Creating a website is rather like creating a book. Although the design and layout are important, it's the content that really matters. People visiting your site will be looking for information on yourself and your work. The more interesting you make it, the more likely they are to enjoy their visit and come back again.
Reading on screen is harder work than reading a printed page. You can make it easier by using simple sentences and short paragraphs. In addition, section headings and bulleted lists break up the text well and make it easy to skim read.
Unlike a page in a book, a web page can be as short or as long as you want it to be. If an article is interesting enough, people will happily scroll down to read the whole thing so don't feel you must split a long article into sections. However, if it's over 1000 words, look carefully to see if it really needs to be that long. Could you shorten it by cutting some of the superfluous words? Would it be better separated into two free-standing articles?
Don't be frightened of having a page with only a small amount of writing on it. That's better than trying to combine two unrelated topics on one page.
When planning your site content, remember that most people using the internet are looking for free information. If you provide plenty of that, you will keep your visitors happy and improve your chances of being listed on search engines.
Exactly what you include on your site will depend on who you are aiming at and what you do. You'll find some more specific hints and tips here:
If you are planning to offer downloadable worksheets, chapters or entire books, they need to be in a format accessible to as many people as possible. Pdf is a very acceptable solution to this problem as most people already have the free Adobe Acrobat Reader on their computers and those that don't can download it quickly and easily from the web. If necessary, we can transfer your Word files into pdf format for you.
You can add extra interest to your site content by including sections that change regularly (maybe a thought for the day or a random picture). Interactive features are popular with visitors too - you could try a poll to choose the title of your next book, a quiz on any relevant topic or a wordsearch featuring book titles or character names.
Think carefully before you decide to add a bulletin board as the disadvantages may well outweigh the advantages. A list of posted questions without answers from you will make the site look neglected and postings containing offensive language may upset other visitors and get your site blocked by net nanny software. If you do decide to have one, keep posters' email addresses hidden or they could be picked up by spammers and other unpleasant people. This is particularly important if children may use your site.
Keeping in Touch
A major reason for having a website is to make you accessible to your readers and other people interested in your work. To gain the most from this, you need to include some method of contacting you. An e-mail address is the easiest solution but, unfortunately, putting your email address on your site can result in even more spam than usual. To cut the chances of this happening, it's a good idea to disguise your address in the code for your site. (We now do this as standard.) Alternatively, you may prefer to use a reply form so your email address cannot be seen. In either case, consider using a different email address from normal on your website. Then you can easily get rid of it if spam becomes a problem. (More about email)
Another way to keep in touch with visitors is to run a regular newsletter they can sign up for on your site. It doesn't have to be long - just an update on your current projects and books plus maybe a joke or two and/or some interesting facts. This works particularly well if you are writing a series and want to hold your readers' interest between books. If you are really enthusiastic, you can run a competition (maybe your publisher could provide some prizes).
Automated software can handle the mailing list and distribution so all you have to do is write the newsletter itself. We use the free service operated by yahoogroups.com for our Word Pool review site newsletter and find it works well. The only snag is that yahoo funds the service by adding an advert at the beginning or end of each message. There are other similar systems available without adverts but you usually have to pay for them.
In theory, you can handle the distribution using your own email software but this can be tricky. To preserve people's privacy and comply with data protection laws, you must be careful to make sure you always use blind copy rather than copy to keep the email list confidential. You also need to ask people to confirm that they really wanted to subscribe (someone else may have sent their address as a joke) and you must offer an unsubscribe option on each newsletter. Otherwise you could be accused of sending spam.
Keeping your site up to date
Be careful about mentioning dates for forthcoming events and books on your site. If you forget to change or remove them after they've happened, they will eventually make your whole site look very out of date. If you do include them, make a note in your diary to change the content as soon as that specific event has happened.