Do You Need to Rethink Your Website’s Key Elements?

author websites
Michael Goodin / Flickr

For 10 years, I’ve been analyzing website traffic—for my own site, for Writer’s Digest (when I worked for them from 2001–2010), and now for the Virginia Quarterly Review.

Every site has different traffic patterns, but what I’ve learned is that the homepage is rarely the first page that visitors see. They often end up on a story page from a social media link, or they may visit through a “side door” after conducting a Google search and finding something useful in your archives.

Many writers (and businesses) spend a lot of time thinking about the homepage when they should be thinking about the areas that appear on every single page: the header, the sidebars, the footer, pop-ups, etc.

How you treat those areas (plus how you consider what goes on the homepage) means you’ll need to ask yourself two questions.

  1. For someone coming to my site very intentionally—a reader who knows my work and may be a fan—what are they likely looking for? And what do I want them to know?
  2. For the drive-by visits, especially those that come through a “side door,” what do newcomers need to know right away? What do I want to offer them?

Common homepage visit scenarios

  • If you’re actively writing and publishing, people who end up on your homepage are likely seeking further information about your latest work or who you are. That’s why the latest book cover (or project) should often be on the homepage and marked as such.
  • Your bio page and contact page should be in the main menu, as this is another common reason for people to end up on your homepage.
  • Homepage visitors may be seeking an overview of all the work you have to offer, so make it easy for them to find a page that offers the list in reverse chronological order. If you have a series, have the series title in your main menu.

How to help newcomers

  • Have a tagline or description in your header—something that appears on every page—that clearly describes the kind of work you do. CJ Lyons makes it clear at her site: Thrillers With Heart.
  • If you’re actively posting new content or blogging at your site, you’ll get most traffic to your posts, not your homepage. Make sure your sidebar offers a means to subscribe, to search your archive, or to browse by category. (Many established bloggers list their most popular posts in the sidebar.) Your site’s main menu or navigation should make the content, themes, and depth of your site very clear.
  • If you’ve been actively promoting something specific—whether on social media or traditional media—make sure your site refers to that something specific, or helps people find that something. This is also helpful if you get a really significant media mention somewhere; have a welcome message or post for those people. “Did you hear my interview with Terry Gross? Click here.”

Maximize the traffic you get

  • Most people who visit your site will never return. Offer them other ways to engage with you (or even offer them a free sample of something). This is why social media icons are so prevalent on website headers/sidebars, and why professional authors have e-mail newsletter signups very prominent on every page. It helps better capture visitors at the moment they’ve expressed a glimmer of attention.
  • Explicitly state, “First-time visitor? Start here.” This is useful for sites with lots of content that can be overwhelming for the newcomer.
  • Make the tough decisions: if people only spend 10-15 seconds on your site, what should they not leave without knowing? Your header and/or your sidebar area need to convey this quickly.
  • If people reach the bottom of a page or post, they are very engaged. This is a prime opportunity to add a call to action, such as an email newsletter sign-up, or mention a book for sale.

Remember: for active authors, who are frequently publishing, your strategy or focus may change every 6–12 months, which means your site has to change, too. A website is never something you launch and leave. It has to be updated to be effective.

For more on author websites:


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