Should you have a Facebook Page?


If you’re building your author platform, you want to be where your readers are. Do your readers (or potential readers) hang out on Facebook?

If you’re not sure of the answer then take a step further back.

Who are your readers? Who are the people you want to engage with, who do you want to know about your writing? Now do some research into the basic demographics of various social platforms. You may be surprised at the findings. For example, the average age of the typical user of Facebook is going up all the time. Take a look at these stats compiled in January this year. 

Anyway, let’s say you’re pretty sure you need a Facebook presence. From the typical questions I’m asked about Facebook, it’s clear that there’s often some confusion between Facebook Profiles and Facebook Pages.

Here’s a quick summary.

Facebook puts it very simply: “each person who signs up for Facebook has one account with login information. Each account can have one personal profile and manage multiple Pages. A Page lets you engage with people on Facebook and offers tools to help you manage and track engagement.”

A Page is separate entity from your personal profile. It represents a business or organisation, or something with a commercial purpose. This could be an individual, for example an Author. It could also be an individual Book.

A Page is created by a person with a profile, but you don’t have to make this connection public. In other words, you need to have a personal profile to create a Page, but nobody except you and Facebook need know that you are the creator of that Page. This means you can separate your personal Facebook activity from that of your Page.

For example, many people use Facebook to connect with family members and personal friends. At the same time, you might want a Page for a book you’ve written, or for your professional persona. Not all Facebook Friends are going to be interested in your latest gig, and conversely, those who Like your Page probably don’t want to see photos of your niece’s wedding or what have you.

Create a Facebook Page

You can create a Page from the dropdown menu on your Facebook profile.

Of course, when you create a Page, it’s a good idea to tell at least some of your Friends about it, in order to get some Likes and to spread the word.

When people Like a page, they may see that Page’s updates in their News Feed (or not – see below). Once you have at least 30 Likes, you can access Facebook Page Insights.

Facebook Insights

An alternative to creating a Page is to allow people to Follow your profile. This means anyone who Follows may see your public updates in their News Feed. But if you do this, then you need to be careful which updates you share publicly. You have this option every time you post to Facebook.

Facebook share options when posting an update

It’s important to remember that what actually appears in News Feeds is down to Facebook’s proprietary algorithm, which is regularly tweaked.

What you see in your News Feed is influenced by how engaged you are with a Page or indeed with your Friends. If you have Liked a page, or a Friend’s update, that’s one indicator of engagement. But if you have shared an update, or commented on one, or done so regularly, those are also indicators, and stronger than a mere ‘like’. It has also been suggested that some types of content ‘score’ more highly than others – video, for example.

Buffer has this useful post on how the Facebook Algorithm works, which they keep updated.

If you create a Page and want its audience and popularity to grow, your goals should be not just to garner Likes, but to work on getting people sharing and commenting on your updates. If people ‘like’ but never visit again, your Page will struggle.

One way to gain more interest in your Page, more quickly, is to invest in advertising. It needn’t cost the earth – Facebook ads can be as precisely targeted as you wish, and you set your own limits as to what you want to pay.

What do I talk about? 10 ideas to get you started


Maybe you’re writing a blog, or have a Facebook page to maintain… there are going to be times when you think ‘what on earth do I write about and why on earth would anyone be interested?’ Not to worry – I hear this all the time and you already have LOADS of good material to share, believe me! Here are a few ideas to get you going.

1. What I’m working on

Everyone wants to know what people are writing about, what’s coming next, sneak previews of topics or plots or characters. You don’t have to give much away, but a little sharing brings your readers along with you. If you start doing this early in the process then you will build a head of interest so that by the time the work makes it to the booksellers your audience is desperate to get their hands on it.

2. Where & how I write

Do you have a routine – 1,000 words before morning coffee, no writing until after you’ve walked the dog? Do you write in cafes, in an office, in silence or listening to Mahler? Do you favour longhand drafts or do you write directly onto a computer or tablet? Do you record notes for yourself when out and about?

However humdrum they may seem to you, these kinds of details are fascinating to your readers. You don’t have to share any personal or private information. But letting people in on your life in small ways – mentioning your dog by name, or admitting you always write in pencil – can make you stand out as someone who is not only real but memorable for being real.

3. Who my heroes are and why

It doesn’t matter how many times you see this tackled in interviews, it’s always a winner. By admitting which writers you admire and love reading, which authors have influenced you, you’re going to stimulate conversation. Encourage your readers to share in return – “over to you!”

