Final Thoughts: Independent Publishers in a Modern, Optimized World

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

The Optimized PublisherWhen we presented our analysis of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) factors amongst independent book publishers more than 16 weeks ago, we began a journey that I hoped would be eye-opening to the participants and Digital Book World readers alike. What we’ve learned on our way has certainly been enlightening—a chance to view achievements, challenges and opportunities for independent publishers in the online environment.

As I mentioned in the executive summary of this evaluation when we first started, we have presented what our participants are doing well and also where they may be lagging behind their close competitors and the big retail booksellers. Selling books online can be both formal and informal, organized and chaotic. Whatever opportunities are available to improve your sales and increase your customer base must be reviewed and applied where possible.

Optimization is one of those areas where quick fixes and long-term projects can compound to boost your online presence. How search engines like Google and Bing see your business online, and how they present search findings and attract new customers to your website, will be the key to your success in this modern publishing world.

As a thank you to the participants of this evaluation, I would like to include a short summary of each of their websites and the ways in which they may continue improving their SEO, boosting their link juice and raising their Search Engine Results Page (SERP) rankings. Please keep in mind that these sites were evaluated towards the end of the spring/beginning of the summer of 2015, so things may have changed for the participants since then.

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. Bold Strokes Books received an overall score of 2.3 (D grade) from this evaluation, and there are a lot of opportunities for improvement:

• In terms of low hanging fruit, Bold Strokes Books had very few duplicate page titles compared to some of the other participants—only 13 percent. This should make it much easier to review and revise their page titles while still keeping to our recommendations for unique content that leverages keywords.
• Bold Strokes Books has a lot of work to do in the areas of duplicate pages and duplicate content, where they received F grades. Duplicates are keeping a majority of their website pages out of the search index with much of the page content repeated in the SERPs. The site will definitely need an overhaul in order for new customers to locate books and authors in the search results.
• Please note that Bold Strokes Books is not without its SEO strengths. The site tested very well in terms of page load and page crawl speed (an A grade), an important SEO factor. Other areas that stood out as positive were a mobile-friendly site structure, few errors in HTML code and the use of alt tags so that images can be read by search engine crawlers.
• (As a result of this evaluation, Bold Strokes Books has signed on to move their site over to Biztegra’s Publishr platform, and should be live pretty much around the time this post goes live. So, all of their “opportunities” will now be solved).

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. CNS received a D grade in the evaluation and could use the help of coders and webmasters to improve its SEO:

• CNS had one of the lowest scores for duplicate content and pages throughout its website. Ninety percent of page titles were repeated, while thousands of its website pages only resulted in a few hundred pages indexed by Google. Setting canonicals within the HTML code (for pages with similar content) would lower the amount of repeated pages that are being indexed by the search engine spiders.
• Another area that CNS could expand is its interaction with users beyond purchasing. Making an investment in social media plugins and dedicating pages to its authors could build up a fanbase and help those fans share their favorites through Facebook and Twitter.
• CNS is doing a few things right. The publisher is mobile-friendly, which lets users access its site on the go, and is one of Google’s new SEO factors for page rankings. CNS also has above average scores for image optimization and page load speed, two areas that can be improved with a little coding and guidance.

The Doomsday Kids

The “Doomsday Kids” science fiction book series by Karyn Langhorne Folan follows brave teens through an apocalyptic world of adventure. The Doomsday Kids website does a lot of things right when it comes to SEO and received the highest aggregate score of all the participants: a 3.2 (C grade):

• Although Ms. Folan is the only author, the website scored a 5.0 in author amplification. Her author page included Facebook and Twitter posts and frequently updated personal content to allow fans of the series a better glimpse into the author’s history and writing process.
• Doomsday Kids stacks up the link juice with great site architecture (few duplicate URLs or pages), mobile-friendly access and fast page load speeds. The site does, however, have some room for improvement. While URL duplicates are kept to a minimum, page titles are often repeated throughout the site, and 98 percent of the webpages are missing meta tags—SEO factors that optimize content for search engines with unique keywords and descriptive text.
• In the future, as the Doomsday Kids catalog continues to expand, it will be necessary for the website to have scalability. It’s important to have a growth strategy for both the business and the website to keep things optimized as more content and functionality is added to the site.

