The 10-Step Guide to Fixing the Writer Website Fails That Cost You Clients

In Freelance Writers Den, I review a lot of writer websites. To sum up a lot, most of them don’t do a great job of selling that writer’s gifts. The sites have basic design or usability problems that are a real turnoff for clients.

Today, I thought I’d share some of the biggest problems that I see over and over again. These are fundamental flaws that really send prospects running screaming away from your site. I’m ranking them in order of how big a problem they are, with the biggest one at the top.

  1. No site. This of course is the most basic fail, and plenty of writers are still in this boat. If you don’t have a site it’s like you’re invisible at this point, especially to online markets. You just can’t compete for the good-paying gigs. To me, it’s a little crazy to go along with no site when you could join NAIWE and have a decent-looking WordPress portfolio site and blog up and ready to go by later today.
  2. No contacts visible. Too many writers still have only a contact tab — and when you go to that page, there’s only that horrid fill-in contact form that no one wants to fill out. Remember, the most important thing you want visitors to do is email or call and hire you. So you want to make that easy, with your real contact info visible on every page via a sidebar widget right at the top.
  3. Unhelpful headline and tagline. These two elements of your website are super-important, for two reasons — 1) they help search engines send you clients, if you fill them with key words about the type of writing you do and where you are; and 2) they help orient new arrivals in the 5 seconds or so you’ve got before they decide the site isn’t for them and leave. Instead of naming your writer site your name and making your tagline “musings about the writing life” or something else undefined, think about using these to help attract the exact clients you want.
  4. No About page. The About page is a very important part of your writer website. It’s where clients go to get a sense of your personality and who you are as a writer — what you enjoy writing and who you’ve written for. If you don’t have one, I think your site is some kind of Third World scam place.
  5. No clips. I see too many sites where there are no clips at all. My experience is the number-one thing prospects come to your writer site to do is to read your previous work to see if they like it. If you have no clips, they give up and leave. If all you have is your blog posts, link to those! If you have a lot of clips, get up as many as you can. And make them easy to view, not PDFs people have to download. (You can use the Google docs embedder plugin to serve them from a page of your site, among other alternatives.) Since they don’t know and trust you yet, they won’t click that ‘download’ button, and it’s as good as not having anything up. Don’t be mysterious about who you wrote for or what the topic of each piece is, either — indicate the market next to each clip headline so prospects can scan down and see what you write about and where you’ve been published.
  6. No first person. Many writers want to talk about themselves in the third person, as in “Carol Tice has been a freelance writer for more than 15 years, and her work has appeared in…” The problem is this comes off pretty silly online. We all know you wrote it. Also, you’re missing an opportunity to connect with visitors on a personal level by honestly telling your story in the first person.
  7. Too many choices. Some sites are cluttered up with dozens of things — links to writer groups you belong to, ad banners, 10 different social-media buttons, drop-down menus that offer 50 different selections, three sidebars including one on the left or the bottom…it’s all too much. When site visitors are confronted with too many options, they tend to take none and just leave. So keep it simple and remember what you want them to do.
  8. Lukewarm copy. I have seen writers who have done work for Fortune 500 clients, and their copy about their own writing services puts you right to sleep. What writers don’t understand is that the writing on your writer site is an audition piece for getting gigs. Particularly if you don’t have a lot of clips, make this shine. Why should a business believe you can persuade people to buy their product or service if you can’t make your own website copy sparkle?
  9. No testimonials. Study after study has shown that hearing you’re talented from the mouths of your clients is extremely persuasive. You can take LinkedIn recommendations you got and just copy and past them right over here, you know?
  10. Pretending to be something you’re not. Recently, I’ve seen several sites where a solo writer is pretending to be an advertising or marketing agency. Realize that if you say “We specialize in technology projects,” that you are essentially lying about what you can offer. If there is no staff behind the curtain, don’t pretend you have one.

What shape is your writer website in? Leave us a link and we’ll check it out.

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41 comments on “The 10-Step Guide to Fixing the Writer Website Fails That Cost You Clients
  1. John Soares says:

    First off, you do a great job inside the Den of helping freelance writers improve their websites.

    Back to the specific topic of the post, I’ve also seen these same problems. I’ll be running a post later this summer about how I spent 15 minutes trying to let a fellow freelancer know about a great ongoing writing gig that paid very well that was absolutely perfect for this writer. I’ll spare you all the details, but I had a hell of a time even finding the contact page, and I finally quit after being unable to correctly type the Capcha thingie several times.
    John Soares recently posted..Why I Am Changing the Productive Writers Posting Schedule for Summer

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi John — makes you feel sad, doesn’t it?

