How to Design an Author Website that Attracts New Readers is Part 1 in the ongoing Author Website Design series. These free book marketing strategies detail the step-by-step guide for how to design an author website that will consistently attract new readers.
Be the first to read Part 2 in the Author Website Design series, which discusses how to build a bookstore into your author website, by subscribing below.
At the very least, a good author website design should be able to accurately portray the writer and their books. But when an author’s website is created with intention, strategy, and a little bit of skill, it can become one of the most formidable weapons in any writer’s arsenol.
For professional authors, their websites are their base of operations capable of attracting qualified readers from around the world who are ready to buy their books. Sadly, there are far too many author websites out there that look like they were made in the 90s, are difficult to navigate, and make readers want to cringe. I’m not going to call anyone out, but I think you know the ones I’m talking about – and I suspect the authors behind these websites have no idea!
This article will provide you with all of the steps and free assets you’ll need to design an author website from scratch and improve upon an existing website with the ultimate goal of attracting new readers.
If you’re getting burnt out from spending all of your time and money on book marketing, read on for a free and effective way to sell more books, including many free author website design plugins.
How to Design an Author Website that Attracts New Readers – Part 1 in the Author Website Design Series
Quick side note before we get into the meat and potatoes of author website design – My own author website, www.ryanstabile.com, was recently hacked into by foreign bots who were, in the words of the security technician I spoke with, “trying to take your site down so they could steal your SEO ranking.”
Even though I have been building my own websites for various businesses and brands since 2011, the foreign bots beat me in the end and my own author website got hacked. I had to delete the whole thing and start from scratch – even re-writing my most popular blog posts like this one! And while I STILL receive notifications about attempted logins and other attempts to hack my website, I was able to rebuild it in such a way that security is emphasised first and SEO second.
The experience of losing over 5 years worth of content on this website was harrowing, but it taught me a lot about the role of cyber security in author website design. Hackers today are more relentless than ever before. I’ll show you the mistakes I made and how to design an author website that is secure and virtually unhackable later in this article.
Today, there are a few different strategies that professional authors use to get cash-waving customers to flock to them in herds. Unfortunately, these strategies are usually the result of trial-and-error sales tactics at the coat of flushing their hard-earned dollars down the drain trying to find new customers. But out of all the book marketing strategies and author tools available today, none are more deadly than a well-made author website design.
If your website isn’t pulling its fair share of weight by bringing you a new batch of bright-eyed and bushy-tailed readers regularly then it’s time for an update. Read on.
Just like how the publishing industry is constantly growing and changing, so are the tools that marketers use to attract a specific audience to their sites – And so are the ways that readers might stumble upon new authors. This is why everyone should revisit and optimize their author website design, plugins, and keyword strategy at least once every year.
Each day, the average person spends between 2 to 3 hours browsing the internet according to Statista U.S. Market Research, a number that is increasing every year. Every time someone pulls out their smartphone to do a quick Google search, that is another potential opportunity to recruit a new reader when you have a precision author website design. We’ll circle back to this topic later in the article.
Because many of the authors I’ve worked with over the years don’t consider themselves “tech-savvy”, I did my best to write this in an easy-to-understand language that anyone can do. If you have any questions or need help with any aspect of your author website design, don’t hesitate to contact me. I respond to every message.
Benefits of Building an Author Website
Having your own website is the most rudimentary sign of a professional in any industry. Whether you’re a full-time professional writer or an aspiring author with a 9–5 day job, everyone of worth should own the same domain name as their legal name or pen name.
Although the end goal of building your author website will be to attract new readers and sell more books, there are countless benefits and endless possibilities.
- Email Lists. Grow your own list of readers to notify each time you release a new book.
- No Publisher Fees. Sell your eBooks, paperback, hardcovers, and audiobooks directly from your author website.
- Save on Web Design. Hiring a professional web designer can cost thousands of dollars and the cheap ones will make your site look like crap.
- Complete Control. It’s much easier to make changes to your own website than wait for a web designer to make the changes you describe to them in an email.
- Engage Readers. Keep your readers interested with a centralized place for your blog articles, author bio, social media links, and more.
- Author Platform. When an author website is set up currently, consistent growth of your author platform is guaranteed.
- It’s Not That Hard. Building your own author website will take time, but it’s never been easier. Strick around for the end of this article, trust me.