4. How I got here – inspirational stories

Have you overcome difficulties to achieve success? Did you face 100 rejections before your first novel was published and is now a New York Time Bestseller? Did you used to work at a publishers and were you inspired by the slush pile to write your own novel, only better? Inspirational stories are always popular, and great material for sharing. Package your stories up with a hashtag such as #FeelgoodFriday, #inspiration or #howIdidit and encourage retweets and shares.

5. Writing struggles, and how I overcome them – for example creating believable characters, dealing with writer’s block

Admitting your vulnerabilities is a great tactic for creating a warm fuzzy feeling towards you. Other writers will empathise, readers will marvel at how much work actually goes into your craft. These can also be turned into ‘how to’ posts, if you’re interested in building an audience of your peers in order to market your coaching services, for example.

6. My favourite book/author/poet when I was a child/teenager

Similar to number 3 – you’re telling readers indirectly about your life and what has shaped it, and you’re giving them something to emphasise with or reminisce alongside you. Don’t forget to ask readers for their own examples.

7. Ask reader ideas about a character or a plot, or for input on a book cover

Is there anything more exciting for readers than to be consulted by authors they admire? Imagine being able to influence plot twists or character traits – it’s great fun, you’re not committed to using any of the ideas but that’s not really the point. The fact that you’re asking, whether it’s in comment-form (will take a lot of your time to reply to everyone individually) or as a poll (less personal but easier to manage the results), the consultation process is what matters.

Similarly if you have involvement with the book cover (or if the publisher can be persuaded to take part), why not run a few dummy versions by your readers and ask them to vote for the winner?

8. Write yourself into my forthcoming book (contest)

What’s in a name? You could run a simple contest whereby you outline three or four (as yet un-named) characters in your next book, and ask readers to put their own names forward. Make them work for it though – they should say why character X should be named after them. Great fun, and very memorable. This can also work well in children’s books. I still remember a schoolfriend telling me how the little dragon in ‘Ivor the Engine’ was named for her father, and how impressed I was.

9. What I think about … the shortlist for XYZ award, a recent award-winning book, etc

OR What I think about … the changing face of romance, the growth of steampunk etc

Everyone has opinions, and we love reading them – whether we agree or not. Opinions spark debate. They may (or may not) be controversial. They can be revealing, informative, entertaining … if you’re already a non-fiction writer you will probably find opinion pieces easy. If you don’t, not to worry you may prefer to
curate other people’s opinions in the form of a round-up ‘what people are saying about…’ Either way, talking about topical events, happenings and trends will help position you as a player in that world – connected, knowledgeable and interested.

10. Ask readers for suggestions of books that would make great movies, and who would star in them.

OK, it’s a bit populist but the odd lightweight topic never hurt anyone’s reputation as a serious writer! This is the kind of fun question to throw out on a Friday and again, it has great potential for multiple shares. I don’t know about you, but I could go on and on about how I was desperate for ‘The Bridges of Madison County’ to be made into a film, but when Clint Eastwood was cast rather than my own choice (Sam Shepard) I was gutted.

Don’t stop at words on a screen. Many of the above themes can be re-imagined as interviews (either you interviewing another writer, or another writer interviewing you, perhaps on their own blog), as audio posts or podcast episodes, or as video.

And if you’re thinking ‘what’s all this got to do with selling books?’ then remind yourself that buying a book is an act of trust. A reader is entrusting their precious time and emotional involvement with the world and characters you have created. If they already feel they know and like the writer, because of the conversations they’ve had or what they’ve heard them say and talk about, they are more likely to trust them. Plus of course, it’s fun, stimulating and may lead you in all kinds of interesting directions in your writing.

Show your face on the web with a Gravatar


You’ve probably seen them around the web, on blogs, forums and author profiles – those little images next to people’s names. They’re called avatars, and they’re applied automatically whenever you post or comment. The good news is you don’t have set up your avatar again and again on every blog and media site you encounter, because the majority of them display the results from one place – Gravatar.

Gravatar stands for ‘Globally Recognised Avatar’, and it refers both to the individual icon itself (your Gravatar) and the site where you create one ( As with most web apps, there’s no guarantee Gravatar will be around forever, but for the moment it seems to be stable and it’s recognised as an industry standard. Which is why I think it’s worth your while setting up your Gravatar if you haven’t already.

If you’re anything like me, you put a low priority on things like filling out your profiles, uploading profile images and keeping things up to date. There just seems to be too much else to do. But once you’ve set up your Gravatar you can kind of forget about it.

