Creating my website is one of the best decisions I ever made for my writing career, and I'm not exaggerating. Having my own website has made marketing so much easier, given me a great way to attract new readers, and offers my clients a central place to learn what I have to offer. Beyond that, it feels really, truly mine like nothing else does; I designed this space from the ground up and I have the option to change it so that it always represents me better than any social media profile could.
But how do you create a writer website? And how do you bring people to it once it's live? Here's what you need to know.
What are writer websites for?
Let's zoom out for a minute: why would any business owner want to have a website? Well, a website helps you do a few things.
It legitimizes your stance as a business. People tend to view businesses with self-owned websites (meaning websites with custom domains outside of things like Etsy and social media) as more "real" than websites that rely on third-party hosts.
It gives you better control over your business. Another advantage of getting away from third-party websites is that you have control over the look, feel, function, and operation of the site - you can make it do whatever you want and change it at the drop of a hat without having to worry about approval or site limitations.
It gives you an easy way to advertise. When running ads online, having a website to link back to frees up your ad copy to be convincing rather than straight information, and it gives your customers a chance to explore everything you have to offer once they come off your landing page. Additionally, having your own website gives you a chance to rank in Google, meaning that you can get business by simply existing on a page when someone does a relevant search.
Writer websites specifically aim to do this in the publishing and business sectors. Writers with websites are seen as more legitimate, they have more control over what features and services they offer and advertise, and they can build a business around being a writer in a certain niche or area.
What to expect when you're expecting (a website)
Before you dive right into building a website, it's a good idea to make at least some sort of plan. Like any good piece of writing, outlining your website will make its creation easier and will give you something to reference later on when you're maintaining the site or if you bring on any additional team members to do so for you (y'know, like a freelancer).
So, first thing first: what is your website going to do? Is it purely a portfolio piece? Are you selling your books through it? Are you offering a service? Writing reviews? You want to create a website for a reason, so nail down what that reason is and let it guide your website creation process. For our purposes, as writers, we can narrow websites down into two categories: person-focused and product-focused. A person-focused writer website is a website designed to act as a living resume; it's entirely focused on showing off you as a person. A product-focused website is a website designed to advertise, explain, or sell a product. For writers, this means that your website is more focused on your books, poems, or services than it is on you personally. Decide which focus best suits your goals.
From there, you'll want to establish what you want your website to look like. This is where personal branding comes in; I've done a more in-depth guide on that for Laterpress, so you can go read that to get the details, but here, it's enough to say that you'll want to create a brand kit that you can use while you're designing, which is a document or set of documents that includes
Your brand's color palette
The fonts you like to use
Your logo and/or slogan
Pictures that show off the vibe of your brand
Here's what that looks like for me.
You may also choose to create a media or press kit that includes the various facts and figures you might want to use (social media and follower numbers, number of books published, number of books sold, events attended, etc.). You can find mine on any of my social media as an example.
Now that you know what you're going for in terms of goal and style, it's time to get down to the nitty-gritty and get building.
How to create a writer's website
The actual process of creating a website isn't as complicated as you think it is. Imagine it like a body - you start with what kind of creature you're going for, decide on its structure, then flesh it out.
Okay, that sounds a little weird, but it still makes sense. Here's how to build up your website.
Choose where it'll live
Hosting is the term used to describe essentially where your website lives on the internet - it's the way of determining the servers you'll use to build and maintain the site. There are two main options for website hosting: hosting services and self-hosting.
Hosting services are companies that will take care of the actual programming side of putting together a website, which is convenient for people like me who have no idea how any of the little numbers in my computer work. My top recommendations for hosting services at the moment are:
Wix, the service I use for my own website, has a sleek user interface that's intuitively designed and has lots of great options for building your site. While they do offer some templates, you can also start from a blank page, giving you complete control over the look and feel of your site within the limits of their tools. They're not great for selling products, though; their e-commerce options are limited and usually require a payment plan.
Squarespace, though I've never used it myself, is just as easy to use as Wix with a similar amount of options and design features. It's much better for e-commerce, though I don't know whether that's a built-in or separate paid feature.
Shopify is a platform largely built around e-commerce but it has a surprising number of building features for other parts of your website, including a fairly easy-to-use blogging interface. It also has some excellent plugins that can make your site even better - I highly recommend Link Whisper for internal linking purposes.
WordPress is the classic website builder and comes in two forms. WordPress.org is a classic website builder that does everything for you while WordPress.net is a hybrid hosting platform that gives you a bit more freedom in bringing in your own themes (some of which have been specifically designed for authors).
Note that while most of these options have free plans and extended trials available, if you want to run your website on your own domain with no advertisements for the builder, you'll have to pay for the use of the service. That being said, the free plans or trials are a good way to test and find out which builder you like best.
