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Executive Summary – The Results Are In!
Back in March of this year, I made an offer on this blog to perform a free, quick analysis of independent publishers’ websites and determine their current levels of “having a modern website and search engine optimization (SEO).” We received an overwhelming number of requests from book publishers whose content varied across the industry. We then selected 12 brave and extremely helpful companies that allowed the Biztegra team and me to evaluate them and present an industry cross-section of how they fare in terms of SEO across a set of 15 criteria/SEO factors.
This analysis is an important step in direct-to-consumer publishing optimization—reaching your current customer base, finding new customers and converting customer site visits into book purchases.
Over the next several months, I will be sharing these results with you, filtering them through the SEO factors I used to assess these individual publishers.
As I mentioned in a previous DBW post, the goal is, of course, not to shame or call out any of these publishers on their challenges or boast about their successful achievements in SEO.
My goal is instead to present a summary of overall website health for direct-to-consumer publishers, culled from these amazing volunteers, to inform and motivate—highlighting “dos and don’ts” found across the industry (not even Amazon or Barnes & Noble are exempt from SEO challenges) and starting a dialogue about opportunities for improvement in creating a modern publishing website for a medium steeped in tradition.
With that said, let’s have a look at how we put this analysis together.
Crawling the Websites
Whenever my company, Biztegra, takes on a new client, we begin with a quick assessment of the company’s website, including a cursory visual review, before we dive deeper into how we can provide solutions to SEO and website challenges.
We looked at 15 SEO factors that all companies (not just those in publishing) have in common when trying to find the highest ranking possible in Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs). To recap, the criteria were:
• Pages indexed/crawled – The number of website pages indexed should be equal or close to the number of pages that are presented in the Google SERPs. Large disparities in this ratio could mean that the site has duplicate pages or other errors. I added this important SEO factor after my original post on what criteria I would be looking at, based on what we saw during the evaluations.
• URL structure and site architecture – The site should avoid passing parameters and session variables through the URL, the page file names should be descriptive, and page redirects should be used sparingly.
• Page titles – Descriptive and unique page titles should be used on all site pages, without duplication, minding the maximum number of characters that Google SERPs will read and use, but not be so short that they offer no confirmation about the page.
• Content – Site content should be updated regularly, avoiding duplicate text. Frequent social media posts, author news and book reviews can help you boost Google search rankings.
• Meta description tags – While not used for page rankings, these tags show up as descriptive text for your search results. Smart and detailed sales content lets customers know what’s on the page when they are looking to make a purchase among your competitors, and are a big factor in Click Through Rate (CTR).
• Heading tags (H1, H2, H3) – Header tags in the site code should be used for describing page content instead of serving as placeholders and navigational elements during formatting. Header tags should be unique and not be used just to format text. There should be only one H1 tag per page used to reflect the page title.
• Structured data markup – When added to the site code, this schema defines content for Google’s search engine (and other search engines, as well). It lets Google know that the item is a book by highlighting specific information about the page’s content.
• Page load and page crawl speed – If your pages take too long to load, your customers may go elsewhere. Google searches react to poor loading speed, as well, potentially crawling less of your pages, or ranking slow-loading pages lower than faster pages.
• Images – Help Google find your images more easily, and present more of your pages in search results by using descriptive names and alt tags for all your images.
• Code validation – Mistakes in your code may slow down the spiders crawling your site, or the spiders may simply stop crawling the page at an error if they can’t understand what comes next, because of that error. Be sure to follow established code standards for the web.
• Mobile-friendly – A “mobile-friendly” site offers more ways for your customers to find you and purchase books. But more importantly, it can make or break your search ranking.
• Social integration – When set up correctly, social integration icons for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest can drive more traffic to your site and let your audience help you promote and share your catalog in the way that you want it to show up on social media sites.
• Author amplification – Give your authors a greater role in generating unique and updated content with author pages that compile news, tours and social media posts.
• Sitemaps – Google uses XML sitemaps to help speed the crawl of your site and to understand which site pages to crawl (or not to crawl). They should be complete and easy to locate during site crawls for SERPs.
• HTTPS – Going to a secure HTTP will soon be important to Google’s page ranking factors. But making the switch is more than adding an “s”.
Meet the Participants
This exercise in SEO would not have been possible were it not for the 12 book publishers that agreed to participate in this analysis. We hope that by bringing opportunities and best practices to light for each of these publishers and the DBW blog audience, we can talk about SEO and learn from each other how to improve search rankings in the long run. Our 12 book publishers are:
• Bold Strokes Books – Celebrating quality and diversity in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer general and genre fiction. Bold Strokes Books editions feature romance, mystery and adventure fiction as well as LGBTQ non-fiction and general studies.
• CNS Productions – A leader in drug education since 1980, CNS produces textbooks for college and university level drug and addiction education classrooms, as well as teaching aids and study guides.
• The Doomsday Kids – The “Doomsday Kids” science fiction book series by Karyn Langhorne Folan follows brave teens through an apocalyptic world of adventure.
