3 Reasons Why a Facebook Page Can’t Replace an Author Website

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I was recently talking with a debut novelist who was advised by someone in the publishing industry that a Facebook author page would be OK to use instead of creating an author website.

I’ve occasionally been asked by authors at conferences: Why not just use Facebook? Isn’t that where everyone is spending their time already? Why would people visit my site? Why bother with all the effort of establishing a site, which, if it becomes dusty or out-of-date, could be more damaging than no website at all?

First, I’ll address why it’s a bad idea to use Facebook as a substitute for your author website.

1. People may leave Facebook.

I remember the very first fan page I created for Writer’s Digest—and it wasn’t on Facebook or Twitter. It was on MySpace. Guess how many people visit that page now?

It may be hard to envision, but Facebook may eventually lose favor. Google Plus may become more popular, or it may be an entirely new site or technology not created yet. It’s impossible to predict. But by choosing Facebook instead of an author website, you are favoring the short-term over the long-term. You are investing your time and energy in a platform that may not pay you back in several years’ time. Maybe it benefits your current campaign or initiative—but you can never be sure it’s going to benefit your second or third project.

In the meantime, your author website remains undone, and people who don’t use Facebook become incredibly difficult to identify and reach.

2. Facebook is not under your control.

This is pointing out the obvious, but authors don’t take it seriously enough. You can never control what Facebook does—with its design, with its user interface, with your likes/followers, with its functionality, with its ad displays. You’re limited in how you can optimize the experience, and your insights (metrics) are limited to what Facebook itself measures and decides to pass onto you.

Many people and businesses received a rude awakening when Facebook adjusted its algorithms so that only the most popular status updates would be seen by most fans of a page. If you want to reach ALL fans who’ve liked your page, you now have to start paying money.

That said, it’s true that a site with 1 billion users has attractive qualities to anyone building an online presence. I’m not saying ignore Facebook, but realize you don’t call the shots.

3. A website is the most effective way to deliver information to your audience.

Your author website serves as a hub for all your activity—online and offline. Imagine the following scenarios:

  1. A potential reader hears about your book from a friend. They Google your name or book title. Where do they end up? If you don’t have a website, they probably land on Amazon. That may not be a bad thing, but what if …
  2. A reader finishes your book, loves it, and wants to see if you have any book club materials, readings or events, or other opportunities to enrich the experience they’ve just had. They Google your book title. What do they find?
  3. A reader finishes your book, loves it, and wants to find other things you’ve written. That reader may explore Amazon, go back to Google and search for your author page, or find your Facebook page. Will they be able to find what they’re looking for?
  4. Someone in the media hears about your book and wants to contact you. They run a Google search. What do they find?
  5. A conference organizer reads your book and thinks you’d make a great speaker. They run a Google search. What do they find?

You probably see the common thread here. When people seek information, they often go to Google to search for it. People won’t be inclined to visit Facebook when they have a specific goal or information they’re seeking. Why? Because Facebook is a soft connection tool, for people to stay in touch in a very organic way. It’s not about structured information delivery, but conversation and social engagement.

A website, on the other hand, serves as a hub for all people who are interested in your work and are seeking more information or updates directly from you. It doesn’t matter if they heard about you online or offline, people are trained to use their mobiles, tablets, and desktops to search for more information, and your author website is a 24/7 resource waiting for them.

I haven’t even touched on the many other reasons an author website is essential to your long-term development as an author. They include:

  • Developing an e-mail newsletter list that puts you in direct contact with your true fans (this is like money in your pocket, a long-term investment that pays off hugely over time)
  • Making your other online efforts more effective—or making people aware of all the places you’re active. For instance, the No. 1 way people find out about me on Facebook (and end up subscribing to my feed) is because they’ve visited my website or read my blog.
  • Offering many ways for your fans to engage. Aside from having an e-mail newsletter, you may offer ancillary materials that fans would enjoy, such as additional chapters, resources, book club materials, etc.

But isn’t a bad website worse than no website at all?

It actually takes effort these days to have a bad website, given today’s website building tools such as WordPress.

I also have to wonder why your website would be out-of-date or damaging to your career if you continue to write and publish. The only reason I can imagine is if you had a website built in the way it was done 10 years ago, when you needed a web developer or programmer to be the “webmaster.” Today, if you create a new website, it should be done in such a way that it’s easy for YOU the author to maintain and update—no more difficult than if you were updating a Word document.

Sure, you may need to spend a couple hundred dollars every year or two for a developer to assist with a redesign or functionality add-ons. But for anyone with a long-term author career, this is one of the best and most critical investments you can make.

For more on author websites and Facebook, visit these other posts I’ve written (unless otherwise noted):

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Master the Principles of Social Media Without Feeling Like a Marketer

Jane's newest online course focuses on how to take a holistic and strategic approach to social media that’s based on long-term reader growth and sound principles of online marketing. You won’t find gimmicks or short-term approaches here. Rather, my philosophy is that (1) your work—your writing—is always central, and (2) you have to enjoy what you’re doing on social media for it to be sustainable and eventually become a meaningful part of your author platform.

