Twelve Publishers’ Websites Go Under the SEO Microscope

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

ebook marketing book publishers SEO websites direct-to-consumerFor publishers, a fully search engine–optimized website is the first step in improving discoverability and in building out a direct-to-consumer program. It’s usually the piece of the puzzle that’s fairly straightforward to implement and brings a pretty good return on investment.

And since it’s the part of SEO that publishers themselves control, I recently offered to do a free, high-level SEO analysis of independent publishers’ sites, then post the results here and possibly revisit them in a webinar.

The response was pretty overwhelming, so I had to limit our sample to a dozen publishers that together offer a good cross-section of the industry, with different genres, sizes and geographies represented.

In future posts I’ll dig into the specifics for each of the SEO factors I’ve outlined below, why they’re important, and how each site ranks for each item. At that time, I’ll also identify the participating publishers by name, but for present purposes I’d like to show how broadly our sample cuts across the industry. It includes:

  • a publisher of children’s books, videos and audio content;
  • an LGBTQ publisher;
  • a university press;
  • a fantasy and science-fiction publisher;
  • a genre fiction and literary nonfiction publisher;
  • a trade nonfiction publisher;
  • a publisher of short, interactive romance and erotica;
  • a college level textbook publisher (in a single category);
  • a digital-first children’s publisher;
  • a general trade publisher;
  • a Christian publisher; and
  • a multi-book self-published author.

These publishers are based in the U.S., Canada and the UK.

So what are the factors we are going to look at in the SEO evaluation? There are fourteen criteria/data points. Are these the most important factors from an on-page SEO perspective? Well, yes and also no.

For an item to be included in this list (and for the purposes of this evaluation), the information underlying it needs to be publicly accessible and without requiring access to the back-end code, site administration, analytics or webmaster tools, and it also needs to be a metric that’s fairly quick to review (this is a free evaluation, after all).

Some items, like meta-descriptions, actually have no impact on search results rankings but are important nonetheless. Other criteria represent a direction that search engines have indicated they are moving toward in the future, like HTTPS: usage. And some seem to have a correlation to search results but aren’t necessarily a true ranking factor, like code validation.

On the other hand, if all of these items rank well, the site is more than probably well constructed, at least from an SEO perspective.

In other words, these items, taken together, will show the overall health of a site—the higher the score, the better the site will rank. The lower the score, the lower it will rank.

Some caveats to keep in mind, though:

  1. There isn’t one factor that will solve a publisher’s SEO problems, whatever they may be.
  2. This list is just a small subset of all of the hundreds of factors that could determine your site’s ranking, or the ranking of a specific page on your site.
  3. The relative importance of each of these factors changes over time as search engines’ algorithms evolve.

For example, if you are still focusing on keywords and using the “Keywords” meta-tag on your site, you are at least six years behind the times. The search engines haven’t been using them since about 2009, or at least that’s when they told us they had stopped using them, and they may even be a negative ranking factor. By displaying keywords on your site, you are also potentially showing your competitors—not just the search engines—which terms you are optimizing your site/page for. And when I talk about search engines I’m really talking mostly about Google, of course, because I’m assuming it drives the vast majority of the organic traffic to your site.

All of which is to say, by way of caution, that a site could have each of these criteria fully optimized and still not rank well because of many other factors. SEO can be difficult in part because it’s so different from one website to the next, but that’s exactly why I’m offering these caste studies.

These are the fourteen criteria we’re looking at and the features that contribute to each one being properly optimized:

1 URL structure and site architecture good structure
no parameters passed in the URLs
2 page titles used on all pages
descriptive
no duplicates
number of characters
3 content updated regularly
not duplicated
canonical URLs used
4 meta-description tags used on all pages
descriptive
selling text
no duplicates
5 heading tags (h1, h2, h3) properly used on all pages
descriptive
no duplicates
6 structured data markup fully implemented
7 page load speed below one-second load time
8 images names
fully descriptive
alt-tags
size
9 code validation no errors
10 mobile responsive design fully responsive across three major formats
passes Google’s testing tool
11 social integration fully integrated for sharing
12 author amplification author activities on book and author pages
13 XML sitemaps found and complete
14 HTTPS: usage used throughout entire site

We will take a deeper look at each of these in future posts and see how well our publisher volunteers rank for each. For this analysis, we’ll look at the publishers’ homepages as well as a random book page.

In the meantime, how do you think your own site would rank against these factors? Let me know in the comments below.

3 thoughts on “Twelve Publishers’ Websites Go Under the SEO Microscope

  1. Al Gomez

    This is an awesome idea, Murray. In fact, you gave me a brilliant idea – thanks!

    As for publishing websites…I really believe that the literary sector has a LOT to learn regarding digital marketing. We have plenty of independent authors and small publishing firms that simply cannot compete with the likes of Barnes and Noble (among others). If only they know that the power is already on their websites, we could have a flood of awesome books right now. I have several indie author friends whose books are on Amazon. It’s sad that they hardly get the attention they deserve.

    Reply
  2. Jeff Scialetto

    Lol at still using keywords! You’re right if anyone is talking keywords nowadays they are far behind and left in the dust. Content is king right now and optimizing for long tail terms is the true bread and butter.

    Reply
  3. Mike Jones

    The checklist you provide in the end is spot on! I think it is the technical SEO that can still help you ranking good for any competitive search term. I kept on fixing all sort of technical errors from my website and so far it is helping.

    Reply

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