Kaitlyn vs. the Robots

Kaitlyn Dunnett here, just back from the Novelists Inc. conference, a gathering of multi-published writers of genre fiction. Like most who attended, I took copious notes because things like discoverability (reaching new readers) and figuring out how to best use social media and the Internet are important to me. Maine writer Kelly McClymer, who was a guest here recently, taught an excellent workshop on using Scrivener, another recent topic at Maine Crime Writers. But most helpful of all to me personally was a session called “SEO for Authors.”

What is SEO, you ask? Search engine optimization. In other words, the session was on how to make sure that people find your webpage. Considering what a technophobe I am, I was amazed to find that I actually understood most of what the presenter was talking about.

He was not talking about KaitlynDunnett.com showing up when someone Googles “Kaitlyn Dunnett.” That will happen automatically. His emphasis was on what things are important to have on the index page of a website so that it will come up when someone is looking for, say, a cozy mystery to while away a few hours.

The trick is to outsmart the robots.

Yes, I said robots.

I have to admit this word called up all kinds of strange images for me, but in the end I think Pac Man may be closest to what he was talking about. You see, search engines visit every website regularly. Imagine them sending little bitty robots to gobble up information. These are also called spiders. Robot spiders. Charming! They are perverse little devils, too, unimpressed by the some of the things we humans find attractive. To be sure of getting their attention, webpages have to follow certain guidelines. So, here’s what I learned, and then attempted to put into practice at the websites I have for each of my three names.

First, since each webpage has a title, it should be more than “Kaitlyn Dunnett.” Mine was (pat self on back) already doing what the speaker advised, reading “Kaitlyn Dunnett, author of the Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries.” Ideal length is apparently between 10 and 12 words (no more than 300 characters). For my KathyLynnEmerson.com index page I expanded “Kathy Lynn Emerson, Writer” to “Kathy Lynn Emerson, Writer of historical mysteries, romance, children’s books, and nonfiction” and KateEmersonHistoricals.com went from “Kate Emerson Historicals” to “Kate Emerson Historicals, novels of the Tudor court.”

Second tip: Search engine robots ignore graphics. They are only interested in words. Since words can be part of a graphic image, for example the header on my webpage, this is ignored. Big oops for a lot of webpages! As writers, we don’t like to repeat ourselves, but on a home page it is a necessity. Also ignored by robots are “frames” websites and anything that uses a flash player. If I understood correctly, a drop-down menu is also invisible to our creepy crawly little friends.

So, essentially, the index page of a website needs headings and text to attract attention from search engines and when graphics are used (sparingly), they should each make use of alt tags full of information about the graphic. This is a text explanation of what it shows. These tags can be as long as you like and can even contain a link, although if it is a link to buy a book it should go first to the author’s book page, not away from the site. The book page can have links to a variety of places to purchase the books. That link advice goes for any links. The goal is to keep people on your own website, not send them somewhere else. Even if you want them to like you on Facebook, you can do that without having them actually go to Facebook. Don’t ask me how. That bit was beyond me, but there is a way to “like” without leaving the author webpages.

In going through my index pages, I found I did some things right and others not so much. I also (technophobe, remember?) had been laboring under a few odd misconceptions. For some reason, even though I’d worked with HTML codes to a small extent, I always thought <H1>, <H2> and so on had to do with the size of the text. H is for header. Visualize me smacking myself upside the head. Anyway, turns out that to the robots the <H1> header is the really important one. There should be only one <H1> header on any page and it should contain the most important information. On the Kaitlyn Dunnett home page, until yesterday, my <H1> header was “IN STORES NOW.” How embarrassing! Not only is this useless information but it is in all caps. The robots ignore anything in all caps because they think it is spam. My <H1> header now reads “The Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries by Kaitlyn Dunnett” and I am slowly working my way through my other pages changing headers in all caps to headers with only the first letter of each word capitalized.

According to the workshop, the most important feature to the robots is the title. Well, actually several types of “hidden tags,” but the title is one of them and the one that it is easiest to fix. Second most important is the header, which should contain the author’s name and the type of novel people search for. Third in importance are key words and phrases. These come in the text on the home page. The first paragraph should contain, if applicable, words like best selling, page turning, award winning, and New York Times bestseller, along with novel, book, mystery, crime, suspense, thriller, cozy, writes, writer, author . . . well, you get the idea. And, of course, the author’s name, maybe even more than once.

I still have too many graphics on my Kaitlyn Dunnett home page. I need to move the backlist covers to a separate page. Ditto for the pictures of the large print edition covers. But in the Kaitlyn vs. the Robots battle for exposure, I think I’m a little closer to winning than I was. Score one for the technophobes!

P. S. If you are interested in hearing more about information gleaned at the Ninc conference, I’ll be making at least one more post on this topic later this month and you can also visit KellyMcClymer.com for her take on the subject.

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9 Responses to Kaitlyn vs. the Robots

  1. MCWriTers says:

    Brilliant, useful, and it made me want to gouge my eyes out. Or find a web designer who understands all of this stuff. Think I’ll go with option two. Thanks for all of this, and for reminding me that Novelists Inc. is an organization I really should join. I don’t need more bookmarks, I need good, solid advice.


  2. John Clark says:

    Great post, full of lots of useful and eye-opening information. Thank you for summarizing this stuff in a very easy to understand way.

  3. thelma straw says:

    For a technophobe, you sure do sound like an A+ PRO!!! I’ll reread this and try to inwardly digest it – I am the world’s hugest technophobe… thanks… Thelma in Manhattan

  4. Lea Wait says:

    I’ll — what shall I say? — 4th it? (not in caps, of course!) I have a web designer, and will be working with him to add in my next spring’s book very soon … so I’m going to make sure he knows all this (fingers crossed) and am printing out this column. I AM a member of NINC — and didn’t go to the conference this year. Want a roommate next year, Kathy???

  5. Thanks for all the flattering comments, but keep in mind that what I wrote here was filtered through a technophobe brain and I may not have gotten it exactly right. Still, this information should make a good starting point for a conversation with a webmaster.

    Thelma, I hope you are in the part of Manhattan that was not too badly affected by the storm. The Ninc conference was in White Plains, ending last Sunday at noon. As of yesterday (Thursday), two of our members were still stuck at the hotel there.

    Lea, next year’s conference (same weekend in late October, hopefully without the hurricane) is in Mytrle Beach, South Carolina at the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort at Grande Dunes. I’ll definitely want a roommate, but at the moment the husband is making noises about going along. There was some talk at this year’s conference about offering training for retired spouses in the role of virtual assistant. I’m not sure if that idea will discourage or encourage him.

  6. Marni Graff says:

    Thanks for the this very informative post and for sharing what you learned in a way this technophobe could understand!

  7. Kris Bock says:

    Wow, I keep hearing about SEO, but this was the best and simplest explanation yet. Fortunately, I have an easy-to-edit website through the Authors Guild, and I was able to implement many of your suggestions in the past half hour. My page headers now all include my name and “romantic suspense,” and my book covers link to the book pages within the site. Now to do the same for my alter ego website, Chris Eboch children’s book writer!

  8. Jon says:

    Hello Kaitlyn,

    If I have multiple H1 headings will the robots read ALL of the H1 headings? Even if I have it in multiple places with in the page?

    • Jon, No one asked this specific question at the workshop but my impression was that if there are more than one, then none of them are picked up. The presenter stressed the importance of there being ONLY one per webpage. Hope that helps.

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