Last week, I shared some comparatively easy tweaks for authors to make to a website to improve its SEO. The list resulted from my attending a workshop on SEO and Analytics taught by Liz Gray. Today, we’ll dig a little deeper and review some questions that might require a little more thought to answer. You really could spend months on this, and we all need to write, too. The good thing is that you can make changes incrementally, and take revisions on in gradual steps.
6. Are You Showing Search Engines What You Think You Are?
This point made me smile. It’s similar to writing a book—the scene can be so vivid in your mind as you’re writing, then an editor or beta reader “sees” something different. We don’t always say what we mean, with words, or with websites.
Since search engine spiders review the text and walk the links of your website, my big take-away from this part of the presentation was the hazard of burying important information in a graphic. You and I, for example, look at my header here on the site and see the slogan “Romance with a Touch of Magic”. That string of text, however, doesn’t exist anywhere in the copy or code of my site. Nowhere. Which means it isn’t returned to any search engine, and won’t come up in any results. If that slogan was important to me or my branding, I’d have to have a look at changing it. As it is, the header is being redesigned this spring and that slogan is on its way out, since I’m writing fewer books with paranormal elements. If there’s a new slogan, I’ll need to implement it differently on the site. I have another example, but we’ll get to that further on, with its solution.
7. Speak Like Your Customers
I mentioned this last week. Keywords exist in your niche already, so don’t invent new ones. Use the ones that search engines use, and use the ones that your readers use. This means using these words in the visible copy on the site, and in the more hidden data, like alternate text for images.
Here’s an example from my site and my store. I changed this:
Because one of the search terms that brings readers to my website is “free read” or “read free”. Simple, really, but it makes sense.
8. Build Your Authority
Liz described how search engines like to provide answers to people, and that they skew preference to sites that provide answers. How they manage this is less important to this discussion than the notion itself. This is a trend I’ve noticed over the past few years. WordPress provides a list of search terms that brought people to the website on the dashboard, and I’ve seen that questions are increasingly common – and that they’re getting longer. That might be because the internet has so much data – instead of typing “Deborah Cooke author” into a search engine, I’ve seen “reading order of Dragonfire novels” and even longer questions bring readers to my site.
We as writers are the best authority on at least one subject – our own books. Let’s look at that search query “reading order Dragonfire novels”. To my great relief, the first result returned by Google on that query is my Dragonfire page here on the site. I’m glad to be considered the authority on the reading order of my own books! But I thought I’d augment that a bit. I *could* have added the graphic from the back of the Firestorm Forever postcard or made a similar banner, but that would have been burying the information in an image. Here’s that postcard:
Again, you and I can see the order of the books there, but a search engine spider is only going to get the name of the jpeg and alt text, which won’t help at all.
Here’s what I did instead. First, I added a bit of text to the Dragonfire page – the sentence in bold is new:
Secondly, instead of just showing the covers in order on the Dragonfire page, I added the title of each and a number. That’s hotlinked to the detail page for that book, just as the cover is.
Finally, I added some FAQ pages to my site, and put the link to them on that menu bar. Here’s the first question on the Dragonfire FAQ page:
It’s going to take some time for this to populate search engines, as it needs to gather some hits and be walked by the spiders.
My new FAQ pages are a work-in-progress. Each time a new question pops up on the dashboard, I add it to the FAQ.
9. Above the Fold
When a visitor arrives at your website, what do they see without scrolling? That’s called “above the fold” and it should be what’s most important about your site. Liz noted that the prime real estate on any site is above the fold on the index page. This is one of those things that makes perfect sense, once you think about it.
It’s also tricky because what they’ll see will also depend on the device they use. On my laptop, my site looks like this above the fold:
(The little tool thingy at the bottom right is a WordPress gadget, because I was logged into the site when I took the screenshot.)
On my phone, it looks more like this:
One of the issues that my site shares with many other author sites is the volume of information. The more books an author has published, the more data there will be on his or her website. In the romance genre, readers love supplementary materials, like family trees and character interviews. I don’t even have that many of those on my site, but it has over 140 pages. (I could easily add another 70 or so by putting the excerpts on their own pages, which I might do.) So, I like that the menu bar appears above the fold on either phone or laptop, as that gives the reader a way to navigate around the site. I had put a lot of stuff in the sidebar, which gets buried when the visitor is using a phone (as we discussed last week) so I think I need to create some more menu tabs. I also have to remember to have my current book in the top slot on the right menu bar, so it appears above the fold on laptops and larger devices. Should I add a “Just Released” tab to the menu bar? Maybe.
I’m also thinking about how to simplify the design of my site in future. I think that the core site needs to be a full reference and will remain as a kind of hub, but have bought more domain names for individual series. If and when I republish Dragonfire, for example, it will have its own website, which will allow me to focus on just those books on that site. That will simplify the layout of that site.
10. What Do You Want A Visitor to Do?
It also makes perfect sense to use your best real estate to promote your most important goal. What do you want visitors to do? Is the way to do that in above the fold on the index page?
This requires some rethinking for me. I don’t have a static index page, so the most recent blog post appears below my site’s header. Should I make the About Deborah page into a static landing page, so all the social media links are visible? That would be the right answer if I wanted to encourage people to follow me on social media. Should I make the page for my current release into a static landing page, and update the landing page as necessary? If I want to encourage visitors to buy my books (or at least my latest one) that might be the best choice. Or does it make sense to leave the blog as the landing page, so the site looks renewed every day and the blog posts have greater visibility. I have to think about this and will probably play around with the various options in the next few months.
On the individual book pages, the cover shows above the fold, and the cover copy (or part of it, if on mobile) but the buy links are below the fold. I’m going to put the buy links at the top of each book page as well as at the bottom after the excerpt.
As you can see, it’s easy to end up with a big To Do list when you start to think more about the design of your website and what it encourages visitors to do. Thanks very much to Liz Gray for a very informative and interesting workshop. I have a lot of fiddling to do, and hope that this review is helpful to some of you as well.