Dec 30 2011
I’ve already done an article on how to promote fiction with a nonfiction platform (such as a website mainly devoted to writing advice), but here are some tips for novelists that want to build an audience for a fiction website.
1. Pick a niche small enough that you can compete in, but big enough that there are enough readers to sustain you. Your genre and/or subgenre are usually good places to start. For example, if you were doing superhero stories, Google estimates that there are at least 50,000 searches related to superhero fiction every month (for superhero book, superhero story, superhero fiction, superhero writing, etc).
2. After you’ve picked a niche, figure out key search terms/phrases to target. I brainstormed about 10 possible searches related to superhero fiction, but superhero book(s) and superhero story/stories accounted for 86% of the traffic.
3. When you’re picking out a site name and URL, I’d generally recommend including at least one of your critical search terms. When search engines are figuring out which sites are the best match for a particular query, they love to see the search term(s) in the title. (Case in point: Superhero Nation is currently beating Marvel and DC Comics on Google searches for superhero stories, and it’s not because I have more superhero stories than they do).
3.1. If you’d like to include critical search terms into your title, one possibility is including a colon phrase or dash phrase if you haven’t already. For example, in my case, I did Superhero Nation: how to write superhero novels, comic books and graphic novels. I’d generally recommend keeping the total title to 65-70 characters so that Google doesn’t cut you off. (I do get cut off a bit). There are two main advantages to including a colon or dash phrase: first, it gets more critical search terms into your title, which helps your site perform better on related searches. Second, it helps identify your website’s purpose to prospective readers glancing through Google results. “Superhero Nation” doesn’t say all that much about what I offer, but “how to write superhero novels…” does. If prospective readers do not understand what you offer and how they will benefit, they will probably pass over your website.
3.2. Your website’s title and URL are critical resources, so don’t waste them on your name. First, unless you’re a well-known author, people aren’t searching you out by your name yet. Second, even if people were searching for you by your name, they’ll find you whether or not your name is in your title/URL. I would highly recommend focusing instead on keywords, or at least on a descriptive phrase that conveys your genre/subgenre or what you offer. For example, JohnMDoe.com doesn’t really say anything about what you offer, but “Crime Scene: Murder Mysteries and Detective Novels from John Doe” is a much better alternative if you’re dead-set on having your name in your title. It also does a better job competing on popular search terms like murder mysteries and detective novels.
4. When you have quality content on your website, find people that would be interested in your genre and style of writing and email them a 2 sentence synopsis of the story with a link. For example, a Google search for something like superhero blogs will probably turn up a lot of people that are interested in superhero stories. If your niche has substantial search traffic, there are probably people blogging about it already.
4.1. As much as possible, I would recommend doing this communication gradually and personally. Take your time with it. A form letter obviously written to 50+ people probably won’t go very far. I think a personal touch (like addressing the recipient by name) goes a long way. Personally, I almost always read emails addressed to B. McKenzie or B. Mac because it suggests that they’re at least vaguely aware of what I do. In contrast, “Dear Webmaster” emails are almost always machine-generated spam. (If there’s a human out there that can’t find a name that’s on 99% of SN articles and the About Page, I am so sorry for him/her). Another advantage of doing this gradually is that you’ll get better at introducing yourself, introducing your content and writing content with practice, so don’t use up too many opportunities before you’ve given yourself a chance to improve.
5. Write guest articles in your niche. For example, if you want to write an article for superhero writers, you can find a few websites with searches like write a guest article about superheroes or superhero guest writer. First, links to your website help your website perform better on search engines. Search engines judge a lot about your website’s credibility by the quantity and quality of its incoming links. Additionally, you’ll probably pick up a few readers clicking from the website hosting your article (although rarely many). PS: Nowadays, almost every website codes links in the comments section as no-follow, which means that major search engines do not count them towards the credibility of your website. Leaving links in well-written, thoughtful comments on other people’s websites may still be helpful, but mainly in giving the website’s editor(s) a reason to check out your website. An editor can give you a link that matters; a comment cannot.
6. If you have stories published or self-published, you can do contests and giveaways. Whether you have something for sale, you can give away other people’s books, too. (Some prospective and new readers are more interested when books by several authors are given away—remember, prospective readers don’t know how valuable your writing is yet, so they probably won’t be as excited about the possibility of winning it). I would caution here that it is probably not economical to give away books unless you have some hope of recouping that cost somehow (such as driving traffic to increase sales of your other books).
7. You can do comments on articles or stories in your genre and/or subgenre. I met most of the people in my reviewing circle by offering reviews. Alternately, you can do comments on web articles. Just please add value. Extremely few people click through links in comments that sound like “Hi, this is a great article! Please see my website at mywebsitename.com.” They will be much more likely to check your website out if you offer interesting ideas. Otherwise, they’ll assume you’re a spambot (or, possibly worse, a lazy sack of useless) that didn’t actually read the article. Personally, I delete comments if I think they don’t add anything.
8. I recommend against putting ads on your website before you have enough traffic to actually make money with them. Aggressive ad placement can inhibit site growth.
9. Use Google Analytics to get free information about your website and its traffic, but don’t worry about day-to-day changes because online traffic naturally fluctuates. Worry more about trends and patterns. Alternately, if you’ve made a change and the statistics are immediately disastrous, then I’d recommend switching back sooner rather than later.
9.1. What’s your bounce rate (the percentage of your readers that leave without viewing a second page)? If it’s higher than 80%, the most likely explanation is that your site design is throwing a lot of people off. My style tips are very minimalist, but feel free to use them if you would like.
- For your body text, I HIGHLY recommend using dark text (preferably black) on a light background (preferably white or off-white). This is easiest on the eyes, which is essential if you want people to read hundreds or thousands of words at a time. When was the last time you saw a novel, a newspaper, a major writing website, or any other publication you respect using white text on a black blackground? Authors and novelists have less room to experiment here than (say) photobloggers do.
- Please do not have music and/or a video play upon entry unless people have actually come for the videos. For example, on Youtube or a book trailer page, it makes sense if the video auto-plays, but otherwise it’s intrusive and limits a depressingly large market (people at work). If you do auto-play a video or music, try turning it off for a week and see how it affects your Analytics numbers.
- If you have a custom header on your website, I recommend something well-tailored to your website rather than a random landscape shot. I spent around $60 on art (the two cartoon heads above*) and did some basic Photoshop work with some text and pictures of a helicopter, an office and a generic skyline. It’s more distinct and memorable than the skyline would have been by itself. (How many other authors have a helicopter firing on an office?) *If $60 is out of your budget and you’re not comfortable putting a picture of yourself online, you can just eschew that altogether. Any interesting visual somehow connected to your theme will work.
- Unless it’s really important to the theme of your website, I’d recommend being careful with shots of readily recognizable cities or landmarks. A readily recognizable location might make some people feel the website is insular and/or that they are outsiders. Some people may not be fond of a particular city. In my own header, I used generic, unrecognizable buildings because they are more likely to feel close to home.
- Don’t use Comic Sans, unless your target audience is younger than 13. For example, the Ty Beanie Baby site used Comic Sans effectively.
Another possibility is the quality of your content. If you’d like me to take a look at it and suggest potential avenues for improvement, email me at superheronation-at-gmail-dot-com.
10. If you’re posting fiction online, work in critical search terms into the meta description. When your content comes up in a Google search, that’s the description they see under the title. A good meta description will help convince prospective readers to check you out. In terms of search engine optimization, meta description doesn’t have a major impact determining whether your website places high on a particular search, but it does help Google decide which page to display.