Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
Here’s a scenario: A reader hears about a book you publish from someone they trust. They decide they want to buy it and read it. So how do they find it? It’s possible they go directly to their favorite bookseller (let’s assume this is all happening online), find it there and buy it. Awesome, you just sold a book.
However, many other readers will go to their favorite search engine and search for the title, the author’s name or both. The question I have for you is this: Where does your book page show up in the search results when that happens?
Go ahead and search for a couple of your books before reading any further. I’ll wait.
Does your book page show up in the search results at all? What about your author’s page, assuming you have one on your site? Any other pages from your site? If they do show up, how high do they rank? Are they on the first page of the search results?
If links to your pages aren’t in the first couple of positions on the first page of the search results, the chances of someone clicking on them are pretty slim. And if you’re not on the first page, you have basically zero chance of getting the click. (Remember the old joke: Where’s the best place to hide a dead body? On the second page of the search results, because nobody ever looks there.)
I’ve heard publishers say it’s impossible to compete with the bigger sites whose pages come up at the top of the search engine results pages (SERPs) in book searches—like those belonging to Amazon, Goodreads and Barnes & Noble. I’ve heard that they are just too big and popular. I’ve heard that their search engine optimization (SEO) is just too good, if not perfect. And I’ve heard these things lots of times.
But none of that is true. You can compete with the bigger sites. They are not too big or too popular. And contrary to perhaps the biggest misconception of all, their SEO is far from perfect. (In fact, I’ve yet to find any site in the publishing industry that couldn’t use a little improvement.)
So let’s talk about SEO a little.
SEO has two sides to it: what I call the ‘mechanicals’—on-site elements that search engines look for—and the ‘content envelope’—all the available off-site content about your site and your products, like book reviews, blog posts, videos, social media posts and all the other content that envelopes your site.
You don’t have full control of the content envelope. If you had a really outstanding content generation and social media program you might gain a little more. But you really can’t control everything that happens outside of your site.
On the other hand, you have complete control over your site—after all, it’s yours.
That means you can shape the mechanicals entirely as you wish. Search engines are fairly explicit about what they are looking for when they crawl and index your site. Of course, they don’t tell us everything, but we know enough to be able to ensure your site itself is highly optimized. And just by focusing a little effort on the mechanicals you can start showing up at the top of the search results. Above Amazon, above Goodreads and above Barnes & Noble.
By adding in a great content generation program and creating a real content envelope around your site, you can then own the SERPs—which happens to be a key component in the first step of a direct-to-consumer program that makes books “easy to find and easy to buy.” As I’ve written before, that can be achieved even by the smallest of publishers. You just need to understand a little bit more about what the search engines are looking for and, at a minimum, adjust your site appropriately. You will probably need to get your web developer involved, but I promise you, it will be worth it.
In future posts I’ll going to go into more specifics about both optimizing your site’s mechanicals and creating a great content envelope.
In the meantime, let me know in the comments below how well your books showed up when you searched for them by their titles.
(And by the way, if you’re reading this and work for Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble or one of the other big sites out there in the book world, disregard all of this—your site is perfect, please don’t change a thing!)