Your author website 101

Your online home is your single most important tool for promoting yourself and your work. Here’s how to start today and build for tomorrow.

An author website is your most critical tool for book promotion and long-term platform development. It should be a 24/7 resource for readers and media–one that you update, own and control–serving as an online hub for everything you do.

If you depend on social networking to take the place of an author website, this is a terrible strategic move. It puts you at the mercy and whims of a third party. You can’t control what Facebook or any other site does–with its design, with your likes/followers, with its functionality. And when it falls out of favor (remember MySpace?), you’ll have to start over again somewhere else.

A good website gets stronger over time, puts you directly in touch with your readers, and is a long-term investment in your author career. Given the new services geared toward people without programming or coding skills, you can start a basic website yourself without any special training. Here’s how to begin that process.


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Before you build your site, you have a few important decisions to make.

Buying a Domain Name

  • The domain name is the URL or Web address of your site. For example, is a domain that I pay an annual fee to own. Most authors should buy a domain name that closely adheres to the name they publish under. While you might sometimes buy domain names related to your book titles, we’re most concerned with building an author-branded website that spans your entire career.
  • If [ isn’t available, consider .org, .net, or another version; just keep in mind you’ll lose some visits to people ending up at the .com. For ex:, an awesome website reviewing best acoustic guitar for beginners was also operated under an .org domain (and you can probably see that there have been no issues going with .org domain at all). Additionally, consider adding the word “author” or “books” to get the .com, or to find an available domain if your name is common.
  • You can buy domain names from many providers ( is one of the most well-known), typically for $10-20/year. If you haven’t yet purchased a domain name, then it can be more economical to buy the domain from the same service you use for hosting your site–which is the next important decision.

Selecting a Host

A host keeps your site up and running 24 hours a day–kind of like someone who keeps the lights on and water running–and can offer support if you experience trouble. Your options fall into three broad categories: free hosting, fee-based hosting (or “self-hosting”), and managed or premium hosting.


If you’ve ever used Blogger or WordPress, then you have experience with a free website hosting service. While these services are typically user-friendly and hassle-free, they have limitations, such as:

  •  You won’t be able to fully customize your site.
  •  Functionality will be limited, particularly when it comes to e-commerce or monetization.
  •  You may not be able to get in-depth analytics about visitors or how people find your site.

For unpublished authors, free hosting often makes the most sense, as you’re still developing your author brand and probably don’t yet need the freedom (and complexity) that comes with a self-hosted site. To be in a position to later transition from free hosting to self-hosting, however, I recommend starting with WordPress to allow for a seamless transfer to a self-hosted WordPress site if and when the time comes (see sidebar on the opposite page).


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Self-hosting means you have complete control over and access to your website environment, platform and files. Consider self-hosting as analogous to home ownership: You can customize your home and property, but you’re also responsible when something goes wrong.

Self-hosting is best for established authors, writers about to release their first book, or anyone who wants to monetize their site. The advantages of self-hosting include:

  •  The ability to fully customize your site design–to decide fonts, colors, page templates, headers, footers, etc. This can be critical for long-term author branding.
  •  Insight into your website traffic and what marketing efforts are working.
  •  Freedom to add functionality to earn money from your site (e.g., advertising, e-commerce, membership or paywall areas).
  •  More effective integration of email newsletter signup tools.

Some of the most common hosting providers are Bluehost, HostGator and DreamHost; all offer one-click installation of WordPress and 24/7 support, and cost as little as $4-7/month. (Note: It’s generally a bad idea to use a fee-based host’s “instant website” or “overnight website” service. They aren’t long-term solutions.) For a free 10-minute tutorial on how to set up a self-hosted WordPress site, visit

With self-hosting, you become responsible for your own site security; you have to back up your site if your host doesn’t; and if your site should go down, it’s your problem to solve (which usually starts with a call to your host). If that worries you, consider a managed or premium hosting service.


Many users find that with a bare-bones self-hosting arrangement, you get what you pay for. With managed or premium hosting, you pay a higher price (up to $30/month) for services such as regular backups, site security and superior support. For authors with little technical background or experience–and no time or inclination to get up to speed–managed hosting may be the right answer. One of the most popular managed hosting solutions for WordPress sites is WP Engine.

