Website mistakes: the 10 to avoid

Website mistakes: the 10 to avoid

The web is a primary marketing channel for almost every industry on the planet, and publishing is no exception. One of the first things anyone will do before engaging with a business is check out its website. A bad impression can result in a lost business opportunity. We've helped build compelling websites for companies in a variety of industries and have lately been working in the publishing sector.  Here are our thoughts on common mistakes that many publishing industry websites make and how to avoid them.

1. Failing to engage and direct visitors
The "back" button is never far away so your website needs to engage visitors instantly. This means making sure the purpose of your website is immediately clear. You should provide at least one clear call to action to draw visitors into the site, such as "Take a look at our author list" or "View our latest releases".

Publishing websites generally have more than one audience to deal with. A literary agent, for example, may need to appeal to new authors who are looking for representation, while also engaging visitors who are looking for news or information about a particular author or publication. The home­page of a site like this should offer a clear path for both audiences so that finding the information they need is quick and painless—­otherwise they are likely to give up in frustration.

Your site structure should be built around your key audiences and what they might be looking for. A common mistake here is to build the site navigation around an internal company structure—don't do this. Instead, think about menu options that will immediately resonate with the desired audience, for example, "Submissions", "Our Authors", "Our Titles", "Working for Us". Some websites even have the option to select from a list of what type of visitor you are, for example, "bookseller", "journalist" or "publisher".

2. Bad or dated design
While not unique to the publishing industry, a lack of design consideration is common among the publishing websites we've seen. Failing to align the design of your website with your organisation's services can give the wrong impression to visitors, causing them to look elsewhere and can potentially damage the reputation of your firm.

The look and feel of your website should be tailored to your desired audience. If you are a children's book publisher, the aesthetic of your website would more likely be different to that of a niche ­science fiction publisher. The overall design of the site should also reflect the size and capabilities of your organisation. The look and feel of a boutique publisher should be distinct from that of a large corporate publishing house.

Employ a professional designer who understands web usability and has a strong portfolio that contains examples of the kind of work that would suit your organisation. A good designer will work closely with you to understand your business, your objectives and your target audience.

3. No ‘out now' or ‘recently published' list
A significant number of visitors will be searching for new publications having read about them on other marketing channels, so you want to make this easy for them. An up-to-date launch list will also serve to show prospective authors and clients that you are active and have presence, particularly if the new publications have received significant publicity. The front page of your website could feature a scrolling list of book covers or a quick list of recently published work.

4. No blog or social media integration
The publishing industry has a savvy social media community so it makes sense to make your website appeal to this audience. Prestige is an important attribute for many firms in the publishing sector and adding a blog enables you to distribute news and opinion easily, giving credit to your voice by demonstrating expertise.

Blogging is also good for your search engine ranking for two reasons. First, the single biggest determinant of search engine ranking is how many other websites link to your site and having a blog with engaging content will encourage others to link to you. More links to your site will boost your ranking significantly, especially if they come from high- profile sites or those based in the same industry. Second, fresh content is appealing to search engines and the content itself will feature many relevant keywords, which will increase your ranking.

Integration with Twitter and Facebook makes it easier for visitors to share content on your site, which will also boost traffic. Having a company Twitter account (or even one per employee) can generate publicity, especially if you are actively engaging with other Twitter users. The viral nature of the Twitter platform means that getting into the habit of interacting with others in your industry is an easy and fun way to quickly spread your brand further online.

That said, a stale blog, Twitter feed or Facebook page can do more harm than good, so ensure you have a member of the team who is willing to maintain this presence by spending at least an hour a week on it.  

5. No Content Management System
In the Nineties and early Noughties, it was common to have a webmaster that would update content on the website on behalf of others. Today, members of staff should be able to log on to your website and update it as easily as they can a Facebook account. Modern websites are built on content management systems (CMS) that provide this type of administrative access and make it straightforward to update content by providing an easy to use interface for updating content.

A good CMS will also perform functions such as resizing images automatically to fit the site and creating short and search engine-friendly URLs. It can also automatically generate lists of content such as a "recently published" section as suggested above.
More importantly, a CMS can reduce the cost of updating content by cutting out the need for outside assistance and reducing staff time required for updates. At the same time they improve agility by enabling changes to website content to be made instantly. It's surprising, but many firms still do not have this capability—it should be standard on any new website.

6. Absent, unintuitive or unsearchable lists of publications and authors
It is likely that within your website's audience there will be a large number of visitors who are primarily on your site to find information about a particular book or author. Make this a straightforward task by providing an easy to navigate list of books and authors with search, sort and filter options—the larger the list of titles and authors, the more important these navigation tools are.  
As well as providing a vital resource for visitors hunting specific information, these lists are also an important source of social proof and can reflect the prestige of a firm if used effectively.

7. No ‘Buy' button
People are buying everything online nowadays, so why not capitalise on this by including Amazon affiliate links (or similar) to buy publications. This is good for two reasons. First, it is useful from a visitor's perspective, as, after finding out more about a book, they may want to purchase it and providing a link for this will save them time and could even encourage an impulse sale. Second, if you have substantial traffic, affiliate links can provide a new revenue stream for relatively little effort.

8. Not including reviews or awards
Including reviews, awards or any kind of critical acclaim for the titles and authors on your website is a great way to boost your online profile. It is good for search engine optimisation and will also serve to verify your service to potential clients.  
Similarly, positive press about your authors should also be recorded in the news or blog section on your site, with the latest or most important stories promoted on the homepage.

9. No photography
In an industry that deals in the written word, it might seem that text is all you need on your site. But photography is one of the best ways to engage visitors as it gives life to a page, even if the important message is in the text.
Professional photography of staff members, authors and book covers are a must as visitor expectations of online content increase.

10. Ignoring the statistics
There are many free analytics tools that can tell you how your visitors are finding and using your website. Google Analytics is one of these and can be installed on an existing site with minimal effort. It will show you what pages are popular, how long visitors stay and can highlight behaviour patterns on the site. These metrics will help you to identify what works well on your website and what doesn't and should be the driving force behind how your site evolves over time. For example, examining the log of what has been typed into the search box on your site will help you identify what information visitors are struggling to find and, hence, what needs to be made more prominent on your site navigation.

Alex O'Byrne and Piers Thorogood are founders of We Make Websites