(This article will be helpful to an author that doesn’t know much about the online space, but understands that he/she needs a website and is therefore planning to hire a website designer.)
1) Use a blogging platform such as Blogger (Blogspot), Tumblr, Typepad, or WordPress as the content management system for your site. Using a blogging platform will make it so that you can easily update your own site. A designer can create a unique look for any of these platforms, but the underlying content management system will allow you to easily post your own writing, photos, links, videos and more. Note that the terms “website” and “blog” can be used interchangeably, but that a blog implies more frequent updates.
2) You should look at existing sites that use these systems, and experiment with the platforms on your own before you decide which one to go with. This research and experimentation will help you have a more focused and effective conversation with your potential designer. You may also determine that you don’t even need to hire a designer, as the platform you like is easy enough for you to handle on your own. Note that these blogging platforms are free (Tumblr, Blogger), charge a reasonable monthly or annual fee (Typepad), or simply require you to pay for webhosting (WordPress). Note that if your site needs to be hosted, make sure you discuss any hosting server specifications with your designer before purchasing a hosting plan. WordPress, for example, requires a server that supports PHP and MySQL.
3) You should have a clear understanding of how your site will work in terms of updates and site changes — what will require the help of the designer and how much such help might cost, and what you will easily be able to do on your own. The more you can do on your own, the better.
4) Publishing simple updates, such as posts, news, links, reviews, photos, videos, event information, etc., should be very easy and not require the help of the designer at all.
5) Your site should easily be able to accommodate your future books, or whatever else becomes your primary focus. Obviously you want your current book to be front and center, but you DON’T want to build the site around the look and feel of that book’s cover. Such a look and feel will obviously not work once you’ve moved on to promote your next project.
6) Your site should have RSS capability. This allows users to subscribe to your updates via their readers (such as the Google Reader). This functionality is built-in to the above mentioned blogging platforms. Feedburner is also a good option here.
7) Your site should include “share” links. These allow readers to easily share links to your content in their social networks, such as Twitter, Facebook, Digg, Delicious.com and more. The above mentioned blogging platforms all have various “share” link options and implementations.
8) Your site should feature prominently any social network feeds/links you are a part of – especially your Facebook fan page and twitter acct, should you have them. Other popular social networks you may have profiles on that you might want to feed into/link to on your site: Flickr, Goodreads, Delicious.com, last.fm. In 2010, the web is less about blogging on personal websites, and more about social networks. It’s about making connections (following, friending, fanning, retweeting, commenting), easily sharing information, and participating in online conversation. It goes without saying that you should be participating in some or all of the above — if you are not participating and engaging, you will have very little success online.
9) Your site should feature a mailing list sign-up, so that readers interested in your books and your public goings-on (readings, conferences you are attending, etc) can sign up to your mailing list. Good mailing list services include Google Groups, Godaddy, MailChimp, Campaign Monitor, and Constant Contact.
10) Make sure to put “Buy the Book” links where your book(s) is featured on your site.
11) At the bare minimum, your site should include information about your book, a bio, backlist info, a links section, buy links, and feeds/links to the above mentioned social networks, and the homepage of your site should feature the content that updates most frequently (blog posts, most likely, as well as your twitter feed, if you have a twitter acct). It should be noted that a static site that is infrequently updated, while not totally worthless, is not going to do much for you. Sites need to be active. The more work you put into it, in terms of posting new and interesting content and being active in social networks, the more you will get out of it in terms of reaching and connecting with readers.
12) Your designer should make sure your site is search engine optimized (SEO), so that at the very least, when someone searches for you or your books, your site comes up. The blogging platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr, Typepad and Blogger all have basic SEO elements (such as tagging, categories, title tags, etc) built into their structure, but your designer should have additional strategies to make sure your site is search engine optimized.