A few days ago a friend came across an article in, WhereItzAt Magazine. In the magazine was an article, “In defense of Black Bookstores,” which addressed the loss of Black bookstores and why it matters. This is an issue I’ve covered extensively. Indeed, I have published a directory of Black owned bookstores for as long as I have run this site. My current coverage of Black owned bookstores is probably the most extensive coverage available on the web today. So it goes without saying that I applaud WhereItzAt Magazine’s coverage of this important issue.
My friend took a photo of the article (shown below) and shared it with me, because this website was mentioned, in the last paragraph, as a resource where one my find a list of Black owned bookstores.
Of course I was interested in sharing this article, but I decided to look for an online version which would make it possible for others to more easily read. I found the article, but noticed that the online version did not mention AALBC.com at all?!
This just struck me as simply dumb. Why would the website not mention, and link to an, online resource to help readers discover the remaining Black owned bookstores–the very thing they are purporting to support? They were obviously aware of the resource; why would they decide to exclude it on the online version of their article?
I still shared the article, because the subject is important. In fact, I even added WhereItzAt Magazine. to my listing of Black owned magazines (even though I have not yet verified that they are still in print). I also added their website to my Huria Search engine which allows people to search Black owned websites exclusively.
Now, while I’m using WhereItzAt Magazine as an example they are the norm–and this is our biggest problem. Stated plainly, Black websites do not link to each other.
To illustrate this point, lets run a Huria Search on “aalbc.” Again Huria Search’s only goal is to elevate Black websites by making their content easier to find. In fact, the websites I own, including AALBC.com, are not included in the hundreds of sites that are indexed in Huria Search.
If you examine, the top results you will see that most are two years older or more. There are none from the largest Black websites. The one search result from a top Black website was Black Enterprise Magazine, where they credited AALBC.com for an image that they copied from my website. Even here Black Enterprise they did not actually link back to the the AALBC.com page where they grabbed the image (looking at the page today, Black Enterprise even removed that reference).
You’ll also see from that query that there are 13,000 results. Which may give you the impression that there are many links back to AALBC.com—and there, but they tend to be older links. The problem I’m describing is relatively new.
When the web first started Black-owned websites were very likely to link to other sites. We all recognized that by helping visitors discover other interesting websites, that added value to our own websites. In fact, before search, this was the primary way we discovered other Black websites. This is why I continue to link to other websites and may be the reason I’ve been able to keep this website viable for 18 years
Well some webmasters have been convinced that linking to other websites hurts their website: Some feel linking to other websites encourages people to leave their website. Others feel by linking to a potentially lower “quality” websites, hurts their website in terms of search engine optimization (SEO). Of course there is the problem of the site they link to removing the page in the future, creating a broken link on their website, which is bad for SEO and the experience of their visitors.
But all of these reasons can be addressed—particularly by webmasters interested in the health and vibrancy of the Black web. Relying on social media, or search, to elevate our sites and make them discoverable, is simply not working.
To compound this problem, when webmasters started linking to other websites, they began linking aggressively to social media websites. The result is that collectively we are uplifting social media and marginalizing our own websites.
This problem is further exacerbated by Google (who handles the majority of searches), whose search algorithm looks at our behavior, of linking to social media and not linking to Black websites, and makes the reasonable conclusion to elevate social media over Black websites in search engine results.
All of this has had disastrous results on the ability of websites to generate traffic and survive. As a result, the web is far less rich—particularly as it relates to content generated by and for Black people. We have lost some terrific website and potentially great ones are discouraged from even starting because of the difficulty of attracting visitors.
If you have read this far, I suspect this article has resonated with you. If so, there is something you can do: Take every opportunity you have to link to another website. You don’t need to have a website or blog to do this. You can link to and share links to websites from your social media sites—a hyperlink to a website is much better for a website, than tagging or liking that website on a social media platform. If you read an article which has a place for comments, and feel another website offers a related resource, link to that website in the article’s comments section.
