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:


Posted in Digital Media.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

Join the conversation

14 Comment threads
6 Thread replies
Most reacted comment
Hottest comment thread
10 Comment authors
Nathan TarantlaShah WhartonCheri- CreationScience4kidsk MarthalerCarmen Amato Recent comment authors

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

newest oldest most voted
Notify of

Nice post! I’m more of a blogger than an author so this is a topic I’m always delighted to learn more about. I wanted to jump on the idea that most people will only visit once and will spend a few scant minutes peeking at your website. My own experience is that sometimes the range of options (start here, social medial options, buy my book, etc.) can lead to analysis paralysis. For that reason I’ve cut all of my primary sidebar call to actions down to two key ones: newsletter signup and facebook. Sure I’m on all social media platforms… Read more »


Hi Jane,
Excellent article, as usual, and the list of other sites is also very helpful.
Have a great day,
Julie @Writers_Cafe


Just had a couple minutes to scan this blog, but will reread it later. I love blogs that are bulleted just for that reason. Good points, thanks

Lexa Cain

Good tips! I don’t even have a homepage, so no worries there. lol

Carmen Amato

Jane, a timely post. Here’s some experience to help folks maximize their web real estate: I’d been checking my Google stats to see which pages get the most hits. My home page scored the highest. But visitors apparently weren’t clicking on the slider or other links. Changed the design to a feature box offering a free short story and email subscriptions have soared. Moral of the story–offer an action for the visitor to take that allows you to reconnect with them later.

Now I just have to come up with a more clever tag line . . .


[…] hub of most author platforms are the author website and/or blog. Jane Friedman asks if you need to rethink your website’s key elements, while Zach Kitschke shows us how to get your blog post shared 1,000 […]


[…] Michael Goodin / Flickr Note from Jane: On Tuesday, May 20, I’m teaching a 2-hour online class on how to create your own author website using WordPress, in partnership with Writer’s Digest. Click here for more information.  […]


[…] Friedman on Jane Friedman Do You Need to Rethink Your Website’s Key Elements? “For 10 years, I’ve been analyzing website traffic—for my own site, for Writer’s Digest […]

k Marthaler
k Marthaler

This is so helpful. It’s easier to share or post about someone’s writing if the writer provides a tagline, short bio and highlighted work on his or her website. CJ Lyons’ site is a great example. Including an easy-to-find twitter handle is also helpful for sharing. I will sign up for the webinar.

Cheri- CreationScience4kids

I just launched into the selfhosted blog world and all the thrill and stress of hunting for a great theme. What you said about making sure every page/post on the site looks good is great. It’s amazing how many themes offer a killer front page, but then have the most boring regular posts imaginable. Since only a tiny fraction of my traffic coming in the front door, I knew that wouldn’t work. It took a lot of hunting, but I found one with a lovely look no matter where you are.
Thanks for list!

Shah Wharton

Great tips! And links. Thanks Jane.:) I do have a homepage, and I’ve ensured all things are easily accessible from it, without getting lost of confused. I’ve also got a nice promo pic of the boo cover and buy links, plus a mini bio and a sentence stating what they’ll find on the blog. 🙂 I learned by looking at the website of other authors whom I admired, and at websites which confused me, about what to include and what to ignore or point to.

Nathan Tarantla
Nathan Tarantla

Good resource.


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


[…] “Do You Need to Rethink Your Website’s Key Elements?” on Jane Friedman […]