A website is an essential requirement for any author. It is a great way to connect with readers and other authors, share content and promote your books. Assuming you're not a web designer (or don't have the budget to hire one), what are your options for creating your own website?
Choosing a website builder
In 2016, when I wanted to set up a new website to coincide with the release of This Sacred Isle and the re-release of The Tree of Life trilogy, I started researching the possible options. Many authors use WordPress.org to build websites and it is clear why this is a popular choice. WordPress.org is free to use (although you will have to pay for a domain name and hosting) and gives users a huge amount of flexibility. The range of plugins (both free and premium) is vast, running into the thousands.
But after some research, I concluded that (as a non-technical person) the learning curve required to set up a website using WordPress.org (and the ongoing maintenance) would require too much time, time I preferred to use for writing!
So I decided to use a website builder (tools that allow users to construct a website without manual code editing), of which there are many, some of the most popular being Wix, Jimdo, Go Daddy, Weebly and SquareSpace. Although all have their advantages and disadvantages, there are numerous websites that compare and contrast the various website builders, so this will help to guide your choice.
It is important to decide the purpose and scale of your website, i.e. will it be a mainly an information site or do you want to use it as an e-commerce site, a shop front selling and distributing your books? Take time to decide on your requirements, jot them down and then compare with the features offered by the website builders.
Price is clearly a factor as well, although very broadly, I found the prices of most providers were similar. All the website builders offer various plans and you can always take advantage of offers and voucher codes if you can find them!
After much consideration, I decided to use Weebly to build my website. Although there were some areas that other website builders had the edge on Weebly, overall I felt Weebly offered the solution that best met my needs. Weebly offers a number of plans (Free, Starter, Pro, Business and Performance) - I selected Pro, which works out at £8 a month if paid annually.
Building a site in Weebly
To start building your site, Weebly has a large range of themes, templates you can customise as you require. The available themes are clean and modern, and all are mobile responsive (crucial nowadays as much of your traffic will be via phone and tablet) and it is worth noting that you can actually edit your site using mobile devices. I'd be very surprised if you can't find a Weebly theme suitable for your needs, though if you want to look further afield, there are some (paid) templates available from third-party providers.
In order to decide on your theme, I would advise looking at the websites of other authors (from a range of genres) - this will give you ideas for the kind of layout that best suits you and your books. For my website, I wanted a relatively minimalist look (with lots of white space!), one that echoed the cover designs of my books, and so selected a Weebly theme that best matched this approach.
Once you have selected a theme, you can begin adapting it using Weebly's 'drag and drop' editor. This allows you to select and move elements such as text, images, forms, maps and videos where you want them on screen. I found the editor generally intuitive and easy to use - and to reiterate, there is no coding required unless you want to make more detailed changes to your theme template. As Weebly is a WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) builder you will see immediately how your website will look once published, you don't need to flick over to a preview mode. It is easy to organise your website, although I would suggest spending some time beforehand working out on paper the structure of your site.
Weebly has a store of photos (both free and paid), which you can use to augment your content. The range is impressive and I have used a few free photos on this site. There are also ready-made icons for social media, making it easy to link your website to your twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc. accounts.
Getting in touch: support, community, apps and blogging
There is a vibrant Weebly community and I have been able to pick up some very handy tips from there. I've only used Weebly's customer support once (via a support ticket), but found them helpful and responsive.
Weebly has a growing app store, with an interesting range of free / paid apps - I haven't used them yet so it's hard to comment but I'm sure more advanced website developers might find these advanced tools useful. The apps are a mix of free and paid, although some of the paid apps have free 'test' periods - a good way to try before you buy.
Weebly's blogging functions are simple but effective, with a decent range of options (you can incorporate the usual elements such as text, photo, video etc.) and the 'Post Options' tab allows you to schedule your posts and add your SEO settings and functions (e.g. keywords, descriptions and titles). I think there is scope for further development of Weebly's blogging toolset but as they stand, they are adequate. I have synched this blog with my Goodreads profile, which allows me to reach an even wider readership.
Performance and site statistics
How about day to day functionality of the site? Weebly obviously hosts your site (you don't need to pay separately) and takes care of technical / security issues. I have not noticed any downtime - the site loads swiftly and there are no ads. Again, I am not a technical expert, but I have not encountered any issues of concern. If you wish to, Weebly allows you to archive / export your website to another host.
You can access site statistics through Weebly, specifically looking at the number of hits your pages have received and the number of unique visitors. Depending on your need, you could achieve more using Google Analytics, but the site information supplied by Weebly is sufficient for me.
I have found Weebly an efficient and enjoyable way of creating and maintaining a website. The cost is not prohibitive, and the 'drag and drop' editor is, after a little use, easy to navigate. I want to continue to develop my website, and I feel confident that Weebly gives me the functionality and flexibility to do this. If you're ready to start building your author website, I'd suggest you give Weebly a try - you can always have a go making a site using their Free plan (and this has no time limit so there's no rush) before committing to a paid version.
How did you develop your author website? Have you used Weebly, or another solution? Add a comment below and join the conversation.