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. Dragon Moon Press averaged a 2.2 score. I encourage the house to leverage its originality and creativity to improve its website’s appeal to customers and search engines:

Dragon Moon Press is one of the few participants to use social integration effectively. By using Pinterest’s Rich Pins, it is allowing fans of its sites and books a chance to share a bit more than just book titles. In my post on social integration, I hoped that the publisher would go further to include pricing and availability content.
• One area that Dragon Moon will need more help is its use of headings and meta tags (the publisher received an F grade in these sections). Meta tags make your pages stand out from the crowd in SERPs and are social media-friendly. Headers, often misused by coders when setting up webpages, are read by search engine crawlers and help to index your page content within context.
• One area that the website needs to address quickly is page load and page crawl speed. Site visitors and search engine crawlers won’t wait too long for sites to load. They will move on, taking customers and search engine rankings with them.

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. Greystone received the second lowest grade in the evaluation—a 1.8 score—and could use a lot of help in making its website SEO-friendly:

• As I mentioned in the Pages Crawled vs. Pages Indexed post, Greystone books has two different URLs. And because of this, search engine spiders think that Greystone has two different websites. This splits the link juice and SEO benefits and lowers the search ranking significantly. Coupled with non-canonical pages and numerous duplicates, I believe that this website could use a revision of organization and architecture across all its webpages.
• One SEO factor that Greystone also needs to address is its images. Book thumbnails are currently hosted by the book distributor’s website. These images do not have alt tags (to make them readable by search engines), and they also use numbers rather than descriptive image titles.
• Greystone does have some above average areas that could be boosted for SEO. Page speed is very good, and there’s a good start with author pages and social integration (through a plugin). By building on these areas—such as improving the social plugins and making the author pages more dynamic—the website revision could be off to a great start.

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. IV Press received a 2.2 score in the evaluation, but has a lot of great opportunities for making improvements:

• Where the IV Press website really suffers is duplication. Meta tags, page titles and headers are repeated across the website. I recommend reviewing each page and providing unique content for all tags and titles. Coupled with a strong list of keywords, IV Press could make their mark in search engine rankings.
• IV Press is one of the few participants to use an HTTPs certificate. Not only does this make its transactions more secure, but it also gives the publisher a little boost to link juice (Google loves sites with HTTPs). Unfortunately, some of the non-HTTPs pages are still crawlable, still out there in search engine indexes. A URL cleanup is needed to keep that link juice intact.
• IV Press is moving in a great direction with social integration and author amplification aspects of its website. By taking its social media footprint further to include all possible content for Facebook Open Graph and Twitter Cards, it can promote its books through its customer base. Additionally, adding a social media feed to its author pages will provide a better snapshot of book events and online articles for its authors.

Oldcastle Books

Formed in 1985, Oldcastle Books is a UK publisher with several innovative imprints in its catalog. Oldcastle books scored a 2.1 (a D grade). This website requires a few updates to remain competitive in online publishing:

• Of all of our participants, Oldcastle was the only website to have missing page titles—22 percent in total. This is often even worse than having duplicate pages. Without a page title, webpages fall under the “untitled document” category and are essentially lost to search engines.
• Heading tags could really help the Oldcastle books site. Eighty-seven percent were missing H1 and H2 tags. Remember, every little bit helps. Heading tags get you noticed by users in the SERPs. Take advantage of this opportunity and develop some unique headings for each of your pages.
One area where Oldcastle books shone was in Pages Crawled vs. Pages Indexed, scoring a B grade with only eight duplicate pages. That’s a lot of great link juice there. Unfortunately, some of that link juice is lost to duplicate page titles and meta descriptions.

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. The website scored a 2.1 grade, and is another one of our participants suffering from duplicate pages and content:

• The website pages are full of duplicate headings, page titles and meta tags. Sixty percent of the meta tags are repeated with 74 percent of them missing altogether. Remember, meta tags sell your books through the SERP descriptions and improve you page click through rates (CTRs).
• The Secret Mountain is trying to get rid of its duplicates through canonicals, reducing the number of URLs with similar page content. However, there are still disparities between the number of pages crawled vs. the number indexed. The site definitely needs to be reviewed to prevent repeated pages from lowering the SEO.
• The Secret Mountain has a foothold in social integration through its use of Facebook’s Open Graph (many of our participants do not use this feature, Twitter Cards or Rich Pins). Still, its Open Graph consists of an off-center photo and a URL. Adding book summaries, book jacket thumbnails and other information will turn its site users into an efficient promotional tool.

