Cornwall Writing Group

An online writing group for writers in Cornwall

Website Basics for Authors

In our website basics for authors, we cover the essentials you need to set up a website.

Freebies:

  1. Weebly – drag-and-drop, free SSL and ad-free
  2. Squarespace – templates with suggestions for best matches for your website
  3. Wix – customise templates and drag and drop design elements (not ad-free)
  4. WordPress.com – use free predesigned themes or personalise your own (not ad-free)
  5. Numerous others available (search for free websites) that offer templates. Beware that functionality will be basic and the options you want may only be available at a premium.

The obvious benefits of a free website are that you can have an online profile without incurring any costs. Great for starting a blog or a simple author profile page.

The disadvantages are:

  • the design features available are quite basic
  • you will not be able to sell on your website without upgrading to a premium version
  • the domain name (your website address you type into the search browser) belongs to the website host and includes their name, making it very long and not very easy to remember

Setting up a Self-Hosted Website

A self-hosted website allows you to create your own domain name, tailor your hosting package (see below) and build an ecommerce website where you can sell your books.

Domain Name

If you want people to find your books and learn about you as an author, you will probably want to use your author name. If you want to build an online experience your readers can immerse themselves in, then you might want to choose a name that evokes that experience and is easy to remember.

Choose a domain name that you love and best represents you. Don’t overthink it. Trust your gut.

You can buy your domain name with your website hosting or buy it separately. If you buy it separately you will need to point it to your website. Slightly techy but simple if you follow the instructions carefully. Some website hosts will do it for you.

Website Hosting

Your website host is the company server where the data for your website lives and the software infrastructure that allows you to build your website. Most website hosts are also able to sell you a domain name which automatically links to their hosting.

Look for:

  • Speed – must be fast or you will lose your readers. Google ranks your website on ease of use and speed is key to your website being easy to use
  • Uptime rating – the uptime rating will tell you how reliable the server is. Look for an uptime rating of at least 99.5%. This means that your website should go down for no more than a few minutes each month.
  • Back Ups –does the host provide automatic daily back-ups? Or will you need to do them? Things do sometimes go wrong, so make sure there is a back up plan in place.
  • SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificates encrypt the information that travels between your host’s server and the user’s browser. If a website has SSL, you can see a green locked padlock next to the website name in your browser. If there is no SSL, the padlock is unlocked and red and there is often a warning message to visitors to proceed with caution. Most hosts provide SSL as part of their hosting package but some charge extra. Make sure your package includes SSL.
  • Support – make sure your webhost offers 24/7 monitoring and support and a quick response in the event of your website going down or having other technical issues.
  • Contract or Pay As You Go – if you sign up to a contract with a great low starting price, make sure you are aware of what the price will increase to when you need to renew your contract so it doesn’t come as a shock. Some contracts are for 12 months, others are for longer, so make sure you are happy to stick with the host for that period of time. Pay As You Go means you can pay monthly and leave at any time.
  • Price – cheap web hosting may lead to performance issues so check that the package will meet your needs
  • Scalability – do you just want a basic author website or do you expect your website to grow, in terms of visitors, sales, vlogging (video blogging) and design features? If you think your website is likely to grow, find a web hosting provider that can offer you upgrades in the hosting package the provide.
  • Web Hosting Environment:
    • Shared hosting is cheaper as your website is hosted on a server along with other websites. You share the space and resources with those other websites on the server, so if one of them experiences a big surge in visitor traffic, there will be fewer resources available for your website, which might affect your website performance. Pages might load more slowly, freeze or become inaccessible. Shared hosting can also become a security risk as any malware affecting one website can spread to others on the same server.
    • Virtual private server (VPS) hosting, gives your website its own dedicated portion of a server, so performance is not affected by traffic changes on other websites. There are fewer security risks as each site is blocked from the others.
    • A dedicated server for website hosting means you have a whole server just running your website. Only your website uses all the storage space and power.
    • Cloud hosting servers are not limited to a single server but combine the computing power of hundreds of physical servers. You can scale by adding more space without switching hosting providers or reconfiguring, and you only pay for the resources you use. Cloud-based hosting maximizes your website’s uptime, because, if one server in the cloud experiences an outage, the others pick up the slack so there is no service interruption.
  • Web Hosting location – you may have noticed that a little flag now appears in the browser when you are on a website, which shows where the website is located. If you want to be identified as a British author, you may want to make sure your hosting server is located in the UK so that your readers see a British flag in the browser box. Also, the closer a data centre is to your visitors, the faster the page loading will usually be.
  • Sustainable or eco-friendly Hosting – if you are concerned about the environment and the amount of energy a website consumes, there are a number of eco-friendly website hosts which use renewable energy and are committed to having a positive rather than negative impact on our planet. A few UK based eco-friendly hosting providers are listed below:
  • What’s included in the hosting package? Do they offer WordPress? Do they offer a staging website so you can try different things out on a practice website before you publish them live? Do they offer free SSL? Do they do Back Ups? Are there limits on how much bandwidth, storage and visitor traffic you can have each month? Does it include ecommerce so you can add a shop?
  • If you have a site already, check if they will help you migrate your website to them – talk to a support person for details, so you get a feel for how easy the process might be and how helpful support will be in making it happen.

Using WordPress

Installation

Once you’ve bought your domain name and hosting, you need to install WordPress. Most website hosts have instructions on how to install WordPress, and usually it’s as simple as clicking on the WordPress icon in your website host provider’s dashboard. This may be in CPanel or Softaculous, which are essentially different brands of hosting software.

Website Theme

When you first set WordPress up you can choose a theme from the ‘Appearance’ Menu on the WordPress dashboard – there are a huge number of free themes to choose from and some set up to be used for author websites.

WordPress Plugins

It’s best to use as few plugins as possible and to make sure you keep them up to date to keep your website secure. You can search for plugins on the Plugins menu of the WordPress dashboard and click on ‘Add New’ and search for what you want to install.

Recommended plugins:

  • Yoast SEO – provides a score and prompts/insights on how to keep your title, wording and images easy to search and improve your search ranking
  • WooCommerce – to create an online shop

What needs to go on my website?

There are a couple of key pages to add to your website:

  • Home – the landing page most visitors will see first so it needs to shine with your personality, have impact and convey to the visitor what it’s all about as quickly as possible. Use this page to visually engage and hook your audience. Make it all about what they are looking for, so they keep reading and explore some more.

  • About – once your visitor connects with the content of your website, they often want to know the story behind it and who is behind it all. Tell them the story behind the website and a little about yourself. This is your author profile page or biography.
  • Contact – this is the page whereeveryone gives you their email address to receive promotions, updates, and special offers. It’s also the page where you give your visitors a little slice of you to remember you by, like a party favour at a wedding or a slice of party cake they can take home with them. Your website is a party and you offer them a little gift that says: “thank you for coming, here’s a little slice of the party to take home!” Everyone wants to go back to that party!
  • Blog – news about your writing progress, highs and lows, lifestyle, inspiration, other books you love, story teasers, quotes, testimonials, signing events, pets, or anything else your reader wants to know about
  • Shop – your books, prints, postcards, bookmarks, mugs, t-shirts or anything else you want to add your book covers to!

Do you have any favourite author websites? What is it about them that you love so much?

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