      Everyone should look at their site and identify all the “pushbacks” — points at which a client might get discouraged or frustrated and give up trying to get in touch. Captcha is certainly WAY up there on the list. Just put up with the spam…it’s worth it to get the clients easily emailing you.

  2. Kathy Kramer says:

    I just downloaded the Google Docs viewer plug-in for my site. I was wondering how you did that in the den!
    Kathy Kramer recently posted..5 Common Rookie Writer Mistakes and How to Fix Them

    • Carol Tice says:

      Isn’t it great? I gather it’s one of about 3 different ways you can solve the problem of not making prospects download your PDFs, but since I understand plugins, it’s the one I gravitated to. This summer hoping to have my teen sit down with my own writer site and fix all my PDFs!

  3. Sarah says:

    Great list Carol.

    Number 7 is very important – too many people think that the more stuff on the website the better. If you are in business you need to look professional, keep it simple and to the point.
    Sarah recently posted..Plugin Review: Google Doc Embedder

  4. It took me a long time to get my website to look professional. I tested a lot of things and most of them bombed. Thankfully, I seem to have found a happy medium.

    Ever since I’ve set up a Testimonials, Portfolio & Hire Me page, work queries have picked up and a lot of them turn into clients because they’ve already seen my work in my portfolio.

    That said, I need to work on my About page though!
    Samar | The Writing Base recently posted..How to Impress the Socks Off Your Client Before Writing a Single Word for Them

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’re not the only one. It’s funny, but even copywriters I work with seem to have trouble talking about themselves on that page! But it’s worth taking some time to write — and rewrite — it. I try to rewrite mine at least once a year, because I’ve learned more, done more client work…who I am is changing. You want to keep it fresh and personal and up to date. And creative, of course!

  5. On #2, there is one thing worse than a Contact page that provides “only that horrid fill-in contact form”–and that is a Contact page that provides only a phone number that, when dialed, leads to a lengthy phone menu and ultimately to a voice mailbox with only a department name attached. Not that most freelance writers will have a big enough operation to require departments; but posting the phone number alone is still a strike against you for two reasons: many people who are searching online want to inquire online rather than interrupt themselves to reach for a phone; and many people today associate phone-number contacts (those labeled for anything except personal cell phones, anyway) with voice mail recordings that promise to return calls but never do.
    Katherine Swarts recently posted..One Little Letter Makes a Difference

  6. J. Delancy says:

    I’m guilty on multiple counts of the indictment. Number 11 on this list would be, ‘failing to improve the site once its up.” It’s startling how many writers will spend big dollars on upgrading their skills, but won’t upgrade their sites with just a little time investment. Yes, I’m guilty of that as well.
    J. Delancy recently posted..7 Ways To Get Lucky

    • Carol Tice says:

      You bring up a good point. I’ve had a lot of writers ask me, “But when did you consider your site ‘done’?” To which I always reply, “What makes you think I’m happy with the way it is NOW, after 4 years of working on it?”

      Our writer sites and blogs should always be a work in progress. A revamp at least every couple years is good. Speaking of that, watch for some cool new stuff coming to this blog next month, actually…

  7. Carol,

    I’d like to second No. 11, continuously updating. I just sent a prospect to two links that are dead, and found 7 more dead links in the process. So while you are linking, make sure you turn the page into a PDF or save it as web page in your own archive as you may need to find it later.

    I’m also revamping copy, my client list – structuring it different – and finally figuring out how to make a navigation bar with droploads, which I didn’t do initially because I just wanted to get the site up.

    So here I am four years later revamping, in part due to my analytics.

    Also, you may want to rethink the PDF issue – times have changed.

    Newer versions of Acrobat are making PDFs faster, searchable for SEO, and keywords can be added to the discription.

    There’s even a button that optimizes the PDF for the web, making it faster to download.

    Converting some articles, especially those with lots of photos or graphics, into web pages is hard because they look funny and grab navigation or ads.

