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What Publishers’ Web Sites Can Do: Part 2

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(SEE ALSO: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

INTRODUCTION: The wording varies, and sometimes the message is subtext, but essentially, in our IBPA Roundtable discussions, it’s always, “Here’s what I’ve discovered that could help you.”

As the reports that follow demonstrate, IBPA members are extraordinarily generous about sharing the wealth of experience. This collection supplements the collection that ran last month; the third and final installment of the series will appear in next month’s Independent.

Thanks to everybody who wrote in about how Web sites help publishers—and their authors—prosper.

—Judith Appelbaum, Editor

Eyes on Customers, Content and Content Providers

As a relatively new and proudly independent publishing company specializing in children’s book series, we published our first series in January 2010 and have three series and other single items in distribution now, plus four new series in development.

When we launched our Web site, it was important to us to make the “shopping” experience easy and intuitive for visitors. Since we had independent sales representatives calling on schools, the site had to support their efforts. And since we were featured in several consumer publications, blogs, and parenting columns, we got a surge of consumer (parent and grandparent) orders directly from the site.

Today, we have a distributor selling and marketing our titles to the trade, library, and school markets. As a result, we have begun to focus more on SEO and building greater recognition for our company name and series topics. But we continue to highlight our various product offerings as clearly as we can.

We’ve greatly increased our search engine rankings for keywords and topics by updating content frequently, rotating home-page promotions monthly, and changing text and headings on product pages to test keywords and phrases.

We also used blogging for a while to help with content-loading and to optimize keywords, but blogging requires a bigger investment in time and effort than we’ve been able to manage. Still, it works, so we hope to get back to weekly blog postings.

Finally, we try to support our writers and illustrators as much as possible and use our Web site as a way to feature them (in About Us).

In terms of measuring effectiveness, we worked with Hubspot for a while and found it impressive and easy to use. Currently, though, we use Google Analytics and find it gives us the information we need.

Keith Garton
Red Chair Press

A Place with Many Purposes

My Web site is my business card plus much more. It lets visitors sign up for my newsletter, and this in turn grows my mailing list. I promote all my current books, upcoming releases, excerpts, and trailers on my site, and I have easy one-click point-of-purchase buttons for direct sales on Amazon.com.

Also, I advertise contests and book signing events on my home page regularly and have a link to my blog.

Linda Yoshida
Stories That Touch the Soul

Information Flowing Out and In

Like most companies, we need to understand where visitors come from, how often they return, and where they spend the most time. Our back office people do the analysis, then discuss their findings with our marketing people to ensure we have the most optimized Web layout. By providing a clean and well-designed Web site, we can quickly deliver information to our readers and keep them coming back for more.

Because we feel a loyal base of Hen House readers is critical to the growth of Henery Press, we provide our readers with current information on upcoming releases and book reviews, as well as author and industry updates.

Our Web site highlights each book with an engaging description, recent reviews, and active buy links. And so our readers can connect with the authors, we showcase author profiles with a quick bio and a snapshot, so people can see the face behind each great work.

Other Web site features include ways to subscribe to our newsletter; to provide feedback on our authors, books, and company; or simply to send us a compliment or a complaint. We always like to hear what our readers have to say—and happily, the majority of responses have been very positive (people just love that little bird!).

Today, our Web site provides a platform for indirect sales. Readers come to the site, learn about our authors and books, then have the option to purchase print or electronic copies from their preferred vendor (e.g., Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo).

Over the next several months, we will be growing the Hen House with an online store, offering our readers fun and useful products they can all enjoy.

Art C. Molinares
Henery Press, LLC

Tightly Targeted

On our Web site for At Ease, Soldier! How to Leave the War Downrange and Feel at Home Again, people can see some of our book’s contents, read comments about the book, see a list of articles, interviews, and so on about both the book and the author, access a page about related products (relaxation training CDs), read an expression of appreciation for our target audience (military servicepeople, their families, veterans), and find information about staff (including contact information) who work in connection with the book. The site also includes information for ordering the book directly from us.