If you don’t yet have a Gravatar, chances are when you comment on a blog, or in the top right hand corner of your screen when you’re editing your WordPress blog, what you see is a grey shape or something anonymous, like this:

Anonymous user gravatar

Nobody wants to be a grey, mystery man! As you post comments on blogs, and are joining in conversations on the web, you want people to remember you. Research has shown that showing your face creates greater levels of trust, more shares and more interaction. Anonymity is too often associated with having something to hide. There’s nothing for it but to get yourself a decent Gravatar and join the people with faces.

Getting a Gravatar is simple and best of all it’s free. Signup at, upload a photo – I always recommend a good, clear headshot – fill in a short profile, and really that’s it.

Most WordPress themes already come with Gravatar integrated (which means Gravatars will be displayed with your readers’ comments). But Gravatar is used on many, many sites, not just WordPress.

There are all kinds of add-on benefits to having a Gravatar, for example Hovercards – which means when you mouseover someone’s Gravatar you see their profile – it comes with blogs and can be added as a plugin to a self-hosted WordPress blog. Here’s an example of how it looks:

gravatar hovercards

You can see Gravatar in action in the foot of this post – I’ve installed a plugin called ‘Author Bio Box’ which displays your Gravatar information at the end of your blog posts. This is particularly good if you have guest bloggers or if there’s more than one of you running your blog.

You can change your Gravatar if you wish, but sometimes it takes a while to see the changes across the web. Try clearing your browser’s cache too, especially if you use Chrome, as Chrome sometimes keeps loading old versions of Gravatars even after you’ve made changes.

If you’re interested in how to build trust online there’s a ton of great stuff that’s been done in this area. Take a look at this blog post on Social Media Examiner, or read Chris Brogan’s book Trust Agents.

Writers: this is why you need a web presence

No search results

Writers are sometimes reluctant to ‘put themselves out there’ (as it’s often referred to) in terms of having a web presence.

Some of the common reasons cited:

– I don’t want people knowing about my private life
– My work should stand alone / speak for itself
– I don’t have time to be blogging, tweeting or wasting hours online
– It feels completely foreign to me
– It’s all so superficial and ‘me, me, me’

I could spend a lot of time and effort carefully questioning and counter-arguing these points, but I only do that if someone has asked for mentoring. If I’m in a class, or at an event or just having a conversation all I can do is try to inspire people, without pushing – either by example, or by telling stories – equipping people with all sides of the picture as best I can. If and when they change their minds the final motivation will come from within, not from someone saying ‘you ought to be doing this.’

It’s not just individual writers who can be social media refuseniks, it’s other areas of the publishing industry too. What the social web offers a small publishing press, for example, is a fantastic opportunity to ‘punch above its weight’. But too often the chance is missed.

So why do you need a web presence? How about “so that I’m not invisible”? Here are a couple of episodes to illustrate my point.

Example 1- publishers missing a trick

On two occasions in the last few months, I’ve read a debut poetry collection I’ve enjoyed, and wanted to feature the poets on my poetry blog. I’ve searched for their name on Google – ‘Fred Bloggs poet’ – and have found either nothing at all, or nothing that provides a method of contacting them.

Luckily, I ran into one of them at an event so was able to ask them for an email address, and the other I contacted their publisher, who forwarded my email to the poet.

One both occasions, once contacted, the poets responded promptly and were very happy to be featured since it exposed them to a new audience of readers and at least one review in a magazine. But if I’d had a long list of potential poets to feature, if I had less time or if I was less determined, I might have easily given up and moved onto someone else.

Interestingly, neither of the publishers involved followed up with me, or made much of the added exposure for their poet. It seems amazing to me that small poetry publishers, who we hear all the time are struggling for survival, wouldn’t make the most of the opportunity when offered free, unsolicited publicity. Did either of them send me a quick email to say ‘great review, thanks! can we send you the latest pamphlet from Joe Smith, in case you’d like to feature him too?’ or did they ‘like’ the blog post, leave a comment on the blog, mention it on their own website, even as a short news item, or tweet about it? No.

Example 2 – poets playing hard to get

I’m part of a newly-formed poets’ publishing collective. We work together to publish our own first pamphlets and promote one another’s writing career through social media and readings, with plans for skill-sharing workshops, an anthology and other events. Our strategy is not to call for submissions, but to approach individual poets who we feel would be a good fit, whose work we admire and who have yet to have a first pamphlet published.

There’s a lot of competition in poetry publishing – thousands of poets pay good money to enter pamphlet competitions in the hope of being published. You might think they would also make it easy for publishers to contact them. You know, in case the Faber poetry editor reads your wonderful poem in ‘The Rialto’ and wants to offer you a publishing contract. Or even if an events organiser wants to invite you to do a reading. Not so.

