Purveyor of Tall Tales.

Digital 101: What to build?

Apologies for the delay, these posts were meant to begin last week but were delayed due to snow. *coughs*

In this initial run of Digital 101 for Writers (and other one-man-shops) I want to look in a little more detail at how to give yourself the best fighting chance at garnering an audience online. It should go without saying that the most important of these is content and you should never lose sight of this. There are no shortcuts.

Venturing onto the Internet to promote your work (writing, photography, music, whatever) can be daunting, especially if you’re not someone who spends much time online. Here are some basic tips on how to decide what kind of online presence you need.

1. Know your turf – If you don’t spend much time online then you need to get to know the environment before you leap in with both feet. Even if you are no stranger to the Internet spending time looking around the sites of people you admire (and who work in the same area), participating in online forums for your community and checking out emerging other places your audience are likely to spend time online such as Facebook and Twitter are useful prompts. Spend time thinking about how they might work for you.

2. Pick and mix – Assuming you want a website (and most of you will), you’ll need to decide what type of site you want i.e. a blog, a portfolio, a multimedia extravaganza, brochureware, online shop, etc. The key is to make a decision that takes into account your skill level and/or your budget (for example you might want to get someone else to run it), it’s better to run a small and simple site well then a behemoth badly.

3. Create not code – Use a CMS. I’ve written about this before but it merits restating. You’re trying to break through as a creator of content (in whatever form) not as a programmer and so you don’t want to sit there manually coding HTML, manually fixing site links and doing web maintenance.  Your time is valuable make it easy on yourself.

4. Keeping it up – A constant challenge for small web operations but critical. If your site is not reachable when users click through or type in the web address then you will be irritating the crap out of them and if search engines can’t get to your content because the website is down your audience won’t even know you’re there. Select your hosting with care, do your research about who’s good and try to make sure you’ve got headroom in case a high traffic site links to you. Moving hosting providers is a pain and you want to minimise how often this is needed.

5. You gotta work at relationships – Your goal should be to build a relationship with your audience and so it’s important to give some thought to this when your building your website rather than as an afterthought. It is possible to do this as you go along but it’s easier if you think about how you can make life easier for returning users to stay up to date from the beginning (email alerts, RSS feeds, linking your content to Twitter via TwitterFeed, etc.). I’ll touch more on feeds when we come to copyright but I’d suggest you create a decent RSS feed as a minimum, I use feedburner.

That’s it for now. Next we’ll focus on SEO for Writers (and other one-person creatives).

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