This post was first published in 2012 and is regularly updated.
First things first: an author’s website, whether it gets much traffic or not, is foundational to your career. It offers readers as well as the media the official word on who you are and the work you produce. If you blog, then it can also be a way for the public to engage with you. But mainly author websites help you shape the story surrounding your work—and ought to be found when readers go searching for you. It allows you to focus people’s attention and interest on what’s important to you—as opposed to what other sites might think is important.
When writers ask me, “How do I get traffic to my site?” I usually try to downplay the importance of numbers—especially for unpublished fiction writers and memoirists. You can safely assume that traffic to your site will grow as your career grows, whether you try to make that happen or not. (Nonfiction authors might be rightly concerned with traffic to their site as a part of their platform—overall visibility and reach—but platform is about so much more than website traffic!)
So, I don’t think it’s worth unpublished writers’ time to manufacture traffic to their site when they have no work available to be read in the first place. That said, if you’re active on social media and/or regularly sharing work online elsewhere—or have a set release date for your first book—then it can pay to get serious about your website strategy and what role it will play in your platform. But unless you’re generating content, blogging, or doing something interesting at your site, it will be hard to motivate people to visit.
With that preface out of the way, here are some of the tried-and-true methods of getting traffic to your website.
1. Make sure your social media profiles always link to your website.
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks always offer—as part of your static profile—an opportunity to link to your homepage. Be sure to do so.
An advanced version of this strategy: Send people to a customized landing page on your website. You may want to create a special introduction for people who visit your website from your Twitter profile, Facebook fan page, Goodreads page, etc.
If you blog: Share a link to new blog posts on each social media network where you’re active. But don’t just post a link. Offer an intriguing question, lead in, excerpt, or explanation of why the post might be interesting to people on that specific social network.
While it may be possible to automate your social postings whenever a new blog post goes live, it’s more effective to give each post a personal introduction based on what you know appeals to that particular community. So avoid bot-like behavior; readers care about hearing from you. (Note that scheduling posts in advance is fine—it’s the automated, unpersonalized posting that you should avoid.)
2. Include your website address on all offline materials.
Whether it’s business cards, print books, handouts, flyers, bookmarks, or postcards—any print collateral—don’t forget to put your website address on it. It’s helpful if you briefly explain any perks only offered at your site, e.g., “Visit my website to sign up for my Savvy Reads newsletter” or “Visit my website to download free worksheets.”
3. Work toward appearing at the top of search results for your author name.
Search engines such as Google should pull up your site whenever people search for terms highly relevant to you, your books, or your content. For most authors, the most important search term of all is the name they publish under. Unless your name is exceptionally common, it shouldn’t be too hard to rank well for your name. But if you are one of those unlucky “John Smiths,” then a better goal is to rank well for something like “John Smith author” or “John Smith book.”
The most straightforward way to ensure your author website ranks well for your name:
- Use a domain name that’s similar to the name you publish under
- Put your name in the site title (e.g., my site title “Jane Friedman”)
- If you get confused for other people with the same name, make sure your site title or subtitle differentiates you as the one who writes and publishes
It also helps to strictly follow #1 above: always link to your author website from your social media accounts to help reinforce, across the board, who you are and what you do.
4. Create pages on your website for each book you publish.
Beyond your author name, it’s great if you can also rank for your book titles and keyword phrases related to your genre. For instance, if you write middle-grade spy novels, wouldn’t it be great if your website came up when people searched for that term in Google?
Some authors go the extra mile to optimize their site in this way. Being consistent in how you describe your work across your website (and elsewhere—like on social media and in your book descriptions) can increase the chances of this happening. Be sure to:
- Create a dedicated page on your website for each and every book title
- For each book page, make the page title identical to the book title
- Use a full or extended description for each book (don’t leave out mention of your genre/subgenre in those descriptions)
All of this falls under the practice of SEO, or search engine optimization. SEO can become quite important if you’re trying to make money online or otherwise build a career through online writing or blogging. However, authors don’t need to have specialized knowledge of SEO in order to follow best practices. Mainly, as I’ve instructed here, make sure your author name is in your site title, have a dedicated page at your website for each book you publish, and use a plugin like WordPress SEO from Yoast to help you follow best practices beyond that.
