by Edie Melson
This is an ongoing series designed to give writers guidelines on where & when to spend your money.
If you missed the first five posts in the series you can find them here:
Part Two: Which Books Should I Own and Which Should I Get atthe Library—and What About Magazines, are They Still Relevant?
Today we're going to talk about websites.
Websites—When Should I Spend the Money on a Writer’s Website?
A lot of writers want to know whether or not they really need a website. Websites can be expensive, if you have someone design one for you. Or they can be time-consuming, if you choose to design one for yourself.
So to accurately answer this, I need to make sure we're all on the same page. I’ve discovered that a lot of folks out there don’t know the difference between a blog and a website. It’s not surprising because the dividing line gets murkier all the time.
Today I thought I’d give you an easy way to decide which you should have and begin the evaluation process for your specific situation.
As many of you know, social media and blogging aren’t a one-size-fits-all proposition. Far from it! But the almost endless array of choices can leave anyone feeling uncertain what’s needed.
Before we get into the choices and how to decide, let’s make certain we’re all clear on the definitions.
The word itself is a relatively new invention. Its usage began in the early 80s and comes from the words Web and Log—Blog—and was originally envisioned as a sort of online journal. Occasionally I still run across someone who doesn’t realize blogs haven’t been online diaries for many years.
Having a blog used to be thought of as the amateur way to have an online presence. Again, this hasn’t been the case for quite a number of years. Many well-respected sites are in actuality, blogs.
Beyond that, you CAN have a custom domain name with a free blog. This site, for example is a blogger (.blogspot) site. I have several domain names that I’ve purchased and pointed toward this site. You can get here by typing in www.EdieMelson.com, or www.TheWriteConversation.com. You do not have to have a website to have a custom domain.
Enough history, here is an up-to-date definition of a blog:
An online site, with regular, frequent updates that encourage interaction through comments and sharing. It can be a single-page site or a multi-page site. But its primary purpose is interaction.
In contrast, a website is much more of a static site, where much of the information remains the same. It doesn’t usually have a place for interaction—although there is almost always a contact form somewhere so visitors can interact if necessary. It's almost like a yellow pages ad or a billboard.
A website can also be a singe-page or a multi-page site. But more generally it has several pages. Often times, one of the pages is a blog. Websites are most often built by website designers or those willing to learn HTML code. Even though a lot of folks use a template to build a website, they are almost always customized and use a lot more code specific design.
As you can see by the definitions, blogs and websites do tend to overlap in their intent. But, and this is VITALLY important to understand, they are not the same in the way they’re developed.
Take WordPressproducts for example. WordPress has a lot of great options, for blogs and for websites. But, blogs are built on the WordPress.com site, and websites are built on the WordPress.org site. Why two different sites? Because websites and blogs are very different in the way they’re constructed.
Think of WordPress like a car company—say Volkswagen. Even though the VW Bug and the Jetta are both built by Volkswagen, they are very different cars. A mechanic doesn’t fix them with the same parts or even necessarily the same tools. It’s the same for WordPress Blogs (the free version .com) and WordPress Websites (the paid version .org). Even more than that, just because someone has their own WordPress website doesn’t mean they know how to help you with WordPress blog. Be very careful here, the plug-ins are not always the same!
Generically speaking, a blog isn’t better than a website and visa versa. But specifically, there are times when one choice is better than another.
When to Build only a Blog
I recommend new writers always start with a blog and here are some reasons why:
- They’re easy to work with. By that I mean, it’s easy to learn the basics if you stick with a reputable platform. I recommend Blogger, WordPress, or TypePad.
- They’re free. Blogger is completely free. WordPress.com is free, but also has some upgrades available for purchase. And TypePad has a small monthly fee, depending on which version you choose. It may surprise you to know that my favorite, hands down, is Blogger. Blogger offers more options for personalization and it has the added benefit of being owned by Google, so you get good search engine results if your site is well done.
- You probably don’t even know what you want in a permanent site. My mother gave me good advice when I got married. She recommended that we not buy a house during the first year. The reason she gave was that until I’d lived somewhere for a year, I wouldn’t know what I wanted in a house. The exact same good advice holds true for websites. You won’t know what you want until you’ve tried it out for awhile.
- They can be tweaked and changed as your career grows and focuses. Just because you begin writing devotions, doesn’t mean you won’t one day end up writing fiction. It helps if you don’t have to start over and build a whole new product.
When to Build a Website
I recommend an author with multiple books, and the means to pay someone to keep it up, invest in a website…with a blog. Now don’t get me wrong, I know a lot of writers who’ve built their own websites. Some of them like to tinker with code (not many) others just want to save money. Personally, my passion is writing, NOT website building.
Here are the reasons to build a website:
- You are more than one person, commercially speaking. For example, my friend and critique partner Vonda Skelton, is an author, a motivational speaker, an actress, and a womens ministry leader. She needs a website to have multiple pages under each of the four categories.
- You’re ready to have someone else run that part of your business and can afford to pay for it. Make sure you have someone who comes highly recommended and who has time to make changes you need in a reasonable time-frame.
- You have multiple books and need more room to promote/engage your readers.
All of that said, even the biggest and best websites can benefit from having a blog somewhere within the site. In today’s publishing climate readers like to engage with authors. At this point, a blog is still the best way to do it.
Now it's your turn. If you have an questions about which is best for you, leave them in the comments section below. Also, for those of you with websites, we'd love for you to chime in recommending good website designers.
And don't forget to join the conversation!
Dollars & Sense for Writers - When does a writer need to spend the money and/or time for a website? via @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)
Does it make sense for a writer to spend the time and/or money for a website? Not always @EdieMelson shares why (Click to Tweet)