Developing Effective Web sites

Ruth Ann Nordin and I just returned from a Heart of America Christian Networking conference. We had a wonderful time. The conference revitalized our faith and our writing. There were many workshops, and one of those was on how to develop an effective Web site. That workshop was facilitated by Jim Watkins of Wesleyan Publishing.

As you develop your site, pay close attention to detail and keep it consistent, he said. He highlighted Billy Graham’s site as a good example of a well done Web site — simple, easy to read and not cluttered with material. Here is a link to that site for your examination:

Define the blog or Web site’s purpose, he said. Is it for people to get to know you better through an author biography (which, according to him, is a must), to sample your material and/or purchase your books or what? If your ultimate purpose is for visitors to buy your products then make sure no more than two clicks gets them there or anywhere on your site, Watkins said.

The home page should show what you are offering, he said. Also, give viewers a way to search your site and contact you.

In addition, keep the site simple, the best readability still is white background with black lettering, Watkins said. Use fonts, such as Helvetica, which are easy to read. Point sizes should be no smaller than 10 to 11 points and use one font throughout your site. However, you can vary that font by using bold and italics and no matter what do not use all capital letters, he advised.

In the United States, we read from left to right so place the most important item(s) there, he said. Size, in addition, denotes significance, thus your largest lettering is the most prominent with each degradation in point size portraying less relevance, Watkins continued.

Adding color to your Web site is fine but make sure the color is rememberable because it should be used across media spectrums, he said.To go along with his point, I would tell you not to use white lettering. Because when you print out white lettering on white paper, it will not show up.

Watkins cautioned you to not overload your site with images. This, as you know, also takes more time to load and could make people leave your site before it finishes loading. I went to a Web site a few years ago, and it took forever to load the fancy wallpaper. I have not gone back since because I do not have time for that. So think of these details when designing your site.

Watkins likes WordPress because it is easy to use. WordPress has Web sites and blogs (which you could use as a Web site). Yahoo small business also is good, he said. These have templates you can choose and are about $120 a year and also are pretty easy to use, said a person familiar with this method.

After you have a Web site, how do you promote it? Watkins suggested you use Facebook to ask questions, prompting people to interact and to visit your site. I have such a question. To those who have read Courtships and Carriages, what character would you like to see as my main character in Book Two of the Great Plains series? You can respond here. I will later post this question on Facebook.

Well, have a great day and I hope this post was informative. Many of the Lord’s blessings to you until we meet again.

9 Blogging Tips

These articles were first written in honor of National Blogging Month and the posts were spread out over course of a month. So here are 9 blogging tips to improve blogging.

Blogging Tip #1: Write for your Readers

The first tip I thought we would discuss is your readers. What do you want to convey to your readers. As authors we need to reach our target audience. If we write gothic horror, we need to write posts that appeal to and fill the need of our readers. Teasers about the book we are writing. Contests coming up. Sample scenes to get readers interested. A day in the life of a writer. Etc.

There is a fine line between entertaining and boring your readers. Even if they might be looking for information on a certain subject, readers like to be entertained. So we as bloggers need to first communicate, which means knowing our subject. This can be a specialized niche or one that is more general like writing. We must also grab and keep the reader’s attention.

The best way to do this is to have a conversation with your readers. Because this is blogging and not article writing, leave behind the dry, facts and use a more personal tone, as if talking to a friend.

This doesn’t mean you can’t use facts to support what you are saying, just don’t overdo it. I don’t know about the rest of you, but unless I’m looking for a ‘how to’ article, I want a post I can enjoy and relate to. I want something I can learn from. I have no interest in a solely promotional blog, unless that is the sole purpose of the blog, to promote other people.

Blogging Tip #2: Get Readers to your Blog

First you have to start writing your blog. Once you have a few posts, its time to start looking for readers to read your blog. Yes, I know that readers will come looking for your content eventually, finding you through search engines and other people. But that is a very slow climb upward. Trust me.

My first blog was at LiveJournal. I created it so I didn’t have to keep writing the same letter to friends and family. They could read all about my day. When I decided to publish my novels and start an author’s platform I started another at LiveJournal. This lasted about a year until I decided to create my author website. The decision to go with WordPress meant that I had everything in one place. Blog, about me page, extra pages for books, etc..

The next step was to promote my new site. And the best way I found to do this was to find other blogs and forums that I enjoyed and befriend those people. I dislike the ‘look at me, I’m so great, buy my book’ commentors or the ‘I’m only commenting because I want you to buy my book’ commentors. This doesn’t work. An honest question or comment has me clicking on their website every time. Another way to get readers is to offer something for free. People love free stuff.

Blogging Tip #3: Keep it Short

Very few people will spend large amounts of time reading a blog post. Most will skim the content and some will comment. Ever get those comments where you wonder if the person even read the post. I have.

If you keep you posts short and on topic, then those who read the post are more likely to actually read it. And comment correctly.

Using hyperlinks to previous posts can help shorten paragraphs and keep you from going off on tangents. You won’t lose your reader’s attention, because once you have your reader’s attention you don’t want to lose them.

