In the search for potential editing clients, I visit a lot of websites. That effort has culminated as an author website checklist. It never ceases to amaze me how many authors don’t provide a way to get in touch, whether via a contact form or an email address. That’s just the tip of the iceberg though. In this day and age, an appealing and user-friendly website is a must. As an author, you might not be a tech guru, but that’s not an excuse for a lackluster website. I am by no means an expert in web design, but the information provided here can serve to light a fire toward whipping your website into shape.
An Author Website Checklist
This post serves as an author website checklist with helpful links added where appropriate. The five main categories progress from the macro to the micro level to reflect how users typically engage with content. This is not a how-to list. Rather, this list can help pinpoint areas you may need to improve on your author website, whether by learning how to do it yourself or by hiring a webmaster to do it for you. Many pressing issues can be alleviated by starting with a professionally designed theme. Word Bank has used the Nexus theme from Elegant Themes for a couple of years now, and I have been pleased.
At first glance, the visual appeal of the blog appears to complement its intended message. A new visitor can quickly surmise the site’s main focus. This author website checklist for visual presentation includes:
First Impression: How inviting does the site appear? Does it seem too bland or too busy? Does the design fit the your primary genre?
Dates: Is the content consistently dated or undated? Formatted for target country?
Mobile-Friendly: Is the site optimized for viewing on SmartPhone and tablets?
Pop-Ups: If an automatic opt-in box comes up, how distracting is it? Does it appear right away? In what location?
Colors: Are the colors used purposely? Do they complement each other or seem jarring?
Blog Name: What is the blog’s name? Is it different from the URL? Does it feature the author’s name?
Tagline: Does the tagline sufficiently hint at the purpose of the blog and its niche? Is the author’s genre alluded to?
Logo: How memorable is the site’s logo image? Does it have one?
Font Size and Type: Is the typeface large enough and dark enough to easily read? In general, black text on a light background is best for readability.
Theme Width: Is the main post area fairly wide, or is it too narrow?
Background: If an image, is it distracting in any way? Is it solid or transparent?
Landing Page: Does the choice of a dynamic or a static landing page seem appropriate? Is the author’s book(s) featured in a prominent spot?
Sidebar Widgets: Purposeful or distracting? Does the size seem right?
Ads and Affiliate Links: If present, are they relevant? Easy to read? Placed logically?
Organization and Ease of Navigation
The content is laid out in a logical way that anticipates the user’s needs. If appropriate, information can be accessed from more than one location. This author website checklist for organization and ease of navigation includes:
Overall: Does the organization fit reader expectations? Does the content fit the structure? Could plug-ins, widgets, and images be bogging your site down?
Menus: Readable, clickable, brief text? Appropriate location? Top? Bottom? Sidebar?
Most Recent Post: Is it featured so the reader can easily identify it? If not, could readers get discouraged by trying to locate it from various categories?
Pages: Does each have a clear purpose and complete info? Could any be condensed? As an author website, there should be a page for books, about, contact, and appearances and publications.
Excerpts: Do posts on the main page appear by excerpt only with a “read more” link? Otherwise, a new reader has to scroll through too much information in order to quickly surmise the site.
Follow Buttons: Are social media buttons displayed? Do they open in a new window?
Search Box: Present an accessible? Do searches go quickly or does the site slow down?
Sign-Up Forms: Are email subscription forms in place and in easy to see locations?
Contact Form: Is the form present in the sidebar or a separate page? Does it work?
Sharing Buttons: Is it easy to share the page? Does the author’s Twitter handle show when the user opts to tweet the post or page?
Commenting Ease: How user-friendly is the comment process? Does the user have to sign up for a commenting services, or can comments be made in a commenting section native to the website in question?
Subscribe to Comments: Can commenters receive email notifications to follow the discussion? Is a box automatically checked to subscribe to new blogs posts? Please be aware it’s better practice to let potential new readers check that box rather than setting it to be pre-checked.
Permalink Structure: URLs structured as pretty permalinks? No strange symbols, etc?
