Using marketing research to set up your author platform #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

Using marketing research to set up your author platform

First, a one-paragraph overview of what marketing research is. Marketing research is accomplished in five steps, step three being what I workshop below for three pieces of the author platform:

Step 1: identify the marketing problem What should my author website look like?
Step 2: analyze the situation How do I figure out what my author website should look like? How do I plan for step three?
Step 3: gather data, both secondary (gathered and published by someone else) and primary (gathered by you) Data just basically means any information that will help you make decisions about the problem.
Step 4: interpret data in conjunction with what your gut is telling you to do.
Step 5: make conclusions That’s it. Now you’re ready to design/redesign your author website.

MARKETING PROBLEM 1: What should my author website look like?

Here’s how I would gather data for step three.

Secondary Data: I would make a judgment call that the easiest way to find ample information about designing an author website is online. If you want to buy/borrow books on the subject, go for it, but I would just start plugging in keyword searches, narrowly and then broader if I’m not finding what I want (e.g. “mystery author website design” “author website design” “website design”.) I would read some of the most popular articles as decided by the search engine’s ranking, but then I would also adjust to search for information published in the past year, because not only do I want to get an idea of the best practices, but I also want to see if those best practices are trending toward change. Does this method seem too simplistic to be produce good results? Here’s a thought: When [insert your fave famous author here]’s assistant needs to figure out how to go about redesigning their employer’s website, they start with some initial research using the same Google algorithm you do.

Primary Data: After getting grounded in the available secondary data/information, I would invest time in finding primary data that, together with my instincts, will either reinforce or discount the secondary data, and will help me come to well-balanced decisions regarding my website’s design. I would search for author websites that I admire and start tracking links in a spreadsheet. My goal would be to narrow to 5-10 that I really like, but I know going into this search that I’m probably going to have to spend a few hours to get to that number, that I’m probably going to have to look at 50-100 websites at least. I would use keyword searches for authors (in and out of my genre), but because I realize that Google tends to show me websites that have been around for a long time, I know I need a better way to find newly designed sites that fit my budget. I might try a genre-specific author’s organization like RWA, which has a member listing of romance authors with links to their websites. Or I might try searching for authors using the #amwritingfantasy hashtag on Twitter, because authors with websites tend to link to it in their profile bio. Even though I want to look closely at the top 5-10 (for elements like design, placement of menus, how the navigation works, content, etc.), I would keep track of all the links, because I would have thought ahead and realized it would save me time on another marketing problem (more on that below.) Once I have my top 5-10, I would move on to step four and interpret (analyze, compare) all my secondary and primary data, and then I would make marketing decisions based on that interpretation.

MARKETING PROBLEM 2: With my limited time, which social media platforms should I have a presence on?

Secondary data: Same plan as above except with different keyword searches.

Primary data: Remember those 50+ websites I looked at earlier? Time to open each link again, especially from the genre matches, to locate each author’s social media links. Any good website will have a cluster of them on the main page, but sometimes, I’ll have to navigate to either the About Me page or the Contact page to find them, skipping the sites that don’t have any social media links. I’m looking, among the authors I’m a genre or near genre match with, for which social media sites appear most often. If I write travel memoirs, I might try to figure out which sites backpackers are more prevalent on, and I would probably determine that they like sites that specialize in visual media. To complement this observational data, in the case of social media, I would incorporate an element of questioning data, which means I need a way to ask either other authors or potential readers (or both) which social media sites I should be on. Questioning data methods include focus groups and surveys, but for a time and cash-strapped author like myself, I would just identify some people and ask. If I were a YA author, I would either ask teens I know, or if I don’t have teens in my family or circle of friends, I might ask a teacher to ask their class for me. Or maybe I would mine my online acquaintances, on Facebook for instance. “Hey, I’m trying to figure out, as a YA author, which social media sites young adults are on. Do your kids have any recommendations for me?” I might also do a quick search to determine where teen celebrities are hanging out online.

MARKETING PROBLEM 3: How do I create an e-newsletter?

Secondary data: Because e-campaign service providers don’t tend to specialize by profession, I would keep my keyword searches broad. I would start by reading comparison articles, and then I would narrow to the providers I’m most interested in and spend time creeping around their sites, watching how-to-videos, reading how-to articles.