Blogging Tip #4: Catching Readers Attention

Most author blogs are on the Internet to gain readership for the books that are out or are about to come out. There are a number of ways to do this, but let us start at the beginning. You have to decide the subject of your blog. What is it you want to convey? Is it about your book? Is it about writing and the mechanics behind it? Is it about your life?

Once you decided what it is you want to blog about, write your posts with your subject in mind, readers will find you and stay if they find content they were looking for. Which brings us to catching the reader’s attention. When the readers first open the Internet browser to look for information on a given subject, the first thing to catch their attention will be the title and the short summary. Once it does, you have to keep their attention, and you have a short amount of time to do this.

Web writing isn’t like magazine writing. There is just too much information on the Internet and readers are looking for specific things to help them or to read. So while the title should be catchy, fun, or snarky, if it doesn’t give a clue as to the content of the page, readers won’t click on it. Same goes for misleading headings that trick the reader into visiting the site for numbers, they will leave and they won’t be back.

Studies show that readers are more likely to scan the article or blog post for the information that they want. So headlines, subheads, highlighted text, and bullet points need to be utilized to capture and motivate readers. When I first open an internet browser to a blog whose Title or Summary interested me, I don’t want to be bombarded with ads, videos, and dozens of pictures (unless that’s what I’m looking for). The ones that catch my attention are the ones with informational headlines, summary paragraphs to tell me what the article or post is about, a picture or two is fine, bullet lists, or pull out quotes help me skim for the information I need. Mostly it depends on what I’m looking for.

Blogging Tip #5: Converse with your Readers

When I visit a blog I want to feel welcome, not overwhelmed or treated like a stranger. It can sometimes be difficult to hold a conversation with people who are not there and sometimes don’t talk back, but as a blogger that is what you have to do.

Write as if you are having a conversation. Or as I do, and write a letter as if you are answering the question of a friend. It really helps to loosen up the tone of your writing. It becomes less stilted or uncomfortable and more personal, conversational, and sometimes even passionate.

This is also simple writing. The words aren’t fixed to impress people. It means I don’t have to pull out the three-pound dictionary to figure out what you just said. The writing becomes concise and honest which is better than verbose and flamboyant.

Now there are few exceptions to this rule, but that has more to do with technical manuals and impersonal how-to articles. Readers prefer direct and affirmative writing, which improves credibility, helps in scanability, and communicates information more effectively.

Blogging Tip #6: Introductions Please

There are three kinds of introductions that can be placed on a blog. The first is a short bio at the end of an article style post for multi-authored sites or newsletters. The second is the About Me page. And the third is Contact Pages. If you don’t know how to create a page with WordPress, Joleene Naylor wrote a great how-to post for this at

The About Me Pages, Bio, and Contact Pages are an important and sometimes overlooked part of blogging. They are like the bio at the end of a book. They share with the reader a little about who you, why you are writing your blog, and how they can reach you with questions or for more information.

The Contact Page

The contact page is where you list your name and contact information so that interested readers can ask questions or reach out to you for other business opportunities. Contact information can be more than a business address, phone number, and/or email. This is where you can put links to your other websites, blogs, or social networking sites. Some people like to have this as a separate page. Others place the information as widgets in the margin of their blogs. Mine is combined with my ‘About Me’ page.

The Short Bio

The bio is can be used at the ends of posts, articles, and books. Book Bios are usually longer than the post and article ones, but the elements are the same. Keep your bio down to one small paragraph, write honestly and to the point, and you will have a pretty good chance of being remembered.

1. Use elementary psychology when you write your bio and use third person. This creates distance between the reader and you, and the reader feels less encroached upon. Also people trust what is said of one person by another over what people say about themselves, even when they know the bio was written by the author.

2. List facts about who you are, not wishes about who you wish you were. You are free to state that you are an IRS agent writing in her free-time or a stay-at-home husband whose writing is a hobby, or refrain from doing so. Cite any relevant experience or education, and writing communities you are part of. While I don’t think this is important to a bio, there are readers out there that do and it can’t hurt.

I recommended not overdoing the posturing in your bio, it reduces the reader’s trust in the objectivity of that bio, and in conjunction your material. Also, a major no-no is lying in your bio. It is a breach of trust between the reader and you, and it can do irreparable damage to your reputation.

3. A good rule in all your writing, and especially in your bio, write tight. You have a short span of time in order to catch your reader’s attention. With the bio that time is shorter. The reader will read it to estimate the value of your work. Write more than a few lines, and you’ll lose them.

Blogging Tip #7: Conveying Information

Basically, readers come to your blog for information. Some want to gather that information quickly. They don’t want to wade through background material. For those that have never been journalist, this means precise writing. Most journalists have a space limit which they have to maintain. When conveying information, keep these three tips in mind.

First, when writing a post or article it is always smart marketing to write a summary paragraph or two about what the post will be about. This lets the readers know what to expect and if it is of interest to them. Then you can break your post into headings if that is your wish.

Second, keep one thought per paragraph. Ever have sensory overload. Too many thoughts per paragraph can make your writing look sloppy and disorganized. Keep paragraphs short to create visual breaks.

Third, don’t be afraid to use lists, bullet points, and pull out quotes to convey information. Just be careful not to abuse them. It can be too much.

