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Are You Making These Mistakes On Your Website?

In this post I’m going to take a look at the website RieWriter.com, which is the website of poet and novelist, Rie Sheridan Rose. I’m going to analyze some of the issues with the site and offer some simple actions that she can take to massively improve the effectiveness of her website without spending a fortune!

First Impressions

My first impression of the site is that it is a fairly typical “self-built” website, built using WordPress and using one of its default themes. There is a very limited amount of design customisation done, in terms of adding an image in the header, and changing background colour.

The fact that it’s built using WordPress is great because that means it is a user-friendly, powerful system that can be quickly and easily enhanced with thousands of plugins and themes, and there are lots of WordPress experts available to hand if external help is needed.

Aside: I’ll discuss the look and feel in a minute, but just a word of warning on customization of the default themes: if you customise it through the theme control panel in the WordPress Dashboard, there’s no problems.

However, if you actually want to edit any of the default theme files, be careful to use a WordPress Child theme, because otherwise you could lose your changes to being overwritten if there is an update for the default theme. In this case, though, I think the theme has been customised through the control panel only, so it should be fine.

Okay, back to the site critique!

Design

The site is obviously lacking branding and design which gives it a austere, Spartan feel. The header image is the only real customization, and while it’s fine as a place holder, it doesn’t show off the titles to the best of its ability. Overall, the site could do with the TLC of a designer to look at all aspects of the design, including typography, colour scheme and identity.

Novelist theme - one of the many premium WordPress themes available

Novelist theme – one of the many premium WordPress themes available

The other option, particularly appealing to those on a budget, is to consider purchasing a premium WordPress theme – that’s a design theme that usually costs between $30 and $60 – and which would give a massive, instant boost to the site look and feel. You can find very high quality premium themes on many sites – find them either by searching for “premium WordPress theme” or my preference is to look on the theme marketplaces like ThemeForest.com.

When thinking about design and identity Rie should think about her books, if they are all pitched to different audiences, there needs to be some way for the visitor to figure that out. E.g. if I love reading sci-fi and fantasy books, but have very little interest in poetry, how do I find out if there’s a book or books for me here? Good site design and structure will help with that – and going further, some authors even have different websites or even names (e.g. Iain Banks vs Iain M. Banks).

Site Goals and Calls to Action

There seems to be no clear goal to the site, no calls to action asking the visitor to “subscribe now” or “contact me” or “buy this widget”. This a very common website mistake, but easily resolved.

Having a goal for the site is vital. Something general like “raise awareness” is good, but not specific enough. Think about what the ideal action you would like a visitor to your site to take – it could be filling in a lead generation contact form, or buying a book on Amazon, or learning more about specific books, or subscribing to your Twitter account.

Bookpage - a HTML template - has very clear calls to action

Bookpage – a HTML template – has very clear calls to action

Add a clear “Call to Action” for your primary and secondary goals to your site but ensure you prioritise them and don’t have them crowd each other out.

Social Media

Many websites go over the top these days, with share this, pin that options that pop up everywhere you move your mouse. This site is the other extreme, a very low-footprint of social media, with a few accounts only linked from the links page. And on that topic…

Links Page

Links pages are an anachronism, a throw-back to 1997 websites. Often they are associated with crude SEO manipulation attempts, or just lack of organisation. With modern websites it’s far more effective to include your links in the content of the specific pages that they are relevant to.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization)

The site is pretty good from an SEO standpoint – the permalinks are setup correctly, and the page titles are okay, but could be tweaked. Installing an SEO plugin like WordPress SEO by Yoast would help tweak the titles as well as ensuring all the bases are covered in terms of on-site SEO.

I notice that some recent posts are titled with the date only – it would be better to name posts with proper titles – either something descriptive of the content, or something attention-grabbing, like the title I’ve used for this post – read more on that in the Blogging Cheat Sheet.

Navigation

The primary navigation bar above the content looks a bit disorganized and should probably be trimmed down a bit in size, by either reorganizing the site architecture (i.e. parent-child pages) or by simply editing the menu under the Appearance -> Menus option in WordPress. I’d suggest removing at least 3-4 items in order to simplify and bring it back on to a single line.

Summary and Recommendations

Overall this site is in good shape and there are some very simple things that Rie can do to improve the site from a visitor perspective, and which should also help her achieve her own goals. Here are some specific actions I would recommend:

  1. Site Goals: create new homepage more targeted to site goals, with clear messaging and call-to-action
  2. Site Architecture: move current posts listing to /blog
  3. Blog Listing Page: Use the More Tag to show only partial snippets of posts on the listing page.
  4. Menu: restructure navigation menu to streamline and simplify. Use in-page links and parent-child pages to organize content.
  5. Design: purchase and install a premium theme (cost: $50)
  6. Design: consider having a logo designer create a logo and graphic designer customize site look and feel (cost: $100+)
  7. Social: add social media links to your Twitter account, Facebook page, etc.
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Source: Are You Making These Mistakes On Your Website? by Alastair McDermott on WebsiteDoctor

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