who doesn’t know you well.
- A top menu that’s so long it spills way beyond one line. Limit your reader’s choices, or they’ll get dizzy and give up. Your website isn’t a dumping ground for every interest you’ve ever pursued.
- Links and not-links formatted the same way. Don’t confuse your reader by using bold, green text for a link, then having the same format as a basic heading. They shouldn’t have to click around and wonder if something is broken.
- Showing a url, but it’s not actually a link. If you’re re-using graphics from social media, and a web address is clearly visible in your image, make the image itself link to that location. Otherwise, you’re asking your reader to work, to type it in again.
- Not being clear about whether visitors are signing up for email newsletters or blog post notifications. The days are gone when people willingly gave out their email address; you need to spell out why they’re giving you this valuable information, and what they’ll get in return. And if you’re not blogging frequently, don’t even offer the option to get new posts by email!
- Equally, your lead magnet offer shouldn’t say “Want some free books?”: that’s too vague. Tell the reader exactly which freebie(s) they’ll get and, ideally, show them a picture. See Rachel’s example here.
- Page titles showing up twice, probably because you typed the title on the page and WordPress decided to show it too.
- Spelling mistakes, even tiny ones. Yes, I really did find some! We’re writers and authors; our words are our product. Please don’t signal to your readers that you’re so sloppy you can’t even get your website right.
Finally, Simple Tips for Looking More Professional
- Unless you’re using a free service, you don’t have to declare which theme you’re using, or that you’re powered by WordPress. Professionally designed websites don’t do this, so you needn’t either.
- Turn off comments on non-blog pages. They really don’t belong on your home page, bio, and contact information.
- If you offer additional services, but with no description other than “contact me for more information,” you’re telling the reader you’re lazy. If you weren’t, you’d provide basic details such as why they should work with you, what they can expect, and even a guide to your prices. Be more open here if you want to build trust and convince your ideal client to get in touch.
- Beware advertising too many unrelated occupations on one website: you won’t convey expertise in anything. If you announce you’re an author, editor, proofreader, swim coach and life coach, you won’t be credible. If you must pursue diverse occupations, create simple and separate websites.
- Remove text proclaiming, “Welcome to my site.” It’s redundant, dated, and completely lacking in imagination.
- Check that you don’t have pop-ups competing with each other. Also, reconsider a pop-up that appears immediately when the page loads. The reader hasn’t even walked through your online front door, yet, so how do they know if they want a relationship with you?
No website is perfect and you shouldn’t tear your hair out trying to get there. I’m aware of a couple of glitches on my own website, and I review it constantly!
However, the above are all avoidable errors and I found them in a few minutes, just by visiting a handful of sites. An outdated, neglected website or blog is the equivalent of owning a retail store with dirty windows, peeling paint, and dusty stock.
It’s true that website design is a matter of personal taste, but your readers will notice (even on a subconscious level) if your website looks like it was designed in 2008. Take the time to review your site and be sure that everything there is an intentional choice, not a default from your theme, dead widget, or leftover clutter from your former enthusiasm.
Then, come up with a schedule for keeping it fresh, and avoid scaring your ideal reader away.
Pauline Wiles is the author of three light-hearted novels as well as Indie With Ease, which helps self-published authors conquer stress. She believes pragmatic self-care is the foundation of a long and happy writing career. Her own version of this includes plentiful tea, cake, and running.
Get more tips on purposeful productivity for writers and a free mini-course, Focus for Writers, at https://www.paulinewiles.com/writers
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