Like it or not, websites are an important part of life as a writer in the twenty-first century.
Your website is the first place readers who find you in an interview, on a guest blog post, or through your books, will go to find out more information about you and the other things you’ve written.
If you don’t have a website, you risk losing those potential readers and even future sales.
In this guide, we’ll look at:
- The difference between a blog and a website
- How to set up your very own writer website and/or blog
- The main things you’ll need on your website
- What you could write about on your blog
- Why SEO matters
- All about landing pages
If you feel something is missing in this guide, do let me know in the comments. I love to hear your suggestions and am happy to add to this as time goes on and things change!
If you find any of the terms used in this blog post confusing, you can check out my guide on marketing terms every writer needs to know.
So, without further ado, let’s get delve into how to create your very own writer website!
What’s the difference between a website and a blog?
A blog is a type of website. Plenty of websites exist without a blog.
Blog stands for ‘weblog’, which itself is short for ‘world wide web log’. Blogs started out as ways to document things, but now you can find blogs on just about every topic you can think of and some you hadn’t even considered.
Setting up your author website/blog
Step 1: Choose your host
The first—and one of the most defining—decisions you’ll have to make is whether to create a hosted or self-hosted website.
While a self-hosted website gives you much more control, it’s also a considerably larger workload.
You are responsible for everything that happens on and to your website except for the server where it’s hosted.
You must ensure everything is up-to-date and secure; optimise it for search engines, install and maintain plugins, design it, and everything else that comes along with it. This can take as long—sometimes longer—as creating the content itself.
If you’re not experienced in this field and are short on time, it may therefore be better to go for a hosted website.
With a hosted website, you have more time to focus on your content. You don’t need to worry about any of the background stuff that makes it work—it just does.
Hosted websites also benefit from the domain authority of the website that hosts it. This could help you to grow your website much faster than if you go via the self-hosted route.
There is no right or wrong answer here—you have to do what’s right for you. Play to your skillset and what you’re comfortable doing. You should also factor in how much time you have, particularly at the start, as setting up a website from scratch can take several days, weeks, or even months.
Step 2: Pick your domain name
Your domain name is what your visitors will type into their browser when they want to visit your website. It’s therefore important to pick something simple and memorable.
The obvious (and best) option is to go for your name, or pen name. If that’s already taken, add something like ‘writer’ or ‘author’ on the end.
Don’t choose your domain just because you think it sounds cool. Think about your readers first, and your personal preference second (even if you don’t have any readers yet).
You will regret choosing a novelty domain name.
Step 3: Choose your software
If you’ve gone for a hosted website, you don’t have any control over this. Self-hosted websites, however, have a wide range of options to choose from.
WordPress is the most popular, and with good reason—it’s the easiest to use. It’s also one of the most versatile. You can add plugins in that help you to customise pages, run polls, collect email addresses, monitor your SEO, and so much more.
It’s easy to set up on most hosts. You get full control over how your site looks if you go for self-hosted.
You don’t have to go for WordPress, though. There are other options out there, such as Ghost.
Take your time and try out different options now. It’s a lot easier to experiment at this stage than to find yourself two years down the line, hating what you’ve got, and having to move hundreds of pages and blog posts to something else.
Step 4: Pick your style
Your author branding is important. It helps you to stick in your audience’s mind, and reinforces your brand image.
If you write gory thrillers, for example, the last thing your audience expects when they visit your website is scripted, bright pink text everywhere.
Likewise if you write romance, they don’t expect to find your header written in Chiller.
Be consistent with your branding. If you don’t have branding, use this time to create some. Don’t wait until you’re a couple of years down the line, because, as mentioned above, the more content you have on your website, the more difficult it is to update everything to match.
I’d recommend going for something clean but standout.
Research the latest web design trends on your favourite search engine and plenty of inspiration will come up.
Don’t go for a novelty website design, though: you want a little black dress, not a leopard print one you’ll regret in five years’ time.
If font pairing and colour coding causes you to break out in hives, Canva’s Design School is the perfect way to ease yourself into design.
Alternatively, you can speak to a friend who may be able to help.
In WordPress, how your website looks to the outside world is called a theme. There are thousands, if not millions out there. Some are free, some are paid. Some are better than others. Experiment with different ones. It’ll take a while, but you will find one you like eventually.
You can also pay someone to design a custom WordPress theme for you, but this will cost hundreds, if not thousands. This is always something you can do at a later date when you’re earning more money.
Pages every writer’s website needs
Whatever you write, there are certain pages that every writer’s website needs. They are as follows:
This is where your readers can get to know you. How did you get into writing? What are your favourite genres to write? Who are your favourite authors? The more information you share with them, the greater the connection you’ll create.
About your books/poetry/scripts
Create a page for each book/poetry collection/script that you’ve written. Explain a little bit about it, and include a link for the reader to purchase it. That link is crucial—they’re on your website and interested in your writing already. They’re far more likely than anyone else to purchase it. Take advantage of that.
If you’ve written a series, or several series, have a page for each of them, listing the books in order.
Do you really need a blog?
No. You don’t have to have a blog on your website.
However, it’s another way for your readers to get to know you. If you’ve got a small audience or platform, it can be a great way to help them get to know you faster.
You can write about anything on your blog, but it helps if it’s relevant to your audience.
I’ll admit that I don’t post to my author blog as much as I’d like, but when I do, I write about personal experiences, what I’ve been up to in my writing, and anything that affects my books/writing/author brand. I used to include those things on here, but I prefer to keep this site more about writing in general than my author brand.
