First things first: Your website, whether it gets a lot of traffic or not, is an essential part of a strong author platform. It serves as your hub—or command central—for all online activity, and should give your readers, as well as the media, a way to engage with you. It should be there if people want to find it, and you can safely assume that traffic will grow as your career grows, whether you try to make that happen or not.
While nonfiction authors might be rightly concerned with traffic to their site (as a part of their platform—overall visibility and reach), novelists, poets, and other creative writers should probably treat their site as a critical tool underpinning career-long marketing and promotion efforts, but not necessarily as an end in itself—unless you’re generating content, blogging, or doing something to attract attention, which we’re about to discuss.
Here are some of the tried-and-true methods of getting traffic to your website.
1. Make sure your social media profiles always link to your website.
Twitter, Facebook, and other social media networks always offer—as part of your static profile—an opportunity to link to your homepage. Be sure to do so.
An advanced version of this strategy: Send people to a customized landing page on your website. E.g., you may want to create a special introduction or offer for people who visit your website from your Twitter profile, Facebook fan page, GoodReads page, etc.
If you blog: Be sure to link to new blog posts on each social media network where you’re active. But don’t just post a link. Offer an intriguing question, lead in, excerpt, or explanation of why the post might be interesting to people on that specific social network. While it may be possible to automate postings across your social networks whenever a new blog post goes live, it’s often more effective to give each post a personal touch based on what you know appeals to that particular community.
2. Include your website address on all offline materials.
Whether it’s business cards, print books, handouts, flyers, bookmarks, or postcards—any print collateral—don’t forget to put your website address on it. It’s helpful if you briefly explain what’s at your site, e.g., “Visit my website to sign up for my free e-newsletter” or “Visit my website to download free first chapters from all my books.”
3. Learn SEO 101 and its quirks for your content management system.
SEO is search engine optimization. You want search engines such as Google to pull up your site whenever people search for terms relevant to you, your books, or your content. For most authors, the two most important SEO questions usually are:
- Can people easily find my site if they search for my name?
- Can people easily find my site if they search for my book titles?
Beyond these two questions, most authors don’t need to worry much about SEO. (It becomes more important if you’re trying to make money online or otherwise build a career based off your online content.) However, you should have a basic knowledge of how SEO works, and whether your site is meeting basic requirements. The good news is that if you’re using the very popular content management system WordPress, you’re set up to have good SEO from the start.
Here are some excellent resources for learning about SEO.
- 6 Simple SEO Tips for Authors by Joel Friedlander
- Simple SEO for Authors, Part 1 by Joel Friedlander
- SEO for Authors, a round-up of posts by Caleb J. Ross
- For more advanced skills, especially for nonfiction writers: SEO Copywriting Made Simple by Copyblogger
4. Install Google Analytics and study how people find your site and use it.
After Google Analytics has collected at least 1 month of data, take a look at the following:
- How do people find your site? Through search? Through your social media presence? Through other websites that link to you?
- What search words bring people to your site?
- What pages or posts are most popular on your site?
By knowing the answers to these questions, you can better decide which social media networks are worth your investment of time and energy, who else on the web might be a good partner for you (who is sending you traffic and why?), and what content on your site is worth your time to continue developing (what content will bring you visitors over the long run?).
For more analytics tools, check out my Nov. 18 e-newsletter.
Speaking of e-newsletters …
5. Create a free e-mail newsletter.
Whether you send it once a year or once a week, it’s time to start a free e-mail newsletter so you can stay in touch with visitors to your site who specifically express interest in your updates. MailChimp is an e-mail newsletter service (free up to 2,000 names) that has a beautiful user interface and makes the process fun and easy.
Your e-mail newsletter, aside from having useful news or content, should link to your website. Your newsletter can point out (1) popular site or blog content & conversations that readers may have missed (2) free information or downloads you’ve recently offered and (3) anything else that’s changed on your site that might have been overlooked.