If managed hosting is too expensive and self-hosting is too scary, then consider one of the following:

  •  Squarespace, which offers a managed hosting environment and e-commerce functionality. It’s not WordPress-based, but it does allow you to export some content if you ever leave it. A starter plan is $8/month.
  •  An upgrade at $99/year will buy additional customization, storage and functionality.
  •  Hiring someone to help you properly set up your site.

Hiring Help: When & Why?

Two kinds of help are most commonly enlisted (generally through personal referrals or sites such as oDesk) when getting started: a Web designer or a Web programmer. Sometimes these skills can be found in the same person if your needs are fairly straightforward.

  • Web designers customize the look and feel of your site, including headers, page templates, fonts, colors, etc. When you need your site to reflect your author brand, and that means going beyond cookie-cutter templates, you need a designer. Programmers focus on improving or extending site functionality, speed and security. Both designers and programmers can help you get a website off the ground and put everything in its right place, then offer guidance on how to manage it yourself.
  • Hiring help can speed the process, reduce frustration and give you peace of mind that things are set up correctly. When it comes to extensive design or functionality customizations, however, you may want to hold off until you’ve had the site in place for at least a few months, so you’ll fully understand what’s working or not, and what needs to change. Web professionals don’t come cheap; expect to spend $500-1,500 for basic setup, depending on the experience and package offered by the freelancer; advanced customization and functionality can easily run $3,000 or more.


Writers often give a lot of consideration to home page design, but just as important is what appears on every single page of your website: the header, the sidebars, the footer, pop-ups, etc. These areas include an important “call to action”: What should visitors do when they visit? The answer to this question will change periodically, based on what’s happening in your career. For example:

  •  Should visitors buy your latest book?
  •  Should visitors sign up for your email newsletter?
  •  Should visitors follow you on Facebook?

The answers to these questions should guide you as you design and structure each page.

Choosing a WordPress Theme

Assuming you use WordPress, your first step will be to choose a theme. Your theme establishes the look and feel of your site, and how much you can customize it without having to know code. Take care to choose a theme that fits your aesthetic sensibility and needs, as changing it often requires advanced skills, time and/or money. Here are a few questions to ask before committing to a WordPress theme:

  •  Are you happy with the page templates it provides? Look at how many columns there are, how many sidebars, header or footer areas, and so on. Good themes often offer several page templates to choose from.
  •  Are you happy with the fonts, colors and heading styles? These wont change unless you know how to modify CSS stylesheets.
  •  Can you customize the header image? This is usually critical.
  •  Can you customize the home page to your liking? Many themes offer special design options specifically for the home page.

 How flexible is the theme in allowing you to make minor customizations without coding? (Look for theme options or theme customizations.)

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Most WordPress themes are free, but you can also buy a premium theme, which will come with better support and forums (meaning you can work out bugs more quickly), more frequent updates and more customization options.

Incorporating the 7 Essential Website Elements

(1.) Clear author name or brand: Some authors also add a tagline or description that clearly describes the type of writing they do. For example, novelist CJ Lyons’ is “Thrillers With Heart.”

(2.) Email newsletter signup: Whether you send it once a year or once a week, start a free email newsletter to stay in touch with readers who visit your site. MailChimp is one email newsletter service (free up to 2,000 names) that helps automate the process for you.

(3.) About or bio page: Some authors put this information right on the home page, as in the case of the example above; even if you do this, create a separate page with a more detailed bio and a professional author photo.

(4.) Information about your books, articles or products: You might have a separate page for each book or product, or you might combine everything onto one page. Regardless, don’t skimp on the details, and always include links to where your work can be read or purchased in both print and digital form.

(5.) Social media icons or badges: Let readers know where else you’re active online.

(6.) Social proof: If you have notable media coverage, good reviews, positive testimonials or a significant following on a specific platform (e.g., Twitter), let it be known. These are important signals to visitors that you’re worth their time and attention.

(7.) Straightforward menu or navigation: Don’t be clever with the names of menu items or pages. Label things clearly. Web design studies have shown that visitors’ eyes tend to glaze over if there are more than 5-7 menu items, so be disciplined about how many you decide to include.

Most people who visit your site will never return, and a majority of visits won’t last more than a minute. So make the tough decisions: If people spend only 10-15 seconds on your site, what should they not leave without knowing? How can you stay connected to readers or fans after they leave?