• Dragon Moon Press – Located in Alberta, Canada, Dragon Moon Press has been publishing award-winning fantasy, science fiction and how-to writing guides for almost 20 years.
• Greystone Books – Greystone Books is a trade book publisher that focuses on high-quality non-fiction books that appeal to regional, national and international readers. They are located in Vancouver, British Columbia.
• IV Press – Celebrating 70 years of publishing thoughtful Christian literature, InterVarsity (IV) Press offers general interest books, academic texts and study guides for the Christian faith.
• Oldcastle Books – Formed in 1985, Oldcastle Books is a UK publisher with several innovative imprints in its catalog.
• The Secret Mountain – Celebrating 15+ years of publishing, The Secret Mountain is an award-winning, Montreal-based publisher dedicated to the creation of children’s books, videos and audio recordings.
• SilkWords – Founded in 2013, SilkWords offers short, interactive romance and erotica in an upscale reading environment, inviting the reader to choose where the story goes.
• Xist Publishing – Focusing on ebooks for the touchscreen generation, Xist is a new start-up that publishes children’s books in five distinct ebook formats.
• University of Hawaii Press – The publishing group for the University of Hawaii, UHP offers books in the humanities, social sciences, and life and earth sciences in areas that include history, religion, anthropology, literature, art and architecture.
• Wayzgoose Press – Publishing genre fiction, educational materials and literary non-fiction, Wayzgoose Press is an Australian-based private press founded in 1985.
A Quick Look at the Results
Before we move into more detailed results for each SEO factor and each publisher in the forthcoming posts, I would like to go over the grading scale for each factor and participant and briefly summarize the findings.
The grading system for how each publisher fared for each SEO factor was based on a five-point scale converting to a letter grade, with 5 being the highest (an “A”) and 1 being the lowest (an “F”). Additionally, each of the SEO factors were added together and averaged to determine a total grade for each publisher’s site and how all publishers fared for a specific SEO factor.
• 2 or below = F
• 2 to 3 = D
• 3 to 4 = C
• 4 to 4.5 = B
• 4.5 to 5 = A
We spent a number of hours reviewing each site, comparing information from our tools, Google, and SEO best practices. This was a cursory review, as a full evaluation at Biztegra takes much longer and features a much deeper dive into the site. You should also know that in some cases the lower grades reflect the fact that we could not find a particular item or feature. Don’t panic, though! This just means that we reached our time limit during the initial analysis or that we could not find the information using our review tools. Also, we did not have access to Google Webmaster Tools/Search Console for these sites, or access to the sites’ backends or code. This may have helped us locate missing items, highlighted other challenges or fleshed out the ranking factors in detail.
So without further ado…
The aggregate score for all of the participants combined was 2.3, a D. Individually ranked, one publisher had the highest score of 3.2 (a C). All the other publishers scored either a D or F. The lowest score was 1.6 (an F) and the overall average across all publishers was 2.3 (a D). This evaluation shows that while there are some publishers that rank in the middle, overall there are still a lot of opportunities for improvement. I don’t think these results will surprise anyone in the industry, and we gave each publisher the opportunity to have a private review of the results before we published them—and the ones that took us up on the offer were also not surprised at their scores.
The most challenging SEO factors were:
• Pages Indexed vs. Crawled – 1.8
• Meta Description Tags – 1.5
• Heading Tags – 1.3
• Structured Data Markup – 1.4
• XML Sitemaps – 1.9
• HTTPS – 1.6
The best ranked SEO factors were:
• Page Load Speed (crawler) – 3.7
• Page Load Speed (pingdom) – 3.4
• Mobile-Friendly – 3.1
• Code Validation – 2.8
Across the industry, it would seem that we have quite a lot of work to do, according to these numbers, assuming that they are representative (which I believe they are, based on the work that we do at Biztegra). Once we get into a detailed analysis of each factor and publisher, I think you will see that some of these issues can be easily resolved, while other fixes may prove to be more time-consuming and require a skilled SEO expert, webmaster and/or developer.
By the way, this evaluation was conducted several months ago. Some search ranking changes may have occurred since them, so please keep in mind that this analysis is a quick snapshot. In fact, one of the publishers is in the process of having its site rebuilt from scratch and is using these results to make sure that the developers are keeping them in mind during the development process. Another has chosen to scrap its existing site and move onto Biztegra’s Publishr, specifically based on these results.
So Let the Assessments Begin
I am very excited to begin this great experiment and conversation with all the participating publishers and DBW readers. It is important to note that making changes to only one of the SEO factors listed in our analysis will probably not improve a ranking significantly. Conversely, by not optimizing a single SEO factor, a website should not drop dramatically (unless you do something that really impacts the search engines’ ability to crawl your site, which we encountered on some of the sites). However, by updating and improving these criteria, you can expect to see marked improvement in your rankings and greater exposure to two of your key audiences: paying customers and contributing authors.
I hope you will join me in exploring the worlds of both SEO and publishing over the next few months and become part of the conversation. In the next post, we will be talking about Pages Crawled vs. Pages Indexed.
So, what are your thoughts? Are you surprised at these initial results for the publishers? Let me know in the comments below.
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