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Sky bar Publicity Ideas for Writers' Websites

By Ginny Stibolt  www.websiteideas4writers.com  
(Originally published 1/19/05 in The Book Promotion Newsletter and
republished in EPIC- Electronically Published Internet Connection. This version was edited in 2009.)
Quick check

Before covering publicity ideas, let's do a quick check on your website. Because what is the point of increasing the traffic to your site, if it doesn't enhance your image or promote your books? 

Pretend you're a stranger who doesn't know anything about you or your books and answer the following eight questions. (It helps to enlist others in this exercise.) 

Does your website:

1) match the tone of your books or your personal status? If you are a serious, mature, and professional writer, do the distracting popup ads, flashing stars, stupid animations, and too many fonts project a professional image? NO! You're not a teenager; so stay away from them.

2) tell an interesting story? It's all too common that writers, who should know how to tell a story, fail to write their own stories well. This is your chance to grab a surfer's attention with compelling reasons to read your books or care about you. Hint: A group of small photos lined up like a bingo card on a webpage where you expect people to click on each one is unbelievably boring.

3) have information that's not available anywhere else? Reward your website visitors with insider information about; a) how you researched a book, b) why you chose a certain format or point-of-view, c) what personal experience led you to writing, or d) a non-fiction article about a subject that you included in a work of fiction. You get the idea.

4) use standard and obvious navigation tools? There should be no "mystery-meat" navigation. On a website, if text is underlined it should only be a link. All links need to be underlined. Use italics or quotes for book titles. Your website may be amazing, but it should not be a maze or a puzzle.

5) load too slowly due to large graphics files or Flash animation? If you go to all the trouble of publicizing your site, what's the point if an interested party doesn't wait for your website to load?

Your website can be an effective marketing tool, 
but you must pay attention. 

6) contain errors? Misspellings and poor grammar are unacceptable if you wish people to take you and your writing seriously. Other errors include links that don't work and pictures that show as red X's.

7) have stale information such as old book signings or other events? You must keep your pages fresh and change them often enough so that people have a reason to return. Do NOT count on your web person to do this. Learn to do it yourself for the greatest control. It's not rocket science and no one cares about your website as much you do.

8) have an ugly domain name like this: 
http:// home.geocities.net/~author_name/new_page1.html? Buy an easy-to-remember domain. Domains should cost about $10 per year. www. yourname.com is normally the best choice. (Warning: You should maintain total control over your domains and lock them - don't let your web designer put his or her name on the technical contact because it's difficult to transfer the domain to another host if the web designer is not available in the future. I know of an author whose domain now forwards to a real estate company in his town because of a dispute with his web designer.)

In order to have your website be an effective marketing tool, you must pay attention. 

Once you've tuned up your website, then you're ready for publicity and marketing. 
Tattoo your URL on your forehead...  ??

You need to list your website's URL*  in all your emails, on your business cards, on your bookmarks, on your stationery, on bookplates, at the end of any article you write, tattooed on your forehead, and all the obvious places.
(*URL ( Universal Resource Locator) is a unique address on the Internet.)

Here are eight more ideas to consider.

1) Buy a domain with your book title before it's published. (www. titleofyourbook.com OR www. titleofyourbook-anovel.com) Maybe you could put it on the cover of the book and on the bookmarks that you hand out at signings and other events. Forward this domain to a page on your website specifically about this book. Remember that people typing in this domain may have already read the book, so you need to reward them with information on special research for that book or book club discussion topics. 

Make sure that this book page has clear navigation to your homepage. Don't assume that everyone starts at the homepage.

2) List your main domain in the dmoz directory ( www.dmoz.org ) under the most appropriate category. It could be under a genre or under alphabetical author listing. When you find the most appropriate place to be listed, go to the "suggest url" on that page. You may then go through the same process for individual book URLs.  It may take months for your listing to be posted, because humans look at your site to make sure it fits that category and they make sure it's not listed in another category. Google, Yahoo, and others use this directory, in one form or another, as their own.  It is definitely worth the effort.

