By day I earn my crust as a digital marketer for a large publisher. By night I write and try to draw as much attention to my writing as I can without people resorting to physical violence. In both cases I spend a fair bit of time online and I see a great deal of people (successfully publishing and complete novices alike) making their digital life much harder for themselves than they need to.*
1. Build it and they will come – No, actually they won’t. The classic error made by digital newbies (and a surprising number of published authors) is to build a site like a CV and wait for people to turn up. Like it or not: the marketplace is a crowded place and just having a web site isn’t enough – you have to give people a reason to visit and a reason to come back. You have to add value and that means content or community. Typically, these days it means both.
2. I don’t want to be visible on search engines – Then you won’t have visitors beyond your mates. People use search engines, in many cases they are now the main way people navigate the Internet and so if your site isn’t visible to them then you’re leaving traffic on the table. There are plenty of pieces of advice out there on how to configure your site to be “Google friendly” and I’ll be posting my top tips next week. If you’re not looking for legit ways to get people to link back to you, if your web page URLs are impenetrable numeric codes and you think meta is just a type of fiction then you need to brush up on your Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
3. It’s all about me dahling – Fair enough, I’m not interested. Bloggers, and I count myself in this, are particularly susceptible to this sin. To be honest regular readers, friends and family will probably have a certain interest level in reading about what’s happening with you but it won’t bring in traffic nor will it lead to people talking about your work. As I said earlier it starts with content: be funny, be interesting, be informative, start a debate, make cool art but there are no short cuts: you gotta graft. You can tape bacon to a cat if you want but if you haven’t done the graft before hand (and Scalzi did do the work) no one’s going to be around to tell the Internet you taped the bacon to the cat.
4. I don’t have time to look at other sites – Remember what I said about people linking back to you? The best way to get people to do this, in conjunction with providing interesting and entertaining content, is to find content on other sites to comment on or use as a kicking off point for a debate or to add relevant knowledge/experience to that are unique to you.
5. It’s mine precious – Copyright and the Internet don’t mix terribly well. To understand why you need to go back to the origins of the ‘Net in the Cold War and its role as a fail safe for data in the event of a nuclear war. The whole thing is built to allow rapid, cheap, easy distribution of content – it’s built into the DNA of the system and has permeated the culture of the people using it to the point where even repressive states like China struggle to stop it. You’ve got no chance and so if you’re going to get stressed about your content appearing on sites beyond your control, do yourself a favour: stay off the Internet. Equally it goes without saying you should only put stuff up online that you’re happy to stay online forever because you can’t control that either.
There you go, I hope this helps. This isn’t just for writers. It goes for photographers, artists, fanzines, webzines and pretty much anyone doing digital on a budget. In the coming weeks I will expand on some of these sins, explain how to get the basics right and hopefully get you thinking about your digital strategy in a different, more creative way.
Any questions: just jump on the comments thread or use the contact form.
* To be fair, there are people who do it well, amongst many: Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi, Futurismic, Weird Tales.