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In one of my blog posts for Digital Book World, “Your Content Is the Problem,” I pointed out that duplicate content can hurt your search engine rankings due to Google’s preference for unique content on your website pages. In the past few installments of this series of SEO guidelines for book publishers in the online marketplace, I have reiterated this truth and presented a few suggestions for original content and preventing duplicates from damaging your Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs).
Now I’m going to let you in on a little secret: Google and other search engines want more than original and unique content on every page. Which means that you can’t have a “set it and forget it” philosophy for your content. It needs to be, in the words of Kool & the Gang, “fresh,” “exciting” and “inviting.”
Google is depending on unique, relevant and new content from you on a regular basis. Without it, you might be yesterday’s news to a search engine, as well as your customers. This content needs to be:
• Fresh – Content that is updated on a frequent basis in order to maintain relevancy to search engines.
• Exciting – Content that is sticky, worth reading once and revisiting.
• Inviting – Content that is unique, avoiding duplicates and repeated information.
Presented in the chart below are the rankings of our 12 participants for the content SEO factor. The aggregate score was 2.0 (just barely a D grade).
Your Content Is Fresh
What is it about fresh content that search engines love so much? SEO experts theorize that when content changes, search engine spiders have a greater impetus to crawl your site than if your content hasn’t changed since you set up your homepage. The search engines, just like your average web surfer, are looking for new and interesting things.
Which means that you need to think about updating your content frequently. For book publishers, this may seem like a herculean task. Fortunately, help is on the way from your greatest asset: your authors.
Your average author does quite a lot. He or she writes books and essays, goes on tour to promote their work, gets interviewed, reviewed and honored with awards, and uses social media. In case this doesn’t sound familiar, this is content that you could be using to make your webpages fresher.
Let’s have a look at the author page for movie director Alex Cox at Oldcastle Books. Here are three ways that this page exemplifies fresh content:
• Current Titles by Alex Cox – Every time Cox writes a new book, it gets placed on his author page. Each new book link brings more fresh content to this page.
• Author Links – Alex Cox was interviewed by the website Little Atoms in February, 2015. Frequent updates to the author’s activities, such as interviews and reviews from around the web, will continue to be classified as fresh content.
• Video – Three videos are listed here, concerning Alex Cox’s books, films and other interests. More videos equal more fresh content for search engines.
Working more closely with your authors can bring you even more fresh content. Consider adding a feed of their blog, or Facebook and Twitter pages. Interview the author and post the text, audio or video. Check in with the author frequently to see if they have any new information that you could use to update their page. Basically, anything to attract site visitors to new content and convert visits to the sale of your books.
In addition to your authors, you have a few other options for keeping your website content fresh:
Avoid boilerplate content – If you have received an author’s bio, ask if you can revise it for your author page. This will prevent duplicates of the same bio on other sites. One of our clients has begun to ask for two bios from their authors. One is used as part of the feed to other retailers, and the other is used exclusively on the author’s page on their site. This ensures that the author’s bio on their site is 100 percent unique from the rest of the web.
Create (and maintain) a PR page – News relating to books, authors and your business makes for interesting and fresh content. If you do not have a press or news page, create one and keep it updated. Also, any news related to your authors or books needs to show up on those pages, much as Simon and Schuster does with their author pages.
Set an editorial calendar – Think about the pages and content on your site that could benefit from frequent updates and create a plan for when you will add fresh content.
Add (and encourage) user reviews – Just like your authors, your customers can help you with fresh content. By encouraging reviews of your books (just like Amazon does), you have the opportunity to generate a lot of fresh content.
Your Content Is Exciting
Website content needs to be “sticky,” keeping your customers glued to your pages. Exciting content keeps users on the page for a long time and prevents them from exploring other options (from your competitors). Exciting and sticky content can be judged by the following factors.
Click Through Rate (CTR) – As mentioned in our previous post on page titles, CTR is the percentage of people who visit a website by using the hyperlinks found in a search result. Your CTR is determined by the number of people who have clicked on your website in the SERPs compared to the number of times your site appears in the SERPs. Generally, a CTR of 2 percent or higher is considered positive.
