For many authors, when you set up your website you are taking your first step towards building an author platform.
Every author knows that an author website or blog is a crucial part of book marketing that will hopefully help you sell books.
However, if you create a website that is static and consists of only a home page and one or two pages for your book titles, it is not going to gain a lot of traffic.
Free website and blogging platforms can give you a quick and easy way to start your web presence, but they almost always lack flexibility and functionality.
A good example is the inability of some free platforms to be able to add an interactive iframe widget such as the Amazon preview reader.
At best, you can publish blog posts or short stories, create a book page for each of your titles, and add your social media links.
But free websites are not easy to find using Google search, so they attract very little traffic. This is because they are rarely SEO optimized and therefore will struggle to be indexed by Google and Bing.
For published authors who want to find ways to become more front and centre with their Internet presence, there is a much better way to attract readers.
WordPress is by far the best option, but be aware, there are two choices
WordPress is very well known and is the most popular platform for a lot of very good reasons.
It is used by most serious bloggers, many online newspapers and even some New York Times blogs run on WordPress.
However, there can be some confusion because these are two different versions of WordPress and it is important to understand the difference between them.
For authors who are new to building a website or blog, wordpress.com is the best first step option.
It is quick and easy to set up a free site and start blogging and building pages for a fully responsive website that will work beautifully on all devices.
But like other free site platforms though, there are some restrictions.
Your site URL will be an extension of WordPress so it doesn’t give you the best SEO and Google search discoverability value, which is generally how people find a website.
But your author site will still often get indexed if you write and publish great blog posts.
There is also a restriction on adding plugins, code and widgets, a mailing list as well as the inability to monetize with advertising.
However, there is a modestly priced paid version that overcomes many of these problems.
While not fully open in what you can do with your site, you can at least buy a domain name that will help a little in getting your site indexed by Google.
It is also possible to use free and premium plugins as well as themes that enhance your website design.
For a first step, wordpress.com is very good for authors new to website construction and an ideal platform to learn how to use WordPress.
Once you are familiar with it and started building your site, there is a big advantage in that it is easy to make the next step to hosting your own site.
To have total and independent control over your author website, migrating to wordpress.org, which is a self-hosted WordPress site is by far the best option.
In comparison to paying for a wordpress.com site, having your own self-hosted site is no more expensive, and in some respects can be more economical.
Quality web hosting is very cheap now and almost all companies offer one-click WordPress installation. You need to buy a .com domain name, but it only costs a few dollars a year.
So it really is inexpensive to have your own site and appropriate domain name and URL.
What are the benefits?
The list is very, very long. Because you are totally free to build, add, improve and refine both your design, functionality and automation, you can make your site do almost anything you can possibly imagine.
Here are just a few of the many many possibilities.
Add a fully functional contact form with an auto-reply
Integrate Paypal payments
Automate social media posting
Offer ebook downloads in epub and mobi formats
Sell ebooks with Paypal payments
Build an email list for email newsletters
Add an upcoming events calendar
Create multiple versions of a landing page
Monetize your site with affiliate marketing, Amazon Associates and Adsense
Control and fine-tune your SEO optimization
Insert social functions such as follow, share, Like and click to tweet code
Run your own forum
Fully free to add code and build additional functions
Total freedom with theme customization
An excellent example of how powerful WordPress can be for books is our sister site, Whizbuzz Books.
Every facet of the site is automated, including book cover resizing, multiple genre pages and popular books. The site posts to thirteen social media accounts, as well as recording and highlighting these posts on a dedicated social media page.
It also has an automated subscription system with auto-responders for thank you and confirmation messages and is compliant with GDPR regulation to protect the privacy of every email address collected by the site.
The sky is the limit when it comes to how you can use WordPress to work for you, 24 hours a day.
Will you need help with a self-hosted site?
In short, probably. Unless you have very good tech skills, a self-hosted site can involve quite a learning curve.
When I first started using WordPress, it took me some time to find my feet. Lots of reading and learning helped of course, and I can now say that I am able to do 99% of what I want and need to do.
But the smartest thing I did very early on was to find a WordPress developer to help me.
There are so many WordPress experts and web designers all around the world now. It is not difficult to find one to help you build your site with all the functionality you want.
My theme developers are in Nepal, my site developer is in Asia and my automation developer is in Romania.
For my theme development, I pay an annual fee of less than $100.00, which includes support for five sites. It is similar for my automation developer, but it’s only $75.00. However, I pay my general developer per hour on an as-needed basis.
In all, my total annual cost for running, maintaining and upgrading five sites is around $500.00.
That is very cheap if you consider that one of my sites earn more than that every month from Adsense earnings alone.
Free is free but that’s it for author websites. You usually get very little in return for nothing.
But the huge range of self-hosted WordPress options sets you free to build a fully functional site and for you to have so many options to promote your books, as well as other ways of making money from your site.
Almost every site you visit that is related to the publishing industry runs on WordPress. And for good reason.
If you are a fiction author, self-help publisher, small press or a multi-genre indie, the only way to gain real traction from SEO and Google search, as well as social media. You want to build a website that is going to spread your word far and wide.
With a free website, you can put together a quick page for your latest book, add your contact information and hope that someone will stumble upon it. But it will never appear very prominently on Google search.
When this doesn’t happen, which is usually the case, you then have to share it on social media over and over again to get any attention.
In the end, all the wasted time you spend trying to promote a free website using social networking will cost you more in lost valuable writing time.
For those who want author websites to set them free to write, it is better to pay a little and let a little automation help in providing effective book promotion and in building a long-lasting author platform.
But if you are totally new to building a blog or website, start with the free WordPress option.
Then you can take your time and learn how to start blogging to encourage people to buy your books.