Think of the last time you learned about something new on the news or from a friend–what was the first thing you did? If you’re like most of us, you probably whipped out your phone or cracked open your laptop to give it a Google.
And once you pressed the enter key, you probably saw a few different things staring back at you: an Amazon listing (if it was a product), maybe a Wikipedia entry, and, most likely, a website.
Your website is often the first or second experience that a would-be follower or reader has with you and your work, and it is the best opportunity for you to capture their interest and imagination. You don’t want to blow it.
Done right, a great website can lead to not only a book sale, but much more (email subscriber, social media follower, even course taker). Done poorly, or even ignored, and you are leaving your brand to twist in the wind, with editors and commenters on Amazon, Goodreads, or whatever other platforms your potential customers are congregating on taking control of the conversation and determining your fate.
While everybody’s brand and needs are different, there are some core elements common across nearly all maximally effective author web presences. These sites focus on hooking the visitor, selling them on why they should care, and then inducing them to take action. In the next section, we’ll go top-to-bottom describing the elements that move the needle for each of these core principles.
Anatomy of an Effective Book Website
Place the cover on a 3D mockup of the book. This makes the product more tangible, increasing perceived value.
Make sure that the book cover is visible within the “above the fold” area on the page. While mobile and social media interface patterns have trained us to scroll, it’s still important that the visitor immediately knows what this site is for.
Start with a hook. What is the benefit to the reader? Lead with that instead of simply the book title. However, use the book title and descriptive/availability information to supplement this hook in a sub- headline.
Book merchant links should be featured at both the very beginning of the site for those who are immediately sold, as well as right before the footer for those who have scrolled through the sales messaging.
Merchant links should be the logo of the merchants, not a text name. These booksellers have spent millions of dollars to earn their brand recognition, so leverage that to increase the speed of visitor conversions for your website.
Affordance is the concept of an object “telling you” what to do with it by virtue of its design (i.e. the handle on a tea kettle tells you to pick it up there). Make sure your merchant links have proper affordance as links/buttons, which can be accomplished by any combination of: rounded corners, contrasting colors, shadows and gradients, hover and press states, animations, and button content.
Consider strongly the use of video, even short direct-to-camera pieces, as a way to quickly and persuasively convey your message. Not everybody is going to watch your clip, but data shows that sites with video earn more engagement and longer visit durations. Even with books, sometimes people just don’t want to read.
Include a longer synopsis/description of the book that hits on your core message. This can be very similar to the back cover/flap content from the book itself. Be sure to use bold, italics, bullets, and other formatting to help the content read clearly and easily on the web. Done right, this longer description will also pull double-duty in helping with search engine optimization.
Blurbs are important: they provide social proof that is especially valuable for lesser-known authors. It’s important to highlight one or two powerful lines from influential individuals, but you do not want to overdo it. If there is no quiet, then there is no loud, and including a dozen quotes is less effective than a couple really stellar ones.
Media logos for outlets that featured appearances/reviews also provide valuable social proof. It is most effective to only feature “top tier” organizations, so if you have those meaningful mentions feel free to drop the local paper from this list/collage.
For certain types of books (health and lifestyle, self-help, business and management, etc.) testimonials or case studies can provide one more layer of proof that “it works.” With consent, make these stories personal, with names/locations/ages/etc. to help visitors identify with these success stories.
Include a short biography about the author, placing emphasis on concrete achievements and positions (“professor at Harvard” “TED speaker”) and selling why you are uniquely qualified to be writing this book.
An author photo can help tell the full story here as well. Ideally, this photo helps sell your authority — speaking in a board room, in front of a bookcase of medical texts, etc. No grainy selfies, high-quality photography only.
If there are pre-order incentives and/or supplemental book resources on the site, they should be featured in the last third of the landing page. Pre-orders are important, but are best messaged through other channels. If links or downloads are promised in the book itself, there should either be a section on this page or an entirely separate page dedicated to these assets. Remember, people looking for these resources have already purchased your book and you do not need to lead with this content.
A vibrant email community is one of the best marketing assets you can own, so consider adding a list-building section somewhere on this page. Though, keep in mind that this page is first and foremost meant to sell books, so do not lead with this.
Most websites benefit by including some sort of signs of life that indicate this is a current and relevant topic. Ways to accomplish this include recent blog posts, integrating social media feeds, or simply updating static content to be continuously topical.
In your navigation and/or footer, be sure to include copyright information, social media links, and other boilerplate. If required in your field, you may want to consult a lawyer for any necessary disclaimers about medial advice, legal advice, etc.
As legendary marketer Theodore Levitt famously said, “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill, they want a quarter-inch hole.” Across your whole site and every marketing channel, make sure that you step out of your own head and speak in language that connects to your audience and their needs/wants. You may be familiar with why your book is important, but they have no idea — yet.
Ben Guttmann ran a marketing agency for a long time, now he teaches digital marketing at Baruch College, just released his first book – Simply Put, and works with some cool folks on other projects in-between all of that. He writes about how we experience a world shaped by technology and humanity – and how we can build a better one.