Maximizing Your Site

  •  If you are actively blogging, you’ll get more traffic to your blog posts than to your home page. Make sure your global website header, sidebar and/or footer appearing on your blog offer your most important calls to action, since many visitors will not go to your home page.
  •  If you are not actively blogging, it’s a bad idea to have blog posts front and center on your home page, which is the default setting of most WordPress themes and sites. Be sure to change this (see illustration at right).
  •  If visitors reach the bottom of a page or post, that typically means they are very engaged. This is a prime opportunity to add a call to action, such as an email newsletter sign-up or a book for sale.
  •  To maximize the effectiveness of your website, install a site analytics tool. Google Analytics is a free and popular tool available to anyone with a Google account. Once you install it, you’ll immediately collect data on your website traffic and visitors, your most popular content, and how people navigate or use the site.
  •  About 20-30 percent of your site traffic will come from mobile or tablet devices. Is your site optimized for those visits? If your site is WordPress-based, it will likely be mobile-friendly from the start, but double-check.

With websites, I believe in the power of incremental progress. You don’t have to launch and perfect everything at once. In fact, doing so is against the grain of the digital era. Start small but smart, and build your skills and presence over time. Customize and add more complex functionality as you get comfortable, and as you develop specific goals that require the investment.


WordPress is a free, open-source content management system that powers more than 20 percent of the world’s websites. While it’s commonly known as a free blogging tool (, it is also used for full-fledged websites, with versions customized by the site owner. (Even The New York Times uses a customized version of WordPress.)

If you build your site using WordPress, you don’t have to pay to use the technology. WordPress is so prevalent across every industry that it helps insulate you from inevitable changes in technology; the core WordPress system is regularly updated. Thousands of freelancers and professionals have experience programming and designing WordPress-based sites, so there’s a significant community of people available for hire. You’ll also find a diverse range of how-to tutorials, forums, free design themes, and plug-ins to add functionality to your site in seconds. Finally, once set up, you can easily and quickly make site updates, blog posts and other modifications without the intervention of a programmer or designer. You could easily go a year or more without needing help.

While WordPress may not fit every author’s needs, you should have reasons for choosing a different platform for your site. What happens if you need to leave that platform and move to another environment? Can you export your content or design? Will you have to start over from scratch? Are you using tools or technology that may disappear soon? Think long-term and never assume that the solution you choose today will be around in a few years, much less a decade from now.


Need a website in a pinch? Here are a few options.

  • This is a free splash-page service that features just the bare minimum: your name, your bio or personal statement, an image (such as your headshot), links to your social media profiles, and contact information. Dead simple. Here’s mine:
  • This free tool aggregates all of your social media activity into one continuous stream. You can also create a customized header, add pages or sections, create unique posts and customize the design.
  • Contently portfolio: This is ideal for freelance writers and journalists. Tell Contently where you publish your stuff, and it will generate a professional-looking splash page with links to your top articles and more. Sign up for free at

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In WordPress, if you don’t want your front page (home page) to display blog posts by default, then you need to designate a different page as your front page in your site’s settings. Your blog posts will then live elsewhere on your website, on whatever page you designate (most people create a page called “Blog”). You can also eliminate the blog entirely from your website by choosing “Select” to nullify it, as shown here.

Jane Friedman is the former publisher of Writer’s Digest, and teaches digital publishing and media at the University of Virginia. Read her award-winning blog for writers at


Choosing a Web Template for your Website

How do you choose the correct web template for your website?

There are many online stores that host thousands of templates. If you browse through each of them, you will realize that these are the best tools to give your website the ‘right look’.

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  • However, choosing the most appropriate one from the pool of thousands of attractive templates is a Herculean task. You have to have good knowledge of the application of each type of template.

    The whole purpose of selecting a website template is to save your time and effort. If you are capable of creating the right layout for your website, you will doubtlessly make one your own.

  • A few people make the mistake by choosing the wrong template and trying to redesign them.

This destroys the whole purpose of buying the templates. Try to find out the most appropriate business template from a decent template shop online and avoid the task of redesigning them.

Try to be unique while choosing the web templates.

Templates can change the entire appearance of the website. They reveal the identity of the website through their structure. You can easily notice the difference in the structure of a website for apparels and that for a travel agency.