A big challenge for authors is deciding what types of marketing will work for them strategically, and figuring out what will be effective in cutting through the noise without consuming huge amounts of time. Over the course of 12 weeks, our goal will be to answer this question for you, eliminate as much guesswork as possible, and retain your authentic voice regardless of your strategy.

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Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has more than 15 years of experience in the book and magazine publishing industry, with expertise in digital media and the future of authorship. She speaks around the world at events such as BookExpo America, Frankfurt Book Fair, and Digital Book World, and has keynoted writing conferences such as The Muse & The Marketplace. She currently teaches digital media and publishing at the University of Virginia. Find out more.
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60 Comments

  1. 4. Perception. People expect you to have a website as a professional author… THEN a Facebook, Twitter, etc… if you’re not on the web as your own entity first, credibility suffers.

    Great post Jane.

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  5. Excellent tips and outlook. Thanks, Jane. With my memoir being published in Spring 2014, I am in the midst of having someone experienced with WordPress.org software make a web site and incorporate my existing WordPress.com blog, which has five years of content (I have posted every five days, on average).

    My concern isn’t design or “look,” as I have seen his work and know that’s easily changed, but transferring my content seamlessly. He has done it before but confesses that sometimes there are glitches with graphics, and most of my posts include photos I’ve taken and which I would like to have move with the posts in the layouts I’ve used. I know my concern is an issue because another writer I know lost a massive amount of preexisting content in her WordPress blog to WordPress software site conversion. And she used her daughter’s web design firm!

    I mention this issue at length because solving it represents a real opportunity for web design professionals.

    • Indeed, transferring content from one environment to another is always a sticky business. Whatever platform one uses for a website, hopefully it’s something that has a strong, usable export function!

  6. Item 1. There’s no guarantee that WordPress or any other platform will endure.

    However, I really do agree with you on all the other points you mention. FB is for fun. An author website is for serious work. Besides there is no reason why a person can’t use FB to guide people to their serious website. That has worked amazingly well for my personal blog, even though the blog is not an author website.

    • Very true re: WordPress. It undoubtedly has a shelf-life like any other tech. That said, it powers 20% of websites in existence and is open source, so if you want a website that’s not owned/controlled by someone else, it’s tough to find a better option.

      I should also clarify that I’m not against activity or engagement on Facebook. Nor do I think you must choose an activity like blogging over Facebook updates/engagement. Rather, it’s about what you consider home base.

    • There’s no guarantee that WordPress or any other platform will endure.

      That’s not true. WordPress is free, open source software—as you long as you care to run it on your server, it will endure, and there’s nothing that anybody can do about that. Facebook, on the other hand, will endure only so long as its owners decide that it should continue to exist.

      • Also, if you do decide to register your own domain name and then point it to a self-hosted WordPress instance, if WP ever does die or something better becomes the dominant platform, you can always migrate your old content to the new software in the same place. And one of the components of Google PageRank is how long your domain has been registered, so keeping the same hostname registered is important.

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  9. Here’s a question: Does a Blogger site–which is set up essentially as a website and a blog–count? There are so many tools I haven’t explored, but it seems like a one-stop way to engage readers and offer current info.
    Or do we need a dedicated website AND a blog?
    Thanks,
    T.D. Hart

    • In my opinion, writers need to have one main website that includes a blog. As Jane says, you want to create a hub, a home base. So you only want to have one home base. (You don’t want to be competing with yourself for hits.)

      Blogger, lets you create static pages, as well as dynamic (blog) pages so you have all you need right there. Blogger has been around for a long time, but is ultimately subject to the whims of Google, so I prefer hosted WordPress for that and many other reasons.

    • I agree with everything Mary Ann has said below.

      A Blogger site counts as a website and is an easy way to get started, especially since it allows for static pages. The big drawback is that if you don’t intend to blog, Blogger doesn’t make much sense as a way to get started.

      In an ideal world, your website & blog are under the same domain (as it is here, with my own site).

    • Yes, a blogger site “counts” and is a great platform to use, just make sure to add your own custom domain to it!

      Regarding WordPress vs Blogger, if you are not the most technical or don’t have a significant and compelling reason, Blogger is just as good: http://www.blogxpertise.com/2012/08/10-reasons-blogger-better-wordpress.html

      You can also customize your Blogger site to be anything: http://www.confluentforms.com/2011/07/you-can-do-some-amazing-things-with.html

  10. Hi Jane
    I appreciated this post. When my debut MG sold last year, I put part of my advance money into having a professional website designed. It came out beautifully, but is somewhat expensive to maintain. I’ve made a personal choice not to be on FB, but instead to continue trying various ways to draw traffic to my site. Thanks for confirming the importance of a good author site.

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  12. Interesting article. As a reader, and a FB user, I will say that I don’t “like” very many professional FB pages. I use it mainly to keep in touch with family and friends. I have found that far too many professional pages wind up with personal comments from the author/designer/musician/etc, and honestly — I don’t want to know everyone’s political, religious, etc leanings. I’d rather enjoy your books, your music, your products. If you post how much you dislike folks who ______, and I’m one of those folks, you’ve just insulted me and I’ll spend my money on another author, etc. True, they may feel the same way as you, but they were smart enough to keep quiet and not insult me on a professional page. Just food for thought.

