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We have all these bits and bytes floating out there, various scras of fly-paper seeking to snag readers, all sorts of honeytraps to lure them in, tentacles to envelop them with, freebies and magnets and funnels and automations and ads of all description. But how does it all link it together? What is the nerve center of this madcap operation? For the love of Chtulu, where is your lair?

Websites, everyone. Today we are talking about websites.

You need a good website. There’s a lot of nonsense spoken about “author platforms” and some terrible advice bandied about but, for my money, there are only three elements most writers need to focus on: a healthy mailing list, a thriving Facebook Page, and a good website.

But what do we mean by good?

Well, there are lots of things a website can do, but what most authors should focus on, at least initially, is two primary functions: some quick and easily accessible information about you and your books (and links to all the places they are available), and an effective reader-capturing apparatus. The second is much more important than the first, I don’t know many authors whose website drives a significant portion of their sales, and that certainly won’t be the case for those starting out.

What is important for everyone, at any stage in their career, is to have an optimized sign-up page. You want a page with minimal distractions. If you look at my sign-up page for this newsletter, for example, you will see that it is extremely barebones. This is by design.

It has almost as much white space as an Apple store – the focus is kept on that sign-up bonus, and that sign-up box. Text is minimal, but hooky. There are no clickaways. At least, there weren’t any until GDPR rather annoyingly forced the inclusion of a Privacy Policy link, but you will see that this page is absent any distractions in the sidebar – no Twitter feed, no Facebook Like box, no BookBub Follow button, no RSS feed. All that has been removed on this page.

There’s also no nav bar at the top – even those minimally distracting clickaways have been removed here. Pretty much the only thing a reader can do on this page is sign up to my list. Indeed, it is pretty much the only way they can escape from this page also. Bwahahahahahaha.

The principles are identical for fiction, to stave off inevitable questions, and I recommend following this approach closely.

The page should be optimized in other little ways too. Any images have been shrunk down to make sure the page loads as quickly as possible – this is essential. Code has been tinkered with to make loading time as fast as it can be. 

Every element of this page has been analysed and optimized. The button is red, because that attracts the eye – and that clicking cursor – more than anything else. Studies show that a red button white text converts better than anything. (The yellow/black combo comes next if you need an alternate for whatever reason.)

The chosen text of “GET MY FREE BOOK” rather than “GET YOUR FREE BOOK” or “DOWNLOAD NOW” is a little trick purloined from Newsletter Ninja – a clever bit of reader psychology, making it their book already and helping along ultimate conversion just a little bit more.

And, actually, looking at it now again with a critical eye, that "GEY MY FREE BOOK" could be bolder and thicker, and I bet that would boost completion a little more.

All of these things might sound like marginal improvements, but they can actually make quite dramatic differences over time and at scale. And just remember how hard you work to get people to buy your books - any of those readers you can save from slipping through the cracks is just gravy.

The only thing which has thrown off the design of the page slightly – and is making my eye twitch somewhat – is the recent inclusion of that Captcha button, which I had to do personally because of some… nefarious actors but you probably don’t have to worry about.

But the overall point I want to stress is that you should pay serious attention to your sign-up page, and all the elements it contains. There are no magic tricks here, just applying well established best practices, and doing so with care and attention. Anyone can do this!

And, of course, this page is where you will push all prospective sign-ups. You link to it from the back of your books - not to any of the forms that come with your mailing list provider. Link to it from social media. Anywhere you are pushing sign-ups, push them to this page. 

Any other "selling" you are doing to get people to sign up to your list can be done at the point of sharing - keep the page itself minimal.

The same principles apply equally to fiction and non-fiction, but here's an example of a graphic that I have shared on social media recently to drive sign-ups to this list, one which I have also appended to various blog posts, along with accompanying text. I also use this graphic as a visual CTA inside my books - at the front and at the back - to drive sign-ups there, as well as trying to do so in the About the Author section of my books. (And, yes, I do the same for fiction.)

The text on my blog post (or Facebook post or whatever) does the job of eliciting the interest, the landing page itself is purely designed to close the deal, and if you keep it spare and focused, it will do a very good job of that indeed.

Build Your Own Wordpress Website

Free Course From GoCreate.Me

Well... anyone can do this who has the right structure in place. 

Some platforms or themes just don’t give you the functionality you need to do this right. I strongly recommend using Wordpress, which is the best in the business. The Wordpress theme I use for my site is called Parallax for Writers and it is made by GoCreate.Me – which itself is run by indie author Caro Begin. I have a custom version of it powering my fiction and non-fiction sites and I love it.

There are a million different themes out there, of course, and your needs (and likes) won't be the same as mine. There are also alternatives to Wordpress like Squarespace and Wix, but I strongly recommend Wordpress.

Wordpress can be a little more complicated to set-up, but the pay-off is greater functionality and customizability – which I strongly suspect you will need in the future even if you don’t need it right now.

Caro Begin at GoCreate.Me has put together a great little course on Wordpress basics, which is FREE, and will get you all set up in no time. It’s a series of video walkthroughs showing you all the important stuff you need to put in place like:

  • Getting a domain name
  • Installing Wordpress
  • Why you need a security certificate these days and how to do that
  • Hooking all that shizzle up with your hosting service
  • Creating an email address associated with your domain name.

BTW you will need to do the latter if you ever want to use MailerLite (which I also use and strongly recommend). By the way, this requirement is for your own good. It keeps the sending reputation of MailerLite users high, which in turn leads to better deliverability overall – and one of the reasons MailerLite is the top one or two services every time anyone releases data on that. This requirement keeps out many spammers and scammers and is definitely better than being a totally open service.

It’s also more professional to have an email associated with your domain anyway, and has lots of other benefits, like improving your own individual sending reputation and keeping your open rates higher. All important stuff.

Anyway, it’s a nice, short course – 45 minutes of video How Tos which will get you all set up – and Caro is my go-to expert on websites and Wordpress so this is a really nice thing to grab for free.

Enrol for free here.

That’s it for today. I’ll probably switch to non-email topics for a few weeks, but hit Reply and let me know if there is anything in this series we didn’t cover yet that you would like to hear more about!

Dave

P.S. Writing music this week is a stone cold classic: Red Cadillac And A Black Moustache by Warren Smith.

DavidGaughran.com

Broomfield Business Park, Malahide, Co. Dublin, Ireland

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