Of course if you appreciated this article share it by linking to it or using the social media icons shown.
Immediately after publishing this article, I connected with the publisher of WhereItzAt Magazine; not only will they update their “In defense of Black Bookstores,” article to add a link to our bookstore database. They have also expressed an interest in collaborating.
I’m pleased WhereItzAt Magazine received the article as intended. I also look forward to working with them in a more constructive, and mutually beneficial, fashion. As a result, you the reader, will be much better served.
“Outsiders” have often dictated the trends of African American Culture, sometimes doing the job themselves, sometimes using what authors John A. Williams called “surrogates.” Both W.E.B. DuBois and Booker T. Washington accused each other of being manipulated by outsiders.
With the introduction of cyberspace, younger writers have the ability to reach audiences unheard of during the sixties when African American writers produced broadsides and saddle-stitched chapbooks. As access to cyberspace becomes less expensive, more voices will be heard and this period, the most prolific in the history of African American Literature, will rise to worldwide prominence, no longer having to obey the tastes of the outsiders in power or the dictates of the establishment-manufactured Talented Tenth.
—Ishmael Reed (Black Issues Book Review; November-December 1999)
During the period Ishmael Reed wrote this I would have agreed with him. A year earlier, I’d started AALBC.com with just that belief in mind. But I was naive, and today I strongly disagree with the statement. I wonder if Ishmael disagrees with it now too. I will reach out to him, and see if he is willing to share his thoughts here. He is active on Facebook so…
“Cyberspace,” or the World Wide Web, as it is more commonly known today, has actually made it easier for “Outsiders” to dictate the trends of African American Culture. Nothing has changed indeed it has gotten much worse for us.
Market forces drive us to conform to the dictates of the “Outsiders” referred to by Reed. The most popular “Black” websites are not owned by Black people. The ones that are owned by Black folks take their marching orders from the white owned sites they minick, in an attempt to attract visitors. Anyone who has been online for 5 minutes knows about the-celebrity-scandal-click-bait content that drives our most popular, so called, Black sites.
Sure there may be more Black writers with the potential to reach more people, but they are finding it increasingly difficult to be heard, unless of course they are cosigned by one of the massive sites run by “outsiders”; which then of course requires conforming to their dictates.
Despite all of this virtually free access to the web and numerous tools to publish content, we do not drive the narrative, rather the “outsiders” created narrative drives us. Anyone attempting to do something other than what the “outsiders” have prescribed will fail or struggle miserably.
I often read old magazines for a historical perspective. I subscribed to Black Issues Book Review (BIBR) for it’s entire run. The issue from where I transcribed Ishmael’s quote was brilliant. I’m unaware of any other magazine that comes close to producing the content Black Issues Book Review did during it’s prime. Both the magazine and the associated website are long gone.
Part of the problem is the we simply do not work in our own self interest. Sure there are some great exceptions, but not enough to really make a difference. When I was a corporate employee, this was not apparent to me, but the minute I became a business owner it became very obvious. It is very sad.
For example, I would listen to Black writers give Black Issue Book Review, a lot of grief for not paying them enough, or fast enough, for the articles they wrote. Of course if you say you are going to pay someone, you need to pay them. But I also observed some of these very same writers proudly write for the Huffington Post for free! Just the idea of having a HuffPost byline was enough compensation. There was never as much pride in having a BIBR byline.
Today we have fewer websites dedicated to Black books. One would think there would be an uproar, but media, like a BIBR, who would report on this problem, no longer exists. I’d image the general public has no idea a problem even exists. Even saying there are few Black book websites, would not mean much absent a historical context. Meanwhile, the “outsider” has sold us on the idea popularity on their platforms is the only meaningful measure of success.
Sites like AALBC.com who are inclined to report on this issue, an issue that does not conform to the “dictated the trend,” defined by the “outsiders,” have to fight to be heard. Trust me; it is a fight. Social media is pay to play, and search results skew away from Black independent websites. But most importantly, our people will not sacrifice to support, no invest, in our own platforms. Paying a bit more or clicking away from a massive social media site is apparently too much of a sacrifice for us to make, to control our own narrative.
