Thursday, July 1, 2010

Designing a Website

I was asked recently to review one of my writing buddy’s websites and in so doing, give an “honest” opinion. While doing so, I realized that an overall suggestion for design layout might make for a good blog. That said, her are my honest opinions on what makes a good website design, and no, I will not go into the mechanics as I barely understand html let alone css or java script. What I wish to discuss here is merely the attributes of the overall outward design and what makes a viewer want to stay and browse. Mind you, this is only my opinion.

HOME PAGE – Keep it simple or for those of you that like acronyms, KISS it. Think of the front page as the cover of your novel. There’s a title, art, a logline, author’s name and that’s about it. So, for the front page or home page of your website, consider a title block that reflects the genre you write in, a very short blurb either explaining what you write, who you are or welcoming folks to your website. Save lengthier orations for your bio page. Perhaps showcase your latest release. What you don’t want is to make your home page look like an advertisement for Wally World. If it’s too busy, folks won’t know what to click on or what to look at. A viewer needs a resting point for the eye, a focal point that pulls him/her into the composition and piques his/her interest.

TABS – Again, keep it simple. The more pages you have, the more upkeep there is. Try for the basics and maybe one fun tab. I’ve seen some authors include out takes or deleted scenes. I saw one who added a family tree for her characters because all her books were connected. I’ve seen some offer puzzles. A lot might depend on the genre you write in.

PAGES – Try to organize them so each page is a joy to look at. Again, keep the layout simple and the information at a minimum. Think about what your goals are for your website. What do you want the viewer to learn? Well, most of us want to inform potential readers about our work and how they can come by one of our books. Anything else is gravy. So – make sure you have buy links and if possible include either excerpts from your books or first chapters. The trick is to hook the reader so they want to buy. Reviews are great but don’t include the full review. Post the best part of the review and a link where readers can read the rest. And there’s nothing wrong with posting awards and nominations as well. For basic information, don’t get fancy with the fonts. The older generation has a hard enough time reading plain fonts, let alone curly cues, etc. For each page you build, be sure to give them titles in the html code. This helps search engines find your site faster.

NEWS – Link to your blog. Adding content to websites is time-consuming and for those that pay someone else to do updates, costly. Why waste the time when you can be writing. A blog is a lot simpler to add content to and if it’s a popular blog, can drive traffic to your site. You can always add a note that says for more information, go to my website, etc.

OVERALL – I was told by someone who teaches website design to students that my original design was too wide, so when I redesigned, I started with one of the dreamweaver templates. The page was 780 pixels wide. I thought it looked narrow but then realized, this width fits my laptop screen perfectly. It was an “Ah Ha” moment. The other thing I would caution against is music. Don’t get me wrong. I love music, all types of music, and it’s fun learning what everyone else’s tastes are but … when I’m not expecting it, and it blares a tune I’m not fond of, I will probably never visit that site again. You don’t want to risk that chance. I’ll even click off that site without even looking at it before I take the time to go into system tools and turn off the volume.

OVERHAULS – I would rebuild your website at least once every two years. Announcing a new website design will always ensure viewers to your site. And, technology changes quickly. I learned that the hard way when I ended up with a new version of dreamweaver that was so far removed from my old that I couldn’t make my old site work with the new version. Plus, shaking things up gives return visitors something new to look at.

I probably left off a lot of points, but these were the first things that came to mind. Basically, you want your website to help brand your name. Your logo or title block, content, and color choices are all components in helping do this. I wanted to list a few websites I found that I thought were great examples of great design, but I’m running out of steam. It’s past midnight, and I still have to finish writing a love scene. Anyway, it might be fun for those commenting to list your favorite sites, the ones you find pleasing to the eye and fun to browse.

Of course, here's where I add a plug for myself. Check out my new design and let me know your thoughts.