Several well-respected poets/magazine editors have offered us some names of poets they feel would be good to approach. They’ve taken the time and care to do this, as a favour. They believe it’s a wonderful opportunity for a few talented individuals they noticed.

So what happened? Of an initial list of ten names, three had no web presence at all, and of the four others we wanted to approach, two of them have proved impossible to make contact with. At least one of these did have a web presence but suggested the best way to contact them was via Facebook. Now, this assumes the person wanting to make contact is on Facebook themselves, and it also requires the poet to respond to messages from strangers on Facebook. In this case, our messages via Facebook have been unanswered.

I guess what I’m saying is, if you want your work to be read, and/or if you don’t want to miss out on career opportunities, you need to be contactable via a web search. At the very least get a free one-page profile at and put an email address on it. And make it an address you do actually monitor! If you’re worried about spam then create a one-off email address at Yahoo and set it to forward to your ‘actual’ email box. Then if you have any trouble with it you can just shut down the Yahoo address.

And if you haven’t already then buy your domain name now. You can always park it until you’re ready to get a blog or a website or an email address that sounds like you own it.

A basic SEO primer for writers, part 2


There are some simple steps you can take to help get your blog, website or profile found on the web. In part 1 we looked at what search engines do, how to find your keywords & how and where to use them.

But finding and using relevant keywords (sometimes referred to as ‘on-page SEO’) is only one part of the process. As well as relevance (as determined by keywords), search engines also look for recency and authority.

Update, update, update

The web is choked with old material. Some of this is still pertinent today. But there are long-abandoned websites, obsolete links and ancient blog posts galore. In Google’s worldview, new is best. The more recent the material the better. It’s a rather crude measure, but the principle is that anything posted on blogs five years ago will have been superseded by more up-to-date information. And certainly when it comes to online shopping, news, sport, the economy, weather and a lot of the day-to-day stuff, last week is old news.

If your blog, website or profile pages hasn’t been updated for a while, search engines will deliver more recent pages in their results, and yours may slide in the rankings. That’s one reason why a blog (rather than, or in addition to, a static website) is a good idea. As long as you post new material to it regularly (more than once a month).

Some business bloggers will tell you that it pays to post something every day, or certainly every week – that the more regularly and frequently you post, the more likely you are to see your search rankings improve, which will bring more visitors to your pages, more subscriptions/comments, the lot. This can happen – although it’s not everyone’s experience – but if writing is your primary business, rather than pro blogging, you would probably have to think very hard about making that kind of time commitment to blogging.

It’s not who you know, it’s who knows you

To stand out in some way on the web, you need an authoritative presence. Authority, as measured by search engines, is demonstrated by a number of things, but it basically boils down to who knows you. One indicator is the quality of inbound links. There are websites and bloggers with proven authority – think BBC, national newspapers, Huffington Post, Mumsnet, Richard & Judy and so forth – and if they link to you, it’s seen as an indication of your authority.

You might reasonably be thinking ‘oh sure, I’ll just go and get my book reviewed at the Guardian – how easy is that?’ OK so it may not be so simple. But there are opportunities to be had once you start looking: commenting on articles, answering calls for reader stories, taking part in online workshops or discussions, guest blogging, submitting your blog or site to a directory.

Start with the ‘low hanging fruit’ – if you’re a member of a professional association, make sure your blog or website (or Facebook Page, if that’s your primary hub) is listed (with a link) in their online directory. Then go to the media sites in your niche and pitch an article, a guest blog, a review. Check out the social sites where your readers (or potential readers) hang out and see what you can contribute there. Always ask for a link to your blog or profile page in the byline. Be aware, however, that these days many links are ‘nofollow’ – which means search engines are directed not to follow them, and therefore won’t offer you any SEO benefit. So by all means link-build, but do it for the PR and exposure rather than purely ‘link juice’.

Getting inbound links used to be a mainstay of SEO, but these days authority is established and demonstrated as much by a person’s social web presence – who are you connected to? Who follows you/links to you/retweets you? Who has you in their circles?

Being a good social web citizen does pay off in terms of SEO. Do everything you can to facilitate this. For example, make sure your various social profiles link to your hub (whether it’s your blog/website, your Amazon author page, your Facebook Page or whatever).

If you’re interested, go over to and find out how you fare in terms of social authority. Compare yourself to other writers in your field. But don’t get too hung up on Klout – it’s only an indicator.

