Platform-building for writers

Last week I participated in Dan Blank‘s free Webinar on author platform-building, and I learned a few things that I’d like to pass on to you.

The 5-second test

You’ve probably heard this phrase tossed around before, but here’s what it means in relation to your author blog or website: When a user comes to your homepage, within 5 seconds he or she will determine if your site has what they’re looking for and if they want to explore it further. As a writer, within 5 seconds your website should communicate who you are, what you write and what your site is about.

As Blank said, when people come to your website they’re going to ask themselves if they align with what you have to say. You want to “give them a chance to say yes or no — not just be confused.”

Little changes can mean a lot

During the Webinar, Blank took a look at few participants’ websites and offered a critique and suggestions for improvement. These are some of the little things he mentioned that can make a big difference in building your brand:

  • Decide what to name your site and how you’re optimizing it — are you optimizing your name or a topic? If you’re an author, it’s probably the former. My website is — my name, my brand. But perhaps you want to optimize your site for something else (your book title, the book reviews you write, your cat’s adorable antics, etc.). If you can buy your name as your domain, do it! I will never be able to get, @LauraMoss or My name is too common; hence, the middle initial. (Read: What’s in a name? Your Brand)
  • Mention your genre somewhere noticeable so that visitors know immediately who you are and what you do. What do you write? YA? Romance? Graphic novels? Short stories about kittens? (I’m planning to add a tagline to my header to accomplish this.)
  • Have a short bio on your homepage that tells people who you are and include a photo of yourself (the real you — not an illustration or your baby picture). You can still have an “About” page, but you want to identify yourself immediately — and that means the homepage! You don’t want to make a visitor pause and decide whether they want to click on your “About” page; that’s a waste of your 5 seconds.
  • Title your blog posts in such a way that tells a reader immediately what the post is about. As a journalist, I love a clever headline, but when you try to be too cute or too clever, you risk losing readers. Plus, a simple, straightforward headline is great for SEO. (Speaking of SEO, having a proper title tag can do wonders for your search traffic and make your blog more professional.)*
  • Get involved in social media and always offer other ways to connect. Include your Twitter feed, offer links to your Goodreads or Pinterest pages, include your email address, etc.
  • It’s a good idea to list your works (published or unpublished) so that people can learn more about your stories. However, titling that tab something like “Works in Progress” doesn’t tell someone exactly what that is. As Blank pointed out, that could be your artwork, your poetry, your crafts — any number of things! When I first revamped my site, I decided to go with “Projects” because I figured “Books” was awfully presumptuous of me, but Blank made a good point: People know what “books” means; they don’t always know what “WIP” means.

Writers shouldn’t blog only about writing

This can be tough to wrap your head around. But I’m a writer! Shouldn’t I write about writing?! Personally, I enjoy reading published authors’ writing tips and hearing about their path to publication, and I even like getting aspiring authors’ opinions on the craft. However, I also don’t like going to a blog and only reading about writing. I like to know what else a writer is interested in — if they have a bizarre hobby, if they took an interesting trip, if they’re an expert on something and they can teach me about it, etc. That’s my two cents, but Kristen Lamb says it SO much better here. (Seriously, read her post.)

When I mentioned that Lamb post to Blank, he pointed out that always blogging about writing is “too inside-baseball.” People may enjoy watching a baseball game (or reading a good book), but not everyone cares about what’s happening behind the scenes.

You need to understand your audience and what motivates them to come to your site. Yes, there is often overlap between an audience of readers and an audience of writers, but not every reader wants to be a writer. So when a fan of your work comes to your site, he or she may just want to know more about you and have the opportunity to interact with you — not necessarily read about the platform-building Webinar you just participated in. (Oops.)

If you’re a writer, clearly you enjoy writing, but it’s not the only thing you enjoy doing. Why not blog about some of your other interests and hobbies? Everyone is an expert on something, so why can’t you have a blog about your path to publication and your love of underwater basket-weaving? If you’re an underwater basket-weaver and a writer, you’re immediately SO much more interesting to me than if you’d branded yourself as just another aspiring novelist. Plus, you now appeal to two separate audiences!

Don’t get too crazy with multiple off-the-wall topics though! People should come to your website knowing what to expect and you should always fulfill those expectations. Consistency is key when it comes to branding!

I blog about writing and books, but I also like to share my vegan recipes and my DIY projects in my ongoing quest to be a little bit nicer to the planet. You may be interested only in what I learned from Dan Blank last week, but believe me, there are other crazy hippies out there who come to my site just to read about compostable toothbrushes. According to Google Analytics, three out of my four most popular posts aren’t about writing. Here’s the rundown of where my search traffic is going:

Luckily, this environmental stuff ties in to my current manuscript, but it doesn’t have to. I could just as easily write consistent blogs about my mathematical prowess or how much I love dancing in public. (Of course, these would both be lies.)

If you’re interested in learning more about platform-building from Dan Blank, he offers an eight-week online course; however, it’s $799, which is a little out of my range. In addition to Blank and Kristen Lamb, you should also check out Jane Friedman‘s awesome blog. She has these great FREE worksheets you can download that will help you draft a platform-building plan.

If you have any platform-building tips you’ve picked up, please feel free to share them below! I’m hardly an expert, and I’m eager to learn more on this topic. Thanks!

*Would you guys be interested in a simple “basics of SEO” blog post? I’m by no means an SEO guru, but I’ve been writing for the Web professionally for quite a few years and I know a thing or two. However, if you’d see that post and think, “Ugh. I do not go to Laura’s blog to read this boring stuff,” then I’ll skip that and just stick to cats and comma usage. ;)

Photo: Elsie esq./flickr

3 thoughts on “Platform-building for writers

  1. I deleted my blog last year because I just couldnt deal with it. But I want so badly to be a writer so I clearly need to be blogging!!

  2. I’d be interested in a basics of SEO post. I love that your blog has a combo of writing & other topics – it makes me feel like I know you better than if you just blogged about writing. And is the enviro stuff in the MS you asked me to read a few chapters of soon? If so, I’m even more excited about it! :-)

  3. Yes, the environmental stuff is in the latest MS! You’ll be seeing those first few chapters in your inbox soon. Thanks for helping out, Cally!
    And I’ll definitely write a basics of SEO post — it’s going to be FASCINATING. ;)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>