Writer Websites: Do it Yourself or Hire a Professional?

This week I’m celebrating the launch of my new website! If you missed the giveaway in the last post, make sure you head over and leave a comment by midnight tonight (Friday July 30) EST.

Today, I wanted to share why I chose to hire a professional to design my site rather than doing it myself. After all, why would anyone pay big bucks to have someone else do a website when there are inexpensive and fairly easy ways to design one yourself?

Originally I’d considered designing my own. I jumped into blogging and quickly learned the ropes, so I figured a website couldn’t be much harder. Initially, I signed up for Yahoo’s Sitebuilder. With the help of my friend Jill Kemerer, I got off to a great start. (Check out Jill’s articles for do-it-yourself website tips.)

Why then, did I stop my own efforts and hire someone? Here are just a few of the reasons I decided to have a professional set up my site:

1. To Save Time.

Anytime we try to learn something new, it takes more time and effort, even something as simple as a point-and-click build-your-own website. After I got my book contract, many other things began to demand my attention, things I didn’t want to give up (or couldn’t) like researching and writing the next novel (go figure!), rewrites on The Preacher’s Bride, blogging, writing interviews, marketing, etc. I needed to find ways to save time. Designing my own site was one thing I could give up.

2. To Ensure Professionalism.

When I was trying to decide whether to hire a web designer, I did an experiment with my husband. I picked several published author websites and showed them to him. I asked him to tell me which ones he thought were professionally designed and which ones were done by the author. On almost all of them, he was able to distinguish the difference.

Obviously not every professional web designer can live up to Pulse Point in their creativity and attention to detail. But for the most part, a trained artist who designs websites for a living is usually going to be able to put something together with more ease and skill than someone who’s not an expert.

3. To Stand Out From the Crowd.

With all the other websites vying for readers’ attention, I wanted something that could stand out from the rest. I didn’t want mine to be “just another website.” But I needed help to get beyond ordinary to something that reflected me as an author and helped set me apart. Isn’t that one of the things we’re working toward with our book too—letting our unique voices shine through?

Pulse Point was careful not only to tailor the site to meet my needs and likes, but also to help magnify my unique presence. They considered everything, from using a scroll font that matches what's on my book cover, the fun quiz box on the Reader Fun page, to their specially designed pop-up box for buying the book. (Check it out on the Books page, under "Pre-Order this Book." It's really cool!).

4. To Maximize Internet Potential.

Even if I had the time to set up a professional and stand-apart website, I still wouldn’t have the capability or understanding to maximize the potential the internet offers. Pulse Point's creative director, Kelli Standish, informed me that 43% of users still have dial-up. Because of that, Pulse Point carefully chose every picture and detail to help optomize the load time, particularly for dial-up users (many in the Midwest, which will possibly comprise a large chunk of my readers). Also, Google is now placing some emphasis on how fast sites load when determining the search engine rank.

In other words, the PulsePoint team has worked to make it easy for people to navigate my website. And since they're the experts in key words, search engines, etc., they also have the knowledge for how to drive more traffic to my site. Who wouldn't want to increase their potential for attracting visitors?

Summary: I look at my website as a business expense. My husband, as a private practice counselor, had start-up costs when he went into business for himself. My website is one of my start-up costs. My husband has to pay on-going rent for his offices. And now, my website is my online office and I’m paying “rent” for it.

As an added bonus, through Pulse Point, I’ve gained an incredible support for my writing career. Kelli Standish and her design team didn't just put together an excellent online brand for me. They also have a passion to walk along side me, encourage me, and do all they can to help me succeed.

So, should you hire a professional or do it yourself? Ultimately everyone has to make a decision that works for them. Before getting a book contract, I’m not convinced it’s necessary to invest a lot of money into a site—a well maintained, professional blog may even be enough. (See these posts: How Important is a Website for an Unpublished Author and How to Maintain a Professional Blog) However, after getting a contract, an author needs to give serious weight to the website issue.

What are you planning to do (or have you already done) with your author website? Are you considering hiring a professional or doing it yourself? And why?

*Make sure to read the comments! Kelli has included 4 Questions to Ask When Selecting a Web Designer.

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