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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
- 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.