It’s no use having a good website if no one visits it.
How can you create an author website that readers want to visit and tell their friends about?
Carla Hoch is the creator of FightWrite.net, a website dedicated to helping authors write better fight scenes. In 2019, she asked me how she could improve her website. After implementing my recommendations, her website traffic increased from 2,000 visits per month to 7,000 every month.
I recently interviewed Carla about her success, and she shared how and why her website grew.
Thomas Umstattd, Jr.: When we first started this podcast, the standard advice for authors was that they didn’t need a website because they could easily create a free Google Plus page.
We were fighting that bad advice back then, and we’re still encouraging authors to have their own websites today.
What was your website like back in the day?
Carla Hoch: Well, let’s just say that you looked at it, and you sighed. First, you told me I needed to get off Blogspot. I started with a free Blogspot website because I had no idea if anybody would read it. I wrote a couple of posts, and about 100 people read them. I thought, “I am famous. There’s nothing better!”
After a few years of blogging there, I had an interview with you, and afterward, you answered a lot of my website questions.
But when you told me to get off Blogspot, I told you I didn’t want to invest money because I didn’t know if it would work.
Well, you assured me, “It works.” So the first step was just getting my own domain name on a WordPress site.
Thomas: Because you owned the domain FightWrite.net, but it was redirecting people to your Blogspot website. You shifted to WordPress, and now WordPress is running on your domain FightWrite.net, which makes it easier for people to remember your domain name.
When you were on Blogspot, people saw your FightWrite.net domain for a split second, but then it turned into a Blogspot URL when it redirected. If people wanted to share that post, they had to share a Blogspot link rather than a FightWrite.net link.
But now, your readers are sharing a FightWrite.net link, which means they’re more likely to remember the name of your website, and it will be easier for them to return to it.
What other changes did you make to the look of your website?
Carla: When we talked, I took copious notes, and you gave me homework. I also watched your course through the Christian Writers Institute, and I took copious notes there, too.
Then I started following your advice. I contracted with Stormhill Media, a website design group that is well acquainted with the needs of writers.
When they asked what I was looking for, I picked up all the notes I’d taken, and I knew exactly what to tell them. I wanted three callout buttons. I had an outline of exactly what I wanted the menu to look like. Everything I told them was 100% based on the advice you gave me.
I bought a website overhaul, and my site became a place for people to read about writing fight scenes.
It also became my digital desk, so to speak. You want my book? It’s on my website. You want to take a class with Writer’s Digest? Boom. Here’s a link to my website. You want to read more about a topic? Here’s my blog link. You want all the other ancillary information for FightWrite? It’s on my website. It became a one-stop-shop versus an information platform.
Thomas: The strategy is to make your website the center of the wheel. It’s the hub, and all the spokes point to your website. Your courses, blogs, podcasts, interviews, and business cards direct people to your website because that’s your space. You control what’s on your website.
Some authors want to send folks directly to their Amazon page, Facebook Page, or Google Plus Page, but you don’t control those spaces. Amazon, Facebook, or Google can change a URL at any time, and suddenly, the URL you just printed on 500 business cards is no longer valid.
When you send people to a piece of digital land you don’t own, the owner of that space controls what people experience. It doesn’t necessarily mean they’re malicious, but you have no say about their content.
Thomas: We did a whole episode about how people can hijack an author’s Amazon page, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If you do happen to get kicked off Facebook or Amazon, having your own website means you have a place where you can explain your side of the story and give people another way to buy your book.
Carla: Absolutely. After the pandemic hit, I learned that not everybody likes shopping at Amazon. Not everybody uses a Kindle. Some people use different ereaders and shop at other online retailers. It’s great to be able to offer several buying options on your own website.
I’ve noticed how the same concept helps with my podcast when people ask where they can find it. It’s available in many places, but instead of listing them, I just say, “Here’s the link for my podcast page on my website. You can find all the locations there.”
When they visit that page, they can choose their preferred podcast platform. People like having options.
Thomas: Speaking of options, at the top of your website, you have three big buttons that say, “Buy the Book,” “Read the Blog,” and “Get in Touch.” It’s clear. You’re not asking people to decipher your website or hoping they’ll find their way to your book. Your invitations are very clear.
