Does your website look a little tired and clunky? It doesn’t dazzle you anymore? Staring at my website one day, I know that feeling. After some procrastination—there are always other things to do—I finally decided something needed to be done. Had I known what I faced, perhaps I should have procrastinated some more.
A good website always makes me pause and ponder. It is a combination of layout, colors, flashy ads, fancy backgrounds; lots of things. I just know what I like, wishing mine looked like that. Deciding to have a new website designed isn’t a simple matter of jumping into WordPress or using one of the free content management systems like Weebly or GoDaddy. There are lots of them out there to choose from, and I checked them out. However, I am not a graphics artist or web designer, and to get the best out of these tools, I found I needed to be pretty savvy using the behind the scenes coding, something I didn’t want to get into.
Having eliminated the do-it-yourself path, the only remaining choice was to engage a professional website designer. I immediately faced another decision point: a private at-home operator, or an established company. Making a wrong choice would drastically effect the end result, not to mention my pocket, and after some research, I decided to engage a local company. Before setting up the initial interview, I needed to establish what kind of website I wanted: theme, content, menu elements, functionality, look and feel—all the things that captured my attention when looking at someone else’s website, whether personal or professional.
To find out what goes into making an eye-catching website, I dug up several Internet articles that provided some pointers. What was particularly valuable, they included URL links to those websites, enabling me to decided for myself if they had that wow factor I was looking for. Finding a website that incorporated everything I wanted in mine, I fronted up for the initial interview with the company’s representative, confident I had everything he needed to build my website. Ouch!
One of the first questions he asked: what would be the purpose of my website? I knew that one would come, so I answered confidently: to sell me and my books. Duh! Okay, do I need a shopping cart? I had thought about that one, seeing how my books are distributed by Amazon and Smashwords; at least the e-book versions. Still, it couldn’t hurt to explore the possibility, and I told him to provide a separate quote for that. The web developer checked my existing website, noting what pages I had, content, and work required for data migration. There was a lot more, but you get the idea. He then asked something puzzling: what do I want the website to look like? I had already emailed him the URL link of the website I liked, and I assumed he would have looked at it. He did, but he wanted my input. As the alarm bells started clanging, I told him I expected input from him; he was the professional web designer. After more discussion, he told me he would put together some wireframes for me to look at. I left that place sobered and somewhat chastened.
You see my problem? I wasn’t prepared! I should have designed those wireframe pages beforehand to support my interview. It wasn’t enough to simply show him a website I liked and let him get on with it. However, the damage was repairable. I hunkered down, clicked the link to my sample website and went through each page in detail, noting all its elements, considering how they could be applied to my website. Opening a spreadsheet, I started creating my wireframe pages: home, blog, contact me page, and others. Did I want static banner images on each page, separate background designs, combination of color bars on some pages; I had to consider them all. For images, I downloaded them from Shutterstock.com and All-free-Download.com, to name two, and pasted them into my wireframe pages. Slowly, as each page evolved, I moved things around to achieve the rough look and feel I wanted. I still needed feedback from the web developer, but what I sent him reflected more closely what I wanted, something he appreciated. We’ll see how things go when I get his initial layout.
Okay, so what are these website elements I needed to look at? It is all subjective, and everyone needs to make a choice that suits him, but there are some basic guideline elements you need to consider.
Home Page The home page really is the most important page of a website. As the first page your visitors will see, it must give a positive impression, making the visitor want to browse further. It must sell you and your books, and is a page you cannot get wrong.
Books Page A books page for an author is a must, of course. Each book should have its own page, sample review blurbs, and a link to a reviews page. It must have links to sales pages like Amazon, Smashwords and others. It should also have a download button for a sample chapter, giving the reader a glimpse into your work, hopefully prompting him to buy.
Contact Me A vital page!
Reviews page This page should be a collection of your favorite book reviews, which gives readers an opportunity to see opinions of your books.
Interviews Page This is where you present a collection of interviews about you and your books, attaching links to host pages.
Blog Not much to explain why this one is needed.
Biography / About Me This page gives readers a glimpse into who you are, your background, and whatever details you choose to publish about yourself. Some Internet articles suggest having a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section here, but that is up to the individual.
Site Map A site map can be a useful navigational aid for a website. However, unless the website has lots of pages, menus and sub-menus, setting one up may not be worth it. Some people recommend having one as it helps Google spiders and bots during searches.
Other pages to consider:
Perhaps my experience will help you when deciding to create a website, or renovate an existing one.
~~~~~~Stefan Vucak is an award-winning author of the sci-fi Shadow Gods series. His contemporary political thriller ‘Cry of Eagles’ has won the coveted 2011 Readers’ Favorite silver medal award, and his ‘All the Evils’ was the 2013 prestigious Eric Hoffer contest finalist and Readers’ Favorite silver medal winner. His ‘Strike for Honor’ won a gold medal. When not writing, he is an editor and book reviewer.
I would love to hear from you regarding your experience with websites.