There are plenty of fun things authors are capable of when they have complete control of their author website design. Truly, the only limit is the author’s own imagination.
Other ways that authors can interact with their readers on their own websites include:
- Blog articles
- Book updates
- Digital & live event schedule
- Host contests & giveaways*
- Reader Q&A
- Book trailer videos
- Exclusive book content
*If you’re a new author struggling to get more book reviews, one of the best book review strategies is to give away free copies to readers. Consider every book you give away to be another potential book review!
Starting Your Author Website Design
If you already own and operate your own author website, skip the following section.
To get started, you’re going to need to get a domain name, SSL certificate, and web hosting. I’ve built at least 50 different websites in my career, and I always go with Bluehost with WordPress. You can get a special package that includes a free SSL certificate, free domain registration, privacy protection, and WordPress hosting for only $2.95/mo from Bluehost through this link here.
Domain: This is the name of the website you’re registering. Think of it like buying internet real estate.
SSL Certificate:You know that little padlock icon at the top of your browser next to the name of the website? That means the website you’re visiting is securely encrypted and tells your browser it’s safe to proceed.
Hosting: This is basically the engine that runs under the hood of your website. Managed WordPress Hosting is what you’re looking as a web host.
WordPress is the preferred website host for authors because it requires more writing and a lot less coding with minimal technical knowledge than other web hosting options. Plus, authors can sell their books for free when using WordPress, which has a very user-friendly interface that allows for plenty of customization. About 60% of all websites on the internet run on WordPress with Bluehost being the #1 WordPress recommended company since 2005.
When you go to checkout, Bluehost might try to upsell you with a bunch of other stuff, but all you need to register your author website is the domain, SSL certificate, and managed WordPress hosting package. If this is your first time registering name as a website, I strongly recommend registering your site for the longest amount of time as possible because Bluehost (and all web hosting companies for that matter) will charge you 2-3 times to renew your website after the initial amount of time expires, so $2.95/mo is the best price you’ll get.
After you purchase your website Bluehost will set everything up for you, which may take a few minutes. Take this opportunity to do a little dance and celebrate the fact that you now own your very own author account! Congrats!
Author Website Design – Strategy, Structure & Security
It might not seem like it for those who aren’t familiar with web design, but the structure and layout you choose for your website at the very beginning will play an essential role in attracting the right readers. Aesthetics are important, too, but that should come only after you’ve set up the proper infrastructure. In this section, I will show you how to structure an author website that is loved by both readers and search engines.
NOTE: Authors who already have a website up and running should read this section for ways to improve their current site in a way that will increase traffic, readers, and book sales.
Essential Pages for Author Websites
- Published Books (as products available for purchase or links to where they can be purchased)
- Author Bio
- Social Media Links
- Contact Page
- Email List Signup
- Press & Publicity Page
- Blog (We cover what authors should blog about later in this article)
Choosing a Theme
When selecting a theme, the first thing you want to consider is if you’re going to sell books directly from your website now or in the future. I strongly recommend that everyone sell books directly from their author website for many reasons, but primarily because the markup on selling eBooks, audiobooks, and even paperbacks or hardcover books from your site is more than you’ll find in any other marketplace.
Be sure to choose a theme that is e-commerce-ready and compatible with Woocommerce. Storefront and Astra are two popular WooCommerce-enabled WordPress themes for authors.
If you end up building your author website on a theme that’s not compatible with WooCommerce, you’ll need to install a new theme and likely build the whole thing every again if you suddenly decide you want to sell your own books.
We will discuss how authors can use WooCommerce to sell books on their own website in Part 2 of the Author Website Design series.
You can download some of the best WooCommerce themes for authors as well as over $8,000 in premium WordPress plugins for free when you subscribe to my advanced book marketing strategies newsletter here.
How to Secure Your Author Website & Essential Security Plugins
As mentioned at the beginning of this article, my website was recently hacked and I lost 5 years worth of content because of my carelessness. Since then, I have hired a cyber security professional who taught me A LOT about how to secure a website, protect my content, and prevent malicious attacks. This section is based off of the advice and information he relayed to me before helping to secure my own website.
First, these are the security plugins that were recommend to me.
- Jetpack Boost
- Sucuri Security
- IP Blocker
- First thing is first, don’t operate any website without an active SSL certificate from your web host. You’ll know it’s installed if you see the HTTPS when accessing your website.