The bottom line is this: by all means pay attention to SEO, but a strong social web presence will do wonders for your web visibility and is more likely to open doors.

A basic SEO primer for writers, part 1


It’s incredibly easy to be invisible on the web. One of the big questions I get asked is, unsurprisingly, when I put my name/book title/topic into Google, why does my blog/website not come up top?

To understand the answer to this, and to do something about it, requires a bit of basic knowledge about the art and science of helping webpages get found in searches – what’s commonly termed ‘search engine optimisation’, or SEO for short.

What search engines do (and don’t do)

  1. The goal of any search engine is to deliver up the most relevant results.
  2. As well as relevance, search engines look for authority and for recency.
  3. Search engines cannot ‘read between the lines’ or make intelligent assumptions. They take the words that are being searched for, scour webpages on which those words appear, rank those pages according to various criteria, and serve up the results. Yes, the calculations they employ (algorithms) are complex, but they are nothing compared to how the human brain operates – this is why we don’t always get the search results we’re expecting.

Once you’re clear about these 3 points it becomes easier to optimise your blog or website.

The exact algorithms used by search engines are top secret and change all the time. This is simply because there’s BIG MONEY in getting high Google rankings. For some businesses, such as financial services, travel and the big ecommerce sites, the difference between coming up 3rd or 13th in a search can be millions of pounds in lost business.

For you or me, it’s probably less crucial. But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth knowing a bit about the game.

Let’s start with keywords – the words or phrases people are searching for.

Finding your keywords

Try asking yourself this question, substituting various words or phrases for ‘ABC’:

When people search for ‘ABC’ on Google, I want them to find my blog/my author page on Goodreads/my article about XYZ.

Keep going until you have a list. They may be single words (eg ‘writer’), or phrases (eg your name, or ‘fantasy writer Kent’) or groups of words (eg ‘writer YA Man Booker’). Try different combinations of similar phrases. If you run out of ideas, scoot around the websites of others in your genre, or the discussion forums on Goodreads or niche community sites and see if any more phrases occur to you.

Now try searching for those phrases and see what comes up. At the very top of the search engine results page (sometimes this gets abbreviated to SERP) you can see how long the search took and approximately how many pages were searched. This tells you how competitive a phrase is. The more competition, the harder it’s going to be to be ‘top of Google’ for that phrase.

For example, no individual is ever likely to come top for the word ‘writer’, because there are about 202 million pages vying for top position:

search results - 'writer'

Think about how you conduct searches yourself – you probably try to be as specific as you can, don’t you? Which tends to involve a phrase or group or words rather than single words. Let’s say you’ve heard that there’s a Young Adult novel on the Man Booker Prize shortlist, but you don’t know the name of the author. You might search for ‘writer YA man booker’:

Search result

Notice that for this search there are a mere 808,000 pages deemed to be relevant. So the phrase is less competitive than ‘writer’ and more targeted. Compared to the search results for ‘writer’, these results look pretty close to what the searcher is looking for.

What about being found for your name? Surely that’s not too much to ask for? It depends. Here’s the SERP from a search for ‘Victoria Grefer’:

Victoria Grefer

Victoria has managed to dominate page one of Google. Because her name is relatively unusual, she starts with an advantage: there are just 16,700 pages competing to be found. Having said that, she has a good presence across a range of sites – her own website comes top, closely followed by her Goodreads page, her Twitter account, Facebook and Amazon.

Now if I search for Catherine Smith, this is what I get:

Catherine Smith writer search

Catherine is a writer with a national, if not international, reputation, but it’s harder for her to come top for her name alone. Look at the competition – nearly 16 million pages – and none of those photos is of her! Nonetheless her site does appear 4th on the page. A search for ‘Catherine Smith writer’ gives a very different result:

Catherine Smith writer search

(Bear in mind these results can differ depending on your search history, whether you’re logged into Google, whether you’ve visited a page many times before, and so on. Google tries to customise your results. So if you want an unbiased view of your rankings it’s a good idea to do so from a public computer.)

Once you have your keywords/phrases, you need to ensure they appear on the page you are optimising. This could be your blog ‘about’ page, or a page on your website or blog where you’re promoting your latest book, your author profile on a third-party site, or all of the above – it’s up to you.

Try to select just one or two keywords/phrases per page. If you try to be found for too many phrases then your page loses its specificity and its relevance to a search become diluted.

