By Nate Hoffelder
In the “olden” days, many author websites were set up as blogs first, with a few pages tacked on almost as an afterthought. Web design was easy in that era; you put a column of blog posts on the left, and a sidebar on the right for things like sign up forms, related posts widgets, etc.
That was the era I, and a lot of bloggers and authors, got started in but that era ended about 5 years ago. Web design has moved on since then; now the column of blog posts is on its own page, leaving the homepage to serve a whole new purpose.
Homepages are now designed with specific goals in mind. The goal will vary between sites and between industries (not everyone wants to accomplish the same thing) but almost all homepages are designed with goals in mind.
Updating Your Homepage
While it’s okay to keep your site’s homepage in the old style, if you want to switch to a new homepage, I have a few tips on how to make the switch.
The trick to designing a homepage is to understand what you want to accomplish. That can be quite difficult to do; in fact, my blog stayed in the old style for years because I couldn’t figure out how to move forward.
Fortunately for you, I have since learned not just the concept of goal-oriented homepage design but also I have figured out the questions that will help you understand what your goal is.
Organizing Your Homepage
The short version can be boiled down to a few simple questions. The first question tells you what you want to put at the top of your homepage. The second and third questions help you decide what you want to put below that.
- What’s the one action you want visitors to take?
There are a bunch of ways to answer this question, so let me help you narrow it down. What is the one simple small act that you want your visitors to take? The answer is not “buy your books”; that is a big act. No, what we are looking for is something easy for your visitors to do so that you can connect with them.
For many sites, that simple act is signing up for a mailing list, but that doesn’t have to be your only choice.
- What do you want from your visitors?
I may not have phrased that very well, because what I am asking is for you to define your long term relationship with your site’s visitors.
Since we’re talking about author websites, the general answer to this question is that you want them to become readers of and buyers of your books. That answer does not apply to all author sites, however, and you might find it doesn’t fit your goals. A non-fiction author, for example, might want to use their site as a springboard to paid speaking gigs.
Your homepage needs to be designed with that long-term relationship in mind, and ideally you should only include sections that support this goal. For example, visitors should be able to tell what genre you write so that, say, the SF readers know they won’t be interested in the work of an epic fantasy author.
- What parts of your site do you want to showcase?
Your homepage should be designed with your goals in mind, but sometimes your goals are fuzzy. Sometimes you have several conflicting goals. Sometimes you have a passion project that you want to promote even though it doesn’t serve your business goals.
If there’s something you really want to add to the homepage even though it doesn’t work really fit, go ahead and add it to the rough draft or the wishlist. It might not end up in the published version of the homepage, but then again it might. One thing I have noticed about web design is that a loose adherence to the rules often results in a better design than strictly following a formula. (I understand the same is true for writing books.)
Like almost all other types of business sites, author websites are marketing tools. (Or at least that is an option; if you don’t want to use your site this way, that’s okay too.) If you have business goals, then you’re going to want your site’s homepage to support that goal.
I hope these questions will help you identify your goals, and accomplish them.
If you don’t yet know how to answer these questions, here’s a starting point: Look at your sidebar.
If you have an established blog then you’ve probably spent time deciding what to put in your sidebar. You will probably have sorted your sidebar so the most important parts are at the top, and if you have then you already have an answer to my questions.
Basically, your sidebar is the first draft of your homepage. You don’t have to keep the order the same, but this is enough to give you a starting point.
If you want another starting point, back in 2018 I wrote a post where I laid out my system for designing a homepage by ranking what you want visitors to do, then ranking the most important parts of a site, and then using the two lists to lay out the homepage from top to bottom. I no longer think that is the best approach, but it might work for you and it’s certainly not a bad system.
Are you thinking of changing your author blog into an author website? Tell us in the comments.