    I also find myself making note of, and staying away from, authors, musicians, companies that have ONLY a FB presence. There is a major appliance company that has lost me because all tech support is now done via FB, and they never respond. So when I replaced my stove, I bought a different brand. No way to tell said company, but I spoke with my wallet, and I know and so do all my friends.

  13. The nice thing about WordPress is that it’s flexible. If you don’t want a blog, you don’t have to have one. You can have static pages where you put your book information up and links to excerpts and other goodies.

    In fact, that can be the bare minimum of an author’s website. When I read about a new book, I’ll google that author’s name and look in particular for book excerpts. Anything else — a snazzy design, QnA’s with the author, and other goodies — is just gravy.

  14. Although I agree with your stated reasons, I think you are missing two equally important reasons: (1) many avid book buyers like their privacy and do not have Facebook accounts because of Facebook’s reputation for totally disregarding users’ privacy and for changing privacy rules and settings virtually hourly to frustrate any attempts by users to maintain even a modicum of privacy and (2) many people choose not to join or often visit Facebook because they do not want to give Facebook the ability to sell to third parties information about them for marketing purposes. Basically, it all boils down to privacy problems with Facebook.
    But the point for authors is that relying on Facebook alone could mean that many potential buyers of your book are never reached.
    One example is myself. I buy several hundred books — both hardcover and ebook — every year. My book-buying budget generally runs around $5,000 and that excludes the books I receive as gifts. I would never find an author whose only access was Facebook because I am not a member of Facebook (nor do I Twit). Yet I am the kind of reader an author wants to find because I do spend money on books.

  15. Great article, Jane – well said! I’m shocked that “someone in publishing” would recommend an author to even consider using FB as a website. Me, I’m hooked on WordPress :)

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  17. Thanks, Linda.

    You’re OK sticking with Blogger, though I recommend you be prepared to eventually change platforms. You never know if Google might shut down the service, as they did with Google Reader.

    • Thanks Jane. I also keep a WP blog that feeds from my Blogger blog for the Google takes over day. Linda

  18. Pingback: 3 Reasons Why Facebook Can’t Replace Your Author Website | jack & Liz

  19. Very interesting! With my first novel coming out in January 2014, this is a topic that is important to me. I’ve been urged to have the dual presence in FB and Website (Blog) and I can see how having both is preferable to just one.

    Your reasons under #3 are the most compelling for me: what do people get when they search… It makes me curious: do you think that FB will start showing up in Google results more prominently as people use FB as a business (including writing) platform?

    Thanks for the post!

    • IMHO, I think Facebook has peaked in the US market and will not become more influential than it already is right now (whether in Google results or in other ways).

  20. So true–all of it. I’m so aware each day what a lack of control I have over Facebook. It’s nice to have complete control over your own website. It really is.

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  22. I agree, Jane. This is especially for true for children’s authors. Their readers may not even be on Facebook yet. And the Facebook page is limiting. If you want to provide an interactive experience, FB shouldn’t be an author’s only option.

    • WordPress is a content management system that allows you to incorporate a blog (or blogging functionality). So, your WordPress site can act as a blog, or as a static website, or it can be both (as is the case with my own site right here).

  23. Hi Jane,

    I agree with everything you’ve said about Facebook, Google and web sites. As a graphic designer, the rise of DIY web presence for low-budget clients, friends, and family was liberating, for all involved. I was able to point these folks to systems they could easily use and of which they could take ownership and gain self-satisfaction.

    And although I, too, discourage using FB as your home base, “presence” is key. One just needs to Google (or Bing) the leaders in the writing and publishing industries to see FBs positive influence. So to maximize discoverability, besides a WP blog/site, I encourage people to set up G+ and FB pages, and a Twitter account. From there, they can add any other social media account they think they might need.
    Great post, Jane!

  24. Call me a dummy. I signed up for the webinar, then mixed up time conversions and missed it. I thought there was some place I could find a transcript online? Do you have any suggestions for a dummy like me?

    • So sorry to hear that! You’ll automatically be sent the recording and Q&A, just like everyone else. The e-mail usually goes out within 1 week of the live session, so keep an eye out.

  25. When I review a book I try and post a link to the author’s website or blog. But I want it to be their website – http://www.authors name.whatever. Not their Facebook page. Yet I still get a few authors (indie and trade published) where I can’t find a website via Google. No matter. No obvious website, no link.

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  36. Great info! I’m doing some research on author websites because I’m considering going into the niche of website design for authors. I haven’t decided 100% for sure though.

    I will say this, though. Yes, WordPress CAN be easy to maintain, but I’ve had clients in the past that, even after training them on WordPress, for whatever reason, don’t maintain it and the site gets hacked, etc. That’s why I offer maintenance plans for the sites I do, because apparently some don’t want to be bothered with maintaining it, even when it’s pretty easy.

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