Here are five best practices to keep in mind as you design and create content for your site.
Your website visitors probably don’t have a great big monitor, or a nice Kindle Fire, or an iPad Air with lots of screen real estate. It’s safest to assume a lowest common denominator screen resolution of 1024 pixels wide by 768 pixels high.
Given that, and the fact you have just seconds to get—and keep—a visitor’s attention, be sure your most important information is within 700 pixels of the top of the browser window.
Don’t make the user scroll down your site to find mission-critical stuff like your mailing list sign-up form or, perish the thought, your books. Make sure those elements—or the links to those elements—are immediately visible.
Cut Down On Clicks
Speaking of links: the less your visitor needs to click, the better.
Your most important pages should be no more than a click away from every other page on your site.
In fact, you could be losing sales if it takes more than three clicks to get a visitor from the front page to the shopping cart or, if you don’t sell directly, your sales page.
Organize the navigation bar, or menu, of your site to ensure users have the best path to the pages you absolutely need them to see.
Write For The Web
You might be an indie author, but that’s no guarantee you know how to write for the web. Fortunately, since you do know how to write, this tip will probably be the easiest to act on.
On the web, the Law of Polonius rules: “Brevity is the soul of wit.”
Keep your paragraphs short and skim-friendly. Organize your content in sections using headers (h2, for example) and hierarchically ordered sub-headings (h3 headers nested after h2 headers, and so on).
Lots of folks don’t like to read on a screen (yes, even these days). Make it easier on them by setting the font size to at least 16px. Learn the basic rules of typography, and if at all possible, go the extra mile and apply those rules to the line height and letter spacing settings on your site.
Write For Everyone
There are at least thirty nine million blind people on the planet. Is your website accessible to four and a half Londons of potential readers?
These days, screen reading software is standard equipment on most computers, smartphones, and tablets. Devices will read your words aloud.
But what happens if images are an important part of your content? And what about your book covers?
For optimal accessibility, make sure every image on your website includes an
alt tag to provide a literal description of the image.
For example, a picture of Homer Simpson yelling into a telephone should have the following
alt="Image of Homer Simpson yelling into a telephone"
alt tag, the screen reader might default to the image file name… and “homer-phone.jpg” isn’t nearly as descriptive or at all useful to the visually impaired visitor.
By the way, the world-wide deaf and hard of hearing population is more than forty three times the population of London. If videos are an important element on your site—and especially if you record your own—make sure the video has an accompanying transcript.
Play Nice With Search Engines
Near the top of the source code of every page on every website are special descriptors called
meta tags. These lines of text provide important information to Google and other search engines about the nature of, and content on, your site’s web pages.
But this isn’t simply about your website communicating with search engines.
Meta tags are how your site communicates with the users of search engines: your potential visitors, readers, customers, and fans.
There are too many
meta tag options to cover in this post. Let’s have one very important
meta tag serve as an example of their impact on the quality of your site.
Every Google search result includes a little blurb about 150 characters long. The first place Google looks to get content for that blurb is a web page’s
meta description tag (the OpenGraph
og:description tag serves a similar function).
If Google doesn’t find a description, it settles for the first 150 characters of content on the page.
Let that sink in for a second: You can control people’s first impression of your website… before the user visits!
Or… you can let Google decide how to represent your site. Are you comfortable with that?
og tags are “under the hood,” you don’t have to get your hands too dirty to take advantage of this tip. If you use WordPress, the excellent WordPress SEO plugin from Yoast helps you set everything up in the comfort of your WordPress dashboard.
Hosted content management services like Blogger have similar tools. Use them!
These five tips on website design, accessibility, content, and search engine optimization by no means represent everything you can, or should, do. They represent some of the most common ways many indie author websites fall short. Handle these, and your site will stand out in the crowd.
“But Matt,” you might say, “I barely have time to write! I don’t have time to learn about all this website stuff.”
Hard truth time:
Your website is not just a digital business card or brochure.
It’s your proxy, standing in your place to meet every person even slightly interested in you and your work.
It’s as important to your success as your ability to tell a story.
Website optimization and management is just like all those other technical aspects of your indie author career: you can either learn how to do it yourself, or you can hire someone else to take care of it for you.
Even if you hire a website developer like myself to assess and optimize your website, it’s still important that you have a fundamental understanding of the subject, just as it’s important to understand the rules of grammar to make the most of a copy editor’s services.
How Will You Optimize Your Indie Author Website?
Now that you’ve read these five tips to optimize your indie author website, what do you plan to do to fix up your own site? Let’s talk about it in the comments!