Where to put your keywords/phrases

  1. In the headline – the title of your article, blog post or web page
  2. In the first paragraph
  3. In any appropriate link text
  4. In the HTML of the page – Title, Description, Alt text (for images), Link Titles … you may or may not have access to all of these, depending on the blogging or webpage software you use. But these are all elements scoured by Google. Good SEO plugins for WordPress (self hosted) are All in One SEO or Yoast.


  • It’s important not to ‘keyword stuff’ as you’ll get penalised for that.
  • It’s important that your page still sounds natural and reads well. Write for your reader. There’s nothing worse that the ‘death by SEO’ articles that are all over the web – generally written purely with search engines in mind and devoid of useful content.

In part 2 I’ll talk a bit more about authority, links and how social media works with SEO.



Blog roundup: Live Write Thrive, Buffer & The Poetry Shed


One of the joys of blogging is reading other people’s blogs, and this week I thought I’d do a short blog roundup and share some things I’ve been reading lately, on blogs which you might like to add to your blog roll.

C S Lakin's blog Live Write Thrive

C S Lakin’s blog Live Write Thrive

First up is a blog post on author C. S. Lakin’s blog Live, Write Thrive. If you don’t subscribe to Susanne’s blog already I recommend it. This is actually a guest post by Dana Sitar: Crowdsourcing your self-publishing project without asking for money. My own view is that crowdsourcing is only going to grow in popularity as public funds for the arts dries up.

And incidentally, crowdsourcing may be a trendy name for it but it’s been around for centuries. Composers such as Handel and Purcell published a lot of their work by public subscription – that is, asking people to pledge they would buy a copy of their work before it had been written. In Victorian times in the UK it was common for public buildings and works to be financed by subscription – of course that was in the days of philanthropy and before all the tax-funded public services we now have. I believe the idea of philanthropy is still alive in the US though.

The Buffer blog

The Buffer blog

Over on the Buffer blog, this is interesting – How and why to write persuasive, research-backed content. A small experiment resulted in 40% more click-throughs to a blog when the headline mentioned a statistic. The piece goes on to give other examples and suggests how to make your blog posts stronger by backing up what you say with stories and statistics – as long they’re genuine stats, of course. Although I’m from the ‘statistics can be used to tell any story you want’ school of thought (it’s the marketer in me!) Again, the Buffer blog is one worth subscribing to for web marketing news and ideas. Plus they’re very nice people, which goes a long way in my book.

Abegail Morley's The Poetry Shed

Abegail Morley’s The Poetry Shed

Poet Abegail Morley blogs at the Poetry Shed (and yes, there really is a shed, I’ve seen it!) and although this post isn’t brand new, it’s a bit of a keeper – Helen Ivory talking about online poetry courses. Abegail’s blog is a mix of news, interviews and observations on the poetry world and is a good example of how to sustain interest and variety for her readers. Worth following.



Buying a domain name – don’t make this mistake


I’ve recently had two clients come to me with a similar issue, to do with their domain names. It’s a problem that’s been around ever since I’ve been working with the internet, and it makes me angry that it’s still going on, even in 2014.

The problem is to do with domain name ownership. Who owns your domain name? I’m not talking about web hosting, or blog platforms or anything like that. All those things are easily changeable. Domain name ownership is not.

If someone else has registered your domain name on your behalf, it should be in your name, not theirs. Too often I see clients’ domain names have been registered in the name of the web designer or developer who has set up their website or blog. There is no other word for this than WRONG.

Hosting packages for blogs or websites quite often will include a domain name. Once you sign up, you should get access to your web hosting control panel and the domain name control panel. These are two very different things.

If you go to a third party (typically a freelance web developer or any small web design firm that offers to do it all for you) then they may or may not offer you access to both control panels. In fifteen years I’ve not yet come across a client who has been offered control of their domain name as a matter of course.

If you buy into this kind of ‘all in’ service then you need to do a bit of due diligence. Will the domain name be registered in YOUR name, or THEIRS? Where will the domain name be registered? Will you have access to the domain name control panel? A domain name owner is different from the technical contact. So if your web designer /developer wants to put himself down as the tech or admin contact that’s fine. And if you’re happy with the service and never want to change hosting or use another web developer, that’s fine too.

But what if you decide you want to move to a hosted blog? Or you fall out with your developer for whatever reason? Or feel the hosting fees are too high and want to change? That’s when you need to get into your domain name control panel.  If you don’t have access to it, it’s up to the web developer to change the name servers for you, so that they point to your new hosting service. They might be happy to do that.

But you may not want to be beholden to them in the future whenever you need to access your domain name hosting. And they may not be interested in helping you once they’re no longer collecting your web hosting fee.

