To maximize the effectiveness of your author website, it’s necessary to study the data behind how people find your website, navigate it, and use it. This is typically done via Google Analytics, a free tool available to anyone with a Google account. On the day you install it, you’ll immediately start collecting data on your website traffic and visitors; while you won’t be able to see into the site’s past, you’ll start collecting and storing analytics data indefinitely.
Note: WordPress.com users cannot implement Google Analytics, and may find it difficult to get the level of data they need via WordPress’s own analytics.
1. Analyze your “calls to action” on your static pages or post pages—or most popular pages.
It’s easy to get caught up in the appearance of your homepage, the front door to your website. In Google Analytics, take a look at your Site Content Overview: your homepage may represent only 25-30% of new visits. The long tail of visits may be spread over dozens or hundreds of pages, especially if you have a blog.
For instance, on this website (which is very blog-centric), the homepage represents only 5% of my total pageviews. Most people visit a blog post and only a blog post. That means the page design template of my blog post page is critical.
So make a list of the most popular pages on your website (by using Google Analytic’s site content overview), and imagine you’re a new visitor to those pages. Then ask the following questions.
- If the goal of your website is to introduce people to your books, is it easy to see what your latest book is from your most popular pages?
- If you want people to subscribe to your blog, is it easy to immediately find the subscribe buttons or links from anywhere on your site (especially on the top half)?
- If you want people to sign up for your e-mail newsletter, is that prominent on your most popular pages?
- If you want people to find you on social media, are those links immediately available?
Whatever No. 1 goal (or call to action) you have for new visitors, make sure it’s clear regardless of what page they first land on; don’t expect people to visit more than 1 or 2 pages of your website.
Bonus tip: Study the well-worn paths on your site. When people visit your homepage, what’s the No. 1 page they are most likely to visit next? Go to Visitors Flow in Google Analytics. This exercise should tell you a lot about what your readers are interested in and how they perceive your website.
2. Start tracking the most popular outbound links.
It’s exceptionally instructive to understand how and when people leave your site. Google Analytics will give you data on exit pages for visitors (go to Site Content > Exit Pages), but it won’t automatically tell you if and when people actually click on a link to exit (e.g., a link to Amazon to buy your book).
To do that, you have to help make it happen in 1 of 2 ways.
- Add a WordPress plug-in. (This post mentions a variety; scroll to the last third of the post.)
- Purchase and install Mint, which can track popular outbound links (as well as provide many other wonderful metrics and site analytics).
When I discovered that my No. 1 most popular outbound link was to an article I wrote on nonfiction book proposals at another site, I immediately wrote a new post on the topic and replaced the link, to retain visitors longer at my site.
Knowing what people click on gives you in-depth insight into what interests your readers and at what points they’re inclined to make a purchase (e.g., clicking on a discount code link to make a purchase at a retailer).
3. Install an SEO plug-in (if using a WordPress-based site), such as Yoast.
If you’ve heard about the importance of SEO, but don’t know anything about it, that’s OK, especially if you’re on a WordPress-based site. First, WordPress is very SEO friendly right out of the box, so it doesn’t take much work on your part to do good by the search engines.
But also WordPress users have access to plug-ins that help you do your absolute best on SEO. I recommend installing this one from Yoast. (It’s the one that I use.) It will not only help you understand SEO principles as you put together pages and blog posts, but it will give you additional functionality and fine-tuned control, such as being able to craft specific excerpts that are used in social-media shares and search engine display. (See screenshot below.)
I’d love to hear about any secrets you’ve learned that have meaningfully improved your author website. Please share in the comments!
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.