Black websites certainly don’t matter to the massive corporations who control the World Wide Web, but based upon our behavior they don’t matter to us either.
Our future may be cyberspace, but that future looks pretty bleak. I hope to tell a very different story in 15 years.
Writers, if you are using Facebook to promote your work—especially paid promotion— invest 30 minutes of your time to watch these two videos, and read the article. It will probably change the way you think about Facebook and save you some time, energy, and money.
AALBC.com’s Last 3 Million Visitors
As a content publisher, marketing is part of the job. As an independent publisher, with limited resources, it is critical I use my resources wisely. My website’s analytics is an important tool for me. Below is a Google Analytics report which shows the source of AALBC.com’s last 3 million visitors.
Organic Search Brings AALBC.com 75% of Our Visitors
Ranking high on Google and Bing’s search engine results contributed to bringing AALBC.com more than 75% of our last 3 million visitors.
Creating high quality content, results in higher rankings in search engine results¹. The creation of high quality content is perfectly aligned with AALBC.com’s goal. No writer or content producer could reasonably argue against a system where the creation of higher quality content results in more visitors. Visitors, of course, are a primary driver of revenue for a website.
Direct Traffic is Not Too Shabby Either at 13%
The source of our direct traffic is trickier to nail down precisely, but it does result from visitors who come to AALBC.com, by clicking a link on my emailed newsletter, through a bookmarked page, typing an AALBC.com page directly into the browser, and any instance where referral data is not passed².
With all the hype surrounding social media, and Facebook in particular, many writers are ignoring time tested marketing techniques, like a solid mailing list. Our mailing list has just under 11,000 subscribers, and 100% of them have opened an email within the last 6 months (we actively remove subscribers who haven’t). Open rates for a typical mailing is at least 20%. This means every mailing will be opened by at least 2,000 readers. In addition, many of our subscribers are generous enough to be paid subscribers. We also send a mailing, once a month, that is sponsored. Not only is our eNewsletter an effective way to reach our audience, it is a revenue generator.
Approximately 90% of our traffic is generated directly and through organic search. The remaining 10% comes from other websites including social media.
Facebook Brings AALBC.com 1% of Our Visitors
It is interesting to note that Wikipedia and Rottentomatoes (RT, a film review aggregator website) sends us just about as many visitors as Facebook.
Publishers have the ability to post links back to their websites on related Wikipedia articles. In general this practice is considered “promotion” and is purportedly against Wikipedia’s guidelines. Despite that, I’ve followed the lead of major corporations and posted links back to related AALBC.com content. As the report shows the tactic works as well as engaging on Facebook, but with a fraction of the effort.
I post interesting AALBC.com content on Facebook almost every day (I’ve shared this article on Facebook too). Again, Wikipedia, where I have not posted a thing in over a year and is free, drives as much traffic as Facebook where I post almost every day and have paid for promotion.
If I add Facebook mobile, Facebook made up just 1.3% of my overall traffic (40K of 3M+ visitors). Of course it is better to have those visitors than not, right? Well that depends on the effort it takes to get those visitors, and what those visitors do when they visit AALBC.com.
Facebook Zero: Considering Life After the Demise of Organic Reach
One major problem with Facebook is that the quality of your content is of little significance. Facebook controls who sees your content. Search engines control who sees your content too, but search engines are motivated, and rewarded, by giving visitors quality search results. Facebook, on the other hand, is motivated by maximizing their revenue and engagement on their website.
I have watched AALBC.com’s Facebook page “likes” quadruple over the last couple of years, while organic (free) post engagement has dropped substantially. This is Facebook’s way to create an incentive for marketers to pay for post promotion. I have experimented with paying for post promotion, but I have yet to reach the level of engagement I enjoyed organically, a few years ago, with far fewer fans.