Authors who don’t have a published book can still copy this technique, because they still have something readers want.
If you’re not published, your buttons might say, “Sign up for the newsletter,” “Get a free novella,” or “Download the tip sheet.” You have many options, but you need to have a clear call to action on your website.
Carla: Your call to action should be front and center and require as few clicks as possible. If it requires more than two clicks, you’re going to lose people.
On my podcast page, visitors click once to view the page and a second time to decide which podcast platform they want to use. Don’t ask your visitors to click, click, click, because they just won’t do it.
Thomas: None of us like to spend 20 minutes trying to decipher where to go on a website. If you’re in a hurry or trying to squint through a small phone screen, you want the steps to be clear. Treat your readers as you want other webmasters to treat you. Make things easy and clear.
Certain readers visit your website to find out how to buy the book. They want a list of places your book is available, and they want to know which versions and formats exist. If it’s easy to click and buy your book, you will make that reader very happy.
Carla: I’m so glad you mentioned looking at something on a mobile phone. Always look at the mobile version of your webpages. The desktop view is often different than the mobile view. Check out both versions to make sure it’s not wonky. If it is, you’ll need to change some things.
You also need to look at the SEO, and I’m going to let you explain that.
Thomas: SEO is the process of making your website easy for people to find. I just recorded an episode titled Search Engine Optimization for Author Websites, where we walk you through the most important ways to improve your website SEO.
For most author websites, including yours, Carla, the best thing to concentrate on is the meta title and the SEO description.
When somebody searches on Google or Bing, the title is the big, blue, bold text at the top of the results. The description is the little paragraph underneath it. The words you put in your title are the words that appear on a Google search results page. But it’s also one of the only places you can put those keywords that Google pays attention to.
Right now, when I go to FightWrite.net, it says “homepage-fightwrite.” Since FightWrite.net is your brand, you should include that in your meta title or SEO description. You should also include the keyword “fight scenes” because you help people write better fight scenes.
Carla: Thanks for that tip! I first learned about SEO from a post I wrote for Writer’s Digest blog, and I’m still learning about it.
I am the type of person who gets overwhelmed if I have too much going on around me. So just take it bit by bit. Start with the website. Then create a post. I guess my next step is SEO.
Thomas: That is exactly the right mindset for maintaining a good website because you’re never going to have a perfect website. You’ll constantly be improving it.
Having a website is like learning to play the guitar. When you start, you have these big, difficult learning spikes, but you learn to play the F chord.
There’s a huge skill gap between people who have been playing for five weeks and five years. But even after you’ve played for five years, you can still get better. After you’ve played for 20 years, you can still improve. Even if you’ve been playing your whole life, you might go to a concert to hear somebody who’s better than you.
If you want to play the guitar, you don’t give up when you discover someone is better than you. Be inspired by that person and allow their skill to encourages you to try and learn something new.
It’s a difficult mindset shift for writers because it’s so different than writing a book. When you write a book, it has to be as close to perfect as possible because once you release it to the world, you can’t change it. Those copies will always be out there.
When authors take that mindset to their website, they hide it behind a password until it’s perfect, but that’s not how websites work. You need to hit publish and never stop improving it.
Carla: That’s what I did. I started the Blogspot site with no idea of how it was going to turn out. Over time, I learned. I looked at my Google analytics, and I could see which posts were doing better. If you have one area of your website that’s just killing it, investigate why, and look at the bounce rate. See how long people stay on that page. Make use of that information.
And let me just pause and explain how proud I am that I even know what Google Analytics is because I certainly had no idea when I started.
COVID changed all my analytics because people were home when they hadn’t been before. Now that people are going back to work, I’ve seen a shift in the more popular days and times.
Thomas: COVID and the lockdowns changed a lot of behavior. Many websites got their primary traffic from people who were at work in front of a computer but not working.
That’s why Cyber Monday is such a big deal. People are at work on their computers making purchases. Typically, people have Black Friday off, so they actually make fewer online purchases because they’re not in front of their work computer.