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  • There are certain standard formats applied in each type of websites. The difference lies in their presentation – some of them are designed for a simple content page and another one for presenting a flash animation. If you wish to design a simple website that contains mainly text pages, the standard templates with just text and pictures will be sufficient.
  • However, you cannot ensure a good traffic to your website because they are less appealing to the eyes. It is necessary to attract the viewers by some creativity.
  • Let the Flash templates take up that job of inviting the viewers to your home page with simple and creative Flash animations. They are appropriately used in many low-end websites in order to add more attraction to them. However, it is important to note that heavy animations are likely to affect the performance of your website and thus deter the viewers from entering into your website.

Don’t choose a template just because it looks more attractive than the others. The most important criterion to choose a website template should be its appropriateness to the theme of your content. There are many online websites that supply a variety of business templates that suit all kinds of websites. These custom-designed templates are the best way to effectively promote your website and thus your business.

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Website templates are a valuable tool in web designing considering their application and effectiveness. They save a lot of time in designing the layout for each page. As they are available online to many users, the template designing companies can offer their products at a reasonable price to the users, even though they incurred a hefty sum for designing them.

Thus it becomes an economical affair for both the designing companies and the website owners.

The new wave of websites

MW examines the new generation of `participatory’ websites which are transforming music by Ben Cardew

The internet was meant to be the ultimate democratic tool: people all over the world sharing opinions online, collaborating on projects and building a new information consensus.

The only problem was, at least during the initial boom, that it was nothing of the sort – rather the world wide web came to be seen as a gigantic shopping mall-cum-library, where user participation was limited to interaction by credit card and only the seriously dedicated would go so far as to build their own website.

MySpace changed all that. Within months it seemed like everyone had their own online space, where they would post songs, share photos and compose blog entries, all with a minimum of fuss and technical knowledge.

Then came YouTube, Wikipedia (, Friendster ( and others, and with them the realisation that something new was afoot in the online space.

From social networking sites, to user-generated content, via online societies, those in the know call it “web 2.0″ or the “participatory web”, a second generation of internet services with an emphasis on collaboration and sharing information, beyond the traditional static models of web pages and email.

MW examines some of the sites that help to make up this brave new world of user interaction, as well as some names you’ll be hearing more of in the coming months.


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Such is its immense success that it is a shock to discover that YouTube has yet to pass its second birthday. Yet the site, which has recently overtaken MySpace in popularity, was in fact founded little more than year and a half ago, in February 2005, by three former PayPal employees.

Key to its success is the site’s ease of use: users can search for video, upload clips and even embed YouTube videos into their own websites with little or no technical knowledge. The site also benefits from an encyclopaedic library of clips, with around 65,000 new videos added every day. And, while YouTube expressly bans the posting of copyright material by anyone other than the copyright holder, in practice this has proved nigh on impossible to police and many content companies, including US TV network NBC, now recognise the promotional opportunities that the site can offer.

The site has around 20m visitors every month, according to Nielsen Netratings, and in July YouTube announced that 100m clips were watched on the site every day.

See also Veoh (, an internet television peercasting network, TV 101 (, where users can post their own short films.


You might not have heard of Bebo yet but you can bet that your kids, nephews or nieces have. Not only is it the largest social networking site in the UK, according to Nielsen Netratings, but it also has the unique accolade of being banned from all schools in Norfolk.

  • That row centred on the ease with which potential paedophiles could make contact with children via the site, but also served to reflect the popularity of Bebo among schoolchildren, as MySpace fades out of fashion.
  • Bebo shares many characteristics with MySpace – users can post pictures, write blogs and send messages to each other – yet differs in two ways that are crucial for the younger demographic: it allows users to connect with other people from their school and the site design is notably more youth oriented.
  • In July Bebo soft-launched Bebo Bands (, a service that allows people to upload music content, which other users can then stream or download for free. While MySpace limits users to a maximum of four tracks per page, Bebo Bands offers apparently unlimited music and video content.

Bebo Bands claimed to have more than 25,000 users when the service officially launched at the end of July. Bebo itself has more than 25m registered users.

Other popular social network sites include LunarStorm ( and Faceparty (

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Its use may be strictly limited to students, but that hasn’t stopped analysts in the US from proclaiming Facebook as the closest rival to MySpace among social networking sites.

