03 July 2012

Total Renovation: When Should You Remodel Your Author Blog?

by Carrie Bailey

I told myself I wouldn't do this again, but I couldn't help it. It started with a few new images, a different background. Then, I stopped working on my novel and tore down all of my old links and wrote new content, deleted pages, reorganized. I renovated the blog. Why? I don't even have ads or provide services and the anthology we sell is experiencing some downtime while we prepare the 2nd edition. Am I just blogging for the sake of blogging?

Yeah, pretty much.

They say the blog is supposed to be the author's platform. When I hear the word platform, I think of a soapbox someone is standing up on shouting, "Buy my book!" It's not the persona I want to convey to people when I finally transition from freelancing to publishing my first novel. Instead, I like to think of my blog as my home. When you visit, you're my guest and we're having a dinner party. I should make this a good experience for you. That's why my redecoration turns quickly into a full scale renovation project.

Here's what I've learned this month while tearing down the wall paper and knocking down a few walls:

Give people clear directions to your online home

How do people find your blog or author website in the first place? Do they reach you through a search engine, your Facebook and Twitter feed or are you standing over them in their house in front of a laptop saying, "And then, I wrote about this..." while they say, "That's nice, are you sure you wouldn't like to go eat now?"

1. The best way to help people find you is by providing clear links between all your social media accounts. Make sure it's clear where you can be found engaging in online small talk.

2. Search engine optimization (SEO) is essential. It has nothing to do with tricking people into visiting your tacky sales pages or empty zombie blogs, it means that when people look you up or look up your area of expertise in Google or Bing, they can find you.

Google Webmaster Tools told me was that writing and blog and it's and parts of speech and New Zealand were my key words, the words that search engines were picking up. I looked over a few of the older articles on Peevish Penman and discovered that although they were about books, freelance writing, self-publishing, novels, authors, character development, grammar, stories, reading, book reviews, etc., I almost never used them in the text of a post itself (but, I just did now-see?). If you're writing about vampires, write it out: v-a-m-p-i-r-e-s. If you're J K Rowling, don't use he, him or he who must not be named, spell it out, it's v-o-l-d-e-m-o-r-t. He's going to kill you either way...

What I discovered I was doing well, was how I named my images that I uploaded. Many people were finding Peevish Penman, because I had an author photo named "Author-Carrie-Bailey." That made it easy.

Be sociable

Your space needs to be personal as well as professional. If you need advice on how to accomplish this, I recommend Mo's site (Morgan Barnhart) Sociable Boost. On her recommendation, I put more photos of myself and Winnie (Winonah Drake) and I'm preparing some videos, so that you know exactly who you're visiting when you come over simply, because you'll be able to see me. Don't be a blog zombie. Show your personality.

I visit a lot of blogs, but only a few stand out in my mind. Sometimes it's the author's location or their topic, but a little author branding isn't about losing your personality and selling out, it's about making yourself memorable. Identify the elements that people already use to identify you. Talk about what interests you.

Hey! It's the coffee lady!

Yeah, if you hear that as much as I do, then you know what to include. Tea even comes up in my key word list, because I spend so much time explaining why coffee is better than tea, which it is, but there are some teas I like-not many. Good examples of author branding are Terry Pratchett's hat, Neil Gaiman's leather jacket, Perry Block's self-depreciation and Sandra Wickham's fitness.

Keep your space clean and well-maintained

Here's a list of things you should do before you receive guests:

1. Clean up your living room - Make your blog look nice by keeping the images and content simple and tasteful. Don't overload them with information. Let them relax, enjoy the atmosphere and mingle. People might come over once, but they won't come back if you've got ads and misaligned images all over the place.

2. Fix the dripping faucet - Make repairs. Fix broken links or remove them. If you've got pages that aren't complete or updated, make signs for them telling visitors why. Use PageSpeed to check how fast your blog or site is loading and follow a few recommendations to improve it.

Me with a Kindle I got from one awesome fan.
3. Have something to offer - You'll hear it over and over that if you're going to write, you need to have something to say. In the world of social media, you don't just need something to say, you need something to offer your visitors. It might be a special feature, an active community, your support, a give away but at the minimum, we deserve a glass of water, figuratively speaking or a Kindle.

4. Be selective, not exclusive - Promote other writers, but put your effort into those who demonstrate they are committed to their work, open to learning and sharing new information about our profession and reciprocate your effort. This goes back to the platform as a bad metaphor for an author blog. It might work for your website, but blogging is a means to connect with real people and build relationships. Associate with people just as you would in person, unless you're shy. Either way, take the time to make friends.

Also, be stingy with your who you give links. Seriously, Google ranks your page by how many incoming links you have-sort of. The total amount of linking in "credit" you have to offer another author's site is divided by the number of links you have within some magical calculation that only one person Google keeps locked in a basement somewhere understands. The best way to make your promotion count is by avoiding link dropping, the equivalent of that annoying name dropping habit some people have. For example, in the above paragraph about author brands, I've linked to Perry Block and Sandra Wickham, because they're authors who I admire and interact with at times. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman are my heros and they don't really need my links for you to find them. Besides, it's not like they might tweet me a "thanks for mentioning me in your recent post" message.

Note: Not everyone is a good guest. Don't hesitate to block and report people if they abuse another visitor in the comment section or ignore someone with a bad reputation.

5. Decorate - This is actually the least important thing to do, because your visitors don't need your style updated regularly. Unless you're looking for a very targeted audience, standard fonts and a simple classic design will work. Many authors have a simple color scheme that's tasteful and they never change it.

Be a good guest

I'm getting better at this, because my initial motivation for guest posting was self-promotion. That was dumb on my part. I wouldn't go into someone else's house and shout, "Hey, I've got a book for sale, why don't you come over and buy it, because it's sooooooo cheap!" So, why did I do basically that online? Well, I saw other authors doing it and gave it a try and now I'm just embarrassed I did. I read a report that 30% of the time the soft sell works better anyway. So, there it is, the science to back up what we already knew we didn't like.

My to-do list

There's still a few things I'm working on to improve to renovate Peevish Penman. I'm going to be removing the pages for the pathfinder, which has online resources for writers. The more pages a site has-not posts-the less page rank the guy trapped in Google's basement assigns them, because he divides your potential rank between pages. With a PR 3 (page rank level 3), my site may be suffering from the six extra pages I made for the pathfinder. A higher ranking site might not, but again, why make it hard for people to find me?

I'm also going to optimize my images. I have a lot of new images that require many extra bytes to download and this slows down the process. New visitors won't wait to be served. They'll move on to the next place. If I run my images through an online image optimizer, they'll look almost the same, but load much faster, because the files will be smaller.

Oy! How time consuming, will I ever get to write?

Why do I bother? I renovate Peevish Penman for the same reason I write. I want to entertain and share things I'm passionate about with we people whose company I enjoy. Maybe it's not as fun as organizing a gala and flying everyone I meet to New Zealand, but it's still a good time.


  1. Your changes are good, as always! When there are more of them, your videos should have more prominent placement. Maybe even their own page.

    1. That's a good thought. I've got someone doing work on them right now.

  2. Very imformative post. Thanks for the reminder to keep by blog simple and clean. My blog really does need a tidy up (a bit like my house)!

  3. I did my desktop first. It's such a chore sometimes.