Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Make Your Website Useful

By Steve Weddle

Last week, I was reading a post about how creating a Book Page for your website is a bad idea. Links don't draw traffic, the buttons are confusing, the layout isn't appealing. On and on.

Some of it was making some sense, then I saw that the author was selling a service that would make your book page better. Then it made sense.

I'm not selling you anything today.

I'm just telling you about a weird thing I did that seems to be working out. (Oh, stop it.)

I've done a great deal of research for this latest book I'm working on. It takes place in Shreveport, Louisiana, where I'm from. The book has a little to do with the music scene in Shreveport in the early twentieth-century. The jazz. The blues. The brothels.

I'd searched around, read some articles and some books, and about one percent of what I'd learned went into the story.

So I had all this extra, interesting stuff I'd gathered from many sources, but nowhere to put all the extra.

Back when I was a grad student, I'd have just taken all the research and written some extra papers to sell, using the money to fund my My Little Pony collection.

Now, though, you know. What to do. What to do.

So I wrote a little essay on cool music from Shreveport in that time period. I named the mini-essay "Seven Songs To Hear in Shreveport When You're Dead."

I wrote about the "Elvis has left the building," a phrase that originated in Shreveport.

I wrote about Sam Cooke's "Change is Gonna Come" song, which was "inspired" by Shreveport's racism.

I wrote a little about Murco Records, about Leadbelly, about the Blue Goose.

I just collected some stories, linked out to the sources, and set it up in a list form.

People love videos. People love lists. People love learning stuff.

Anyway, I started getting quite a few hits every day from this page.

If you Google "St Paul Bottom Shreveport" then you'll see a link to my page. Search for "Murco Record label" and the page pops up.

I'm not saying it's the top hit anywhere. And if you look for Jelly Roll Morton, you'll probably have to wade through 376 pages before you get to me.

But people keep looking for stuff that I mini-essayed about, and they end up coming to my place.

I'm not drawing people in with pages devoted to reviews of my books. I don't have one of those pages where The Media can download a high-res headshot of me. I don't have much of anything, really.

And I'm certainly not trying to say I'm any sort of SEO Expert.

I just thought this might be helpful to you. Here's why.

If you're a writer, you've probably done research for your book. If you're writing about the mob in Toledo, you've done research. You know stuff. Warp engines. The history of crime in Toronto in the 1970s. Getaway cars. Diners in Chicago in the 1950s.

You've already done so much work. Why not use that? Make a page on your site that shares information with people. A specific, horrific crime in Baltimore in 1939 is the basis for your novel? Sweet. Write up a little non-fiction piece, with art/video, and let folks find it.

Use your research -- not just in your fiction -- but as non-fiction on your website.

And here's the cool part: When they're looking around the web for something about The Baltimore Massacre of 1939, they'll run across your essay and then see your novel for sale, too.

You've become The Expert in the thing your novel is about. Use that. Share that. Don't let it go to waste.

You've already done the hard part. Now you just have to put it together.


Brian Lindenmuth said...

I think you've touched on a larger topic/trend: things moving away from websites and blogs and towards social media sites.

Social media sites have lowered the bar and made so easy to put yourself online that even your mom can do it. But here's the thing. In being only on social media sites you are limiting yourself to a near closed loop of people. You very rarely get outside of your group. And that really great post that you made on Baltimore in '39 1) gets washed down river in a flood of other posts and 2) isn't going to be accessed by Google, Bing or any other search engine. Hell, try searching Twitter for that series of tweets when you were holding court on Baltimore in '39 from two years ago. You can't because searchability on social media sites sucks and is non-existent.

But if you had used your blog people would have easy access to the post. It would pop up in search results. It would remain in a fixed, static position so you always knew where it was and therefore any or all conversations could be encouraged and easy to follow. AND, perhaps most important of all, you might just pick up what I call drive by traffic. People who may not have been searching for you, or even that specific topic, but wind up at your site because of searchability.

I think that social media sites alone are a detriment to authors. I think that social media sites have lulled us into a false sense of security. I think that social media sites have trained people to be better bloggers, but that aren't blogging anymore.

Bottom line, people should maximize their ability to be seen.

John McFetridge said...

I can see giving away all the cool stuff you discovered in your research because it would be fun to share, but I have this feeling that people only have so much time/interest to spend on so many things and I guess I'd rather they read the novel I did all the research for instead.

Maybe once the novel comes out if there's some demand for more info...

seana graham said...

But the info could be used as a teaser for the novel as well, John. And you'd be pulling in people who are already inherently interested in the novel in the first place.

It would be a great thing for you do some damage types to put up as content here, for instance, as you need blog content for your weekly posts anyway.