  • Launched in February 2004, the site was initially limited to Harvard students. Such was its success, however, that it rapidly spread to include other prominent universities, both in the US and abroad.
  • To sign up to the site requires an email from a registered college or university. Users can then create personal profiles, exchange public or private messages and join groups of friends.
  • In July iTunes linked with the site to give away 10m music samplers in a back to school promotion in the US, promoted via banner ads on the site.

Univillage ( – a similar site, although UK based – is due to launch in late August/early September and will also offer users the opportunity to win tickets to secret gigs. See Cribsheet, p16.

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Habbo Hotel & Second Life

Virtual communities, of which Habbo Hotel and Second Life are among the most popular, are a mix of chatroom and online gaming, in which users are represented by on-screen avatars. These can then explore a virtual 3D world, interacting with other characters and their surroundings.

To date, from a musical perspective, the opportunities such sites offer have been largely promotional – in September 2005 Gorillaz did a “world tour” of Habbo Hotels in 12 countries, allowing fans to talk to the band online.

However, in May Radio One created its own island on the Second Life site, where users could watch streams from its Big Weekend event, attracting an audience of around 7,000 over the two days. Duran Duran are also planning to stage live concerts on the site

Radio One is also looking at ways of becoming involved with the online gaming community, which is set to receive a massive boost from the imminent launch of the third generation consoles, such as the Nintendo Wii and PlayStation 3.

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Last FM & Pandora

Online music recommendation sites like Last FM and Pandora (which needs a US zip code for registration) work by suggesting songs that are similar to a user’s own musical selection.

Users can then approve or reject recommendations, thus building up an online profile on which future recommendations will be based. Last FM also allows users to link with friends, join groups and post messages.

The promotional opportunities are clear. Last FM allows artists and labels to upload music to the site, where it will be added to the central radio streaming database. Pandora offers a similar service, although not every entry will be added.

Winning Big On The Worldwide Web

It’s a jungle out there… and we aren’t talking about the latest GNCC venue, or the bigger, badder crop of new bikes ready to set riders’ hearts racing in 2001.

No, the densest jungle of them all may be today’s communications landscape. Just 10 years ago, FAX machines spitting out slick, light-sensitive paper were the new-fangled business contraptions. Now, thanks to the Internet, customers thousands of miles away can take “virtual tours” of your showroom, then use a credit card to buy a new set of gear via your website. Suddenly, your customer base — theoretically — is anyone with a web browser.

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  • It didn’t take long for entrepreneurs to view the worldwide web as a portal to unbelievable wealth; what is still a mystery is exactly how those riches would best be tapped. When companies the size of Walt Disney can fail (it shut down in late May, citing “adverse E-commerce market conditions”) one thing should be clear: If you’re going to do business on the web, you’d better develop a strategy.
  • While the Internet is too vast a topic to encompass in a single issue, we’ll start by offering an overview of some current Internet services, from web design and maintenance companies, to powersports-specific businesses who say they can help you run your dealership more effectively. Then check out dealer websites that caught our attention (“Web Page Priorities,” page 31) — they may help you decide what’s best for your own site. Finally, see how the computer age is streamlining traditional store chores such as inventory control and personnel record-keeping (Taking Care Of Business, page 38).

With careful reading and research, there’s no reason you can’t win — and win big — on the web.

At Your Service

Remember your last meal at a Chinese restaurant? Part of the menu listed combination dinners — choose an appetizer, rice and an entree. Or, you could go a la carte: Choose a double order of egg rolls, skip the rice, get the shrimp chow mein instead of chicken.

  • This mix-&-match mentality is a good metaphor for how many website vendors operate. Once you decide your dealership should post its own homepage, you’ll have to decide who will build the site and maintain it. That’s where vendors come in.
  • They can create a concept for your website, build it and maintain it — the equivalent of a three-course dinner. Or, you can hire a designer to build your site, but maintain it yourself — an a la carte approach. Some vendors even offer powersports-specific services designed to drive customers to your site once it’s up and running.

Before you determine who’s going to do the work, ask yourself:

  •  What is the goal of your website? Is it an informational support for your retail location — a place for customers to learn about store specials, available inventory and upcoming events? Or do you want to sell product via the site (E-commerce)?
  •  If you want to design your website yourself, what resources do you have? Do you have graphics and programming experience — or do you know where to get that training? Do you really have the time to devote to this project? Will you enjoy the work?
  •  If you decide to maintain the site yourself, how much time per week do you have to spend on upkeep? Is it enough to keep your website up to date and attractive to customers?
  •  If you need help, do you have experts to turn to? Do you know other dealers or business associates who have tackled these chores and are willing to help?