Primary data: I would go back to those 5-10 websites I like, because if they’re doing websites well, maybe they’re doing e-newsletters well, too. Not only would I sign up for their e-newsletters, but I would sign of for a bunch more as well. I can always unsubscribe after I finish my research. And I would mix it up: a few really famous authors, whether they’re in my genre or not, a few authors who I admire for their marketing efforts, etc. It’s not enough to see examples of their newsletters from their archive, I need first-hand experience of receiving e-newsletters. (What time of day does their newsletter hit my inbox? How often? Do they land in my junk mail? If they do, their service provider might not be a good option. What does the newsletter’s design look like? How many features does the newsletter have and what are they? How do they do promotions and contests? What is their ratio of promotional to value-added content? What annoys me about what they do? What do I like about what they do?)

Using marketing research to set up your author platformMy hope is, that by studying the three examples above, authors will be able to approach any marketing problem with an idea of how to do the research. Have you ever done primary marketing research? Do the strategies above sound feasible to you? Talk to me in the comments.

This post is part of the #AuthorToolboxBlogHop. So many great blogs to keep hopping through. Click here to join the hop and to see what other writing tips you can glean from this month’s edition.

Thank you to Freepik for the image I used in this post.

63 thoughts on “Using marketing research to set up your author platform #AuthorToolboxBlogHop

    1. You’re, of course, as always, completely right. However, I have come across agents and publishers that have minimum expectations about which sites an author needs to be on without regard for genre/age group.


  1. Wow! You are much more process oriented than me. I wish I had your focus. I put up a new website in January after looking at a few other author sites. Quickly decided on WordPress, but it was trial and error after that.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Don’t tell anyone, but I don’t want to do an e-newsletter. I will, of course, when it comes time to move away from WordPress, but I’m not looking forward to it. GDRP is perhaps the most restrictive of these newer legislations regarding this kind of effort, and as with every new piece of country-specific legislation surrounding online privacy, they’ve decided they are legislating the world, and it’s a big disincentive. I get it, and as a consumer, I appreciate it, but I’m just not sure e-newsletters are worth the effort anymore. I need to do more research.


  2. It would seem more and more people are using SM less, as the attention span is so short and they have become either commercialized or personal. How’s your family, help me beat depression, wanna buy some lip gloss? Here’s a truth about marketing research. You can make a spreadsheet tell you anything you want to hear. Most of those hashtags are for authors, not readers,and you’ll find yourself in a loop of writers all blowing smoke up each other’s britches. Research what readers are doing, where readers are going, where readers look for clues and exchange information.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think part of the challenge is the fact that any legitimate strategy for separating oneself from the drivel (other than word of mouth) is quickly incorporated into large scale marketing systems.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. True enough but even the big boys/girls continually discount the value of grassroots and engagement. Once those have done their job then whatever is being marketed becomes part of the machine where mediocrity is not only endorsed but rewarded. And trying to stick out in that crowd is a Don Quixote adventure.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Interesting that you start with secondary data.
    The whole “online presence” aspect of writing can be very difficult to navigate.
    There’s no denying that “writing the stories” can easily loom overly large in the grand scheme of things.
    I’ve also heard a fair number advocate that “if you yourself are not a big fan of newsletters, best not to add them to your online repotoire”, but I’m not sure if I agree with that.
    As with a good story, I feel there has be a compromise between the author’s preferences and those of the audience.
    Of course there are also stories of people who focused so completely on marketing, networking, and online presence that they had little if any time left to actually practice the craft they love.

    I think time of day is a subtle but powerful aspect, although in an online world every hour exists simultaneously, to some extent.
    One person’s late night post is another’s mid morning read.