Worse still, if you’re not the owner of the domain name, it is very difficult to get it back from the registered owner without their co-operation.

If you’re not sure, you can check who owns your domain, and the name of the registrar, here. (For Top Level Domains (like .com or .org) scroll down the results to ‘Registrant Name’.)

I would always advise registering your own domain name independently of any firm offering to do it for you. It’s quick, easy and cheap to do.

I feel very strongly that people are being taken advantage of over this, and I’ve seen it cause a huge amount of inconvenience and upset, yet it still goes on.

I’m planning to create a download about this, because it’s clearly a subject that’s important but often played down.

Meanwhile if you have any stories you’d like to share of good or bad practices you’ve come across in domain name registration or ownership issues, please let me know.

Managing notifications for a quieter life


Have you ever felt overwhelmed by email notifications and wished you could just turn them all off?

It’s something that people often complain about, and it seems to be a big ‘turn off’ factor. You know the kind of thing:  “LaserHub and three other people followed @Starbucks” “Congratulate Jim on his new job!” “It’s Kathy’s birthday, send her a message” “@NiceCommenter has liked your post” … etc. Too many of these clog up your inbox and tend to just be annoying.

Social networks and blog providers want to keep you engaged and encourage you to login every day, and many of these alerts are simply designed to nudge you into action. The thinking is that once you’re happy using the tool and into a pattern of regular usage, you’ll stick around, become a valuable member of the community (in more ways than one – obviously there’s no such thing as a free social network, and your continued participation adds to the mass of data that’s used to sell advertising and other services. I know this is a controversial issue and not everyone is happy with it. But my attitude is that things have to be paid for, and as long as you understand the trade off AND protect your privacy in all the ways open to you, you can still enjoy the services provided.)

Notifications are often turned ON by default, but if you’re still finding your way around you may not know how to certain notifications off, or even that you can.

It’s important to take control and find out what you can turn off and how, before you reach the point that you just give up and stop using a service that otherwise could be perfect for you. Here’s a quick primer for WordPress, Twitter and Facebook.

Firstly, understand the difference between what you need to know about and what you don’t. Not all notifications are equal! A good general guideline is if a notification requires no action from you, it’s non-essential. Some notifications (such as being told when people ‘like’ something you’ve posted) can actually contribute to social media stress, which is another good reason to turn them off.


WordPress notifcations settings

For notifications about likes, comments and pingbacks (when people have referred to your blog on their blog) go to ‘Settings’ – ‘Discussion’ and you’ll see the options for email notifications. If you are moderating comments it’s important to know when a comment is being held pending your review. You may wish to be told when you have a new follower (so you can check out their blog) or when someone posts a comment ( so you can respond).

Wordpress Reader notifications

For notifications of new blog posts from blogs you follow, go to your Reader (make sure you’re logged into WordPress. Hover over the WordPress logo top left and you’ll see the link). Your Reader shows the latest posts from blogs you follow. Click on ‘Edit’ top right, and from there you can see the blogs you follow as a list.

Wordpress Reader settings

Click on the small ‘Edit’ button next to a blog name and you can opt into email alerts for both new posts and comments, either instant, or as a digest. I tend to opt for weekly digests, that way if a blogger is prolific I’m not getting interrupted by their blog posts all the time, but I can catch up once a week all in one go. Of  course you can turn off all email notifications if you wish, especially if you use a tool like Feedly for reading and subscribing to blogs. Feedly presents all new posts from blogs you follow in a neat magazine-style webpage.

If you comment on another blog and want to keep track of the conversation you can subscribe to the comments on that post. It’s a good idea to turn off comment notifications once the conversation has ended, or if there are a LOT of subsequent comments. You can turn off ‘following comments’ from a link in the email alert you are sent.


Go to Settings (cog icon top right) and select ‘Email notifications’. From here you have a range of options allowing you to control how much email you get.

Twitter email notifications

The first section  ‘Activity related to you and your tweets’ is worth working through carefully. The choice ‘Tailored for you’ means Twitter will make an informed guess about when you want a particular notification.

From there onwards, the level of priority gets lower. There are probably quite a few things you can leave unchecked. Remember, you’re trying to cut down on unnecessary emails.

Twitter has a page explaining about email preferences here.


From your profile page, hover over the down-arrow top right and click on ‘Settings’. From the General Settings page click on ‘Notifications’ in the left hand menu.

