Ten Tips for Web Site Success Today and Tomorrow
by Neil Levin
Does one of these scenarios sound familiar?
You’ve been publishing for eight years, and your first Web site went up in 2003. You keep tacking on static pages and functionality one bit at a time. Every few months, some new issue requires you to summon your Web designer. Your site might as well be one big PDF, given how passive it is.
Or . . . your first site is from a WordPress template, and you’ve now hit its maximum effectiveness.
Or . . . most, if not all, of the following features are missing from your Web site: a decent Facebook feed or connection, search engine optimization (SEO), Twitter or blog updates, direct marketing tools, book previews, and downloadable files.
You get my drift. Our industry is immersed in major upheaval. E-books. DRM. Royalty issues. POD. Social media. Bookstore closings. And at the center of these changes, a publisher’s Web site still remains its most important platform for communicating to the rest of the world.
Keeping Web site technology and marketing capabilities up to date means that at some point the tinkering has to end, and you have to redesign, renovate, or completely rebuild your site.
For all of you who have decided to take the plunge, here’s my list of 10 critical points to keep firmly in mind.
1. Activity is in. Years ago (but not that many!), the basic goal of any Web site was to get something up on the Web. We didn’t have any bandwidth to play with—hell, we didn’t even use that term. Almost every publisher’s site included some basic information about the company and PDFs of recent catalogs. The entire site was passive.
Today’s successful publisher Web sites are vibrant, high-tech, interactive pillars that bolster marketing strategies. They provide user experiences, communication platforms, information, and community.
The first step in rebuilding your site is a survey. Look at a wide range of publishers’ sites to see what they’re doing and to understand the many options you have.
2. Professionals have their place. When you build a Web site, you need the combined talents of a designer and a developer.
Your new Web site will need to incorporate some basic components— including a home page, author and book information and metadata, social media links, downloadables, reviews, live appearances, and SEO.
But as your Web site evolves over time, you should be able to continually update information pages on your own. Web sites built on content management systems or similar software can give you easy access that allows you to edit many sections of pages. You need tools at your fingertips for changes such as adding titles so you won’t have to pay professionals to do that kind of work.
3. Different customers need different structures. As you continue to adapt to our ever-changing market, your new Web site will be an integral part of your marketing strategy. The new site can be designed to complement your existing marketing program; or you can make your new site a core component of a new strategy and direction for your company. It is not unusual for the launch of a new site to be PR-worthy.
The earliest and most critical strategic decision you make about your new Web site is whether it will be B2B (business to business) or B2C (business to consumer). A B2B site may be much easier to build, but of course that isn’t the only consideration. Several features reside in both.
4. You have a choice of sales channels. Another decision you must make in advance of developing your Web site is whether you will sell from your site with a shopping cart (meaning you handle the actual fulfillment) or steer consumers to online retailers (and which ones).
Furnishing Buy buttons for key retailers is an important reflection on your support of those companies. Including an Indie Bound button helps the independent bookselling community. B&N asks whether the author is linking to its site. Amazon is, well, Amazon.
But if you have a program that may include items not carried by retailers—premiums, say, or special discount packages available only from the publisher—a shopping cart can become important.
5. Design serves many functions. As book publishers, we design covers, interiors, sell sheets, catalog pages, and more, balancing content and design considerations to make the end result as effective as possible. Design is even more challenging in Web development because we need to think about how users flow through a Web site, about corporate identity, about keywords, and about converting a visitor from casual surfer to newsletter subscriber and/or book purchaser.
And then, on top of these multiple design concerns, some of which conflict with each other, we need to layer the mantra of Web site development: Keep it as simple as possible.
6. Search engines are all-important. Take a minute to think about our world before Google. How did we ever find anything? The advent of the search engine has changed how businesses function as well as how marketing is conducted. In so many ways, book marketing is now Internet marketing.
Understanding how search engines operate and what you can do to optimize your company’s search rankings can have a significant effect on the future success of your business.
Search engine optimization (SEO) must be part of your new Web site strategy, and for that to occur, you must understand these basic terms:
SERP: Search engine results page—the page that shows the results of the search on keywords entered in the search field.
On-page SEO: Those components of SEO that are on your Web site. They may include the software code, Web site architecture, keywords, names of your images, metadata, and internal links.
Off-page SEO: A broad term that involves social media, article distribution, cross-blogging, and appearing in directories and search engines. Essentially, it refers to the creation of quality links that point people back to your site.
Keyword strategy: Incorporating keywords that people use to find your Web site on search engines and reusing them throughout your site will increase the chances that it will rise on the SERP.
7. Currency is critical. One of the main reasons visitors return to a Web site is to get fresh content. If your site has interesting material and visitors can see that it is refreshed on a regular basis, they will come back again and again. Current information gives your site a sense of “now.”
Features that provide currency include YouTube videos, updates from social media like your blog or Facebook page, a new cover posting, and information on upcoming events.
Providing a book preview or a downloadable reading sample is almost standard in today’s publishing world, and a free first chapter can mean the difference between selling a book directly from your Web site (more margin for you) and selling it via an online retailer. You can also add other media such as music or audio files that visitors can download or listen to.
8. Social media should be integral. Marketing via social media such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and a blog will increase the size of your community and the potential sales of your books. Social media function as the new author tour, book review, chat show interview, and radio show rolled into one.
Most new Web sites include visitor interactivity and features associated with the major social media tools. Status updates, tweets, and/or blog posts are critical to success.
9. Outbound marketing matters. Newsletters and emails can help you sell backlist. At a minimum, make sure that you have a function that allows you to collect names and email addresses on your home page for general visitors. It’s good to be able to collect names and addresses at the book page level too, where you’ll find visitors with targeted interests.
10. Offer something extra. You can add any number of features to your Web site. Depending on your publishing program, you may choose to add pages for author submissions, media inquiries, reader contests, convention announcements, nonbook products, bestselling titles, or categorized titles. Think through what makes sense for your publishing program.
Is It Working?
Once you’ve built a wonderful destination Web site, how do you know if anyone ever walked through the door and what people did after entering? You can’t grow your business until you know how the site visitors are reacting. One way you can find out is by using Google Analytics, the free Web application that gives you a vast array of tools for understanding and keeping information about the people who come to the site you provide.
Neil Levin is president of EverPub LLC, which specializes in Web site development and strategy for publishers. He plans to provide more detailed information relating to these tips at blog.EverPub.com, and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.