Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Thursday + Gregory Huffstutter = The Ad Man Answers
Q: What’s the most common mistake you see in author homepages?
A: Last column, we discussed the basics for starting or re-designing your author website.
After reviewing countless author homepages, the most common flaw I see is a lack of focus.
As novelists, we tend to be… well… wordy. We want to put all our thoughts out there for the world to see. Good design is the opposite. It focuses the eye to the most important, salient image.
Good advertising copy uses the same principle. Compare this:
You really should get out there and go jogging; I know your knees kind of hurt and you’re probably still hung over from those two glasses of wine last night, and boy it’s chilly this morning, probably low 50’s if you take into account the wind chill, but exercise is good for your heart, and you’ve been meaning to lose those last 15 pounds, haven’t you?
Just do it.
Which gets you more motivated to strap on your Nikes? Now let’s apply the same critical eye to a different industry, say, pet fences.
Exhibit A is what I’d consider a poorly-designed site. Signing onto their homepage, I feel like their entire catalogue has been lobbed at my head – duck!! Remember, when everything is given equal importance on the page, nothing is important or memorable.
Exhibit B strikes me as amateurish, like the company is run out of someone’s garage. On the homepage, I keep scrolling down, and down, and down… I’m getting carpal tunnel trying to find a local dealer. And where should I start reading? All that copy is making me so sleepy…
Exhibit C is not as cluttered, but where does your eye go first? The homepage has nine small images of dogs, and one tiny picture of a random owner. No wait, let me get my microscope… hey, that’s Tracie Hotchner, from NPR’s “Dog Talk,” who endorses the product. Now why isn’t that the most important call-out on the homepage?
Exhibit D has a better design scheme. It’s cleaner, and your eye is drawn to the dominant doggy picture on the top left. At the top right, you’ve got an easy-to-use dealer finder. I’m starting to feel more comfortable giving out my credit card number.
Exhibit E. Finally, the gold standard of pet fence websites. Not only is the design clean and professional, but the image and copy (“Safe Pets. Happy Owners.”) plays on the emotional connection between Mom and Fido. The navigation makes it easy to locate products specific to cats, small dogs, or large dogs. And the homepage only includes two featured products, not a laundry list. This website understands that “less is more” when it comes to design and advertising copy.
After eyeballing these five websites, which company would you expect to have the best-made products and most-responsive customer service? If I owned a free-wheelin’ pet, I’d trust the people behind Exhibit E – and even expect to pay more for their product. The other companies may very well have comparable or even superior pet fences, but you’d never guess it from their websites.
As you’re designing your own site, here’s some additional keys to keep in mind:
1) Know your limitations. Personally, I can write a 350-page novel and plan a media campaign for national and local advertisers. But website design is a separate beast, and there’s no way I can do it as well as someone who specializes in that field. Give your designer basic parameters – including sites that you find inspirational – but don’t tie their hands with too much initial direction. Let him/her come back with some overall concepts… you might be surprised they created a look and feel for your site that’s different (and better) than anything you ever imagined.
2) Most people find it incredibly hard to advertise themselves. It’s hard to separate bragging from modesty, important details from fluff. Which is why I outsourced my website copy to a freelance advertising copywriter (who just happened to be my wife). If you can’t afford to hire a freelance advertising copywriter (or aren’t married to one), I’d recommend asking a writing colleague to do your “about the author” section. Here’s an example of what I consider great advertising copy for an author bio. Notice how it’s short, snappy, gets in a few key details, but never gets bogged down with the author’s accomplishments:
Michael Flocker grew up in West Berlin until the age of nine when his family moved to Wilton, Ct. At the age of nineteen he moved to Manhattan where he quickly became immersed in the New York club scene and the world of fashion.
At twenty-two, he set off for Los Angeles where he appeared in a few commercials, did some bit parts on soaps and landed the occasional hand modeling gig. He went on to write and direct the campy and twisted, low-budget film Hideous Puppets which was a hit on the IFP Cinema Lounge circuit.
In the spring of 2001, he returned to New York. It was there that he penned the best-selling 'Metrosexual Guide to Style', the international success of which landed him on the New York Press 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers list in early 2004. Of this, he is very proud.
He is a Leo and is therefore not interested in your sign.
3) Browse a bunch of author sites and give your designer an idea of which ones you find inspirational (and why). For example, when I was in the planning stage for my website, I told my designer I liked the sites for Michael Flocker (clean design, easy to navigate, ironic sensibility) and Jason Starr (on the dark side, gives a sense of gritty writing style)
Here’s four other author sites that I think are particularly effective:
4) Don’t forget that your website can act like a cash register. Notice how Joseph Finder has a “Buy” option above his book description.
That leads to this page, which gives all the pertinent retailers without playing favorites.
5) Pay for your own hosting. Don’t allow Google or Yahoo ads on your homepage, even if it saves $20/month. It’s not worth the downside (i.e. giving the impression that you’re a hobbyist, not a professional author).
So what are you waiting for? Dust off that tired homepage and make it something that really speaks to your audience.
And if you’d like the Ad Man to check out your author site and provide feedback, leave your URL in the comments.
Gregory Huffstutter has been punching Ad Agency timecards for the past decade, working on accounts like McDonald's, KIA Motors, and the San Diego Padres. He recently finished his first mystery, KATZ CRADLE and is currently on submission. The first 100 pages of his novel are linked here. For general advertising questions, leave a comment or send e-mail to katz @ gregoryhuffstutter dot com with 'Ask The Ad Man' in the subject line.