Attract more visitors to your website with a polished site description

This post is part of a series of easy tech tips for writers. To see past tech tips, click here.

A friend recently asked me a great question: how can I help people find my website?

This task — referred to as search engine optimization, or SEO — is a big one. You can make a career out of it.

Of course, you’re a writer, not an SEO expert. We want to keep it that way, so I’m giving you just one piece of homework to make your site look professional and click-worthy in a list of Google results. Anyone can do it — I promise.

I’m featuring self-hosted WordPress sites today because I see a lot of writers using them. If you want to request a tech tip for your non-WordPress site, please drop me a line in the comments.

First of all, let’s look at how your site appears in a Google search for your name.

site description in Google search results

click the image to see a larger version

[Tip: tell Google to hide private results (visible only to you) by clicking the option circled in red in the upper right.]

My search result includes bio text from my site’s front page, plus some unfortunate alternate text from my headshot. That just won’t do. I want to edit that little blurb under my site title. The word count is tiny, but its position is powerful.

You can take control of that text by editing your site’s metadata: descriptive content that visitors can’t see, but search engines can. Sound too technical? Don’t fret. WordPress has some handy plugins to help you out.

To get started, log into your website’s admin portal and navigate to Add New under the Plugins menu on the left-hand sidebar. Using a plugin to edit your site’s metadata eliminates the need for you to interact with the code directly. I recommend Yoast’s WordPress SEO plugin*, and I’m going to use it in my example here.

Search for WordPress SEO and install WordPress SEO by Yoast. The plugin has great features in its settings page, but I’ll let you explore those on your own. For now, we’re just going to navigate to the edit window for our site’s main page — the one people see when they visit www.yourdomainnamehere.com.

Yoast plugin in WordPress search results

click the image to see a larger version

You’ll see WordPress SEO has added a new box to the edit page. This box allows you to specify a custom title and description for your page. It also provides a handy preview of your new and improved search result.

yoast plugin inline settings

click the image to see a larger version

When you’re finished, save your changes by clicking Update.

The WordPress SEO plugin will automatically notify Google that something has changed on your page, but you won’t see a change instantaneously. Google doesn’t pull information from your site in real time — that would take too long, and most people expect search results to start showing up before they’ve even finished typing. Instead, Google periodically scans the web — including your site — and stores up-to-date information on their servers. The GoogleBot gets around relatively quickly, though, so your information should update within a week.

It really is that easy! Any questions? Let me know in the comments!

* I have no affiliation with Yoast, nor have I received compensation of any kind in exchange for recommending this plugin. I just happen to like it!

Additional References:

Google’s Webmaster Guidelines
Yoast’s Definitive Guide To Higher Rankings For WordPress Sites

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Book review: Create Your Writer Platform by Chuck Sambuchino

cover art - create your writer platformThis is part of an ongo­ing series of book reviews. To view all of them, click here.

Want more people to see your writing? Start by keeping Create Your Writer Platform within arm’s reach of your desk. Even if you think your work will stand on its own without self-marketing, this book should give you a firm-yet-friendly nudge in the right direction.

Chuck Sambuchino covers all the major platform avenues — website, blog, e-newsletter, non-fiction articles, public speaking, and social media — in just under 250 pages. While that length doesn’t allow for a deep exploration of each topic, it provides plenty to get you started.

Likewise, even if you already know some basics — like how to use Facebook or set up a blog — you won’t need to skip anything. As a former public relations and social media professional who has built several websites, I still gained valuable insights into how these tools should serve me as a writer. Create Your Writer Platform also introduced me to key social media analytics tools to quantify my progress.

Sambuchino crafts his message so readers grasp the importance and magnitude of the task at hand, yet don’t feel so overwhelmed they don’t know where to begin. Perhaps some of this approachability stems from the fact that Create Your Writer Platform reads like a blog: more like listening to a friend than reading a textbook. I couldn’t pick it up without my notebook close at hand — not just because I was taking notes for this review, but because I kept jotting down ideas and next steps for my platform-building efforts.

The only big disappointment came with Sambuchino’s treatment of Facebook. He presents readers with a choice: accept every friend request and use your Facebook profile as a professional tool, or keep it closed off and miss an important platform opportunity. Facebook pages bridge that gap, allowing you to create a professional presence for yourself without opening your personal profile to the public. I was disappointed that this feature received only a cursory mention while Sambuchino described the personal profile as an ideal platform tool.

pull quote - create your writer platformI was tempted to gloss over the case studies at the back of the book, but I’m glad I gave them a thorough read. Fiction writers may struggle with Create Your Writer Platform’s bias toward non-fiction platforms, but will find themselves well-represented in the case studies. The presentation will be familiar to anyone who reads blog interviews: answers to a standard list of questions are included, largely unedited, in the interviewee’s own words/voice. This makes even the bestsellers feel human and relatable and will leave the reader thinking “hey, this is something I can do, too.”

