An author e-mailed me last week asking if I could recommend web design software for him to use, and when I answered with my usual "Whatever you're comfortable with," he wrote back suggesting the free Nvu web editor. It seems to me that I tried Nvu some years back and lost interest in a couple minutes, but that's mainly because I have a system that works for me and I don't get excited about software. Today, thanks to YouTube, I decided it's about time I stop preaching the theory of web design and give reluctant authors a quick five video tutorial to get them off the ground running. I started with a logo:
The next step is to open the free Nvu web editor and start laying out a basic design. I'm intentionally doing this the crudest possible way, using tables, for a couple reasons. First of all, it works just fine for an author platform, as my own website deomstrates. Second, there's essentially no learning curve. You don't need to study up or read the manual to do this. If you simply follow the steps I show on the screen, you should end up with a functioning website design for your content. You can always change the page design in two months or two years if you think it's important, the main thing is to get started:
Once the basic page design is set, the next step is to build the initial navigation links. Rather than building a template with CSS or HTML and applying it to a series of pages, I'm creating one standard page and then saving it multiple times. It's not very elegant, but it works, and it's simple as dirt. By creating all of the navigation links before creating the pages, it saves the step of copying and pasting the final navigation links onto each page. Anybody who designs websites for a living will tell you this is incredibly inefficient, but unless you are planning a website with thousands of pages and changing the navigation on those pages every day, it's no big deal. Remember, you're an author aiming to attract readers for your work, not a Internet spam shop trying to trick people into visiting your site. And note that I'm intentionally choosing short file names for the pages. I believe that multi-word file names tend to misguide search engines into seeing the web page content as being constrained by the file name, which could help explain the poor performance of many archived blog posts in search:
One annoying feature of the Nvu software is it makes the file name the same as the HTML page title (this is the page title that appears at the very top of the browser), which is an important cue for search engines. The page title tells the search engine what you believe the page is about, a good tie-breaker for the search engine in deciding where to send visitors. The HTML page title doesn't have to be the same as the heading at the top of the page or the page name in the navigation link, but I'm using the page heading as the titles for these pages just to save the typing:
In the final video, I go back and fix a few omissions, and demonstrate the working navigation in Internet Explorer. I also turn off the table boundary to give the pages a cleaner look. In showing how the website operates in the browser, I uncovered a typo in my original navigation. So the live fix is to fix it in one place, and simply copy and paste it onto the other pages. It takes all of 30 seconds. A few other Nvu quirks show up, maybe due to operator failure since I didn't read the instructions or check the help menu, but I don't get obsessed with aesthetic details so it's all water off a duck:
The basic six page website we end up with is ready for the author's content. After a decade of corresponding with authors about their Internet plans, I can tell you that most authors never go beyond the planning stage. For many authors, it just seems too complicated, or they weren't willing to buy a domain name and pay $5 or $10 a month for hosting. I uploaded the pages to a directory on my website, http://www.fonerbooks.com/lessons and I added an exclusion to my robots.txt file so that the search engines won't waste time indexing these empty pages. The five videos might have run over a half hour in length, I'm sure they were less than forty minutes, and I didn't leave any steps out, so the website you see took me less than forty minutes to create while talking my head off.
The only thing missing from this website is the content, which as an author, you've already written. The content can be excerpts from your books, draft versions of manuscripts, research notes, or your general observations that didn't make it into books for one reason or another. The important thing, since you are trying to establish a platform for your work, is that the website includes the work you want to make known rather than a bunch of unrelated writing that you think will do a better job at drawing visitors. If you've written a series of travel guides to the Montana, you aren't going to help your cause if you build a website dedicated to beach erosion. You might become very popular in the beach erosion community, but Montana is a long ways off, and landlocked to boot. The main trick to attracting readers to your website is not to play any tricks. Just let your work as an author convince potential readers and book buyers that you have something reading.