When people see me walking down the street, they immediately rush over and ask: “Patty, what can I do to make my website better?”
First, I smile and tell them, “Get out of my dream, silly.” Then I wake up and see the cat from next door trying to open my window with his paw. Every. Single. Day.
Seriously though, as a member of the Harlequin.com team, I am surrounded by wise web wunderkinds (alliteration high five!) who always ask the question “how can we make our site better, more accessible, more user friendly?” Here are a few key principles we’ve been following for the last few years:
1. Offer your audience new content regularly. You don’t have to blog every day or tweet every hour. Work off a weekly or semi-monthly schedule, if you’d like, so your followers know you’re around and will keep you top of mind. There are some content management systems like WordPress or Tumblr that will allow you to schedule content in so you don’t have to worry about remembering to post once in a while. Placing your tweet stream on your home page is also a great way of bringing new content in.
2. Make sure your readers can subscribe to your updates with one click. Keep your newsletter subscription button on the home page and “above the fold”. Make your Twitter/Facebook/Goodreads icons large enough to spot on the header or footer. This way, your audience can connect with you without the hassle of rooting through your whole site to find that info.
3. Keep your page design fresh and up-to-date. Rule of thumb is usually a new look every two years and it doesn’t have to be the whole site. Consider updating your header graphic or your background image to start. Honestly, it doesn’t have to be expensive either. There are also low cost template options available if your site is running on WordPress or Joomla.
4. Speaking of design, keep your site uncluttered and be generous with your white space. The busy home page went away with the nineties. A simple design with a good text-to-background colour ratio for easy reading will engage your site visitors and keep them on your site longer!
(Note: Web usability experts are united in saying that white space improves comprehension, at least 20%!)
5. Are you using analytics? It’s a lot easier than you think, with services like Google Analytics (free!) and Woopra (free for non-commercial use). Find out how people are finding your site (i.e. search terms, or where they’re clicking through from) and what they gravitate toward. How do your readers/followers use your site? Do they read your updates or are they stuck on the home page? Are any of your promotions leading potential new readers to your site? These analytic tools not only help you understand your site visitors, they also provide handy charts and graphs to help plan your own brand/marketing efforts.
Whether you’re published or aspiring to be published, a solid web presence is always a good thing to have. Building a following—a community, if you will—takes time but at least you have a professional, up-to-date site to use as a launch pad for all things YOU!
Now it’s your turn: what’s the best website tip you’ve ever received?
Patty Anasco (@pattyanasco) is Assistant Manager, Website Operations for Harlequin.com and is juggling simultaneous addictions to Candy Crush, the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and The Voice. An intervention is imminent.