It would be easy to finish a book like this feeling like I could never rise to the level of the case study authors, or like there was simply too much to do, but I felt just the opposite. Create Your Writer Platform will leave you feeling energized and ready to get started, even if your niche hasn’t fully revealed itself to you yet.

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4 WordPress widgets that will improve your author website today

This is an ongoing series of easy tech tips for writers. To view all tech tips, click here.

Google “WordPress plugins for writers” and you’ll find several lists of goodies for your WordPress site. The problem is, most of these articles feature plugins to help you build a stronger platform long-term: editorial calendars, Google Analytics, spam filters, byline managers…

Head spinning yet? What if you’re short on time — or your helpful, tech-savvy friend is short on time — and you want high-profile improvements your visitors will notice right away?

You need to look for widgets.

Widgets, a type of WordPress plugin, appear in website sidebars: lists of recent or popular posts, search boxes, Twitter feeds, e-newsletter sign-up forms, etc.

As a recovering PR and social media professional, I’ve maintained five very different WordPress sites at some time or another. A lot of widgets have crossed my path, and I ask something very simple of all of them: perform a useful function while integrating seamlessly with the rest of the site.

Here are four keys to a successful author website and the widgets to make it happen:

  1. Social Media Widget screenshotMake it easy to find you on social networks.

    Social Media Widget
    Your website provides a hub for your writer platform: a directory visitors can use to follow you across the web. Social Media Widget supports over 50 social media services and provides a space for custom entries if you belong to a site that isn’t listed. You can adjust the size of the icons to fit the size of your sidebar and the number of sites you have listed.

  2. Offer several ways to read your content.

    Feedburner Email Widget
    Think no one wants to receive your blog posts via email? Think again. People are in their email inbox several times a day looking for new content. If you don’t offer a way for visitors to your site to receive email updates, you’re losing readers. The Feedburner Email Widget connects to Google’s popular Feedburner service and allows you to offer a simple signup form on every page of your site.

  3. Automate whenever possible.

    Kebo Twitter Feed
    If you’re investing time in Twitter, why not let that work for you and create a stream of fresh content on the front page of your site? I’ve tried several Twitter widgets, and Kebo Twitter Feed is my all-time favorite. Many widgets have their own look or try to bring in Twitter’s aesthetic via buttons, icons, etc. Kebo conforms to your website’s appearance so it doesn’t look out of place.

  4. Make it easy to share your content.

    Share Buttons by AddToAny
    Okay, this isn’t a widget. It shows up in your blog posts instead of your site’s sidebar. However, if I read a great article and there’s no button inviting me to share it with my social networks, I’m unlikely to go to the trouble. Don’t miss this opportunity. Make it easy for readers to spread the word for you.

Share Buttons via AddToAny screenshot

 

Do you use WordPress plugins or widgets to enhance your author website? Which ones?  Share in the comments so we can find some new favorites.

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Use Google Alerts to keep tabs on your author platform.

What will an agent see if she Googles you right this instant? Are you tracking your name in real time as it appears on the Internet?

If you answered no, you have a problem. Luckily, it’s easy to solve with Google Alerts. Google Alerts automates the process of Googling yourself and sends updates directly to your email so you never miss a thing.

“I do a Google and social media search for every query I read,” David Rozansky, publisher at Flying Pen Press, told me via Twitter. He’s not alone. These days, you can be certain agents you query will run a Google search on your name. They aren’t just checking for negative stories or bad behavior; they need to assess your platform.

“Platform…is your visibility as an author,” Chuck Sambuchino writes in his book Create Your Writer Platform. The better visibility you have, the more salable your writing looks to agents and publishers.

With that in mind, it’s crucial to keep tabs on those Google search results. Here’s how:

If you don’t have a Google account, you’ll need to sign up for one to use Google AlertsOnce you’ve logged into your Google account, go to www.google.com/alerts. Google gives you a form to create a new alert right away:

  • Search query: Your full name, surrounded by quotation marks.
  • Result type: Everything.
  • How often: Up to you, but I recommend once a day. This will give you a daily update with any new Google search results for your name. If your name is high-profile or you write about a controversial topic, you may want to choose as-it-happens to make sure you’re the first to know if something goes viral.
  • How many: Again, up to you and how tightly you need to monitor your online image. Only the best results — where Google weeds out irrelevant results — is sufficient for most writers. By default, search results pages are filtered similarly, so choosing only the best results gives you something close to what an agent sees when she Googles your name. If you feel more comfortable weeding out those junk results on your own, choose all results.
  • Deliver to: Choose your email address.

You’ll notice Google displays a live preview of your search results as you adjust your alert settings. I made a few notes on mine here to demonstrate some important things you can learn from these results. There are ways I could fix these platform issues, but we’ll save that for another tutorial.

alert settings

Click the image to see a larger version

Once you’ve finished filling out the form, click Create Alert.

You’re all done! Google will keep you abreast of what’s happening when people search for you. If you want to get really fancy, you can create alerts for competing authors, relevant topics, your agent’s name, and anything else you want to monitor. 

Questions? Requests for future tutorials? Leave them in the comments.

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