    And, as others have said, there may be times where one realizes that the target audience isn’t terribly interested in Facebook or Twitter.
    It’s a tricky thing, no denying that.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Agreed, so tricky. Most major e-newsletter service providers offer an option to hit a person’s inbox at their 7am, for example, so if you set it for 7am globally, everyone will get it at their 7am. Secondary data is always easiest to start with, because someone’s already done the work for you, and by looking at that secondary data, you can determine where the gaps are to make it fit to your situation, and then determine what you need to do for primary research.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. YA is hard. I know some YA authors who use Wattpad to grow their following, throwing short stories on there, but they also admit that this doesn’t necessarily translate to buys for their paid work. One approach if you have a YA series is to serialize the first book on Wattpad, and then the rest of the series is buy-only.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I have heard lots of great things about Wattpad. I need to check it out. Years ago I used figment and connected with quite a circle but now it’s phased out and changing.

        Liked by 1 person

  4. I recently redesigned my blog without doing any research. I chose a new wordpress theme and went with it ^^’
    It didn’t occur to me to look at other author websites!
    I love your advice for researching newsletters. I intend to set one up eventually and I’m still trying to work out where to start 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I just redesigned my website this week. I didn’t do any research. Still, anything would have been better than it was. 😉
    I still haven’t set up a newsletter list. (I know, not good) Its on my to do list.
    I’m bookmarking this post, though. Thanks for sharing this. Your articles are always so informative

    Liked by 2 people

    1. My pleasure! The intention of this post is just to inspire you to get into that place where you can look at a marketing problem, and determine what kind of research needs to be done by starting from a place of logic. What’s the easiest way for me to get the information that I need to make a decision.


  6. When I created my author website, I took a peek at Nora Roberts’s website. Now, I can’t hire anyone to make mine look so good, and I use WordPress’s free dot com sites, but I jotted down some great ideas. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m in the same boat. Of course I want bells and whistles, but I do what I can within my budget, and I’m thinking ahead to what will be easily upgrade-able when I make for-now choices about my website.


  7. As always, Raimey, great advice and insight on marketing. I truly need to start doing this. Thanks for the tips. All best to you!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great insight into your process for market research. I recommend almost exactly what you said when I am discussing this with members of my local writers’ group at our monthly blog session. One other thing I mention is to scope out other audience-based sites run by companies who have spent money determining how to target that audience. See what styles, colors, and techniques they are using to grab the audience’s attention. They spend more money than most authors can, and you may be able to incorporate some of it into your author site.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. This is a lot of good advice. The author websites I like the most–and which seem the most successful–are clean, easy to navigate, and most importantly, their books are right there, on the front page, and it’s easy to learn more about them/purchase them. I think it’s important to show your visitors what you have right away, and let them know what your work is.

    I’m so lazy about social media, I really need to get better at it. I seem to focus on blogging and let Twitter/FB lag. Thanks for all the great advice!

    Liked by 2 people

  10. Good points. As always, it comes back to knowing your genre (what you write) so you’re comparing apples with apples. In my own research I found a lot of genre differences in website design, as well as some which appealed to me (and a lot that didn’t).

    It’s an ongoing process, as trends are always changing. My design is now two years old, so it’s probably time for a refresh.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. For me the key to all of this is to listen and learn. This is a non stop process. I’m a beginner. I started my blog in January of this year but I know if I’m still at it in five years I will still be learning. I will never be an expert.

    Excellent post. Thank you!!!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wow, Raimey—this is fabulous info! I’m not sure I’d have the stamina to take on marketing at this scale—yes, I know I really, really should—but just reading through sparked a couple of ideas for things that wouldn’t (necessarily) take up a whole lot of time but could make a huge difference. Thanks!

    And thanks, too, for the lovely comment you left on Michelle’s IWSG post, where I shared a bit on nonfiction. It’s exactly for those (very few) like you who have wanted to help a stray or homeless animal and don’t know how to start that I wrote the book. You’re that ‘thin slice of the population that make up the difference between *most* and *all*.’ Plus, I love your blog. I’ll be back often 🙂
    Guilie @ Life In Dogs

    Liked by 2 people

  13. An interesting read. Newsletters are still producing very good returns in a number of genres and seem to be a worthwhile investment. There are other places to get data as well. Many marketing experts and publishers discuss exactly these issues at conferences and share lots of really good data. Attending genre appropriate conferences with a business focus can get you lots of hard data and advice to work with. I recently attended an out-of-genre conference seminar on newsletters and left with pages of notes of things I thought were good advice.

    Liked by 1 person

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