The Author Toolbox: Establish Your Website as a Home Base

laptop-1071779_1280Nowadays, when everything is online and “Google” is a verb (as in “I’ll just google that”), every author needs a place where readers can find them. However, since social media channels rise and fall in popularity or adjust their algorithms almost as quickly as the weather changes, you absolutely need to establish a home base on property you control.

A website (with or without a blog) is your home base and it certainly doesn’t have to be complicated. Just make sure it looks professional, stays up-to-date, and links out to your social media outposts located in places other people control. Check out the websites of authors you admire for ideas about what you would want to include such as a biography, book blurbs, speaking, and more. So where should you start to build a website?

Let’s start with some basic terminology. In simple terms, a domain name is your mailing address, the hosting is the ground, and your website is the fancy house you build on that spot. The mailing address (like www.CandeeFick.com) points folks to rented land on a server where I’ve constructed a “house” with custom paint (banner image) and doors into various rooms (menu and pages). Hope that makes sense.

So the first step is to claim your domain name, preferably a YourName.com or YourNameBooks.com. Many hosting options (more on them later) include a domain name in their sign-up process which makes that part easy. Or you can go to places like GoDaddy.com to stake your claim now, but honestly I get confused on parts of this and prefer having my domain registration and hosting in one place so I don’t let a piece of the package fall through the cracks. Domain names can be bought for a year or two at a time and MUST be renewed or else someone else could snatch up your link and hold it for ransom.

typing on laptopNext, you need some land to point that address toward. While you could technically host your website on your own computer, if your laptop dies or Internet connection goes down, so does your website. Most people rent land or space on someone else’s computers (called servers) and you can lock yourself in for a multi-year lease or pay month by month. There are TONS of companies that do similar stuff (think GoDaddy or HostGator or my favorite Blue Host) but customer service and reliability varies. Most hosting companies have multiple plans and you can always upgrade or downgrade as your needs change.

Deciding where to “rent” also factors in what kind of house you’re planning to build and how much memory you’ll need to handle the traffic. I’ve been extremely happy with a WordPress website and have heard from a lot of business and marketing people that it’s the way to go for generally all businesses. Of course, huge companies like Amazon with a gazillion pages need a different structure, but for most of us it does everything you need including e-commerce. The power of WordPress comes through the multitude of available plug-ins that amplify the basic software to do specific things.

There are two WordPress options out there. The .com option (like Google’s Blogger) offers free hosting on their server but has many limitations on the allowable plugins (like a strict home owner’s association that won’t let you keep a camper in your driveway overnight) and your domain address would look like YourName.WordPress.com unless you pay extra to for a custom domain name. The option I prefer is the .org option which allows you to use the exact same software for free but put it on your own rented land with no limits on the plugins you can add.

Speaking of recommendations, I also recommend Blue Host for hosting since they have a tremendous reputation, 24/7 customer service, a ton of tutorial videos to walk through the steps, a free domain name included, AND can install the WordPress software for you with a single click. Other hosting sites allow you to install WordPress yourself but it involves a lot of downloading and FTP (file transfer protocol) and hair-pulling. Been there, done that so I love Blue Host for doing it for me. The bonus with most hosting plans is that you also get associated email addresses which are like a landline or cell phone to reach the people who live in that house.

What does it cost? I used Blue Host for a domain name, some privacy, and hosting with just the very basic plan and it cost under $100 to get everything set up, and that’s paid for a year. If you use this link to check them out (click on the image below), then I’ll get a bit of a referral commission to apply toward my own hosting fees at no extra charge to you. They have a $79 “quick start” option that provides one-on-one coaching to walk you through the setup process but that is in addition to your hosting fees.

 

Once you have your domain name (address) and hosting (rented land), then it’s time to build your house (website). The first step inside the wp-admin page (go to YourName.com/wp-admin to access the log-in) is picking a theme and there are plenty of free ones out there to start. You can always upgrade later to a paid/premium theme for $40 or $50 by just searching for “WordPress Themes” but the basics have a lot of customizable features. The blueprint/framework of the theme determines how big the top banner image is, how many columns there are, and if the sidebar is on the left or right, etc. so start with one that’s pretty close to how you want it to look based on your research of websites you like.

(Need step-by-step instructions on how to set up your website? Download this free guide. Then, if you need more step-by-step instructions on how to navigate inside the WordPress dashboard, add posts or pages, customize menus, or add widgets, download this additional free guide.)

The next steps are adding a custom banner image, deciding how many pages to start with, adjusting the navigation menu, and adding the basic content. You can create custom banner images using Canva.com, just check the appearance tab on the WP-Admin sidebar for the exact dimensions and then build a custom-sized image on Canva. (See my blog post on images for more information about using image editors.)

Then it’s time to add decorations and security and other fun/necessary features by installing and activating plug-ins. Here are some great freebies to get started: (Most plug-ins out there are free. Some have paid versions with more features or the developer will ask for a donation or review.)

  1. JetPack – this requires signing up for a WordPress.com account in order to activate it, but allows you to easily share blogs to Facebook/Twitter/Google+ when you post them, has sidebar widgets for Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest/and more. There are also stat trackers built in.
  2. MailChimp – this also requires signing up for a free account, but you will need to start collecting email addresses for future marketing or newsletters.  This plugin allows for a simple sidebar widget to “Sign up for my Newsletter” (Another great list-building and social sharing tool I’m starting to check out is called SumoMe, which is a free collection of various mini-apps to help build your email list, etc. It will link to your MailChimp list as well.)
  3. Akismet – this is a free spam filter for comments. I just deleted 5000 comments in my spam folder that would have otherwise cluttered up various blogs with links to places I don’t want my visitors going to.
  4. WP e-Commerce – I looked this one up in case you are interested in selling things. This one is highly recommended for adding a store and shopping cart to a site and links to PayPal or many other payment places. (I use a plug-in called My Book Table because I sell books and it automatically links to bookstores so I don’t have to collect $ or ship.)
  5. ClickToTweet – allows you to embed pre-written tweets into your posts or pages for easy social sharing
  6. Yoast SEO – Easy way to add the Search Engine Optimization pieces of a keyword and description below each post or page so they are easily found on Google. The fields appear on the “Add New Post” editor page beneath the text-editing box.

Generally, once you get to this point, just Google “Wordpress plugin for ___” and you’ll get lots of recommendations and even videos. You can always deactivate or delete plugins so it doesn’t hurt to try them out. And as you check out other websites, you’ll discover new plugins and such to try to mimic.

The main thing to think about is claiming a domain name and establishing a home base where people can find you. Plus, since you’ll get a few custom email addresses with the package, you can then start spreading the word to your contacts with an email address/website that won’t change. Because WordPress is so versatile, it’s a great place to start knowing you can always change themes and plug-ins and more later without having to start over from scratch. (The content on pages and in blog posts stays in the database and just gets rearranged into a new layout if you change themes.)

What’s next? Add some fabulous content. 

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