6. Create free resource guides on popular topics.
If you’re a nonfiction writer, then this probably comes naturally: Put together a 101 guide, FAQ, or tutorial related to your topic or expertise—something people often ask you about. (My most visited resource on this site is Start Here: How to Get Your Book Published.)
If you’re a novelist, this strategy may take some creative thinking. Good thing you have an imagination, right? Consider the following:
- If your book is strongly regional, create an insider’s guide or travel guide to that particular region. Or think about other themes in your work that could inspire something fun: a collection of recipes; a character’s favorite books, movies, or music; or what research and resources were essential for completing your work.
- If you’re an avid reader, create a list of favorite reads by genre/category, by mood, or by occasion.
- If you have a strong avocational pursuit (or past profession) that influences your novels, create FAQs or guides for the curious.
- If you’re an established author, offer a list of your favorite writing and publishing resources that you recommend for new writers.
- Also, see suggestions below.
7. Create lists or round-ups on a regular basis.
A very popular way to make people aware of your website is to link to others’ websites. If you can do this in a helpful way, it’s a win for you, for your readers, and for the sites you send traffic to.
But you can create such lists or round-ups on any theme or category that interests you enough to remain dedicated, enthusiastic, and consistent for the long haul—at least 6 months to 1 year, if you want to see a tangible benefit.
8. Do something interesting on your favorite social media site.
Especially if you’re not blogging, you may want to consider what creative project you might undertake on a community-oriented site. Consider:
- Daily themed notes on Facebook. (See this guy.)
- Photographs or visuals on Instagram or Pinterest. (Here’s some advice from MediaBistro on this front.)
- Twitter chats or hashtag themed tweets. (Jeanne Bowerman’s ScriptChat is a fabulous model to follow.)
- YouTube videos. (These guys are the masters.)
- Create reading highlights and snippets through Amazon highlights, Goodreads, or Findings (then distribute via Twitter, Facebook, etc). Check out my Findings or highlights.
9. Run regular interviews with people who fascinate you.
Believe it or not, it’s rare to come across an informed, thoughtful, and careful interviewer and interview series (or—not just someone looking to fill a slot or post generic content based on pre-fab questions).
Think about themes, hooks, or angles for an interview series on your site, and run them on a regular basis—but only as frequently as you have time to invest in a well-researched and quality interview. Such series also offer you an excellent way to build your network and community relationships, which has a way of paying off in the long run.
Check these interview series for an idea of what’s possible:
10. Be a guest blogger or interviewee on other sites.
Whenever you guest or appear on other websites, that’s an opportunity to have multiple links back to your own site and social network accounts.
A meaningful guest post means pitching sites that have a bigger audience than you, but they should also have a readership that’s a good match for your work. If you need a strong introduction to guest posting how-to, visit this excellent Copyblogger post.
If you’re not the type to write guest posts, then consider proactively offering yourself up to be interviewed as part of other bloggers’ interview series.
A note of caution: Don’t focus on guest post or interview opportunities strictly tied to the writing and publishing community (unless that is your true audience). You may need to research websites and blogs that feature authors or books similar to you in order to break out of the publishing industry echo chamber and find people who aren’t writers, but readers. An easy way to start this research is to Google similar authors or book titles—ones with the same target readership—and see what sites feature interviews, guest posts, or essays.
Whenever you make an appearance on another site, always promote the interview on your own social networks and create a permanent link to it from your own website.
While these are some of the most popular ways to build traffic to your site, there are many other ways. What has been successful for you? Share your experience in the comments.
Or, for more in-depth instruction on this topic:
- The Holy Trinity of Abundant Blog Traffic by Joel Friedlander
- 5 Ways to Get More Traffic With Content Marketing (CopyBlogger)
- 7 Traffic Techniques for Bloggers—and Metrics to Measure Them (ProBlogger)
- How I Increased My Search Traffic by 200% in 6 Months (ProBlogger)