How does WordPress compare to Blogspot as you’re writing new blog posts?
Was it a painful transition? Did you even notice that it was different?
Carla: Any time you’re new at anything, you’re not going to enjoy it as much. You don’t enjoy something until you gain some proficiency. Again, I am not a tech person, and there was a learning curve, but it wasn’t hard.
WordPress is extremely user-friendly. Now, I had Stormhill Media design my site because my brand was growing so fast. I didn’t know what I didn’t know, and I needed their help.
But you don’t have to hire someone. There are a ton of videos on YouTube that will talk you through each step. Stormhill Media gave me tutorials so that I could do basic upkeep. If I can use WordPress, you can use WordPress, I assure you.
Thomas: The course you took on author websites has been upgraded. It now has step-by-step videos by me on how to build your own WordPress website from scratch. I don’t cover how to move from Blogspot to WordPress, so you might need help outside of my course for that. But if you’re building a site from scratch, I cover every single step, and the best part is, it’s a free course called “How to Build an Amazing Author Website.”
Carla: Moving from Blogspot to WordPress was easy. I believe there’s a plugin that helps you do it. If you have an extensive blog that you want to index, you may need some outside help. I sure did. But now, every time I post, it immediately and automatically gets indexed alphabetically. It required some finagling, and even the folks at Stormhill needed to think on it for a while.
In my case, I had to have an index because I started teaching classes for Writer’s Digest. Part of my contract with Writers Digest required me to have a link on my landing page that sent people to my class. With Blogspot, that wasn’t possible.
If you find yourself in a situation like that, reach out to an expert. They don’t have to build the whole thing, but they can help you troubleshoot or get started.
Don’t get sticker shock. It does cost money, but it is something you can deduct from your taxes.
Thomas: Part of the transition of becoming a professional rather than a hobbyist is presenting yourself professionally. The primary way you do that in 2021 is through your website, especially while a pandemic is raging.
People aren’t making judgments about your professionalism based on your wardrobe right now. Their first impressions are based on your website. Invest your wardrobe budget in building a professional website.
A mindset was fostered about 10 years ago that said things on the Internet should be free. At that time, people didn’t realize that when you are not the customer, you’re the product that’s being sold.
When you get things for free, you’re giving up your privacy, time, brand, and control. When you’re not the customer, you don’t have influence. You can’t go to Facebook and demand a change. You can’t even ask Amazon to change even though you have a business relationship with them.
It’s important for authors to understand that it’s good to spend money building and maintaining a website. For some people, that means getting a job that will help support your writing career. There are many ways to make money in the author world before your book comes out.
You can edit for other authors or work as a virtual assistant. Those are both great ways to earn money and learn. When you work with an author who’s farther along in their journey, you get paid to learn how to do certain tasks before you need to do them for yourself.
Carla: It is absolutely fine to admit you don’t know jack-squat about technology or social media. Start there. When you pay for help, you assign greater value to it.
That’s one reason writers ought to charge for their writing. People in your life will ask you to write something, and you have to pick and choose.
Schools around here know I’m a writer, and they often ask if I can write a newsletter or other articles. At some point, you have to decide to charge for your writing because you’re viewed differently when you do. Your time and skill are valued when people have to pay. Do you agree with that, Thomas?
Thomas: I think that’s a transition every author has to go through. First, you need to do it for free to practice because the carpenter doesn’t just build the house. The house builds the carpenter. It’s especially true of public speaking, but it’s also true for writing. You just need to practice writing for an audience, and you may not be ready to charge for it.
But as you get established, and your writing improves, you can transition. Once you have the experience, a portfolio, or a book-sales history, you don’t have to do it for free anymore. What you charge is determined by the demand for your time and skill.
I spoke with a photographer who spent a lot of money on marketing and advertising, and he let the demand for his photography dictate his price. When he got busy, he didn’t stop the marketing. He just raised his prices.
He was a top-notch photographer, and he made a lot of money because he was aggressive with marketing, and he was good at his craft.
He charged hundreds of dollars for a headshot because he was well-known and skilled. Even though people could get a $30 headshot at J.C. Penny’s, they were willing to spend hundreds with him because he was great at his job.