If you're good with programming and web design generally, you can try self-hosting your website. This gives you ultimate freedom in design and function and, if you can do it yourself, will be significantly less expensive than some of the hosting service plans. That being said, you're still limited by what you're capable of building into the website.
Build a skeleton
Once you've decided how your site is going to be hosted, you'll need to actually build it and for that, you'll need to consider structure. A good website has a comprehensive home page that branches out into a simple menu with clear options. A writer specifically should have these pages:
Homepage. This page needs to grab your audience's attention in the first few seconds of its loading and let them know who you are, what you do, and why they should care. It should also have clear links to the other important sections of your website.
About page. Your About page is a mini-biography that gives people context for the work you do. It can be in the first or third person, depending on your personal style, and should include relevant details about your interests, education, and experiences. Consider it a slightly more personal version of a professional summary you'd put on a resume.
Works page. This is the page where you list all of your publications and include links to purchase them (this is crucial - people can't buy your books if you don't include the purchase link!). If you're selling them yourself, this is your shop page. You might also include links to any outside publications you have such as columns you write regularly for websites or magazines or anthologies you've been a part of.
Services page. Slightly different from your Works page is your Services page, which lists out any writing services you provide. Are you a copywriter, editor, formatter, designer? List out what you can be hired to do and how you're available to be hired. This is a great place to put client testimonials if you have them.
Contact Page. This is the page where you list how people can get to you if they want to network, buy something, have questions, or want to hire you. Make sure you list at least an email, if not also a phone number or links to professional profiles such as those you use for freelancing.
Blog. Your blog is important largely for keeping your site "active" in the eyes of Google and other search engines. Making new blog posts about your subjects of expertise helps bring new eyes to your site and legitimize your online presence.
Fill in the muscles
Now that you've got pages, you'll need to make sure people can get to them and that they'll have a reason to stay once they do. That means managing your search engine optimization, or SEO; this is a series of best practices that make it easy for search engines to find, understand, and display your page to people who search for things online, which can greatly improve your place in the Google search results, which puts you in front of a larger audience.
Here are some basic SEO best practices you should implement into your website.
Every page on your website should have informative metadata including a proper title (the name that appears in the tab label in a browser and in large font in search results), a description (the writing under the title in search results), and a readable URL (not just a random string of numbers).
All of the images on your website should have alt text, a description that is used by screen readers to tell visually impaired readers what the image is and how it relates to the page it's on.
Your page should be relatively small in terms of file size so that it loads quickly. You can accomplish this by using small images in JPG format, not overusing moving elements like animations and videos, and my keeping the formatting of each page relatively simple.
If none of that made sense to you, there are SEO experts you can hire to help you fill in all of that information and optimize your pages effectively. There's a lot that goes into SEO that I can't explain here, but suffice it to say it's worth looking into if you're going to manage a website.
Once you've handled SEO, you'll need to focus on content. Remember how I mentioned that blogs keep your site active? Having a regular blogging schedule (uploading posts daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) shows Google that you have a lot to say, and it shows readers that you'll have interesting content they can rely on. That means return visitors, which means more exposure for your books and services. So, make sure you're posting on your blog as often as you can manage (once a week is good, once a day is even better) with quality ideas. People love to read blogs that inform, entertain, or educate them - try to meet at least one of these goals in every post.
As a final note on building content, I offer you this: make sure you're making connections across your content. If you write a blog post about poetry, link to your newest poetry collection. If you write a post about editing, link to your Services page so that people can hire you if they think you meet their needs. Internal linking - linking between pages on your own website - helps visitors find relevant pages so that they stay longer and helps search engines understand how your website is set up.
Let it live
Now that your website is built and populated, it's time to send it out to do its good work - it's time to advertise your website. People can't visit your site if they don't know it exists, so you need to get the word out there.
Although you may see it live long before you're done building so that you can test and implement improvements, you'll want to host an official launch for your website. This means setting up advertisement posts across all of your existing platform. Social media profiles, email lists, networking groups - all of them are fantastic places to link to your website.
Once your site has been announced, make sure to set it as your profile link across social media and add it to your personal marketing materials including business cards and email signatures.
And you're done! All you need to do now is use your site regularly. Keep it up to date, post to and share your blog, and regularly perform maintenance to ensure your site looks good. Over time, you'll grow your site into a profitable asset.
A writer's website is one of the best tools they have at their disposal; it's the one place on the internet that you have complete control over at all times, so it's the one place you can really rely on when building your platform for readers and clients.
If you want to know more about building a website as a writer, I did an article for Laterpress on the subject. That goes into detail for websites specifically for authors.