What is the Purpose of Creating a Website?

Let’s start at the very beginning of building a web page.


Why are you expending all of this time, energy and expense to build a web site and put it on the Internet? Obviously, you want other people to see these pages. You are attempting to communicate, through your web pages, a specific message to specific people. Ideally, you should be able to sum up the purpose in a succinct tag line. At “Elements of Web Style”, we want to convey “The Fundamentals of Professional Web Sites.”

Now write down what your message is and who the people are you’re addressing.

No, no, really, write it down. This isn’t an idle exercise or one of those warm, fuzzy, pop-psych, inspirational tricks. This is the purpose of your work. This determines everything else from format to content to navigation to promotion. Your web site is a tool to communicate your message to your target audience. And the purpose defines the tool; the tool does not define the purpose. True, anything can be a hammer, but the purpose of the tool — to hammer something — defines the object, whatever the original name and purpose of the object. I speak as someone who has turned numerous objects (Corning Corel cups, shoe heels, barbells, wrenches, and so forth) into hammers on occasion.

Philosophical meandering aside, defining the purpose, the goal if you wish, of the site and each page is essential to a successful professional site. What message are you trying to communicate and to whom? Don’t be distracted by how you’ll reach your audience or what you tools you’ll use to convey your message. Define the message and your audience correctly and the rest becomes easy.

Okay, easier.

An architect can’t design a building without knowing how it will be used and by whom. Once you clearly and succinctly know the purpose of your site, you can figure out what you need to build it. You can also determine the right tool for the job. Or a reasonable substitute, if the right tool isn’t available. And you can determine what tools can’t be substituted.

The Ingredients of Effective Writer Websites

Writers should use web sites to:

  • promote themselves, their work or their expertise,
  • promote a specific title, or series,
  • or to make samples available to publishers, editors or authors.

Often a writer’s site will cover all three areas by creating different sections within the same site.

A writer particularly needs to stay on target with his or her site. The purpose of the site directs the content. Misplaced focus is the number one mistake made by writers posting sites. Is the site to attract and support other writers? Is it display subject expertise for an editor, potential book buyer, someone looking for a speaker? Is it to build a “brand name” for a series of titles by the writer or for the writer his or herself? I’ve read numerous techniques in writing publications to help writers imagine their audiences. A writer should put these techniques to use when designing his or her web site, so he or she can build the site for the correct target audience. For example, do not build a site with content for other writers (e.g., agent lists, writer’s resource links) if the purpose is to establish the writer’s expertise on stock market investing for retirement.

Promoting the Author

Even if the author isn’t planning to provide ancillary services such as public speaking, consultation or additional writing services, the writer should provide the following information on the site:

List of author’s work (Bibliography)

A personal decision can be made about including out-of-print, but I recommend signing up for a bookstore Affiliate Program and linking your titles to the bookstore ordering system.

Contact information

If you don’t wish to receive email or material directly, at least put the mailing address of your publisher or agent. Who would object to a fan letter or two? And it might be something more lucrative.

Your contact page may also be used to build a personal mailing list for promoting future releases and notices of page updates by including a signup or contact form. Building a mailing list can be useful downroad. Getting a little background information about the person signing up can also build your private list of experts to consult when you’re working on something new.

News/Press Releases

This should include any forthcoming titles or publications such as articles, author’s readings, book signings, conferences, public speaking engagements or other personal appearances, award nominations, awards and so forth.

Author’s personal information

Usually something of the author’s background, philosophies, and what not. This is the appropriate place to put any kind of brief personal information that you want to share. It should be reasonably brief. Remember the performing artist’s motto — always leave them wanting more. If nothing else, a repeat of the cover jacket information is useful.

How elaborate the author gets with this site category depends greatly on the author and their self-promotional comfort level. The more the author can make this material relate to either the kind of writing he or she does or the target audience for his or her books, the better. Danielle Steele could fill hers with schmaltz and glitz and large, rich quantities of white space while Doug Copeland might get away with a Wired-style layout including excerpts of his work in a Flash presentation using hip hop alternative background music.

Of course, navigation must always be clear, clean and consistent throughout the site.

Additional Content

The additional content here is not to promote a specific title or series, but content designed to promote the author. In marketing terms, to help establish the author’s “brand identity”. In other words, to establish the author’s expertise or command of some area, or to create a persona for the author. For example, Stephen King will forever be “branded” as a consummate horror and terror author. Danielle Steel is identified with the “glitz” novel — and lifestyle. Terry Pratchett is associated with humorous, allegorical fantasy. And if someone says “Julia Child”, the first thought is food and cooking and someone sunny, warm and personable.

The additional content should support the author’s fundamental purpose. Therefore, a mystery writer who wants to position herself as an expert on forensic pathology might, for example, cull interesting true cases for a “Strange But True” section, Forensic news and breakthroughs for an “In the News” or compile and comment upon online forensic links and resources (such as the LA Morgue’s store). An historical romance writer who wishes to appeal to Regency readers might decide to create information pages on subjects such dress, deportment, historical events during the time period and so forth.

Whatever the subject of the content, it should remain consistent. Even an author whose professional identity is “Renaissance Man (or Woman)” must do so in a consistent fashion. For example, posting essays on topics ranging from “Baseball: If We Can’t Fix the Game, Can’t We At Least Fix the Concession Stands?” to “The Neo-Rococo Revival in Industrial Design” to “Democracy After the Birth of the Pregnant Chad”, under a collective banner of “Essays from the Unquiet Mind of [insert author’s name]”. An author’s professional site should not mix totally unrelated materials or obviously personal material with professional material. The personal can be used as part of the professional material but with conscious intent and an awareness of how it directly relates to the professional material.

The content used to establish or reinforce an author’s identity may overlap or be similar to content that promotes a specific title or series, but is not the same material. The purpose of the author’s promotion material is to appeal to the author’s primary target audience and establish the author’s authority.

Next week, we’ll look at “Promoting a Specific Title or Series.”

Promotion Steps to Make Before Designing your Website

1. Choose three keyword phrases and about five less important or more highly-focused phrases.

Starting with words that you imagine people might ask a search engine for (e.g., the Yellow Pages category you’d be listed under), research what related phrases apply to your business that people actually use with the search engines.

Be specific. You are never going to get to the top of broad categories.

2. Select which of these three phrases you most want to emphasize and use that in your title tag.

Each individual page in the site should have it’s own title emphasizing the material on that page.

The title should be no longer than six words if possible, and the keyword phrase is more important than the name of your company, though it is best to get both into the title. Do not waste words by including: “Inc.”, “Company”, “Co.”, “Ltd.”, “The”, “And”, or other articles and common abbreviations.

If you have room in your title, see if another keyword can fit.

3. Create specific internal pages that discuss each of the keyword phrases you have chosen. Write copy for these pages that give useful information to your target audience. (You and your web site designer should have decided who your target audience is already.)

4. Include a link page and put it in your navigation. You may wish to call it “Resources”. The links page should be organized by topics and, ideally, a brief description as well as a link to the source should be provided.