AALBC.com Last (and Final) Promoted Post Statistics
Despite having more than 20,000 fans and almost 5,000 friends, I reach less than 300 people organically with a typical post. If I spend $7, I can increase this to 2,000. But still, this is less than 10% of my fan base and I have to pay to reach them.
Keep in mind this is an audience that I built through my efforts of actively engaging with people on Facebook.
And of course all of this assumes you can trust the data the information being provided to you from Facebook. As the videos above assert there is a lot of click fraud occurring on Facebook. Are the 2,310 people I paid to see my ad real? Are the 19 who clicked the link real? If you ask me, I’d say, “no.”
Take a look at a report (below) which shows the “people” who clicked on my Facebook advertisement. The ad ran for 7 days, from October 1 to October 7, 2015. You will see that the Avg. Session Duration is 00:00:00—this is ZERO time spent on the website! Whatever clicked the link on my Facebook advertisement didn’t even wait for the page to load. Needless to say, my content could not have possibly been read, nor could a book purchase have taken place.
The average session time for my websites is measured, not in seconds, but minutes. A zero second session time is absurd. Even someone visiting a page by mistake, will take second or two before realizing it, and leaving the page.
Sadly, there is no shortage of social media marketing “experts” who promise to help you maximize the effectiveness your advertising campaigns on Facebook.
Few of us are sophisticated enough to evaluate the effectiveness of these experts or the effectiveness of a Facebook advertising, particularly when the data supplied by Facebook is suspect. Indeed, many social media marketers would claim, “We got you 2,310 views for only $7.” When in reality, what I got, in this case, was ripped off.
Someone looking at this report may notice that all of the Facebook referrals came from mobile users (m.faceboo.com/) and claim, well Troy your website, AALBC.com, is not optimized for mobile displays. That is true, but the page I was advertising is optimized for mobile displays. In fact the link is to a newly redesigned version of AALBC.com which will be officially rolled out in early 2016.
For writers and other content producers managing their own websites, with limited resources, adding the additional effort of maintaining a Facebook page comes at the expense of maintaining and publishing content on your own website. A compromise that few of us can really afford to make. That $7, I wasted with Facebook, could have gone toward paying a writer for content that a reader visiting my website would enjoy, and that another website link to.
Why would I continue to take precious resources away from the production of quality content on AALBC.com, which is responsible for 90% of our visitors, and generates revenue, and redirect those resources to Facebook, who we have to pay, to bring of 1% of our visitors, many of whom are probably fraudulent?
On top of that, by promoting posts (a form of advertising on Facebook), I’m literally paying Facebook to provide them with free content. Continuing to do this defies all reason and logic, so I have stopped.
As mentioned in the first video above, the YouTube social network pays content producers for publishing videos on their platform. This is the way it is supposed to work. Facebook should be paying us for publishing content on their websites.
Independent Websites Send More Visitors to AALBC.com Than All of Social Media
Individually, none of these sites (see a short sample listing on the right) are sending as much traffic to AALBC.com, as Facebook, but collectively they send much more—and therein lies our potential. We just need to recognize the power we have and use it.
Often, the only effort on my part, to get another website to link to AALBC.com, is to publish content that the website’s owner feels is valuable enough to link to. AALBC.com links to thousands of other websites; rarely do we publish a document that does not link to another website. Sites linking to each other naturally (organically) is the true nature of the World Wide Web.
Another strategy get referral traffic from other websites is to engage on their discussion forums or comment on their articles. To be clear, I’m not saying spam the comments section of websites with unrelated promotional material. What I am saying is look for articles related to what you may have written and comment in a meaningful or helpful way. A properly curated and managed site, welcomes this type of interaction.
AALBC.com has operated a discussion forum for over 15 years. Authors are encouraged to post information about their books and engage with readers. However, author have turned to my Facebook page instead of using my website. I’m seriously considering removing the Facebook page as it is cannibalizing visitors to AALBC.com.
