Let’s begin with the reason there’s a mentee blog hop at all: If you’re looking to enter the publishing industry, you need to have an online presence. There is some disagreement as to what exactly that presence should be (in particular, whether actively blogging is worth a writer’s time) but nearly everyone agrees you need some presence to help market yourself and your work, and that you shouldn’t wait until after you are published to start.
It seems like that message got around, because it’s been less than 48 hours since we opened the #PimpMyBio blog hop and we’ve already got over 100 listings. As I went through and stalked mentees, I got curious about how people were making use of the web, and so I thought I’d take a survey and quantify some trends. The following is based on a review of our first 107 applicants; I will update this data periodically as the list grows.
Three quick notes before we get started:
1) We’re concerned with sites, so what I’m looking at is the contents of the site architecture (ie, the stuff that appears on every page: headers, sidebars, menus, etc) and not the contents of individual posts or pages like PitchWars bios themselves.
2) I encountered several sites that had a distinct “landing page” that looked very different from interior pages. Once again this is fine for aesthetic purposes, but remember that these days relatively few of your visitors will see that landing page first, or at all. On my site this year, my front page has seen literally two percent of the traffic my most popular page received. Make sure that key information, like your name, appears persistently on every page of your web site. The easiest way to do this is a banner that carries across the site, but there are other approaches. For purposes of this survey, I did count information that appeared only on landing or “HOME” pages.
3) Like anything else in the world, your mileage may vary. There are definitely some things I think all sites should have in common, but there is no clear right and wrong. Only you can decide what is right for you. However I will point out one common pitfall in web design: When there is a conflict between your site looking nice visually and serving its functional business purpose, go with function at cost of aesthetics every single time.
1. Site Host / CMS
For years, Google’s Blogger service (AKA Blogspot) was the top choice for writers, agents, and others in the literary profession. Many notable agents still keep their sites at Blogspot, but if this year’s PitchWars bios are an indication, WordPress has supplanted Blogger in popularity. More than 50% of entrants have either a hosted blog at WordPress.com or use WordPress as the CMS on a self-hosted site.
I was a little bit surprised by Tumblr’s small showing, but not surprised that it seemed more popular among younger writers. Also surprising: Only one submitter made use of Squarespace, at least as far as I could tell. Also, not a single Livejournal. That makes us classically-trained Internetters sad.
Methodology: I did my best to identify hosts where possible; if a site is hosted at WordPress.com but the URL is private (ie, doesn’t include “.wordpress.com”) I counted it as self-hosted. If the site didn’t state where it was hosted, I tested to see if it was WordPress by appending “/wp-admin” and seeing if a login page appeared. Tricksy, I know.
I wondered how many authors owned their name as a URL, and the answer is: about a third. Another third (roughly) owned “TheirName.[Something].com,” as in Tumblr, WordPress, or Blogger. The remaining third use a URL that is basically unrelated to their name–in almost all cases, because the URL matches the title of the web site. More on that in the next item.
In my view it’s worth owning “YourName.com” because (a) it increases your site’s Google pagerank when someone searches for your name, and (b) most customers–including book readers–assume your web site will be “YourName.com.” Even if you want to keep another URL for your site, if “YourName.com” is available I recommend you buy it and set it up to redirect to your main site.
Methodology: “Authors Name is URL” only includes URLs that included both first AND last names, and no other words. If the URL included first and last names AND another word (eg, “JoeSmithWrites.com”) it’s included in “Authors name is part of URL.” By “name” I mean either real name or pen-name. I didn’t discriminate between .com and other domain extensions.
3. Author’s Name on Page
This one surprised me quite a bit. Authors trade on their names, and the whole reason to have a page like this is publicity–and yet fully a third of entrants didn’t include their name anywhere in the top of their page. In some cases, their name might be in a sidebar somewhere, but several writers didn’t have their name anywhere on their site. In some cases the only clue to the author’s identity was their embedded Twitter widget.
Your name should not only be in your site, it should be prominently featured at the top of every page–if not as the actual title of the page, then as a subtitle.
A few of these sites put the author’s name only in an image file. This looks nice visually, but bear in mind Google doesn’t read words embedded in images, so you’re hurting your page rank. For Google’s purposes, the best thing you can do is make your name the page title–words near the top of your site count the most for pagerank. If you really like that visual look, I recommend setting your name as the page title, but set the page title as invisible (assuming your CMS allows this).
It seemed to me that Blogger and Tumblr users were particularly likely to omit their name from their page. Blogger includes an “About Me” box in the right sidebar by default, but in many cases this is so far down the page as to be almost invisible.
Methodology: Once again, I didn’t discriminate between real name or pen name. For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the name you should publicize is whichever name will appear on the cover of your book. I did not count partial names (eg, “Joe Writes!”) but only full names. If (as in one instance) an author goes by a single-word name, I did count that. Names in sidebars, full or partial, didn’t count.
4. Email Address or Contact Form
This is an item often overlooked on web sites: You want it to be easy for someone to email you from your site, especially professional contacts who would rather not post a public blog comment or a tweet to get in touch with you. I have picked up several professional contacts and paying jobs via people emailing me via my web site, and I think this is one of the most important features any web site should have.
To put this simply, if someone is reading your site and wants to email you, they should be able to do that by clicking a single link on whatever page they are viewing–not click around searching for a contact form.
I did count Tumblr ask boxes, as long as they were turned on, but I’d issue a caveat: People who aren’t familiar with Tumblr might not know that the “ASK” button is a contact form. The same goes for anyone whose contact link is called something other than “CONTACT.” Again, try to balance personal branding with ease of use.
Methodology: I counted only email forms and email addresses, not links to social networks or Google profiles. I did not count forms that were behind multiple links (eg, I first had to click on “About Me” to find a “Contact” link) or email addresses that were only in individual posts.
4. Links to Social Networks
Easily the most consistent item on author pages, probably because these kinds of links are included by default in many templates. Twitter sidebar widgets were especially common (though I didn’t actually count them), as were links to Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube, Goodreads, and so on.
I did note that a lot of writers bury their social network links way down near the bottom (or sometimes at the bottom) of their page. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I would suggest that if you are quite active on one social network or another–I, for instance, tweet almost constantly–you at least make a link to that network very prominent.
It was interesting to me that the sites most likely to omit social network links were Tumblr sites. I’m assuming this is because Tumblr itself is a social network, and people don’t think to add others.
Also, a note for Blogger users: Blogger pages include a link to Google+ by default, I believe. However, Google+ was never really a functioning social network, and it’s even more defunct than ever these days. I counted these for now, but if the only link you have is to Google+, I suggest adding Twitter or Facebook or something additional.
Methodology: I included any link to a social network outside the site itself, whether in the form of a widget, a button, a text link, and so on. I counted anything that might be considered a social network, including Goodreads, Pinterest, Tumblr, and so on.