3) Find other directories or lists of books by genre or subject and submit your book or site URL. If you've written an historical novel, look up "historical fiction" and "historical novel", to find the various directories. You must make sure that your website fits the directory's objective.  If it's a site on a particular subject, only submit your URL if you have some relevant content on your site. 

4) If you belong to groups or organizations make sure you are on the members' list with a link to your website. If a group is a good target audience for your books, you may wish to pay for an ad in its newsletter or website.

5) Google the subject(s) of your book to find general websites on that subject and explore how to list your site (or book's URL). If you find a site with good credibility and high traffic, (even if they don't list related links) you may wish to write an article for them or buy a classified ad. (While I use Google as an example here, also use MSN, Yahoo, Mamma, Ask, and others. Search engines are always changing.)

6) Google yourself, your URLs and your book titles to see how and where you pop up. There may be a fan site or other site already interested in you and your work. Make sure you include a web-tracking tool on your site that records referring links, search words used, and where surfers go once they are on your site. Pay attention to this, because you may find new fan sites or related sites that you would never know about otherwise.  Follow up because one can never have too many fans.

7) While you are Googling, notice the paid ads on the right. You may wish to create a Google ad words campaign. You pay as little as a nickel for each click-through or only when someone actually goes to your site. You control your budget and timing. If you budget $50 for 5˘ words, that's 1,000 extra hits from people who were searching on your selected ad words. 

This will be easier to accomplish if your subject is unique or your search terms are not very popular. For example, Lucia Robson wrote an historical novel about a woman, known only as 355, who worked with the Culper Spy Ring for George Washington. Possible ads words for her might include, "spy 355", "Culper spies", Culper spy ring", "women spies", "revolutionary war spies", and the title "Shadow Patriots". She would not choose "spies" or "George Washington" because there would be too much competition for those words and her nickel word might be on the 20th or 30th page of a search. Since the book is due out in May, she'll want to have everything in place for the book domain and the page to which it forwards way before then.  She should NOT start a campaign like this until everything is ready and people can actually buy the book. For more information: https://adwords.google.com/select  

8) Publish a sister website on Author's Den, Authors on the Web, or other author group sites where you can link to your website's various pages from the pages on that site. (If you have no other website this is a great place to start, but you will "look" like every other author there, the have ads, and search engines may not find your site as easily as on your own hosted site.)

When you first publish a website, it could be months before it's listed in the major search engines' indices. Your ranking depends upon an ever-changing and secret formula of: a) contentthe words on the page and the hidden words in meta tags and text tags on each graphic, b) popularitythe number of links to your site, and c) the relevance to the search words. 

You used to be able to pay a one-time fee for quick inclusion into search engines, but the search engine industry is turbulent and the rules have changed drastically. Eventually you'll be listed at the top of search engines when searching on your name because your website should be the most relevant. So if you pay, don't pay more than once for this service. More website resources, including links where you may submit your website, are presented by Writers Write: www.writerswrite.com/bookpromotion/website.htm 

Submitting your website to directories and search engines is a repetitive project. Spend some time creating a series of compelling descriptions of your site(s) and save them in a document. Label each blurb with the number of words and characters then the next time you're submitting your site, you can copy and paste the appropriate description into the form. Search engines have long memories, so get this right and make sure your site is ready before you start.

Website publicity is an on-going process, not an event, because the Internet is always changing. Budget half an hour each week to surf the net to look for new marketing opportunities. Also, set up a Google Alert for you and your books.  That way you'll know where Google has found you.

The overall goal of having an effective writer's website is to broaden your readership base. The Internet has provided all of us with a wonderful opportunity to market our books and ourselves. I would wish you good luck, but you won't need my wish because you can create your own luck.

This article was first published in Book Promotion Newsletter, an ezine featuring articles, tips and promotional coups for generating book publicity.

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© Ginny Stibolt has a mission to help authors maximize their web presence through practical design and innovative marketing. http://www.sky-bolt.com. You may not repost this article, but you may quote parts of it with a link back to this page.

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