Monday, August 11, 2014

Marketing Mondays: What's in a Website & Why Amazon Author Pages are Important

Image from arthurpendragonns
Goodbye, weekend! Hello, Marketing Mondays! That glorious day when we take the overwhelming ideas of marketing and try to make them a little less stressful. In case you missed it, we've already talked about author brandsFacebooksocial mediabloggingonline parties and giveaways, and street teams, newsletters, and Goodreads. As promised, today we are going to talk about websites and Amazon pages, and why they are important.

Websites are probably the easiest part of marketing, in my experience. With all of the Weebly-wobbly type designers out there, it is really easy to make your website as low maintenance or fancy as you want it to be. Heck, even Blogger is making it easier to turn your blog itself into a website by offering the option to create different pages beyond that of your blog. You don't have to know a lick of HTML to be able to get a website up and running. In fact, my subscription level for my website doesn't even allow me to access the base HTML or CSS codes (which is good, since I'm a novice with HTML and haven't the faintest clue about CSS).

Why you should have a website is probably a given: You need one place to keep all of your information, and Facebook doesn't count. Having a website, in my opinion, gives you a more professional appearance to those who might Google you. It's a way of letting everyone know that writing is your profession, not your hobby. But if you are here, you already know that. So instead, let's focus on the design and content you should include in your website.

Let's look at a few of the different kinds of websites to give you an idea of how you might want to design yours:

The Blog-Focused Site
Blogs are an excellent way of keeping your readers up to date with news and giving them more insight into you. It's a very personal approach, but you control how personal you get. Sharon Bayliss's website has her blog on the home page, and a column on the right to showcase her books and social media. It's really well balanced, which is very important for a website. You don't want it to look too busy, or the readers' eyes will be drawn to too many places. And she also has tabs for all of the other information you might be looking for on her--even one to take her quiz to see what kind of witch or wizard you would be in the world of The December People series. Vicki Keire has another great example of a blog-centric site powered by a Blogger template. The great thing about this design is that since you are going through Blogger, it is easy to maintain. No fancy HTML or CSS skills necessary. James Wymore does the same thing with Wordpress, but I'm less familiar with Wordpress than I probably should be at this point.

The Book-Focused Site
People are stopping by to get information about your books, right? So if you want to put that information front and center on your home page, it makes perfect sense. Eliza Tilton's site does a really good job doing this and looking sleek and professional. She has a great tagline in her header, and then directly shows the covers of her books. She still has a blog, which is in the main menu and easy to access. Terry Goodkind's website does this as well, usually featuring his next release (in this case, Severed Souls, which I am equal parts dreading and excited about reading). I'm not a big fan of the tiny Home button that takes you to his actual site and shows you everything else you want to see, but hey--he's making millions, so he can do whatever he wants. And he also looks intimidating as hell, so that might help. ;)

The News-Focused Site
Why not get straight to business and put your news on your front page? That's what I do on my site, which can be cool since you can tie it in with your newsletter (which we already talked about as a "must") and just copy everything over from it. If you run behind on updating your website, then your Home page with all the news can become pretty lengthy. Richelle Mead also has a news-centric site, and hers looks much slicker. She has a brief intro and then launches into what is going on, however much or little there might be (she did just give birth if I'm remembering right, so I think we can all understand a lack of appearances and such). With both of these designs, you can still have easy access to your books and create a personalized style.

The Sleek and Simple Site
Personally, I'm a big fan of this style, even though my website doesn't follow it. You are brought to a home page that has the very bare minimum, and then have a menu that takes you directly where you need to go--books, blog, about me, etc. A good example of this is Krystal Wade's website, which is very crisp and elegant, and her menu covers everything needed. The picture also makes you feel like you are being transported somewhere magical, and as an avid fantasy reader, this is something I am definitely drawn to. The only drawback to this is that it can create a very detached website, and as authors, I think giving it a personal touch is definitely the way to go since our goal is to connect with our readers. Krystal manages to avoid this drawback by having personalized messages or writing in first person, so she is directly addressing the reader.

There are other site styles, of course, but these are the most popular that I've seen. All of the above are easy to create and maintain, which is definitely a perk. If you have to dedicate the whole entire day to updating your website, you probably need to rethink how you are doing it. I'm guilty of spending a whole day redesigning mine (and probably about to do that again soon), but updating should only take an hour or so, depending on the amount of information you are updating.
Images from spaceshipmadeofwood

Once you've decided how to design your website, you need to decide what to include. Here are my Do's and Don'ts from my experience with my site:

  • Home Page: Pretty much a given, and we've already discussed the different ways you can design it. Whether you have your blog on the front page or just a menu, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to make it easy to read. Personally, I feel like mine has a bit too much text going on. Too much text makes a home page feel crowded, but with the most boring types of company you can imagine. At least for me, anyway. You want your website to be personal but still show that you take your career seriously. A sleek website does just that. As a reader, this gives me more confidence in the writer. I know I'm not about to spend my money on a rough draft, but something that the writer has put time and effort into. Here are some other things you might want to include on your home page--just make sure you don't overcrowd:
    • Your books: You can do this with a simple Goodreads widget or just put the covers there on your own and make them clickable to the pages on your site or the Amazon pages. The Goodreads widget works, but I'm not a big fan of the layout options, personally.
    • Social media: You can have buttons to link to your social media, or you can include social media feeds from sites like Twitter and Facebook to show your recent activities. 
    • Newsletter or blog subscription: Make it easy for people to get email updates from you with a subscription option. MailChimp offers this widget for newsletters, and both Blogger and Wordpress offer it for blogs as well.
    • Blog activities: This is especially easy with a blog-centric website, where you have the options of including keywords, recent activities, etc. 
  • About Me: Don't neglect the bio, and don't make visitors have to dig for it. It doesn't have to be your life story. It can be as long or as short as you want it to be. After all, this is your website, so it should be tailored to you. I have one paragraph on my home page, but I'd really suggest having an About Me section, which I'm going to change to once I upgrade to get more pages. Your bio can be third person or first person. I've seen a lot of authors address readers directly, which I'm a big fan of. My bio is third person, but that's because everything I wrote first person sounded ridiculous in my head. Jessa Russo wrote hers in first person and isn't shy about getting personal with you, which really creates a connection with the readers. You get an absolute feel for who she is, which left me wanting to read her books even more. You don't have to leave your about me to just the bio, though. Here are some other ideas of what to include:
    • News: If you don't have this on your front page, you can include it here. I used to have a News Archive on my About Me page, but I felt like it cluttered it too much, and like it was pointless. My blog has old news, and I don't update every week with new news and get rid of the old. But if you want an archive, I've seen it done well before. As long as you keep the "No Clutter" rule in mind with a website, you're fine with pretty much anything, I think. 
    • Upcoming Appearances: This is one you might want to create a different page for, but also a good place if you don't. Whether you're hosting a Facebook party or doing a signing in person, your readers will want to know how they can connect with you!
    • Past Interviews and Guest Blogs: If you have done a blog tour, then you have most likely done a guest post or an interview. Since this website is all about you, don't be shy about putting those links out there. 
    • Social media: If you don't want to include your social media feeds on your front page, this is a good place to put them. The reason to have them at all is to give readers easy access to that sort of thing, and to maybe get them to follow you by seeing the clever things you post on Twitter. Especially if you are Anna Kendrick and always say clever things on Twitter
      Image from tyandcrystalhelp
  • Books: This one is a given, but you do have some options as to how you do this. You can have individual pages for each of your books, individual pages for each of your series, or just one page where all of your books are showcased with clickable covers that take you to more information about the book itself. All of the author websites we've looked at so far have great examples of these options. Here are some other book related items you might include:
    • Reviews: If your book has even three glowing reviews, don't be afraid to showcase them. I have a whole section for reviews and use the Goodreads widget to show them off. I also pull quotes from reviews from other sites like Amazon, review blogs, or Barnes & Noble. 
    • Purchase links: Definitely a must. Make it easy for people to buy your book after you tell them why they want to, right?
    • Goodreads link: Even if you aren't a fan of Goodreads or have never gone to the site, keep in mind that plenty of other people use it. 
    • Pinterest boards: If you use Pinterest for inspiration, casting, or to get to know your characters better, let your readers see it too. Pinterest makes it easy to include a widget on your site, and it is as simple as copying and pasting the HTML code. 
    • Music playlists: Whether you use YouTube or Spotify, if you have a music playlist that goes along with your series, show it to your readers.
    • Book Trailers: You definitely want to include a book trailer if you have it. I have one for my Heirs of War series, and it is at the top of the series page. 
    • Teaser images: Lots of authors create teaser images for upcoming releases to generate buzz. The book page is a great place to showcase these in an album or slideshow. I wouldn't recommend just pasting them everywhere on the page, because then it will get cluttered, but lots of design sites make it easy to create albums and use slideshows for that kind of thing.
    • Definitions: If you have a fantasy series like me, it might be a good idea to use the series page or book page to define some of the things from your world. I create image cards for that kind of thing that I sometimes use on my site. 
    • Character interviews: Another thing you might do for a blog tour is interview your characters or let someone else do it. It's lots of fun and lets the readers get more insight into their favorite characters, so it's a good idea to include links to content like that.
    • Contests: If you have contests or giveaways for a particular book, make sure you include them on the relevant pages, even if you have them somewhere else. It's repetitive, sure, but also makes it easier for people to find them.
  • Other Ideas: If you have extra content like quizzes or poetry, or even another hobby like music videos or art, you can definitely include a page for that. Reviews, services, awards, blog hops, travel blogs--the possibilities are endless. The key to having a website is to have all of your information in one place so that it is convenient for readers to find and then connect with you. If you keep busy, it might be a good idea for you to have a separate Events page to make it easy to find appearances. 

