Put Your Book Catalog Online
by Susan Daffron
As a recent survey from Accenture showed, people don’t just purchase online, they also use the Web to research product-buying decisions before heading off to a bricks-and-mortar store. In fact, 43 percent of the consumers responding to that survey cited online information as the most powerful influencer in their purchasing decisions.
The message for publishers—even the smallest micropublishers—is that you should post pages about your books even if you can’t justify the expense of a high-end e-commerce system. Essentially, what you need is an online version of your sell sheets or paper catalog.
A good way to start researching your options is to spend some time at sites for publishing businesses similar to yours. See what their catalogs look like. Write down what you like and don’t like.
After you’ve checked out your competition, check out high-end electronic commerce in action. Go to some of the big retail sites, such as LLBean.com or Buy.com, as well as Amazon.com. Exploring these sites will give you an idea of how electronic commerce can work when you add all the bells and whistles.
Now map out what you want in your Web catalog. Draw a flow chart that starts with the Home page, has a page for each book, and shows how the pages will interrelate. The key to creating an online catalog is organization. Unlike a print catalog that people can flip through at random, a Web catalog must guide users to the information they want. If you lead them astray, users will hit the Back button and disappear forever. A 2007 Harris Interactive survey said 40 percent of people who experienced problems shopping online complained about navigation. People won’t buy what they can’t find.
The Words, the Pictures, and the Payments
The simplest and least expensive way to put your catalog on your site is to create a page for each title. The copy for each book’s page in your online catalog may use copy from your print-on-paper listing, assuming that it stresses the benefits the book offers and sparkles with excitement.
But when you are writing copy about a book for the Web, remember that people won’t be able to thumb through the pages. Along with the basics (like binding, price, size, and number of pages), you want give them words that will bring the book to life. The book description is the only thing visitors have to go on in making a purchasing decision, so you want to explain why the book will make their life better.
It’s important to have a separate page for each book, both for visitors and for the search engines. In describing the contents of the book, you will naturally include keywords that people may be using to search for information online. You can research keywords people are actually using in their searches with free tools from Google (adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal) and Yahoo (inventory.overture.com/d/searchinventory/suggestion).
If you have only a few books, you can list them on your home page and create hyperlinks to the individual book pages with their descriptions and pictures. For a larger line, it makes sense to group products into categories. With books on gardening, you might put hyperlinks for Houseplants, Vegetable Gardening, Trees, and Landscaping on your Home page. Then, when a user clicks on the Houseplants link, for example, a page should appear with a list of all your books on Houseplants. Clicking a link to a particular houseplant book in the list should bring up a detail page about that particular title with a larger picture and more information.
You should also add information such as articles or tips that will be useful to your customers and draw more search-engine traffic. For example, a publisher of garden books might include an article on how to control aphids from one of its books on houseplants. You want your customers to return and visitors to find you through the search engines, so the more free information you can offer, the better. Some sites run contests, send out newsletters, or offer other freebies to add interest as well.
Photographs of your books are the heart of your online catalog. To work with graphics, you’ll need a package that can save your digital photo files in GIF or JPEG format. These formats are supported by Web browsers and use compression to reduce file size and download time. Experiment with GIF and JPEG to see which format will make your book covers look their best when they are reduced to tiny low-resolution thumbnails online.
You’ll want to keep your graphics small because most people won’t put up with downloading dozens of huge graphics, and many people surf the Web with old computers and slow connections. You never want to add a bunch of flashy extras that virtually slam the door on your customers.
If a catalog site gets beyond a few pages, it can be cost effective over time to investigate shopping-cart software. But the least expensive way to make it possible for people to buy your books is to include PayPal buttons on the catalog pages or link to a hosted shopping cart such 1ShoppingCart. The disadvantage is that the customer is forced to jump to a separate site to pay. The advantage is that you don’t have to pay for your own merchant account or deal with security.
Get Out There
New Web sites appear every day. If you don’t let people know your site exists, no one will ever see your nifty catalog. Plus, putting your book catalog on the Web is a long-term commitment. Once it’s out there, you will need to update it constantly with new content, or, like so many other Web sites, it will just fade into obscurity. It is your online storefront, and, as with a bricks-and-mortar store, it needs to be tended. If you tend it well, you’ll improve your chances for success.
Susan Daffron is the president of Logical Expressions, Inc. (www.logicalexpressions.com), a book and software publisher based in Sandpoint, ID. She is the coauthor of Web Business Success: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Web Sites That Work and several other titles, which were created using the company’s IdeaWeaver writing and creativity software. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.