    I have noticed in a lot of the web research I’m doing that PDFs are coming up very often, and they load fast, so there’s no huge need to convert them to web pages.
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted..5 Email Newsletter Tips from Chris Brogan

  8. Droploads? He He, that should have been drop downs.
    M. Sharon Baker recently posted..5 Email Newsletter Tips from Chris Brogan

  9. LindaH says:

    As I read through your blog I did my mental checklisst of, “Yep, have that,” or “Need to update that and fix that.” It’s good to review the website. And as your workload gets bigger it’s still important to make time to update the website and keep it fresh and inviting for readers to spend time reviewing.

    No. 11 is important, especially checking the links to ensure they aren’t broken. I found and fixed some broken links that made a lot of difference in search engine rankings and readability. I want to ensure my clients and potential clients get the absolute best from my website. After reading today’s blog I’ll make sure to spend time each week updating and reviewing my website to ensure it’s working and gives my readers the absolute best available content I can provide.

    Great post, Carol, as always. I’ll be refering to this one often to ensure I’m on top of my website and all that I offer my clients.

  10. Thank you, thank you! While I’m sure I have a long way to go, my web site has made great strides forward in large part thanks to information I’ve found on your web site. This latest post helped me solve a lingering problem–PDFs of clips.

  11. Pinar Tarhan says:

    I’m starting with tip number 9!! I have improved my site a bit overtime, applying many of your tips. But every time I heard the word testimonial I bailed. I never thought about doing what you suggested about Linkedin. : )))
    Pinar Tarhan recently posted..How to Handle a Big Boost in Ideas, Projects and Needs

  12. Tabitha says:

    Great tips! Going to go make a few changes RIGHT now….
    Tabitha recently posted..I Owe It All To My Dad

  13. Great checklist. I’m having my site built next month and coming to the realization that getting the site up is just the first step in a long journey. Thanks for the tips!
    Heather Georgoudiou recently posted..Copywriting lessons from the masters

  14. Terr says:

    This was a great and timely post. I saw a few things that I need to tweak. Let me add a pet peeve that you’ve left off.

    Don’t monetize your site. This ties into point #7 (Too many choices). To me, a professional freelancing site should NEVER look like an affiliate marketing site. This means no Adsense, no affiliate marketing buttons or banners, etc. I know of a writer who has a site that is part freelance marketing, part affiliate marketing, part online journal.

    I looked at it and I thought, SERIOUSLY?

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Terr — you brought up a good point. I also see many writer portfolio sites with ads slapped up and like…what’s that about? Few are driving any substantial traffic to the point where an ad strategy would make any sense — it just sort of advertises that you don’t know how earning on the Internet works.

      And obviously it’s a major pushback for a client — it feels like you don’t really want clients, you want to monetize your own site and earn that way. You certainly can do both — I do — but keep them separate on two different sites. Your writer site shouldn’t have ads.

  15. Great article as usual. The Google docs embedder came as a revelation to me. Just last week I spent about half an hour trying to figure out how to do that and finally gave up. I used to use my Dropbox public folder, but learned that Dropbox tells my readers that there’s been too much activity and it is no longer available. I wish they’d told me first.
    Rob Schneider recently posted..Putting Grammarly to the Test Continued

  16. All of this applies to freelance translators’s websites too. It’s so important to write in the first person and not pretend there’s a big team behind you.
    Also, don’t let any typos slip through. Check and re-check everything you write.

  17. Carol thank you for sharing about the Writers Den, I was not aware of its existence. I am going to join today as I was equally frustrated searching for good writers in freelancer forums.

    The problem with freelance sites is that even after paying good amount there is no guarantee that you will eventually get quality!
    Jeremiah Ozment recently posted..Search Engine Optimization Basics – 6 Key Components for Law Firms

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Jeremiah — not totally sure the Den is a fit for you — we’re not a bidding marketplace as you’re describing, we’re a learning and support community for freelance writers.

      If you’re looking for writers to hire, feel free to email me a job listing though, and if the pay is appropriate I’m happy to post it in our Den Junk-Free Job Board.

  18. Kristen says:

    I’m in the process on working on implementing many of the changes I’ve seen you recommend here and elsewhere for writer websites.

    I do have a question about #6 though. As someone with a relatively common name, I feel like third person writing, if only on my about page, can help bring my site up in the rankings for anyone googling my name itself.

    Now, I recognize that usually by the time someone knows my name to google, they probably won’t have too hard of a time getting to my information, but I do want it to be as easy as possible for someone already interested in me to find me. Do you think the potential SEO benefit of using your name in the on page copy is undercut by coming off as less personal?

    • Carol Tice says:

      I once had a writer proudly tell me they had done a lot of SEO work and now ranked #1 on a search for their name.