- Sign up for Jetpack’s Site Downtime Monitoring so you get notified as soon as there is a problem with your website.
- Enable 2FA on Wordfence to make sure that people can only log into your website if they have their phone. if you have guest authors, editors, or assistant also working on your website, make sure that they enable 2FA when logging in as well.
- UpdraftPlus is a free backup / restore app that automatically saves ALL of your sites content to the cloud storage service of your choosing. ThYou can select the frequency of backups and how many you want to keep at one time, so they don’t take up too much room. This is your “just in case” contingency.
- Wordfence allows you to see the IP address and general location of people who acces your website, but to actively lock a specific IP address from accesing your site altogether you need to upgrade to the premium version. That’s why I use IP Blocker to make sure that any suspicious visitors are banned from accesing my website.
- Enable Sucury Security’s automatic malware scanner so in the event a piece of malware is uploaded to your website, Sucuri finds and removes it immediately.
- Enable the firewall on Wordfence and have it perform a custom configuration based on your website. This must be the final step in your security setup procedure and only done after you finish setting up everything else on your website so that Wordfence can properly configure your firewall based on the rest of the content on your site.
Of course, there are a few proprietary cyber security things that my dedicated website security professional is doing to help keep my site secure, but those are trade secrets, apparently.
Essential WordPress Plugins for Authors
These are the essential plugins that all authors should install on their sites, if not some variation of the plugin that will essentially do the same thing.
- Akismet Anti-Spam
- Contact Form 7 (or Ninja Forms)
- Mailchimp for WooCommerce (some people prefer MailerLite)
- Social Media and Share Icons (or any social media plugin)
- Smush (or any image compression & optimization plugin)
- WooCommerce Payments (or PayPal for WooCommerce, or any payment processor plugin)
- WP Auto Terms
- Yoast SEO
(Many authors use Elementor or Gutenberg Blocks to help them quickly and tastefully build content on their websites, but these plugins are known to crash pages, cause critical errors, and create other problems so I do not recommend them if you’re a beginner.)
The link below includes many of the WooCommerce plugins that can be used to create a powerful sales funnel for selling books, digital downloads, or services by attracting highly-targeted customers to your website. (See Part 2 of the Author Website Design series for more information on creating bookstores)
I gave this a lot of thought, and it’s difficult to say which plugins are “best” for authors, so I only listed the plugins here that I consider to be the essentials. However, many of my personal favorite WooCommerce plugins have helped me gross over 6-figures on my e-commerce websites are included in my free download. There are also 250+ premium WordPress plugins to help authors sell their books on their own websites. Check it out by subscribing above and I’ll email you the Google Drive swipe files.
One last note on plugins. You may have the option of enabling auto-updates on each of your plugin. Do not do this or your plugins might update to a version that is not compatible with the rest of your site, causing an internal error that will shut the whole thing down. Fixing this issue is either extremely time consuming or expensive.
Choosing Keywords to Attract Your Target Reader
Attracting the right demographic starts with creating a long list of focused keywords that only your target audience would type into a search engine. As an author, you probably already have a good idea as to who your target reader is. If not, I have another great article coming out soon with over 130 questions intended to help authors find the perfect target audience and keywords for them. If that sounds like you could benefit from that, subscribe here and be one of the first to read it.
Next, we’re going to make a list of as many keywords as possible to attract readers within our specific target audience. Here are some of my personal favorite free tools for keyword research.
- SEM Rush is the Swiss Army Knife of keywords. The free version of SEM Rush gives users access to plenty of proper keyword research tools, however, once the traffic to your website starts to build up then you’ll know it’s time to upgrade and access some of the heavy-duty features.
- Keyword Tool Dominator lives up to its namesake by providing users with keyword search volume, suggestions, rankings, and long-tail KWs for Google, Bing, YouTube, eBay, Etsy and Amazon (again, the Amazon keyword results will mostly be for merchants, not authors). The free version allows for 2 daily keyword searches before they cut you off, but if you dabble in e-commerce it is well worth upgrading.
- SearchVolume.io is a straightforward free tool that provides keyword search volume identical to using to Google AdWords Keyword Planner, but without all of the nonsense of navigating those AdWords menus.
Exactly how and where you strategically place keywords on your website to attract your target audience is big and lengthy topic, so we’ll circle back to that later.