Outside Vendors

Given the lucrative rewards of the Internet, it isn’t surprising that thousands of companies are clamoring to build your website. But not all web designers are created equal, which is why a website consisting of a homepage and several other pages may cost anywhere from a few hundred to several thousands of dollars to set up.

Why the discrepancy? The same reason you can get a $5 meal flipped by a 16-year-old at McDonald’s, or spend 10 times that amount for a meal prepared by a world-famous chef. It takes more than computer programming knowledge to make a successful website; it also takes marketing savvy and a gift for graphics. Some designers have more to offer than others.

“Generic” webmasters — those who create sites for bakeries, pet shops, dry cleaners, anyone who can come up with the cash — typically aren’t familiar with any specific industry. To ensure the authentic flavor of your shop is communicated to the virtual world, you’ll probably have to give these designers very detailed input on what you want to see on your site.

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The duties of generic web designers usually end with the creation of your website. Some may maintain your site at an additional fee, but these folks’ main focus is building more websites. Aside from registering your site with popular search engines, they will probably do little or no marketing on your behalf, so it’ll be up to you to attract viewers to your site. Nevertheless, some of these designers do outstanding work, and you may decide to give them a try.

If you prefer a designer who can tell a Vespa from a V-twin, you’ll have to shop within the industry. Ask your customers which motorcycle sites they visit, and jot down industry sites you like.

Most vendors post their names and contact information on sites they create.

Industry Know-How

Web designers who specialize in the powersports industry often have the advantage of being familiar not only with the jargon of the trade, but also with what will attract customers to your site. Many of these vendors also offer more marketing support and ancillary services than generic designers do.

While the frenetic pace of the worldwide web means additional web-focused companies seem to pop up every day, here is a quick — and by no means all-inclusive — look at some companies currently offering website creation and support to powersports and motorcycle dealers.

Chrome Specialties

When distributing giant Chrome Specialties wanted to make the Internet more user friendly for dealers, they turned to Greg Taylor, director of Internet technology. “We tried to make it so easy for our low-tech customers,” he says.

  • “We’ve had our E-commerce up and running since January 1, and we’ve had a lot of excitement over it. But after dealers try it, they say, ‘You know, I’d just rather use the phone.’ So we went back and looked at their demographics — who they are and what they are about. It turns out it’s really the retail customer that’s on the Internet, not the dealer. What we came up with is a way to help the dealer get on the Internet with a turnkey operation.”
  • CSI’s answer is a three-tiered program, starting with the “Free Catalog” package that includes a homepage and contact information. “We formed a partnership with a company who is supporting these websites on their system for free,” Taylor explains. “If a dealer says, ‘I’d really like people to be able to order online,’ then he pays the Internet company $50 a month to handle those issues.” That ability is included in the “Scooter” package, while processing credit cards on line is a feature in the “Ultimate Road Warrior” package.

Because a master template is used to create the websites, dealers will notice CSI sites share some common features, including, naturally, CSI’s latest catalog. To support its dealer network and websites, CSI’s consumer-targeted “Jammer Club” (located on CSI’s corporate site — includes a dealer locator, so Jammer members can search for local CSI dealer sites and click right over.

If website options are what you’re after, deserves a look. Located at, the Bell & Howell division operates on several different levels.

  • First, it’s a cyberspace gathering place for consumers to check out the latest in motorcycle news, events, clubs, vehicle reviews, etc. Second, it’s an Internet company that offers subscribing motorcycle dealers the opportunity to reach out to consumers who view’s site. Third, it’s an association whose members can ask each other for help with parts searches, personnel postings and industry issues.
  • The Internet portion of the program is divided into three tiers — e-Business Basic, Gold and Platinum. Dealers who subscribe are listed in the “dealer locator” portion of the site, with Gold and Platinum members given priority over Basic ones. Platinum members also have the opportunity to link their listings to their own websites. Don’t have one? designers will help you create yours.

By frequently updating its main site and offering such “freebies” as wallpaper downloads, seeks to draw consumers back again and again — all the better, of course, to drive traffic to those dealer listings it sells.