Amazon: Author Pages and Rankings

If you sell on Amazon, and you probably do since they have evolved into quite the giant in the book world, then you have access to Amazon Author Central, where you can do cool things like link social media, put in a profile, and even track sales. An even cooler thing that never occurred to me until recently is that you can also get likes for that page. I never even noticed the option because I don't pay attention to how many likes an author has on Amazon. But from what I am hearing, Amazon does. Amazon usually stays pretty mum about their numbers and formulas for rankings, but apparently the number of likes an author gets somehow ties in. There used to be an option to like individual books as well, but they got rid of that. Either that, or I'm blind and can't find it.

Either way, the Amazon author page is a convenient way to have all the relevant information a reader might look for from you in one place: Social media, bio, website, blog, other books, book trailers, etc. There's even a place for customers to start a discussion about you.

So how do you get ranked and what does it mean? Rankings are a reflection of how well your book is doing, which is a direct reflection of sales. I haven't been able to find an actual formula that Amazon uses, but people do have theories about how to get ranked. One tip: Don't visit your book page or have others visit it unless they are buying the book. If you want to get a look at your sales rank, use Amazon Author Central. Apparently, rumor has it that if your book has too many visits without correlating sales, it will lower your Amazon ranking. And a higher ranking is supposed to mean more visibility. I can say that since I stopped checking my page for rank or anything else (I used to use it for easily grabbing the blurb or copying the actual link to sell it--now I use my website for that), my rankings have gone up.

Once I started seeing my book on lists like Coming of Age, I started to see more steady sales as well. Since this is a self published title with a handful of reviews, that doesn't mean I'm raking in the dough. But still. I've seen an improvement.

Which brings me to another thing that possibly/probably has an impact on your ranking: Reviews. One of the worst things an author can hear from you is that you loved their book but never reviewed it. But one of the worst things you can do as an author is beg for reviews or bitch when you don't get them. I've given away over 100 free copies of Heirs of War since I published it a year ago and do you know how many reviews I have total? I have 10 on Amazon, 12 on Goodreads, 1 on Barnes & Noble, and 1 on Smashwords.

And yes, you read that right. I've given away over 100 copies of Heirs of War.
Image from runwithrockets
But seeing as how it is the first book in my series priced at 99 cents and there's an older version of it available for free on Wattpad, it really isn't hitting me hard.

I digress. So beyond selling books, you can up your Amazon rankings and get more visibility on Amazon by getting likes on your Amazon page, good keywords to accompany your books so that it can be put on lists (Amazon has a nice breakdown here), reviews, not visiting your page to check rankings constantly or any other reason, and by getting people to buy your book along with another. People who bought my book also bought books from Sharon Bayliss, so her books come up when you visit my book's page under the customer suggestions. Similarly, Shattered Secrets by Krystal Wade shows up as a suggestion when you look at Destruction's page. So if enough people buy the same book, like a best seller, and yours, then it gives you more visibility.

But what can you do about any of this, beyond staying off your book's Amazon page or encouraging others to visit it if they aren't going to buy your book?

  • One thing you can do is try to time any sales you might have with new releases that are similar to your book. No guarantees, but worth a shot and telling readers that if they are a fan of the new book coming out, they can enjoy yours too for a special price is a bit enticing. Worth a shot. 
  • Encourage readers to visit your Amazon author page and give it a like, then share it on social media. Like I said, I haven't found any actual data to back up the claim that more likes gets you a higher ranking, but if Amazon is tracking it, then it is worth doing. I've seen a lot of authors at Facebook parties recently having party goers like their Amazon page and give the number in order to enter a contest. This got me up to 15 likes from the pitiful one I had before (though number one was awesome for doing it on her own!). 
  • Encourage readers to post reviews, but never bargain with them to get it done. Offering prizes or other incentives is a good way to get that review deleted. Amazon can be pretty annoying with deleting reviews. I haven't had it happen, personally, but I've seen other authors have theirs deleted because they happened to also give a gift card to that reviewer from their same account, even if the timing didn't match up as a bribe sort of thing. Amazon doesn't want you paying for reviews, so just keep that in mind with whatever you do. 
Above all, keep in mind that your ranking on Amazon isn't the end of the world, and isn't something you need to work on every day. I've never broken the top 100 on the overall sales list, and I'm okay. This is a long road we tread, and expecting immediate results is only bound to get you disappointment. Patience, young grasshoppers. 

We only have one more week of Marketing Mondays left. Next week we will wrap things up with blog tours and advertisements. Think there is something I've missed? Let me know! Mondays always come back to haunt us, which means Marketing Mondays can always return with more to discuss and different ways to drive your book sales!

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