The Cornerstone Content on your author website is the key to attracting the right target audience. This is the page or post on author websites that best represents their personal brand as a writer. It tells search engines why you are an authority in your industry. Cornerstone content takes the form of long and informative articles that your target reader actively searches for because they find the subject matter valuable.
For non-fiction authors, this can include any topic that ties back to your book.
For fiction authors, you can use “deleted scenes” or “bonus material” from their books to lure in readers. Writing an original short story unrelated to your book for the specific purpose of attracting new readers also works very well, but it must include original photos, artwork, or illustrations that complement the story.
Both fiction and non-fiction authors will often take large sections from their published (or soon-to-be-published) books and edit them in a way that fulfills all of the requirements of Cornerstone Content before posting it to their author websites.
Here are the requirements for a single piece of Cornerstone Content.
- Approximately 2,000 to 2,500 words.
- 2% keyword density (keyword is used 20 to 25 times)
- Topic is on-brand with the rest of the content on the website.
- Uses your website’s best focus keyword to attract your target audience.
- Can be a blog post or page.
- Cannot be your landing page or homepage.
- Included in your navigation menu.
- All other content links back to cornerstone content
- Includes at least one external link.
- Is punctuated by images or videos every 300-500 words.
- All on-page media includes focus keyword in metadata.
- Includes focus keyword in tags.
- Focus keyword used by cornerstone content is not used elsewhere on website.
By creating one extremely high-quality piece of content around a single topic (re: focus keyword), that is how you organically rank author websites in the #1 search result on Google.
Email List, Subscribers & Automation
Within your website, make sure that you have a section (preferably at the top of your homepage) where readers can subscribe. Today, people are bombarded by requests for their email address at every single site they visit, so to not only get someone to subscribe with their correct email address, but also take the time to open and read your emails as soon as they arrive, you’ll need to make it worth their while.
This is where knowing your target audience comes in handy.
Use your list wisely (read: sparingly) to build a buzz before and after each book launch. Engage your subscribers early on, keep them in-the-loop, and ask for feedback so they become invested in the successful outcome of your book or project.
And please, for the love of God, do not send out unsolicited emails to people asking them to buy your book. Newbie authors have no idea how much this actually hurts their brand long-term.
MailChimp or MailerLite are the two recommended email marketing providers that a majority of authors use. They will both help you create signup forms and build your reader email list – so the sooner you get started on that, the better!
Growth Hacking SEO Strategies to Attract New Readers
The Growth Hacking SEO Workbook includes even more free digital marketing assets to help you build an author website that is guaranteed to attract more readers no matter what genre you write in.
Having an author website is the minimum requirement that marks the legitimacy of a professional author. Although it’s nice to be able to refer your existing readers to your site, the real value of an author’s website is in attracting as many new readers as possible.
We covered all of the basics to creating an attractive and functional author website in this article, but advanced strategies that the top bestselling authors use to consistently bring in highly-targeted new readers are too big for my humble blog. In the upcoming 2022 Edition of my new book, The Growth Hacking SEO Workbook (out 11/30/2021) I break down an easy-to-understand, step-by-step guide that will show you how to qualify and attract a steady stream of new readers to your website.
For the first time ever, I’m sharing all of the secret growth hacking strategies I have personally used on my client’s websites to help them find more readers and on my own six-figure e-commerce websites. Even if you don’t consider yourself “technologically savvy”, I’ve taken the time to explain each strategy in a language that anyone can understand and do for themselves.
Author Website Design – The Bottom Line
Most authors I know consider web design to be back-breaking labor. For many of them, just the thought of having to maintain or make changes to their author website fills them with absolute dread. I’m trying to change that narrative.
Building your own author website is really just a form of creative self-expression and no different than putting together the story in any work of fiction. Authors are some of the most creative and imaginative people on Earth and modern web design tools have made creating your own website simpler than ever. Give it a shot. You might surprise yourself and create your next masterpiece.
Watch for Part 2 of our upcoming Author Website Design guide to find out how you can use WooCommerce plugins to build a better bookstore for selling eBooks, Paperbacks, Hardcover books, Audiobooks and more.
Author Community Question
Is your website living up to your expectations?
Did you outsource your author website design, or did you build your website yourself?
Are you happy with how it looks or is there more you want to doand are just procrastinating (like moi)?
Share your own author website designs with us in the comments section below and let’s discuss!