Further to my New Rules for Authors (also currently on Backspace), it is SO important to have a well-designed, up-to-date website.
In the past few weeks, I've seen one site claim that the author's book is "coming in May 2007" and another tout a "new book" (prescriptive nonfiction) that was published in July 2006.
The latter site also had a button on the home page labeled "Blog." But when I clicked on it, the page that came up only had a screen or two of tips from the book. They're undated, so there's no way to tell whether the "blog" is from two years or two days ago. And the site, which was obviously built--and then left to languish--by the author, was as pokey-looking as a mimeographed worksheet. Which is too bad, as the book appears to offer much helpful information.
I have nothing against authors doing their own websites. But you have to know what you're doing and have a keen eye for design. Client Kim Reid (NO PLACE SAFE: A Family Memoir), who taught herself to use Dreamweaver, is my poster child for the DIY author/webmaster. However, she's one of the few exceptions. I've seen too many clunky, junky self-made author sites, including (or especially) those hosted by the Authors Guild and built with their templates.
Bottom line: Shell out the money for the best web designer you can afford. Or shell out the time, effort and money to learn how to design a beautiful, WELL-WRITTEN, PROFESSIONAL-LOOKING site yourself. And update frequently. (Speaking of which, I recently updated my Website Design & Online Marketing/Publicity listings.)