Five Above-the-fold Shoulds for your Author Website

- by Pati Nagle

This is all in the “my humble opinion” department, hence “shoulds” instead of “musts.”  I’ve been designing websites for over ten years now, and I’ve developed specific criteria for an effective author site.   Readers expect certain things from us, and when they’re looking at the site of an author they haven’t tried, there are several key elements that will draw them in and keep them on your site long enough to maybe sell a book.

I chose five items that I consider important to have above the fold on your website.  By that I mean they should be on your home page, things the visitor sees at once, not a click away or a long scroll-down away.  Remember that you have maybe two seconds to capture the attention of your visitors.  These five elements aren’t the only important things to have up top, but the first three especially are crucial.

To see how well Ninc members’ websites meet these criteria, I conducted a random and unscientific survey of 50+ sites listed in the Member Links section of ninc.com.  A couple I wound up not including in the totals, because there was no website at the end of the link (fix it, guys!).  However, cudos to the author who put up a “coming soon” placeholder page that included three of these five items.

1.  THE COVER OF YOUR LATEST BOOKfandango

This and number 2 are the most important items to be front and center on your website.  Out of fifty-odd Ninc author sites, 38 had a current book cover on the home page.   Make sure your cover image is large enough to see easily.  I recommend at least 2 inches wide (or 150 pixels).   Link the image to a page with more information about the book, including links for online purchase.  And yes, I do want to see a book cover up there even if it was released a while ago!

authorphoto2.  YOUR PHOTO

Readers are visiting your page because they want to know a little about you.  Be friendly, show them your face.  Only 28 of the author sites I visited had the author’s photo on the front page.  That’s just over half.  Many of those that didn’t had great-looking photos on the bio page.  Don’t be shy, people!  Move it up front.

3.  CURRENT NEWS

This is the age of instant gratification.  Keep your home page looking fresh with a tidbit of current information.  Doesn’t have to be a lot:  when a new edition will be out, your next appearance, a link to your latest (recent) interview.  Something that lets the visitor know the site isn’t stale.  Ideally, the news item should be no more than a month or so (three at the most) old.

4.  LINK TO YOUR BIO

This one was the most common on Ninc member websites.  Out of 50, 48 had links to an author bio.   Well done, folks!

5.  LINK TO YOUR BLOG

At 17 out of 50, this was the least common element on Ninc websites.  That’s OK—not everyone has a blog.  If you do, though, or if you participate in a group blog, be sure there’s a link to it on your home page.  Why is this one important enough to be in my top five?  Because it’s one of the first things people look for when they want to know more about you.  And that’s not only readers; it includes that editor or agent who has your proposal on her desk and wants to know who you are.

A couple of home pages were blogs, which is fine as long as it still includes your photo, book cover, etc.  This is one way to make sure your front page shows current news.  I’m seeing more and more websites set up on blog platforms such as WordPress, Typepad, etc.  Using a blog platform allows you to update your site yourself rather than paying a poor, starving, part-time web designer and author to do it for you.  (But if you need help setting it up, keep me in mind.  Affordable rates, and discounts for Ninc members.  </shamelessplug>)

Some of the pages I visited had links to other very good features:  press kit/media page, newsletter, discussion group.  All good ways to provide additional information and keep in touch with your readers. If you’re a high-tech person who Twitters and RSSs and all that, make it easily availalble to your fellow techie (short attention span) visitors.

Your website is an important marketing tool.  Make sure it’s as effective as possible by incorporating these five key elements.  You’ll be glad you did!

13 comments

  1. Whohooo. I’m so happy. I did it right with all five. What a stroke of luck.

  2. Go, you!

  3. Well, I’m definitely with you on the BOOK COVER thing. I can think of one author who doesn’t have any of her covers ANYWHERE on her website which strikes me as crazy. And I can think of another who’s got a cool website… but the books are hard to find, which doesn’t make any sense to me.

    On the PHOTO thing… no, no, no! I do have a photo on my bio page, and a few others scattered around elsewhere. But my face is not what sells my work, I like my privacy, and I frankly–different opinion here–think that writers putting photos on their home pages looks SILLY. Because, apart from celebrity authors, NO ONE’S face sells their book. So I personally find the author-photo front-and-center on the home-page somewhere between vain and delusional.

    I recognize this is not everyone’s opinion, and it’s obviously not your opinion, and this is why I don’t go around with a rifle telling others they must take their photos off their home pages! But given my own opinion of the practice, no, I’m not putting my photo on my home page any time soon.

  4. I disagree, Laura. I developed these criteria based on my own visits to dozens of author websites, and on comments I heard from other visitors.

    Far from being vain about their appearance, most authors tend to err in the opposite direction. It goes along with being an introvert (which many writers are), thinking no one is interested in your appearance, or wanting to hide behind the potted palm and just watch the world go by.

    You’re absolutely entitled to your privacy, and I’m not going to point a rifle at you, either. However, I have reasons for recommending a photo on the home page.

    Yes, the writing is what you are selling–but on your author website you are also selling your personality to some degree, and that includes your physical appearance. Websites benefit from displaying a photo for the same reason that printed books benefit from including an author photo. Readers feel more connected to the author if they can look at their picture, and that connection can lead to the reader remembering your name the next time they see it in the bookstore.

  5. I have to agree with Laura on this one. I have read studies based on actual user testing that suggest that the author photo is not necessary above-the-fold. I agree that your photo should be on your site, but in the area bio area. That’s where people who want to know the person behind the books will look.

    Something you didn’t mention in your top 5, but I think should be included– your page needs to load quickly. People can’t get to info on your latest book, your bio, or your blog if the page doesn’t load before they click away….

  6. Maggie – What studies were those? I’d be interested to read them.

    I didn’t put fast-loading in my top 5 because I consider that a must for any website. You’re right to raise it as an important issue, though. Some of the sites I visited in my survey had heavy graphics or flash that took a long time to load. One even had a video that auto-loaded on the home page. These things can really slow down the home page load, and you’re absolutely right that many visitors (like me) won’t have the patience to wait for them. If you have a cool trailer that you want to include on your site, it’s better to put a link to it rather than having it start automatically from the home page.

    Another thing I don’t like to see on the home page (hmm…new blog topic?) is a splash screen with no information. These usually have a link that says “enter here” or some such, which you have to click to get to the real home page. Not a good idea to make your visitors click on a link before you even tell them anything about yourself. (Yes, I have some customers who insist on doing this, but I don’t recommend it.)

    One site that had such an entry page was for an erotica author. This was their “must be 18 to use this site” screen. I can understand the need to do that, but in this case I’d still like to see the author’s name/book cover/photo on the entry page, above the fold.

  7. My dear husband (who is my vigilant first reader) points out two errors in my original post:

    “cudos” should be “kudos”

    and “availalble” is misspelled.

    To help you understand the second of these errors, visit

    http://madgeniusclub.blogspot.com/2009/02/space-availabel.html

  8. Pati, my upgrade to SiteSpinner software allows for 2 views, one website and an small screen for mobiles. Basically, you subtract elements from the larger view to get down to the mobile view. Could you please address the small screen, iPhone issue?

    BTW, I’ve been using their software for a couple years before, called WebEngine and is it great. I haven’t done the upgrade yet, but the support and software has been good.

    Thank you.

  9. I am just learning about small screen stuff myself, so I have no comments about it at this time. It’s a brave new fast-changing world.

  10. Hi there, I found your blog via Google while searching for first aid for a heart attack. Interesting post. Nice site.

  11. LOL! Well, I wonder what made us pop up in your search! Glad you enjoyed the post.

  12. InterestingI’ve considered the plainly simple ways Google thinks. The issue is that even though Google looks at your page multiple times, it still takes a tonne of due work on your part in order to get a site to become “relevent” to Google. I guess this just adds to my knowledge of search engines!

  13. I was searching for digital photography tutorials when I found your site. Excellent post. Thank You.