Monday, October 1, 2012

Website 101

So you’ve determined you need a website for whatever reason. Where do you start? What should you consider as you build it?

Whether you hire a professional or use some of the readily-available software to create it yourself, these are the things to keep in mind.

1.     Branding
This is the entire reason for building your site: to brand yourself and/or your product or service. Your brand must be consistent throughout your site and reflect the image you wish to portray.

2.     Site Name
This is the most important element of your site. Choose it wisely. Hopefully, it will exist for a long time, so be sure it represents you and your product or service. In other words, your brand. Don’t limit it, but consider where you might carry your brand in the future.

Don’t make it too long and complex or too simple. Make it easy to remember.

We chose our names as our brand ( Mine is relatively distinctive, and by using both, we had a simple and easy-to-remember site name that doesn’t require typing a large number of characters.

We’re authors and, although we had only written one book at the time we created the site, we anticipated a future where there might be more. Some authors we know created a site with the name of their first book. Then they wrote a second. Since their first site was already established, they were faced with a conundrum: put the second book on the same site with the first book or create a second. Since there is some cost involved with each site (unless your publisher provides a page for you), the second choice could become expensive. And the first doesn’t easily identify your subsequent books. So select your name wisely.

3.     Banner Image
The image at the top of your Home page is the first thing your viewers will see. Make it attractive and consistent with your brand. Since our site reflects us as writers, we have always had our photo on the banner. Our wonderful webmaster, Toshihiro Komiyama, created this one from our latest photo. And we love it!

It identifies who we are and what we do.

4.     Target Audience
Determine who your target audience will be. Ours is readers. Of course we hope that friends, family, co-workers, and others interested in the subject matter about which we write will also find us. Knowing your audience will help you make the other choices in the design of your site.

5.     Style
Will your site be homey and friendly or formal? Will it exist primarily for information, or will you add value? Is it ‘cute,’ ‘classic,’ or ‘funky’? Again, define your brand before you choose a style. Knowing your audience will also determine the approach. Whatever style you choose, make it consistent throughout the site.

6.     Theme
On our site, we carry the banner and site navigation on each page. This provides consistency and makes it easier to move around the site. All fonts must be consistent and clear. Choose sans-serif fonts for easier reading online. If you pick an elaborate script font, keep in mind that it will be hard to read. Some specialty fonts may not even show up on all devices.

Since more and more people are viewing the Internet on their mobile devices, the simpler the font, the easier to read, even on smaller screens.

And keep your branding and theme consistent. If you write romance, your theme may be flowery and romantic. On the other hand, if you write dark mysteries, you may choose dark colors that convey a sense of foreboding. But your site must always be inviting to a visitor.

7.     Content
What will you put on your site? Know this before you begin the design. Most professional site builders outline the content for their sites prior to building them. You should, too.

How many pages? What will be on them? How much information do you intend to provide?

Keep in mind, your site must be updated constantly for it to be picked up by browsers. ‘Stale data’ (information that has become static and unchanging) will not show up in searches. So keep it simple and don’t disclose too much. As authors, we don’t include large sections of our books, for example. We want our fans to read the entire work. But we do offer lots of ‘extras’ for those who visit.

8.     Extras
What do I mean by extras? Additional information not available elsewhere.

For instance, we include tidbits for each of our books. For some, we add a character sketch of the person who inspired a character, like Countess Elektra Rozanska in Murder… They Wrote or Lovie Cooper in Murder in Paradise.

For 31 Months in Japan: The Building of a Theme Park, we included a chapter called “Be Still” which was deleted from the final version of the book.

We also embed the video trailers we’ve created for several of our books.

9.     Photos
The phrase, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words’ applies. However, be aware that photos are also data-intensive and may require more time to upload (cache). Photos make your site more interesting. Just don’t overload each page with them as viewers won’t wait for lots of images to download.

10.            White Space
I’m currently reading a self-published book with the text crammed onto the page with almost no margins. It is extremely difficult to read. Be sure to include enough blank space around your text for easier reading.

11.            Links
In addition to information, include links to other sites and places of interest to the people who view your site.

We have links on our site for various locations to purchase our book, including a cart on the site itself. We also belong to several organizations, so we have links to those. And we include the links to this blog, Facebook, and Twitter.

12.            Contact Information
When people find you, they must be able to contact you. This can be done by using a ‘blind’ form without a visible email address or with an address dedicated to your business.

13.            Key Words
These are invisible words linked to each page of your site which contain searchable clues as to the content on the page. These also help search engines find your information easily. Don’t forget to include them.

These are the basic elements of a website. Within this framework, give your creativity a chance to shine, but don’t get too clever. The KISS theory applies: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Those who find your site will thank you.


  1. Great information. I hadn't actually thought of the banner and some of the other ideas either. Glad I read this, and I shall be working!

    1. John,
      Glad this was helpful. It's always nice to know that your observations have value to other people.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks! We are blessed with a fabulous webmaster!