We share the URL as much as we can.

Pat Garrison
Optima Vita, Inc.

Informing, Connecting, Driving Traffic

Since Perseus handles all our sales throughout the world, our Web site serves as an information depot for prospective buyers in our target markets. The site is also there to give us a chance to connect with our readers.

While most people rely on Facebook and their book “fan pages,” we always post on our site first, then embed a link on Facebook and Twitter (even Google+, which feels like the BetaMax to Facebook’s VHS) so we can drive traffic to the site and raise overall SEO properties.

Eric DelaBarre
Author: Saltwater Taffy

Doing Better by Blogging

I’ve had Web sites since late 2007 and blogs since early 2010. Sales of the books I write/publish were steady at 18 a month in 2008 and 28 a month in 2009; but then, after I learned how to blog properly, sales leaped to 180 a month in 2010 and 387 a month in 2011, and they are chugging along at 379 a month for 2012 so far.

My sites do not offer much in the way of interaction, but my blogs do.

Lloyd Lofthouse
Three Clover Press

Different Purposes, Different Sites

As publicists, we have companion Web sites.

Our ksbpromotions.com site offers information about our company and services. It is also a place to put free articles and tips that I hope authors and publishers will find helpful. Many of these were the basis for Publishing University panels and/or pieces in the Independent. The site doesn’t include prices for our services, but many people have contacted us and become clients after reading about what we do.

Our ksblinks.com site offers a full “media kit” for many of our clients. Media people can go there to download releases, bios, cover art, and interior art, and to find FAQs and more. The media tell us they love being able to get this information in such an easy way whenever they need it if I am not around to send it to them quickly.

Kate Bandos
KSB Promotions
ksbpromotions.com; ksblinks.com

A Gallery Analogy

Our site serves as a sales channel for our books, prints, and cards. It’s like a gallery with additional blurbs/quotes/testimonials from people who have liked our work.

I also use the site combined with Facebook and Twitter to let people know about new reviews, interviews, and so on relating to specific titles.

Rick Black
Turtle Light Press

For Sales and Quite a Lot More

We have separate mailing list sign-up forms for retail and trade customers on our site, where we also sell direct and promote related titles on each book page. A log-in system for free downloads is in the works and high on our Web “to do” list, and once it’s in place, it will be a source of basic customer information.

Our home page features the newest release (“Hot Off the Press”) as well as six to eight titles, which might be recent releases or books getting special attention during a specific season or promotion.

In addition, the site lists events that Judson Press is participating in and events where our authors appear, and it offers complete book proposal submission guidelines. We don’t have anything there for potential rights buyers, but that seems like a good idea.

Kim Shimer
Judson Press

Changing over Time

Our Web site is being developed in stages as we prepare to introduce our first titles this spring. Right now it’s aiming to introduce the company to the book publishing world, making us look like a legitimate publishing house, and enticing great writers to choose us over self-publishing or McGraw-Hill/Wiley/AMACOM/Jossey-Bass, etc.

As we get closer to our first book’s publication date, we’ll also use the site to build our mailing list by enticing readers with content related to our upcoming titles (we’ll have plenty of prospective author information). Once titles are available (and we’ll have prepublication sales campaigns), the site will focus on our customers (while we continue to include the other aspects of the site but make focusing on them secondary).

We’ll be aggressive in promoting our titles and our authors with free content, information on various author events, developing a community of business book readers. At this point, we haven’t decided whether to make our books available for sale on the site or simply drive buyers to our distributor (we’ll be working with Atlas Books/Bookmasters) and/or various online stores such as Amazon.com.

Jim Pennypacker
Maven House Press

Using Prizes and Plugs

On our site, we offer a prize of a free book to anyone who finds a typo or grammatical error in our pages. This cost-effective way of getting our pages proofread gives us an idea of demographics of visitors and tells us whether our pages are being read, even to the very end.

