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How to create an effective website

Do you love your website? Do you feel it adequately represents the vision you have for your work? Does it draw people in and keep them engaged? Does it “convert” — meaning that it turns a casual viewer into someone who makes a commitment to buy your book, follow your blog, or sign up for your email newsletter?

I ask because I have been working with many of my recent clients on revamping their websites, and I have noticed some common themes. Today, I want to dig into them and share some advice on creating a powerful website for your creative work:

  • Be findable. Too often, I talk to an author, type their name into Google, and can’t find them. Consider how this can hamper any marketing they do for their work. Let’s say they meet an agent at an event, make a good connection, and on the train ride home, the agent Google’s the author, and… nothing. So the first step is this: have a website. Even if your book won’t be published for two years; even if you aren’t sure exactly what you want it to say. Start now.
  • Grab your audience with a compelling message. So often a writer describes themselves and their work as a laundry list of roles: “Father, husband, writer, soccer fan, accountant, and lover of ice cream.” A website is a place to hone in on the message that your ideal audience is desperately waiting to hear. People are busy, overwhelmed with news, links, and ideas. Be that one voice that resonates with them immediately. Craft a narrative that your ideal audience can’t ignore.
  • Focus on action. What is the one action you want someone to take? Most websites I look at display dozens of options for someone to take. What is the one thing you want a visitor to do more than anything else? Double down on that — make it obvious — and make it something that draws people in.
  • Make it easy to connect with you. This sounds basic, but too many people hide behind a contact form. They don’t provide an email address — instead they put up a form that (oftentimes) doesn’t work because it was installed 4 years ago, and not tested anytime recently. Post an email address. Perhaps even create a business phone number that routes into your regular number. I have posted my phone number on my website for years. Just yesterday, a potential client called me out of the blue. We had a great chat and I am now reading his manuscript and preparing a proposal. Where is the weak link in the chain for how someone can connect with you. If you have a contact form on your website — does it work? Where does it route to? How quickly can you get back to someone who uses it?
  • Make it easy to MEANINGFULLY follow you. Don’t list out 5-10 social networks if you are only really active on one of them. I can’t tell you how often I click on social media links on an author website that take me to a dormant account, a broken link, or a YouTube page last updated 3 years ago. Why bother sending someone to a dead end? Instead, direct them to where you are active, where they can experience you or your work in the most meaningful of ways.
  • Be of service. How can you help someone or brighten their day? Don’t just view your website as a brochure for something you are selling, use it draw people into a narrative, to help them in ways they didn’t expect, and have them say quietly to themselves: “YES! This is what I love.”
  • Less is more. Everything I share here is about focusing your website — creating clarity in the process. For yourself, and for those you want to engage. With most of the website work I do with clients, we strip away as much as possible. Everything we remove makes what is left that much stronger. Over the years, my own website has gotten simpler and simpler. Here is a behind the scenes look at my website redesign from 2012, and then another of my website redesign in 2014. Avoid dropdown menus, if you can. Read the book The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less to get a sense of the science and psychology as to why presenting too many choices can result in someone making no choice at all.

If any of this resonates with you, I would like to help you get started with refining your website so that it is more effective. It begins with clarity. Here is some homework — please do this:

  1. Choose an action you want your ideal audience to take on your website. This should be the main purpose of your website. Take out a sheet of paper, and write that at the top. Write it in big red letters — put little stars and hearts around it.
  2. Beneath that, list five ways you can encourage that action. It could be messaging, marketing ideas, or different types of experiences (eg: email newsletter, free download, watch a video, etc.)
  3. Now, take out some index cards (or Post-it notes). On each card, write out the other components of your website. The secondary items that relate to the main action. Put them beneath the piece of paper, and then prioritize them. Which can be combined? Which can be removed entirely? Which is more important than the others? Put those toward the top.

Now, take a picture of all of this and email it to me. You are now on your way to creating a more effective website for your creative work!

Thanks.
-Dan

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