My website building adventures began when I was thirteen years old. I’d been printing a literary newsletter filled with book reviews and short stories and giving copies to friends and family. My parents encouraged me to publish the newsletter online and helped me get started with my first website.
That website no longer exists (I’ve created many different websites since then, and eventually in college, I began working as a freelance web designer). But I still remember the excitement I felt when I hit publish on my first online newsletter and realized that anyone in the world could stumble across my website and read my writing.
Stephen King once observed that writing is about “enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” By publishing your writing on the Internet, you are able to reach and inspire more people than you could ever imagine.
No matter where you are on your writing journey, a website will give you a platform where you can publish and promote your work and establish your expertise. It will give you a way to build an audience and connect with other writers.
Ready to get started?
In today’s post, I’ve put together a quick and easy guide with my top 5 tips for creating a professional website for your writing. Please note that some of the links are affiliate links, but I only recommend services I use and think highly of.
1. Use Your Name As Your Domain
Your first step when setting up a website is deciding on a domain name. This is the address that people will type into their web browser to find your site. For example, mine is www.nicolebianchi.com.
I highly recommend using your full name or pen name as your web address.
This will allow you to develop your personal brand, and you’ll be able to take your website in any direction as you grow as a writer. Additionally, readers will easily be able to find your site just by searching for your name in Google.
If you have a common first and last name, that domain might already be taken. No cause for concern. There are still countless domain names available so you’ll just have to get creative.
Try using your name along with a word like “writer” or “author” or “books”. For example, if nicolebianchi.com had already been taken, I might have registered nicolebianchiwriter.com or bianchiwriter.com.
You can use this tool to check the availability of a domain name.
2. Choose Self-Hosting over Free Services
Once you’ve decided on a domain name, you’re ready to start setting up your site. You have two options: self-hosting or a free hosting service.
A free hosting service (like Blogger or WordPress.com) is good for the short run if you don’t want to invest money right away and want to practice setting up a website.
However, they look less professional as they have limited options for updating the design and customizing the website. They also don’t let you advertise or sell products, usually don’t offer support if you run into problems, and don’t give you a personalized web address.
For example, a free account at wordpress.com would have “wordpress” in the website address: nicolebianchi.wordpress.com. (Even if you are able to upgrade to a personalized web address, you still will not have the same functionality as a self-hosted website.)
Self-hosting, on the other hand, means that you buy your own domain name and a hosting package. It’s like buying a house, rather than renting an apartment. You will have full control over your website and the design, your website and blog posts will rank higher in Google searches, and if you ever need any help, you can always contact customer support.
My websites are currently hosted at HostGator. They’re an excellent, affordable choice when you’re first setting up a website. Their 24/7 customer support (both by phone and online chat) has always come to my rescue when I’ve needed help with my sites.
3. Install WordPress & Powerful Plugins
I just advised against setting up a free account on WordPress.com, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love WordPress. With it’s easy to use interface, it’s the best software out there for creating a beautiful website.
WordPress can actually be installed on your self-hosted website (HostGator and most hosting services have free, one-click WordPress installs).
The self-hosted version of WordPress can be heavily customized with professional themes and a special feature called plugins. Here are several free plugins I recommend you should install to get your site off to a running start:
- Akismet – protects against spam comments.
- Yoast SEO – helps you write better blog posts and optimize your website so you can rank higher in search engines.
- Google Analytics – the plugin connects to a free Google Analytics account that lets you track who visits your website and which pages they read.
- Jetpack – a plugin developed by WordPress that can help you boost the security of your site, integrate your site with social media, and much more.
4. Set Up an Email Subscription Box
Email is one of the best ways to connect with your readers. With my email newsletter, I can let readers know when I publish a new post and also share announcements and other projects I’m working on.
An email subscription box on your website is the perfect way to collect readers’ emails. First, set up an email account through Mailchimp (free for up to 2,000 subscribers).
Then you can install the free Magic Action Box plugin on your website. It connects to your Mailchimp account and lets you display a professional looking subscription form on your website. This was the plugin I used before upgrading to a premium plugin from Elegant Themes.
5. Personalize Your Blog Design
Now you’ve come to my favorite part of owning a website: the design.
There are many free WordPress templates to choose from in the WordPress library. If you’re brand new to creating websites and navigating the WordPress framework, these will be fine for the short term.
First focus on setting up an about page, a page where people can find your contact information, a page for your blog, and a page to promote your published or soon to be released books.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of WordPress, I recommend investing in a premium theme. Premium themes come with excellent customer support, are far more secure than free templates, and will make your site look much more professional.
One of my favorite premium theme providers is Studio Press. (I am using their Lifestyle Pro Theme on this blog). Their beautiful WordPress themes run on the Genesis Framework that is SEO optimized and has rock-solid security. A website framework is a powerful type of WordPress theme that handles all the core code. A child theme sits on top of that framework and handles all the design and layout aspects of your website.
I hope this guide helps you as you set up your first website. The Internet gives anyone the opportunity to get published and start spreading their ideas and writing across the globe.
Have you built a website or are you in the process of building one? Share links to your online projects in the comments below! And if you have any questions about WordPress or website building, leave those too. Please share this guide with a friend if you found it helpful!