Blogging Tip #8: But I Have More Information to Share

It is a rare day when I have more information then what I blog about, but there are moments that I wish I could link a post to a previous post, to convey the information that would make a simple post a two page article. If you have more information that you want to convey in the post, but it’s getting a little long, place a link at the end of the post to link it to other posts.

A word of caution: When you do this, be sure that each post is separate. Readers may come in at any point, so allow for non-sequential content. Each post should be separated into contained subjects so they can be read independently or as part of a whole. Linking the posts allow the readers to jump from post to post.

Blogging Tip #9: Appeal to Different Audiences

Tailor your posts to meet the needs and levels of your readers. This doesn’t mean talking down to your readers or speaking over their heads. It helps if the people reading your blog can understand what you’re talking about.

If you’re blogging to advanced readers of astrology, then by all means use the terminology they would understand. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t make it user-friendly to beginners of astrology too. You want your content to appeal to your target audience. If it doesn’t appeal to people then you shouldn’t expect to gain a following.

This also applies to colloquialisms. Think “grass is greener on the other side” and “don’t know jack,” etc. It can confuse readers from other countries that might not be familiar with the saying.

Blogging How-To’s : Pages

Stephannie has posted some excellent articles chock full of blogging tips from a writing point of view, so I thought I’d take a little time to discuss the more technical aspects of blogging with some handy tips I’ve discovered.

In the spirit of short blogs, I am breaking this up.


As a WordpPess blogger, you probably know about Pages, but just in case you don’t, they’re worth a mention.  A page is exactly that; an extra page that can have information on it without having to be a blog post. For example here on SPAL we currently have an “our Bios” page and a “Contact us” (listed in the menu bar above the blogroll.)

To make a new page, choose it from the drop down box on the header of your dashboard page:

At this point it works exactly like a blog post except that it has this cool little attributes menu. Here you can choose to have a “Parent” for your page – for example, I have the Help Spread the Word for Shades of Gray (it’s just banners and such)page as a “child” of Shades of Gray.

Why would you want to do that? Mainly for display purposes because in your custom menu it would then list the pages as :

Legacy of Ghosts

Shades of Gray

  • Spread the word

101 Tips…

I don’t have mine displayed that way right now. I wanted the option later, so I went ahead and set it up that way.

Another cool thing you can do with Pages is to change the template – or layout of it. The templates available depend on your blog theme. For instance, on one blog I have only two options: Default and Full Width, while my other blog has four options: Default, Full Width, Archive and Site Map.

So what would you use pages for? A Contact Me page is a good idea, as is one for your Author bio. And why not do a page for each of your books where you can organize the synopsis, trailer(s) and any relevant links, such as where readers can get your book?  You could even use pages for other projects you’re involved in. The possibilities are endless.

More on using WordPress pages

Does anyone else have any cool tips to share about using pages?  Do you have any pages on your blog(s)?  If so, what pages have you made?

Blogging How-To’s : Appearance

Stephannie has posted some excellent articles chock full of blogging tips from a writing point of view, so I thought I’d take a little time to discuss the more technical aspects of blogging with some handy tips I’ve discovered.

In the spirit of short blogs, I will break this up a bit.


When blogging on WordPress, you’ll notice first that you can’t use CSS to customize your blog unless you buy an account. But don’t despair, you can do a lot without it, and it might even be easier.   I mean, who gets CSS, anyway? (This is rhetorical. Obviously someone does. Just not me.)

So how can we get all the fancy “borders” and the layered “box” look? Just make your wallpaper look layered. For instance, here is a snap shot of my blog (so you can see what I mean)

You can see how much of that is actually in the wallpaper

You can see that the wallpaper is a lot “taller” than what you see in the preview – that’s because a monitor with a different resolution may show more, or less, of your wallpaper and because of the WordPress toolbar that runs across the top of the screen and covers up the top of the wallpaper.

To get your elements lined up perfectly (like I did for the sidebar) open your blog and then use full page viewing  by pressing F11 on your keyboard. Then, press the “Print Screen” button (It may say Prt SC or Prnt Scr, the initials vary by keyboard). You’ve now copied your “screen”. Go to your graphics program and paste as a new image, and then, if you have a program that allows for layers, such as GIMP (a free download) make a new layer and draw your “boxes” on that layer. When you’re finished, upload the wallpaper through your  Appearance –  Background menu (the Appearance nodule is on your Dashboard, towards the bottom of the page. You may need to hit a drop down arrow to make the choices show up).

Most themes also allow for custom banners, or headers. When you choose that option in the appearance menu, it will give you the dimensions of your header :

Also be sure to check all of your theme options because some themes have different color schemes and other customizations.

You can also add a “Blog icon” under the Settings – General menu. If, like me, you have no idea what a blog icon is then allow me to show you:

You can see that two of the blog’s I’m involved with have “pictures”, or blog icons, while the middle one just has a Blue W – meaning that no icon has been set. These icons not only show up on the new subscription page, too

More on using Themes from WordPress.

More on WordPress Appearance

Does anyone have any other tips or tricks for customizing the way your WordPress blog looks?