Facebook Settings

The first section is ‘How you get notifications’ which allows you to choose the medium – on the web only, on your phone and/or by email. Look at the options available to you. Under ‘email’ for example, you can opt for ‘all notifications’, ‘important notifications about activity’ or ‘only notifications about your account, security and privacy’. I would recommend either option 2 or 3.

FB notifications settings

The next section is ‘what you get notified about’. Again, don’t skip over this lightly.  If you’re getting too many notifications about activity in Groups you belong to, or people you are Friends with, you can limit it here.

If you have Followers (who aren’t necessarily Friends – very handy if you’re an author and want to distinguish between the two audiences) go to the Followers link on the left hand menu and create your desired settings for your communication with them.

NB If you are using Facebook and haven’t yet been through ALL your settings, including Privacy, Blocking and Timeline and Tagging, I recommend you do so. Think carefully about who you’re connecting with and how much access you want to give Friends, Friends of Friends, Followers and the general Public.

What kind of blog hosting is right for you?


What will you make?

Every blog is hosted somewhere on the web. Your options are either to have blog hosted by the platform provider, for example Blogger, Tumblr or ( a ‘hosted’ blog), or you can download blogging software (available from a number of providers) and have it hosted by a web host of your choice (‘self-hosted’).

The most common ‘self hosted’ blogging software is WordPress, but there are others. WordPress can be downloaded from (note the different web address!) WordPress is ‘open source’ which means anyone can alter it. This is both a good and a bad thing, as individual developers have the power both to enhance it and to break it.

One way to think of hosted versus self-hosted blogs is that a hosted blog is a bit like Lego building blocks – you can choose what you build but the bricks and other elements come in set sizes and shapes. This can limit your creativity but it does mean you can create a decent looking house, with the doors and windows already pre-made, quickly and easily. A self-hosted blog, on the other hand, is more like Play-Doh – you can bend, shape and style it into just about whatever you want, if you have a bit of skill and imagination. But it’s up to you to make it happen.

Benefits of a hosted blog

  • Basic version is free, although there various optional paid ‘extras’
  • Large choice of templates available
  • Very quick and easy to set up and maintain
  • No security issues to worry about
  • Reliable hosting (unlikely to ‘go down’ – but then again, you never know – see ‘benefits of self-hosting’ below)
  • Comes with a default address such as ‘’ or ‘’, but you can use your domain name if you wish
  • Easy to change templates if you get tired with the look
  • Hosted blogs are part of a large ready-made community of blogs and it’s easier to find and connect with others on your chosen platform


  • There are limits to how much you can customise templates or themes, especially within the free versions
  • With there are various ‘upgrade’ options, but they can add up: for example, to have your own domain name is $13 a year and if you want to customise a theme (template) the ‘custom design’ upgrade is $30 per year. (Whereas if you use Blogger you can customise the template for free, if you have the technical know-how)
  • Your content is your own, but there’s nothing to stop the blog host pulling your site or changing the terms without notice, so do regular backups of your content to your computer or cloud space.

Benefits of a self-hosted blog

  • You (or your developer, should you choose to employ one) have complete control over the design, including for example making your widgets match the overall design
  • You can choose your web host, and that means more choice of service level and pricing
  • You can have whatever functionality you require via plugins (bits of software you can install that work with the WordPress software). There are plugins for everything – from integrating your blog with a mailing list, improving security, running an ecommerce shop or serving adverts.
  • Many web hosting companies are geared up towards hosting WordPress software and offer ‘one click’ easy installation


  • You are responsible for keeping the software up to date – not just WordPress itself but any themes or plugins you install. Failure to do this can result in security breaches and your site not working as it should
  • The full version of WordPress may be more than you need, and you have to make a lot of decisions about things which come as standard in the hosted version

If you’re looking for a simple ‘out of the box’ blog and aren’t too worried about having a super-bespoke look and feel, if you’re not offended by having a blog address that includes the name of the hosting company, if you’re not really interested in running ads, or hosting video or having an online shop, then a basic hosted blog may be perfect.

If on the other hand you hanker after a blog/website with a unique look and some custom features, are happy to spend a bit of money in return for total control over what you can and can’t do, are confident about buying web space and aren’t phased by talk of ‘plugins’ and ‘configuration’, then you may want to go for a self-hosted solution.

Many, many high-profile writers opt for or and swear by them. So it’s not a question of starting with the ‘beginner’ version and working your way up.

Then again, one of the joys of a blog is that it’s not a big deal to start over on a different platform or template, as you can export/import all your content fairly easily. Sometimes you don’t know for sure what you want until you start, and sometimes your needs or tastes change over time.