Here are some beginner guides to SEO:
5. Install Google Analytics and study how people find your site and use it.
If your site is self-hosted, then you should have Google Analytics installed. If not, get started today—it’s a free service and easy to set up. (Instructions here.) After Google Analytics has collected at least one month of data, take a look at the following:
- How do people find your site? Through search? Through your social media presence? Through other websites that link to you?
- What pages or posts are most popular on your site?
- If you sign up for Google Search Console (also free), you can identify what search terms are bringing people to your site.
By knowing the answers to these questions, you can better decide which social media networks are worth your investment of time and energy, who else on the web might be a good partner for you (who is sending you traffic and why?), and what content on your site is worth your time to continue developing (what content will bring you visitors over the long run?).
6. Create free resource guides on popular topics.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, then this probably comes naturally: Put together a 101 guide, FAQ, or tutorial related to your topic or expertise—something people often ask you about. (My most visited resource on this site is Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published.)
If you’re a novelist, this strategy may take some creative thinking. Good thing you have an imagination, right? Consider the following:
- If your book is strongly regional, create an insider’s guide or travel guide to that particular region. Or think about other themes in your work that could inspire something fun: a collection of recipes; a character’s favorite books, movies, or music; or what research and resources were essential for completing your work.
- If you’re an avid reader, create a list of favorite reads by genre/category, by mood, or by occasion.
- If you have a strong avocational pursuit (or past profession) that influences your novels, create FAQs or guides for the curious.
- If you’re an established author, offer a list of your favorite writing and publishing resources that you recommend for new writers.
Keep reading for more suggestions!
7. Create lists or round-ups on a regular basis.
A popular way to make people aware of your website is to link to others’ websites; this makes you visible to a broader community and helpful to your readers. If you can do this in a genuine way (that doesn’t look primarily engineered to get you traffic), it’s a win for you, for your readers, and for the sites you send traffic to.
In the writing and publishing community, weekly link round-ups are very common. See Elizabeth Craig for a long-running example.
You can create such lists or round-ups on any theme or category that interests you enough to remain dedicated, enthusiastic, and consistent for the long haul—at least six months to a full year, if you want to see a tangible benefit.
8. Do something interesting on your favorite social media site.
If you’re not blogging, consider what creative project you might undertake on a community-oriented site. Consider:
- Daily themed notes on Facebook. (See this guy from 2011.)
- Photographs or visuals on Instagram or Pinterest. (See the Instapoet trend.)
- Twitter chats (ScriptChat is one example of many in the writing community.)
- YouTube videos. (These guys are the masters.)
9. Run regular interviews with people who fascinate you.
Believe it or not, it’s rare to come across an informed, thoughtful, and careful interviewer and interview series (and not just someone looking to fill a slot or post generic content based on pre-fab questions).
Think about themes, hooks, or angles for an interview series on your site/blog, social media, or email newsletter, and feature them on a regular basis—but only as frequently as you have time to invest in a well-researched and quality interview. Such series also offer you an excellent way to build your network and community relationships.
Check these interview series for an idea of what’s possible:
10. Be a guest blogger.
Whenever you guest at other websites, that’s an opportunity to have multiple links back to your own site. This helps over the long term with your site’s authority and visibility in search.
A meaningful guest post means pitching sites that have a bigger audience than you, but they should also have a readership that’s a good match for your work. If you need a strong introduction to guest posting how-to, visit this excellent Copyblogger post.
A note of caution: Don’t focus on guest post or interview opportunities strictly tied to the writing and publishing community (unless that is your true audience). You may need to research websites and blogs that feature authors or books similar to you to break out of the publishing industry echo chamber and find people who aren’t writers, but readers. An easy way to start this research is to Google similar authors or book titles—ones with the same target readership—and see what sites feature interviews, guest posts, or essays.
Whenever you make an appearance on another site, always promote the interview on your own social networks and create a permanent link to it from your own website.
While these are some of the most popular ways to build traffic to your site, there are many other ways. What has been successful for you? Share your experience in the comments.