Posting information about one’s books on related Facebook pages or another user’s wall is a strategy many use. This has resulted in many groups degenerating into a places where writers make “drive by posts,” sharing content from their own pages without even visiting the groups that they are posting to.
Even if many people engage with your content on Facebook, this serves to highlight Facebook’s site, not yours. A very small fraction of people will actually leave Facebook—and why should they if you are constantly posting on Facebook.
Unfortunately, a Facebook page is becoming the ONLY web presence for many writers and even businesses—they don’t maintain a website at all. Even a simple website is far more feature rich than a Facebook page can be. If we factored in Facebook’s invasion of our privacy, selling our personal data, and controlling access to updates; the choice between a Facebook page and a website should be a no-brainer.
If this trend continues the world wide web will be a far less rich place as folks migrate from maintaining websites to creating Facebook pages. Profits generated on the web will be concentrated at the top, greatly reducing the potential for independent websites to grow and for new ones to get started.
For a content producer having a Facebook page as your only web presence is a mistake. Because you are limiting your audience, not just to Facebook users, but to the Facebook users (real or otherwise) you pay Facebook to show it to.
Many writers will tell readers to “follow me on Facebook” and fail to mention their own website, or blog. Some writers even put the Facebook logo on their business card and marketing material. Even AALBC.com has Facebook icons on virtually every page. We give no other entity, save Twitter, as much free promotion as we give Facebook.
All of this attention paid to Facebook reduces attention paid to websites. In fact many excellent writers, have just given up blogging, or their blogs languish in obscurity, because they not getting enough visitors to make it worth the effort to maintain. Engaging more aggressively on Facebook, to increase blog readership, is not helping.
The Facebook Game is Rigged
Some might suggest that if you are only getting 1% of your traffic from Facebook, then you must be doing something wrong. Well you are not. The game is simply rigged against you as I hope my reports, these videos, and perhaps your personal experience has demonstrated.
Now if Facebook was sending AALBC.com thousands of visitors, who spent time on the website, this article would not have been written. If there were countless stories of bloggers, magazines, newspapers and writers who realized tremendous success and an increase of readership through their efforts on Facebook, this article would not be necessary.
Instead what I’m experiencing, witnessing and learning in my research is a very different story. It is also a story that is not being told, especially in the Black community.
There is Hope
AALBC.com’s time, energy and money will continue to be directed to two primary activities moving forward;
Producing Quality Content
I first started AALBC.com exactly 18 years ago today (October 10, 1997). Providing a platform to connecting readers with books about Black culture is what attracts people to this website. Our planned website upgrade will allow us to share information on books in a way that no other website is currently doing.
Advocating, Sharing , and Collaborating with Other Independent Websites Spread the word about websites you enjoy. Figure out ways to collaborate with other websites. Post comments in the comments section of those websites. If we don’t have an network of strong, independent websites working together, none of us will survive, and our only option will be a Facebook page (or a page on whatever platform has the most power at the time).
Despite all the caution described about Facebook, we can, for now at least, make Facebook work for us, rather than the other way around, without spending a penny, by simply sharing content on the platform.
If you found this message helpful (or not), please comment below and share it with others.
¹ Of course this is a simplification. There are other strategies one can employ to rank higher in organic search engine results, without producing high quality content. Search engines are engaged in a constant effort to defeat those that “game” the system, to rank higher in search results, with lower quality content. Search engines don’t always get it right, but it is a very difficult task.
² I really should take advantage of tagging URLs. This will help me identify of the “Direct” traffic in my analytics reports. In fact, I’m also contemplating paying writers by the traffic they help generate to the website, through the use of tracked URLs.
³ In 2012, Facebook famously restricted organic reach of content published from brand pages to about 16 percent. In December 2013, another round of changes reduced it even more. By February 2014, according to a Social@Ogilvy analysis of more than 100 brand pages, organic reach hovered at 6 percent, a decline of 49 percent from peak levels in October. (All of the detailed data, analysis and practical recommendations are in their white paper.)