As an author, once you have people asking you for more guest posts than you have time to write, then you can start getting choosy and put up those paywalls as a barrier. I think you have to earn the right to charge.
Carla: People value what they pay for. If you are considering paying for a website, you must ask what the return will be. For me, the return was 100% valid. I’m very thankful for it.
You also need a way for your visitors to get to know you personally on your website. Readers want to read your book, but they also want to know you a little bit.
I have found that the more people know me, the more books I sell.
Thomas: When you build your website well, you can allow people to get to know you if they want, and you can allow people to buy the book and leave if they want.
You have a lot of flexibility in directing how they navigate the website, which again comes from the fact that you have control. You can incorporate those elements where you want to incorporate them.
What was the return on your website investment?
Tell us about your results. Your traffic increased 300%. You won a CAN Crown Award for author websites. Have you seen any impact on book sales? Your newsletter? Your courses?
Carla: Yes, absolutely in book sales. Mine is a niche book, teaching writers how to write fight scenes. First, it’s for a small audience of writers. Second, it’s for a writer who has some type of action or violence in their story. It’s also about injuries, but the fact is, it’s a niche within a niche.
When I sold five books, I was just as ecstatic as I was when 100 people read my first blog post. With my new website, I have been shocked at the number of book sales I’ve made.
When you transition from Blogspot to WordPress, there is some lag time because you have to redirect folks. Stormhill Media told me that if we built it, they would come. And wow. It was out of nowhere that I started getting actual visits and not just views. There’s a difference between views and visits. The visits went from 2,000 to nearly 7,000. Then COVID hit, and the numbers have been up and down since then.
Part of the variation is because I am not posting as often as I used to. If you want a blog people will visit, you must post new content regularly. Readers need to know when you will publish that content.
Part of the drop in traffic has been due to a lack of content. But it’s also because I’ve been involved in so many different things lately. And I’ve been involved in other activities because I have a great website that tells people what I do how to contact me. It makes me look super legit.
Thomas: When we want to know if someone is the real deal, we check their website. It’s what we do.
Your up-and-down numbers are very common for a blog-based website because some posts resonate more than others.
We recorded an episode on the Facebook changes a couple of weeks ago. The episode was popular, but the blog post version of that episode went viral on Facebook, which is ironic. It was a huge hit. We got tons of traffic because that episode came out the same week Facebook banned all journalists in Australia.
It was serendipity. We did not plan for the episode to release during that event. In fact, I don’t know if it had even happened yet when I was recording because I didn’t reference Australia in that episode or blog post. But it caused many people to realize that Facebook can make major changes that have ramifications for authors.
Carla: I’ve noticed those changes. I used to share a blog post on my personal page, and people shared it everywhere. Now, very few people even see the posts I share.
Thomas: Yep. Bloggers are getting less traffic. You can still get traffic. I proved that with my post about Facebook’s changes, which is really funny because the article was about how Facebook doesn’t work as well as it used to for authors. But it still worked for that post.
How can you use your existing content to create new content?
That’s actually an idea that you can steal, Carla. That blog post was a podcast episode. We took the podcast’s transcript as interpreted by AI, and we edited it for a blog post version.
The blog version isn’t a verbatim transcription, but it’s the same material presented as a blog post. If you do that with your podcast, it will rank better on Google because Google prefers a blog post to a podcast transcript. It also reaches a different audience because some people prefer to listen, and some prefer to read.
It’s also easier to share a blog post with your friends than it is to share podcasts. If you were to move your podcast away from Libsyn and switch to Blubrry, your podcast could live inside your website, and every episode could be a blog post.
That’s what we do. There’s a real advantage for traffic and engagement when you create several versions of the same material, but there’s also a cost. It’s work to turn that transcript into a blog post. But it’s less work than writing a new post from scratch.
Carla: Is the reverse true as well? Would it be redundant for me to start making podcasts out of my blog posts?
Would it be redundant for me to start making podcasts out of my blog posts?
