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By Lee Foster

Many in the writer community now ponder strategies for improving our blogs and websites as writers, authors, and publishers. Furthermore, several of us present on these subjects at publishing events.

My latest talk has been at the Writer’s World event sponsored at Dominican University in Marin County. The Bay Area Independent Publishers Association hosted this meeting.  Earlier this year I talked on “Improving Our Blogs and Websites” for the Bay Area Travel Writers.

My current thoughts on this evolving subject can be seen in this PDF of my detailed PowerPoint:

2018 Improving Writer Author Websites

You can download the PDF and study the subject at your leisure.

Lee Foster talks before BAIPA on Improving Your Writer/Author Blog and Website
Lee Foster talks before BAIPA on Improving Your Writer/Author Blog and Website

Discussions at the Recent Society of American Travel Writers Convention 

The subject warranted much discussion at the annual conference, this year in Barbados, of the Society of American Travel Writers. Several luminaries added their wisdom.

I introduced my web designer, Jeffrey Samorano (www.wpinoneclick.com), who spoke on the basics of best WordPress practices.

Then Brett Love (www.greentravelmedia.com) elaborated on strategies for Search Engine Optimization for every article.

Finally, Gary Arndt (https://everything-everywhere.com/) shared his expertise on building a huge non-traditional audience, visible to all on his website.

Keynote speaker Pauline Frommer (www.frommers.com) offered an insightful motivational talk reinforcing the need for independent publisher to offer a balanced perspective on modern life. For Pauline, this includes what is getting better, such as the overall decline of worldwide poverty and an increase in longevity.

Two professional development leaders organized these talks. The first was Kim Grant, who has a popular, curated itineraries site (www.bindutrips.com). The second was  Jason Frye (www.teakettlejunction.com), who got stuck in the Carolinas, unfortunately, due to the hurricane flooding, and could not attend.

Three reasons, among many, could be cited as stimulating this current interest.

The Maturing “Independent Publishing” Scene

Self-publishing or “independent” publishing has matured to attain a more equal footing with traditional publishing. The amount of content actually shared between self-publishers and their audiences grows each year. This increase diminishes the previously exclusive clout of traditional publishers.

It is difficult to quantify these realities, but there is a compelling sense of it when you look around. Just observe the human behavior in your midst. Many traditional publishers struggle as they strive to retain market share for their newspapers, magazines, and books.

Self-publishers tend to be nimble, ready to fill niches. Self-publishers can often avoid the overhead and organizational complexity that slows down traditional publishers.

The Self-Publishing Superstar “Influencers”

Some self-publishers with blogs and websites now attain huge audiences and traffic, rivaling traditional publishers.

One example is my colleague Gary Arndt in the Society of American Travel Writers. His site on world travel has a name equal to his appetite for travel reportage and photos. See his Everything Everywhere. One typical post, about how to start a blog, is at

https://everything-everywhere.com/how-to-start-a-travel-blog/

Gary seems to be present also in every significant Social Media venue. Because of his skills, he gives webinars with tips to his followers. He appears to have figured out how to generate significant revenue as an “influencer.” See some of his stats regarding his traffic in the About Me, then Working With Gary clickable on his page. Scroll down and you can download the PDF of his Media Kit, which has stats on his reach.

Another master of this independent publishing scene is my colleague, Durant Imboden. Durant lives in Minneapolis and has as his specialty Europe, especially Venice.

His Europe for Visitors (www.europeforvisitors.com) and Venice for Visitors (www.veniceforvisitors.com) attract large audience. Most noteworthy, he has earned substantial sustained revenue for more than a decade from his websites. His niche coverages carefully match with lodging, touring, and car rental affiliate advertisers.

Durant provides a purchase option to his viewers at exactly the moment when he has informed them with all the details for their big-ticket decision.

As a result of their achievements, Gary and Durant excite a large class of followers who dream of similar success.

Google’s Requirement of Website Improvement to Get Search Rewards

A third force in this evolution is the firm, guiding hand of Google. Everyone wants Google to deliver Search requests to their improved blog and website. Google totally dominates the world of Search, handling perhaps 90 percent of all Searches.

Traffic to all of our blogs and websites depends heavily on how successfully we present content that meets Google’s judgment about what Searchers want. Google provides, for example, about 80 percent of the traffic for my blog/website at www.fostertravel.com.

As of this year, Google gives a publisher significantly more Searches if the site is “mobile friendly,” meaning the site adapts to the phone or desktop device of the viewer. About 40 percent of all the people who look at my site now use mobile devices. Getting this organized correctly with my WordPress theme Newspaper and with the latest WordPress versions and plugin updates has been important.

Google believes it is giving consumers what they want, which is a good experience on a device of their choosing.

Another concern of the modern consumer is “data security.” No one wants to get hacked or have their precious identity information compromised. Consequently, one aspect of website evolution is that a site must be “https secure” for encrypted data transmission. Consumers want to see that little green padlock on the left side of a URL to indicate this security. Above all, Google rewards sites that are “https secure.”

Strictly speaking, of course, Google does not “require” anything. It’s just that if you choose not to comply, you might just sail off into obscurity forever with no one looking at your content.

The Task of Improving Our Blogs and Websites

Improving a website is not a small task, especially a sprawling content site, such as my www.fostertravel.com, which now has more than 500 California and worldwide content articles involving writing/photography.

My subjects are mainly travel, publishing, and some literary pieces. When even a small change is advisable on the structure or presentation of articles, one can imagine the challenge. The change probably need to be replicated manually 500 times. This can be  tedious.

Brett Love indicated at the SATW Barbados meeting that he had about 800 articles on his site. So far, he reported, he has “improved” almost 60 of them for ideal Search Engine Optimization. His reward, he shared, was a substantial increase in traffic, with all its associated monetizing opportunities.

A substantial increase in traffic is the phrase every writer, author, and publisher wants to report after exerting ourselves to improve our blogs and websites.

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