      I had to sadly inform them that this was a total waste of time. What you want is to rank for “Seattle freelance writer” (try that and see what happens) or “Arizona healthcare writer” or some other popular, relevant key word phrase. So you can get found by all the people who need the kind of writer you are, as opposed to the three dozen people who know how to spell your name.

      And in general, don’t sacrifice your authenticity because you think it will help you with SEO. That’s. Not. Going. To. Help.

  19. Jan says:

    The points you mentioned are spot on. I see blogs/websites that have beautiful themes but no quality content or are missing these things you mentioned.

  20. Great post Carol. I frequently tell writers that they need to put as much work into their own sites as they do for their clients – more if they want more clients!

    I’m glad to say I did pretty good on all of them except the contact form. It never dawned on me that someone might not like contact forms. So, off to fix that up! :)
    Danielle McGaw recently posted..5 Reasons You Need to Pay More for Your Freelance Writers

  21. Linda says:

    Aaagh! You’re so ‘Write’ (pardon the pun) I’m guilty of a few of these errors myself. Shame on me. Off to correct. Thanks so much.
    Linda recently posted..A warning from Mother Nature – She can’t be controlled!

  22. Joe O. says:

    Thank you for not using CAPTCHA or making me pick from various social profiles! The less I have to do to leave comments, the more compelled I feel to participate.

    Excellent post. My only question has to do with writers who want a professional presence for clients and a presence for their fiction writing. I have done development work in the nonprofit sector and now do freelance work in that area, but in my personal time I write horror. I don’t think my clients would be impressed with my depiction of creepy dolls, demonic possessions and other moonlit musings. I feel like I have to keep two websites to keep things separate, but is there a polished way to pull it off?

    In my personal site I have a tab for Consulting, where I reprinted my services through my freelance company. I think it may look out of place, but I wonder if there are potential clients I could snag at one site that I may have missed with the other.

    Thank you for all your excellent advice.
    Joe O. recently posted..Interview Questions for Nonprofit Job Seekers

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Joe –

      I’m with you — when you write fiction it should be a separate site. I think nothing makes prospects run for the hills like hearing you’d really rather be working on your novel. That may be totally true…but it’s just not information you have to give THEM.

  23. Concetta says:

    Hmm it appears like your website ate my first comment (it was super long) so I guess I’ll just sum it up what I submitted and say, I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I as well am an aspiring blog blogger but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any tips and hints for newbie blog writers? I’d really appreciate
    it.
    Concetta recently posted..Concetta

  24. John Detlefs says:

    Ha! I came to this post confident that I had all of my bases covered.. ‘About’ page coming right up.. a bit embarrassing really.. thanks for the post Carol. :)
    John Detlefs recently posted..The Anatomy of a Proven Successful Elance Proposal.

    • Carol Tice says:

      You’d be surprised how many writer websites I see that don’t have an About, so don’t feel bad!

      Coming up in September I’ll be doing a whole bootcamp on writer websites, and how to write your Home and About pages…so stay tuned for that.

  25. I am an IT professional, and have had a web site up since the 1990’s. I have been freelancing for a couple of years, and am only just now setting up a professional writer’s web page. So I work all day on computers, networks, and supporting users, including the support of web pages; but have no web presence as a writer. Typically, when asked for writing samples or other such things, I would refer people to my regular website, which is a personal page and covers my hobbies, interests, and travels; but really has nothing writing specific. It’s easy to overlook sometimes, that your writer presence should be just that – a writer presence, and not just as an afterthought on a larger page.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Neal — Well, I believe it will definitely get you more clients when you’ve got a focused page. ;-)

      FYI, if you’d like to leave a link to a post or page in future, please use our CommentLuv feature — I don’t allow writers to throw in self-promotional links in the body of blog posts. Thanks!

5 Pings/Trackbacks for "The 10-Step Guide to Fixing the Writer Website Fails That Cost You Clients"
  1. […] I need to spend some quality time–soon–with Carol Tice’s guide to fixing your writer website. […]

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  3. […] 10 Step Guide To Fixing Your Writer Website That Cost You Clients by Carol Tice […]

  4. […] talked about writer websites before, and do reviews weekly in Freelance Writers Den, but today I thought I’d just show you […]

  5. […] worst mistake you could ever make as an up-and-coming writer is not having a website at all. Where will people find you? How will people contact you should they be interested in your work? […]

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