Some of the things you could write about:
- What you’ve read lately (and what you thought about it)
- What you’re working on at the moment (and share a spoiler or two, particularly if it’s part of a series)
- Interesting things you’ve read/watched/listened to
If the very idea of blogging makes you want to scream, I have a guide on how to blog when you hate blogging that may help. It’s not a magic fix, but sometimes a few changes to how you see things can make a big difference.
SEO, and why it matters
I’ve mentioned SEO briefly already in this post, but now I want to dig a little deeper.
The Writer’s Cookbook gets almost 90% of its traffic from SEO. Without it, the site probably would’ve closed a long time ago.
That being said, this site is also my SEO experiment, as I really didn’t know what I was doing when I first started out.
Making your website/blog search engine-friendly ensures that the right people find your content. It acts as a filter, only sharing with people the content that’s relevant to them. That’s why it’s key that you optimise your content for the right keywords.
Why do keywords matter?
There’s really no point in writing a blog post with the keyword ‘poetry’, because it’s just too popular. There are too many people already competing for that keyword.
However, if you were to use a term such as ‘how to write poetry’, you might be in with a better chance.
This is called a long-tail keyword. These long-tail keywords don’t receive as much traffic, but it’s considerably easier to get seen using them than a shorter keyword. That’s because there’s less competition, meaning that more people will see your blog post on search engines despite the lower search volume.
You’ll also rank for part of that keyword—so you’ll still rank for just ‘poetry’—and you’ll rank for alternatives such as ‘guide to writing poetry’ or ‘poetry writing guide’.
While these tools aren’t 100% perfect—neither tool says my top-performing blog posts will attract any hits, when they get me hundreds each week—they help you to get a good idea of how to phrase your search terms, and can offer inspiration if you’re struggling for ideas.
Simple things such as where you put your keyword in the title, if it’s in the first paragraph of your copy, and if any images include the keyword affect your rankings. That’s why it’s crucial to optimise everything on your site.
HOWEVER, and this is a big HOWEVER, hence the capitals—you should think about your readers first and foremost.
The days of stuffing your pages with the same keyword over and over to inform search engines about what your page is about are long gone. If you do that, you will get penalised.
When writing blog posts, you should focus on the quality of the post, not how many keywords you stuff into it.
The more pages you have, the more chances you have to attract readers
If you only have one page on your website, that’s just a handful of keywords you can rank for.
If you have hundreds of pages on your website, you could potentially rank for thousands of keywords.
Not every page will perform well, of course, but you don’t know what will do well until you publish it.
Don’t forget to tell Google
Google will find your page eventually, but there’s no harm in giving it a hand in finding your latest post/page.
You can submit new pages to Google in the Search Console.
I have noticed pages that I submit to Google this way rank faster than those I wait for Google to pick up on its own. The more the site grows, the faster Google picks it up and ranks it without me having to do this step.
If you have a smaller site, I would therefore recommend submitting your new page to Google as soon as it goes live.
SEO is a long-term game
This really is crucial.
There will be days when you wonder why you’re even bothering because nobody is reading your blog posts so they’re clearly terrible.
SEO is a very, very long-term game.
Sharing posts on social media helps, but they’re a short-term win.
When your page ranks at the top of SERPs, that will get you hits day in, day out.
But it’s unlikely to happen right away.
My guide on social media for writers was originally published in January 2017. For the first six months of the year, I could count on one hand how many views it got in a month.
Now, it gets hundreds of views every week and is one of my most popular blog posts.
That’s why creating evergreen content is so important. Just because something isn’t popular now, there’s nothing to say that it won’t be in a few months’—maybe even years’—time.
Write for your audience, and the search engines will point them in your direction.
What is a landing page?
A landing page is exactly what it sounds like—a page that someone lands on.
Google Analytics counts any page that someone lands on as a landing page.
However, in marketing, it’s something a little more specific.
In marketing, a landing page is a a webpage designed to attract leads. It’s the honey you use to attract the bees (your audience).
A landing page could be set up for paid advertising campaigns on search engines, social media, or a particular website.
When you tailor a page to a specific audience, they’re more likely to convert than if you linked them to a generic page that doesn’t directly relate to them.
What are the main ingredients of a successful landing page?
When creating a landing page, the whole process is easier—and more successful—if you know what action you’re guiding the reader towards. Once you know that, you can build the page around it.
Make sure that your call to action is strong, and your copy accurately explains what people will get in exchange for their details.
Use vivd imagery, not generic stock photos. People are becoming immune to stock imagery.
If you want to hold people’s attention and show them what great quality your content is, try a site such as Unsplash (which has royalty-free, do-what-you-like imagery), or purchase a photo from somewhere like iStock or Adobe Stock.
There are specific tools out there for you to design landing pages, such as Unbounce. If you find your pages aren’t converting well, a tool such as this can inspire you with a wide array of templates.
Don’t forget to A/B test
A/B testing is where you test two different versions of the same page, with one variation. It could be the copy, page title, imagery, the call to action used, or something else.
A/B testing helps you to test out the best way to convert visitors to your website into leads.
They can be set up using a variety of tools, including the aforementioned Unbounce, paid and free WordPress plugins, or Google Analytics.
If you’re inexperienced with websites, Unbounce is the easiest option on the list, but also one of the pricier options. It also doesn’t tie in with the template of your site, which could be a good or a bad thing.
Over to You
There you have it—the main ingredients you need in your writer website.
Don’t forget, if you’re unsure of any of the marketing terms used in this blog post, I’ve also got a guide breaking down every marketing term you need to know.
What elements do you think are vital to writer websites? What are your pet peeves on websites? I’d love to know in the comments!
This post was originally published in 2017. It’s been updated to reflect more current trends.