Visitors are astounded that we do this. Perhaps they think we are exposing ourselves to embarrassment; perhaps they think giving away a free book is a costly sacrifice on our part.

We also use Google Analytics to discover what sites are sending visitors our way. Then we write to those sites, thank them, and ask them to add a plug for our site, suggesting this language: “Privacy Journal, the longtime newsletter on privacy, tells us that our site is a leading source of visitors to its site, www.privacyjournal.net. In fact, publisher Robert Ellis Smith promises to send a free copy of the newsletter to any visitor who reports that he or she found out about his newsletter through our Web site.”

Robert Ellis Smith
Privacy Journal

Free Pays

Two things that are working well on our site:

We offer a free e-book in PDF format for new mailing list subscribers and get a lot of feedback from recipients who appreciate that we give away an entire book. The book is Booked Up! How to Write, Publish, and Promote a Book to Grow Your Business, a topic perfect for our target audience, and the giveaway helps us consistently grow our mailing list by 50 new subscribers per month.

The main way we attract traffic is with a blog where we share articles about publishing, book marketing, social media, and other related topics. We share each new blog post via social media sites—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and Pinterest—and we see a lot of retweets and “likes,” which generate plenty of traffic.

The blog is a natural entry point to our site, leading visitors to our services (custom publishing and social media).

Stephanie Chandler
Authority Publishing

The Full-Circle System

I’ve found a strategy that works for me. You may want to try it too. I converted my author Web site into my online hub, and I employ links, like spokes on a wheel, to connect to a wider circle of online social media. I call it my full-circle approach to online branding.

My Web site collects all my online identities in one place. On each page, I include icons that link to each of my social media profiles to give my visitors a visual cue to my other Web identities. That way, they become aware of my latest events, publications, blog postings, and more.

To build interactivity into my site, I use a Facebook “like” button. Visitors simply click to become part of this social network, which is where I focus most of my social media efforts. I post consistently, every day if possible, and encourage comments and conversations.

Another important link leads visitors to my blog on WordPress, encouraging them to subscribe to my blog feed. I cross-link between my blog and Facebook.

These links maximize my readership and reach.

In addition to featuring social media icons on my site, I embed images with links to my recent magazine publications and contributions to other people’s blogs about writing, sailing, travel, and adventure.

While I don’t offer e-commerce on my site at this point, I make it very easy for visitors to purchase. I link to my Amazon book page (and include an events calendar on my Amazon author page). I also link to independent booksellers during special promotions and events.

Because I measure my Web site traffic with Google Analytics, I can target the sites that provide me with the most referrals. My top referring sites from the past 30 days were Pinterest, Facebook, and the Southern California Writer’s Association. A couple of months ago, I noticed that my referrals from Twitter were steadily declining despite regular postings, so I decided to focus on Pinterest instead, since the referrals from this site were growing. This strategy worked, and I plan to stick with it—as long as it continues working.

I believe it’s important to tweak your tactics regularly and to get off what’s not working. In the process of changing my focus, I worked out a way to let visitors “pin” photos from my Web site photo gallery to Pinterest, increasing referrals back to my site and my books.

Promoting events on my site is important too. Cross-linking allows me to share my activities across multiple platforms and enhance my overall Web presence. For example, when I confirm a speaking engagement, I immediately list it on the “events” tab of my site. From there, I link to my social media profiles. The same cross-linking strategy works for news; when I write and distribute an online press release, I publish it to PR Web, but also link to it from my site, and from the site to my social media profiles.

My husband, Gunter Hofmann, and I are the partners in our company, PIP Productions (the acronym stands for Partners in Paradise). Eventually, we plan to sell travel and nautical products and books through our site; right now, though, my focus is on publishing In Search of Adventure and Moments of Bliss, a nautical trilogy about our circumnavigation.

I’ve found the full-circle, wheel-and-hub approach a successful formula for online branding. Prompt and consistent linking and cross-linking can keep an online presence current, keep visitors captivated and engaged, and, most important, turn them into customers.

Lois Joy Hofmann
PIP Productions

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