PowerSports Network

Wisconsin-based PowerSports Network ( creates and maintains individual dealer websites, but also incorporates its dealers into a nationwide “network” that consumers can turn to when searching for a new or used vehicle. Customers type in the vehicle they’re looking for, along with their city, state and zip code, and PowerSports Network displays the nearest dealerships matching the criteria.

PowerSports Network’s Steve Weiner says the company can create dealer sites from scratch, or build on existing ones. “Approximately 70% of the dealers that have signed up have had previous websites. Our objective is to utilize as much information as the dealership feels is appropriate in their existing site.” While OEM info is automatically updated by PSN, dealers have the opportunity to change their sites themselves whenever they want.

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While PSN’s own site does contain the aforementioned list of its members, Weiner says, “The objective of PSN is to drive consumers directly to PSN dealer websites. A dealer can most effectively accomplish this when they integrate their Internet store into all their existing marketing and advertising resources. PSN also works with dealers to help integrate their Internet store into all other aspects of operation — sales, parts, service and accounting.

Last February at the Dealernews Dealer Expo, ( called itself “an Internet-based powersports distributor.” At that time, the company planned to ship product from its warehouse to dealers and end-users who ordered via Sellsonic-created dealer websites. However, read up on Sellsonic today, and you’ll notice big changes. The talk of warehouses and inventory is all but gone. A half-year later, Sellsonic still builds and maintains dealer websites, but now focuses on “order management, customer care and supplier back-end integration.”

“That was kind of our beta launch,” president Andy Slater says of Sellsonic’s business model at the Dealer Expo. We’d just started the company, and based on the response from dealers and suppliers at the show, we’ve refined. We’ve been doing this for a year and a half, so the technology is in place. What wasn’t in place was the business model — what works for suppliers and what works for dealers.

Rather than physically maintaining warehouses and inventory, Sellsonic is now enlisting manufacturers and distributors (“suppliers”) to offer their product online to dealers. The company then signs up dealers and creates websites for them to enable those stores to engage in E-commerce. In addition to a set-up fee, Sellsonic collects a commission from the dealer for every product bought from the dealer’s website.

To draw customers to dealer sites, Slater says Sellsonic registers its members’ addresses with Internet search engines.

Winning- Big- On- The- Worldwide -Web-4

VertX Commerce Corp.

Two Internet packages make up the core offerings of VertX ( The first — called xSite — is billed as a turnkey program that will build and host your website. “One of the things we try to do is capture a dealer’s brand or image,” says VertX president Jim Woodruff. “That could be as simple as taking their color scheme and creating a template that captures that look.” Woodruff says certain features, such as creating used-vehicle listings, are common to all VertX websites. “That gives dealers a price advantage, because we don’t have to create everything from scratch.”

The company supplies dealers with digital cameras so they can update photos of new and used vehicles. “On an ongoing basis, this would take less than a half-hour a week,” Woodruff estimates. “They can spend zero time (on maintenance) and be happy, or they can spend 20 minutes and capture new information for their site.”

Complementing xSite is vCommerce, software that enables dealer websites to receive and process orders and payments. To drive consumers to VertX dealer websites, “We register them with the popular search engines,” Woodruff says. VertX also plans to link to other popular powersports sites to make consumers aware of its dealer network.



Before you decide who’s going to create, maintain and service your dealership website, ask:

 Can the vendor provide customer testimonials and examples of working websites? Demo sites are fine as a first glance, but speak to customers whose sites have been up and running for awhile. Has the vendor created any powersports-specific sites? Is the vendor familiar with the industry and your customers?

  •  How “original” will your website be? Will it capture the unique features of your dealership? If the designer is using a template to create many websites, how much creative license will you be allowed?
  •  Will your website include all product for sale in your store? Only vehicles? Only aftermarket parts & accessories?
  •  What content information — photos, vehicle/OEM data, etc. — are you responsible for providing? If the vendor is maintaining your site, how often will it be updated? If you maintain it yourself, how much time should you expect to spend per week?
  •  What kind of marketing support will the vendor provide once your website is finished? Will the vendor advertise your site in consumer magazines or link your homepage to other websites? Is the traffic on those linked websites high enough to be a good resource?

 When will your website be fully functional?

Doing your homework before you sign a contract can save you plenty of headaches later. If you’d like to check the background of your potential Internet vendor, the Better Business Bureau can be a good place to turn. Naturally, you can hook up with them online: