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Web Site Doís and Doníts

By Cheryl Bolen

PASICís web mistress, Shelley Kay, shared the doís and doníts of web site design at the groupís biannual conference March 31.

In addition to serving as web mistress for PASIC, Kay has built several other group author sites, including those for authors of Silhouette Desire, Special Edition, Medical Romances, Love Inspired, Pocket, and Harlequin and Silhouette Romance authors.

She also has more than 60 author clients, some with simple sites and others with extensive sites that feature interactiive and multi-media functions.

When a client initially contacts her, Kay asks them to fill out a client survey that runs from five to six pages. She also forces the clients to narrow down their product (books) to three adjectives. In addition, she asks clients to write down specifics of web sites they like.

Whether working with a professional like Kay or doing the work yourself, an author must define the purpose and primary message of the web site. The author should know her market and be aware of what the competition is doing and should define the target audience.

Next, the author must identify the tone she wants to convey on the web site. For example, Christina Dodd, who is one of Kayís clients, decided she wants her web site to promote Christina Dodd. Not Doddís titles. Not one of the genres in which she writes.

Once decisions on the tone and scope of the web site have been established, Kay recommends the following guidelines:

  • Limit the number of main links. For example, instead of linking to author and to authorís photos and to authorís favorite things, lump all things relating to author in one link, which can then have sublinks.
  • Keep the site organized and easy to navigate. "Itís a web site, not a web page," Kay said. Sheís not a proponent of a busy home page.
  • Keep navigation in the same place on the pages.
  • Use headers to identify where the user is at all times.
  • Never lose your main navigation.
  • Always open external sites in new window so the user never leaves your site.
  • A large number of author sites now use a variety of interactivity, such as subscription lists, contests, games, quizzes, blogs, and polls. To manage subscription lists, Kay herself uses a free PHP list, which she recommends for maintaining mailing lists. She said Yahoo and other lists can be imported into it, too.

    One of her authors, Susan Mallery, sends out e-cards rather than newsletters when she has a book coming out. "Most of my authors donít have time to change their own newsletters," Kay said.

    On the other hand, Kay has designed templates for authors such as Deeanne Gist, who prefer to update their sites themselves.

    As far as blogging goes, Kay recommends not starting a blog if it cannot be maintained on a regular basis. "Iím taking down as many as I put up," she said.

    Another interactive function, the guest book, is becoming a thing of the past. "Itís a spam magnet," she said.

    Multi-media presentations, such as book trailers, are gaining in popularity. Kay says a lot of these book trailers are being used as an introduction to web sites. She urges that they feature a skip button ó which she also urges with audio.

    Kay touched briefly on copyright as it pertains to photos and music. If, for example, an author puts up a piece of art to illustrate her blog, itís fair usage: not for profit.

    Typically, stock photos and music should be used for web sites and trailers. Seeking these can be time consuming. Some of Kayís clients save a lot of money by searching for these themselves.

    Once the web site is built, Kay recommends:

  • Donít follow every trend.
  • Donít assume more content is better.
  • Change content regularly. Keep up to date and organized. Keep a schedule of events. Pay someone to maintain it if you canít.
  • Register the site with major search engines. This can sometimes take from four to six weeks before results will be visible.
  • Belong to romance communities, reciprocally link to other sites and to My Space and You Tube.
  • Use your "brand" in all your marketing.

  • This article was first published in PASIC Basics, Spring 2007.

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