Purpose and Ideas
The content ties in with the blogger’s business or personal goals. In what ways does the blog’s purpose promote the blogger or the work of others and why? This author website checklist for purpose and ideas includes:
The Big Question: So what? Why should the reader care? What’s in it for them? Is it clear what value the website offers its readers? Nonfiction authors can provide helpful info. Fiction authors might consider a podcast.
Call to Action: What is it? Is it clear? How well is it perceived? Does it encourage readers to download the author’s book?
Concept: What overlying idea ties all of the content together?
Niche: Does the blog fall under a clearly defined niche? If not, how well do the topics fit? Are the posts more informative, entertaining, or for author updates. If they are informative in a how-to writing tip sense, is that fitting of trying to gain new readers for you books?
Authority: Has the blogger sufficiently established their expertise?
Products: Is it clear what the blog is trying to sell or offer? Are buy links to the author’s books provided, whether available for purchase via the website or from an outside distributor such as Amazon?
Categories: Are primary categories visible and kept to a minimum?
Incentive: What, if anything, does a subscriber receive for signing up? How does the sign-up incentive aim to gain new readers of the author’s book?
Keywords: Does the blog’s tagline contain searchable keywords related to the content?
The degree to which the posts are informative and engaging. The writing fits its intended purpose. Topics don’t meander and show a degree of polish and organization. This author website checklist for blog posts includes:
Schedule: Do the posts appear at a regularly scheduled day and time? If the schedule is haphazard, are readers devoted enough to continue falling the blog in times of silence?
Informative Titles: Is the title SEO friendly as well as enticing in a clickable way?
White Space: Appropriate use of headers, bullet points, and screen-friendly paragraphs?
Post Tags: Does each post contain related tags Does the theme make them visible?
SEO Friendly: Keyword/phrase in the title, headings, body, pictures, and meta description?
Links: Set to open in a new window? Are links being made to internal and external content?
Images: Do they complement the text or distract?
Copyright: Personal images watermarked? Borrowed photos credited and copyright free?
Other Media: Quality of podcasts and videos? Consider volume, pacing, editing, etc.
Voice: How authentic is the blogger’s voice? Are they relatable?
Word Choice: Does the level of diction fit the intended purpose?
Sentence Structure: Are the sentences varied? Does the writing flow?
Conventions: How prevalent are errors in spelling, grammar, and punctuation?
Discussion: Are comments encouraged by asking readers for their thoughts? Does the author pose specific questions or general ones?
Behind the Scenes
Writing good content in the 21st century goes much deeper than what readers see on the screen. Is the blogger going all they can to make their content accessible? This author website checklist for behind the scenes includes:
PageSpeed Insights: Does the site seem to take awhile for everything to load when you visit?
Optimized Images: User-friendly size within the post and when clicked on?
Broken Links: Does Broken Link Checker find a few or a lot of dead links?
RSS Feed: Is the feed valid? Is the available feed the main feed and not for comments?
Downtime: Is the site down or is it just you?
Excerpted Content: Does only a snippet appear in RSS readers and post emails? This is important as you want readers to have to click through to read the full post on your website rather than within an RSS reader such as feedly or within the body of the email sent.
Page Rank: What is the website’s Google rank? What could be done to raise that if need be?
Alexa Score: This site has changed over the years, but website ranking can still be accessed by scrolling to the bottom of the main page.
Spam: Are any spam comments getting through? Are any spammy in disguise or generic?
Security: Malware? Other threats present? Blacklist status? Other helpful sites to check the health of a website include StatsCrop.com: Exlpore a site’s history and monitor its performance. YSlow: What grade does your web performance get? As well as Fruition: Google Penalty Checker Tool
Analytics: Do you use any form of analytics to track your site’s performance?
Mailing Lists: How is the mailing list managed? Access to user reports? Who are your most engaged readers?
What would you add to this author website checklist? Do you manage your own site or hire help when needed?
Image Credit: Ignite the Moment
Please share responsibly. Jeri Walker, 2017.