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. SilkWords had one of the highest aggregate scores among the participants. I am hoping that the publisher can make enough significant revisions to boost its SEO and online readership:

• SilkWords has a unique approach to author amplification, with illustrations of the authors (rather than photos), links and social media (it scored a 4 in this area). I still feel that the publisher can do a bit more, however, adding social media feeds from these authors as well as links to interviews.
• The website could use a bit more focus when it comes to page titles, meta descriptions and headings. As I pointed out in my post on page titles, SilkWords should focus on using unique keywords for each page and organizing its catalog by author and genre.
• SilkWords received two scores of 5.0 for correct use of HTTPs and mobile friendliness. These two SEO factors are a weighted positively by Google for page rankings, and keep site visitors safe across all viewing formats.

Xist Publishing

Focusing on ebooks for the touchscreen generation, Xist is a new start-up that publishes children’s books on five distinct ebook formats. Xist received a 2.4 score and has a lot of positive SEO Factors to work from:

• First off, Xist is one of only two participants to use XML sitemaps, which is not an easy task. XML sitemaps are the best path for search engine spiders to follow to your site content. The easier your pages are to index, the faster the search engine spiders can go, allowing them to index more pages in a shorter timeframe.
• Unfortunately, a great XML sitemap can suffer due to page duplication. Xist has more than 8,000 webpages, but only 800 or so show up in the SERPs. Of that number, Google stops the list at just 169. That’s a lot of unaccounted for pages. I think that with canonicals reducing the amount of duplicate content presented to search engine spiders, Xist can improve upon its SEO and SERPs results.
• While Xist publishing is doing quite well with social integration (it could still stand to explore Rich Pins and Twitter Cards), it should also be developing author pages to complete its social strategy. Author information keeps readers interested in between book releases and ties in nicely with social media feeds, events and articles.

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. While UHP did well in the amount of duplicates presented, it still has work to do improve its online status as a university publishing arm:

• One place for UHP to start is moving beyond its books to the authors and its readers. The publisher should develop an online strategy for showcasing its numerous authors and making it easy for readers to share their favorite books with others through social integration (a great promotional tool). Adding a mobile-friendly interface would be another great option for purchasing in any format.
• While UHP does pretty well in weeding out the duplicates in page titles and meta tags, it needs to address content repetition in its heading tags. Headings serve as great guides for search engines indexing your site, as they look for context between the H1 tags and the content on the page.
• Images could use some tweaking, as well. Currently, the images are being blocked by robots.txt, so they cannot be seen by site crawlers and do not show up in image searches. With the visual aspect of search engines a powerful draw in the SERPs, hiding these images is definitely hurting UHP’s online presence.

Wayzgoose Press

Publishing genre fiction, educational materials and literary non-fiction, Wayzgoose Press is an Australian-based private press founded in 1985. Wayzgoose received a 2.2 grade (D). The publisher does a lot of things correctly when it comes to SEO, but needs to go a step further to truly optimize its site:

• Wayzgoose received above average scores in a lot of SEO Factors. They have page titles with few duplicates, but the titles are too short to be descriptive. Similarly, all pages have meta tags, but most are too short and half are duplicated. I encourage Wayzgoose to review these sections and improve these areas to 95 percent or better to increase its online presence for search engines and site visitors.
• In terms of URL structure and site architecture, Wayzgoose does a great job of “siloing” its content, using a hierarchical structure to map out categories and subcategories for books. As I mentioned in my posts, siloing not only helps to organize your books for readers to find, but it also guides search engine crawlers to content by following established internal site links.
• One area that Wayzgoose received low scores was in social media and mobile formats. In order to generate a fanbase for authors and reach online relevancy, a social strategy is necessary. Additionally, being an online “brick and mortar” store is not simply enough in the modern publishing world. Mobile formats are needed to reach customers on new platforms.

I look forward to hearing more from you on this important subject in improving your business presence online, and consulting with you on the best solutions for moving forward in this SEO-focused, modern publishing world.

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