Bounce Rate – Once a customer visits your site, do they stay for a while and settle in for some exciting content, or do they head back (“bounce”) to the SERPs and look at other options? Your bounce rate shows how many users exit your site after visiting and, further, how long they stay on your site (known as “time to bounce”). Bounce rate and time to bounce can be a little tricky in e-commerce, especially when book buyers are looking for the right book at the right price. So what you need are exciting reasons for customers to stay and have a look around. You could give them an option to go to another retailer from your site, maybe with an affiliate code so you could get a commission on the purchase of your book. Even if someone is going to purchase your book on another retailer’s site, maybe you can insert yourself into their “purchase pathway” and find a reason for them to give you their email address. With their email, you can now market to them on an ongoing basis as you publish new and related titles. Why do you think the major retailers don’t give you customer information for purchases of your titles? It’s because they know the value of owning that customer relationship and not sharing it with you.
You can encourage your new site visitors and returning customers to stay on your site longer with content that looks exciting in the SERPs and is actually exciting on the page. Consider these sticky content ideas:
Creating Sticky SERPs – Using appropriate and relevant keywords in your page titles and meta descriptions (an element in your code that describes your pages to search engines, which we will talk about in later posts) that best represent your industry and your product will drive customers to site pages filled with sticky content. For example, on Dragon Moon Press’s site, the Science Fiction and Fantasy category page title lets a user interested in that genre find that page on the SERPs. It could go even further, however, by mentioning the company or other aspects of their books and authors (new authors, award winning fiction, etc.).
Creating Sticky Content – Once you have the user on the page, keep them there with exciting content. As mentioned in our exploration of fresh content in the section above, updated content, links to author information and user reviews will keep visitors on the page longer and entice them to go deeper into your site pages. Beyond that, well-written headlines and content attract users to your page. Each page needs to a) tell a story about that book or author that is interesting to read or skim and b) explore further topics with images, video or links to deeper content.
Your Content Is Inviting
When you are planning a party, you send out invitations to multiple guests who you hope will attend, have a good time, dance to Kool & the Gang’s “Fresh” and not ruin the furniture. Most of you (hopefully) would never send multiple invitations to the same guest for the same party using the same content. That would just be awkward.
However, this is exactly what happens when websites contain duplicate content. Not only is this confusing to customers, but Google takes it upon itself to remove those extra invitations, depleting your link juice and damaging your search ranking. The result? Not much of a party.
As I mentioned in the previous post on page titles in the section “Get Original – What’s Similar?,” of the participating publishers I evaluated during this analysis, 10 of them had duplicate page titles in one form or another. To avoid duplication, I recommended setting up naming conventions for your page titles, using redirects and your robots.txt file, and merging multiple pages with the same content into one page. Another way to avoid duplicating text is by using canonicals.
Canonicals (often seen as rel=”canonical” in the code) prevent you from sending multiple invitations to the content party on your website pages. A canonical is a section of code that sets the preferred URL for a specific page. The reason this is important is that sometimes duplicate page content is tough to avoid in e-commerce, especially when you have a large online catalog full of books in multiple formats.
Adding canonicals lets a search engine know which page you want it to crawl, index and display in SERPs. At the same time, it prevents similar pages on your site from being indexed, removing duplicate pages that affect your link juice and search ranking for that same page. But before you start rewriting those invitations, do your research or consult an SEO expert. Canonicals are not a magic solution and can be a little tricky when working with pagination and deciding which page to feature. If you want to use canonicals correctly, Google can help you through the process.
Get This Content Party Started
When Kool & the Gang released “Fresh” in 1983, it jumped to #1 on the U.S. R&B charts and #11 in the U.K., showing how important it is for your dance partners to be “fresh,” “exciting” and “inviting.” By developing creative content for your website, updating your content on a regular basis and reducing the number of duplicate pages to attract search engines and customers, your potential for moving up the charts to #1 improves dramatically.
I invite you to join me in our next installment, as we dive further into content creation guidelines for meta descriptions. Until then, stay fresh!
What types of content are you adding to your site to keep it “fresh?” Let me know in the comments below.
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