Building a website

In this article we'll walk through the process of creating a professional website, finding the perfect domain, and choosing a great hosting provider.

There are many options available to get a website up and running, from free to paid, hosted to self-hosted. All have their advantage and disadvantages. These are covered extensively online so here we will instead set out a few simple options, both free and paid, so you can quickly get your author website set-up.

Self-hosted vs hosted website

For maximum control over your website, choose a self-hosted option. This means you will have to pay to host your website, but in return you gain more flexibility as to how you can set things up, and also more security.

You own your website and no-one can tell you what you can and can’t put on there. You will need to choose a hosting provider. Three great options are listed below, all very respected in the industry.

  • BlueHost
  • WPX Hosting
  • SiteGround

If you are not ready for a self-hosted website and would like to go the free route initially, choose a hosted solution. This is essentially an everything-under-one roof option, where you create an account with a provider and you get a free domain name, hosting, and software already installed so you can manage all your content.

There are a few major downsides to hosted solutions. You will need to stay in line with the terms of service of that provider, who dictate what kinds of content you are allowed to post. Especially important if you are posting any mature content in the form of text, images, or video. They can essentially shut you down at any time without notice and you may lose access to all your content and have to start from scratch.

There are usually also at least some kinds of restrictions on the use of third-party advertising, affiliate marketing and even simply linking to other websites. Ultimately, a free hosted solution can become the most expensive solution in the long run. Three hosted options include:

  • Wix
  • Blogger
  • Wordpress.com

Choose and register your domain

Namecheap and GoDaddy are both solid options to register your domain name. Namecheap includes WhoisGuard privacy protection for free, which protects your sensitive data (name, address, etc.) from prying eyes.

It’s highly recommended to use a .com domain extension as this is still regarded as the most professional and widely accepted.

Ideas for choosing a domain name:

1) Use your pen name or first and last real name.

2) Try adding the word “author”, “books”, or “writer” if without the domain is taken.

3) Avoid using hyphens.

4) Keep it as short as possible.

5) Choose a .com domain

Buy a WordPress theme or install a free one

When you log in to your WordPress dashboard and navigate to Appearance > Themes, you will have the option of installing a free theme or uploading one from your desktop.

The WordPress repository has many free themes and you browse the demos to find one you like. Installing a free theme can be a good way to get a feel for what you might like your site to look like.

If you want something a bit more fancy, just Google something like “premium WordPress themes”, “author wordpress theme", “wordpress theme/page builder”. You can also check out other professional authors' websites for inspiration. There’s a good chance their website was built with a WordPress theme.

If they are using WordPress and you want to discover what theme they’re using, check out whatwpthemeisthat.com or wpthemedetector.com. Copy and paste the website URL where it says “enter url”. You can even see what plugins the website is using.

There are tons of themes and most of them have a lot of features and widgets that you just won’t need in most cases. The themes themselves are developed to appeal to the widest range of customers. For your author website, you want to keep things simple, which also translates in many cases to a faster loading website.

Here are 5 highly respected places to find a theme:

1) Thrive Themes

2) Theme Forest

3) Divi

4) Theme Isle

5) Socrates Theme

Install WordPress

With a hosted WordPress website, WordPress will already be installed ready for you. If you have a self-hosted WordPress site, log in to your dashboard and navigate to Appearance > Themes, and upload the zip file containing your WordPress theme.

Install Plugins

Plugins can help improve the experience your visitors have when landing on your website and also your own experience as the website owner. Here are 5 recommended plugins to install:

1) WP Total Cache - improves site performance such as page load times

2) Akismet - filters out spam comments and saves you time

3) Google Analytics - easily connect your website to your Analytics account

4) Contact Form 7 - a simple, spam-free way for your visitors to contact you

5) GDPR popup - data protection and privacy compliance for marketing to EU visitors

Create main website pages

This includes both the standard pages your visitors will expect to see and legal pages to protect you and visitors to your website. ie. Home page, about, contact, landing page, individual books pages or grouped books pages, privacy, terms and conditions.

You might like to write your first blog post welcoming visitors to your new home on the internet, or post about a new/upcoming release.

Use one of the many online design tools likes Canva or Snappa to create an attractive header design and logo. Check your theme header settings for the header dimensions or go into the Media section to view the placeholder theme sizing. Once created, if your new image is saved in png format, you can convert it to jpg to reduce the file size.

Set up and integrate your email autoresponder

Start collecting your visitors' email addresses by adding an email autoresponder. Mailchimp and Mailerlite are popular options with authors. With Mailchimp, you can sign up your first 2000 subscribers for free.

If you’re looking for something more feature-rich (but more expensive), check out ConvertKit. GetResponse and Aweber are also worth considering. Visit the providers' site for detailed and up-to-date instructions on how to get set up.

Tell the world you’re open for business

Invite everyone in your network to check out your new author website. Invite them to join your mailing list or email you with feedback. Update your published books with a link back to your website and remember to add a link inside every new book you publish.

Create a lead magnet

As soon as you have time, create a lead magnet or repurpose some existing content to give away to new subscribers. This will increase your conversion rate of visitors to subscribers and ultimately make you more sales.

Website checklist

1) Register domain - Namecheap, GoDaddy

2) Point domain nameservers to hosting

3) Install WordPress

4) Buy a premium WordPress theme or install a free one

5) Create main site pages - home, about, contact, books, privacy, landing page, blog, blog post/s.

6) Install GDPR plugin and add pages

Virtual address

Sign up for a PO Box service to include in your email footer. This gives you a layer of protection from revealing personal information such as your home address. Also, check the laws in your country on sending commercial emails.

Hosting

Choosing a great website hosting provider is extremely important to ensure your site loads fast for visitors and has a high amount of uptime. For an author website, which generally won’t need many pages, you can get a great service for a very affordable price. Hosting companies generally offer you 3 different options:

  • Shared Hosting - cheapest option
  • VPS Hosting - mid-range
  • Dedicated Server Hosting - most expensive

Fortunately, for an author website, shared hosting works out to be the best option in most cases. Author websites are generally low-traffic sites and don’t have to worry about huge surges of visitors crashing the site.

Unless you’re already a celebrity or bestselling author of course, in which case a pricier host might be a better choice. Three things to consider when choosing a hosting provider include:

1) Do they offer free SSL certificates? - installing one of these insures no browser will throw up a warning to potential visitors and possibly scare them away for no reason.

2) Support - if you like asking questions you might feel more comfortable choosing a hosting provider that offers live chat support so you can contact them anytime and get a quick response.

3) Domain name registration - some hosting providers offer a free premium domain when you buy a hosting plan. I recommend you avoid this and choose a different provider for each, for two main reasons.

If you ever decide you want to switch hosts, you can simply sign up to the new provider and change your domain settings with the separate provider, instead of having to also do a domain transfer, which can be frustrating and time-consuming.

Also, if you’re website ever gets hacked, the hackers wouldn’t be able to mess with your domain as well.

Here are 5 top hosting providers to consider:

1) Hostgator

2) Bluehost

3) WPX Hosting

4) Siteground

5) WPEngine

Quick tip

Due to economies of scale, cheap hosting doesn't mean bad. Having said that, definitely choose a well-known provider, conduct your due diligence to make sure you get a good deal.

Most hosting providers offer the first month for a cheap price so it's worth checking what you will pay from the second month onwards to ensure the cost is acceptable to you.