Thomas: Not at all. In fact, many Novel Marketing episodes came from our most popular blog posts. When I do a solo episode, I write a blog post version first, and then I record it as a podcast. I’m not reading it word-for-word, but I have detailed notes when I’m recording.
I do a lot of research for my solo episodes. I want to make sure the links lead to the right places, especially when I’m talking about something potentially controversial or news-related, like the Facebook episode. I do that work ahead of time.
For an interview episode, we lean harder on that transcript and turn it into a blog post. It really has made a difference, and it’s reaching totally different people. People either prefer to listen or read, and we’ve effectively doubled our audience.
Carla: I’ve grown my audience by offering different formats as well. I was initially hesitant to do videos because I thought that if people could watch a video of me teaching, they’d never want to invite me to speak in person. But you pointed out that when you listen to a musician on the radio, you still want to attend their concert.
Because of your advice, I now have a video series with Writer’s Digest. It’s why I’ve done IGTV and YouTube.
Thomas: You’re reaching the audience that watches the video. Some people listen to podcasts, some read blog posts, and some watch videos.
The more you control your website, the easier it is to incorporate all three formats. If you have a YouTube channel, you can embed those videos on your blog and your website. It’s the hub that connects all the different things.
It’s not a surprise that you’ve seen your traffic increase because this strategy works. You’re not cheating an algorithm. It’s just a solid traffic-building strategy. You’re creating a better experience for humans, and it’s easier for them to share your content.
How would you encourage writers?
Thomas: Do you have any final tips or encouragement for somebody who feels intimidated by having a website?
Carla: If you don’t think you have what it takes to do something, just keep doing it until you have what it takes.
If you’re waiting on perfection, you’re going to wait forever. Don’t wait to be a master before you start fighting. That’s just not how it works. You do not become a black belt on your first day. You start as a white belt. You’re not going to become a black belt if you stand on the edge of the mat and watch.
Get out there and make mistakes. There’s a podcast and a book called Tribe of Mentors by Tim Ferriss. He interviews famous people and gets their tips on success. He asks every guest, “What was your best failure?” It’s a great question.
My best failure is being bad at what I do.
I mean, I’m a good writer, but I’m not great with social media. I had to see how bad I was at social media and embrace it and get some help. It turns around, but it doesn’t happen overnight.
Even if it does happen overnight, you can’t be discouraged by the ups and downs. A week of minimal sales isn’t a good reason to quit being a writer. Next week you may sell 25 books, and that’s just how it works.
Blog traffic will go up and down with different posts. And by the way, if you’re a blogger, people are going to tell you, “Blogs are dead.” But I want you to know that my blog has been “dead” for nearly six years now. I don’t listen to those people. If you enjoy blogging, who cares if anybody reads it? You’re getting joy from it. If you’re enjoying it, people are going to read it.
It is terrifying to hit “publish,” but go ahead and do it. Sure, people will send you emails saying you misspelled a word or you’re wrong about something. But that’s good because it shows you people are reading.
You can disable comments if you want to, but more comments mean you have an engaged audience.
My main piece of advice is just to do it already.
There is no worst-case scenario. I mean, we all want to write a bestseller, but the odds of that are slim. I am five-foot-two, and I am the size of a strapping sixth-grade boy. When I was in middle school, women’s basketball had just become an Olympic sport, and I wanted to be a professional basketball player.
Obviously, that didn’t come to fruition, but it doesn’t hurt to want something that doesn’t happen because it leads to other things.
Don’t wait to be the best because you’ll never start. You have to ask people for help if you want to get better.
That’s my second piece of advice. Ask for help. Ego will get you nowhere immediately.
If you are at a writer’s conference, reach out and ask people questions. I have never had one publishing professional tell me not to ask questions.
I’m so glad I asked Thomas about my website because I would not be talking with you today if I hadn’t. And you know I’m going to work on my SEO as soon as we’re done here.
You must be willing to show your work. Sometimes it will go awry. People might be critical of you and your site, but guess what? They’re critical because they saw it and read it.
Thomas: You can only learn to ride a bike by climbing on and pedaling forward. Once you’re on the bicycle, listen to advice. The same is true for your author career.
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