A few days ago a friend came across an article in, WhereItzAt Magazine. In the magazine was an article, “In defense of Black Bookstores,” addressed the loss of Black bookstores and why it mattered. 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 AALBC.com’s website was mentioned as a resource where one msy 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 the article is purporting to support? They were obviously aware of the resource; why would they decide to exclude it on the online version of their article?
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.
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.)
These are three books I recommend we should all read. The strength of the Internet and promise it held to empower individuals has been hobbled considerably. In fact, I’d argue that rather than holding promise as a tool of empowerment, the Internet is causing us harm. Corporate entities have co-oped the Internet turning it into a tool, to monitor our activities and manipulate our behavior, to better sell us things.
These books delve into how corporations are exerting increasing levels of control and how this impact us. Lanier’s, Who Owns the Future, discusses how corporation with the largest servers exert monopolistic ownership over the web making it difficult for individuals to profit from their labor. Turkel’s book, Alone Together, discusses how our constant connectivity through social media leads to a new form of social isolation. Finally, Pariser’s, in his book The Filer Bubble explains why, despite super powerful search technology, we are actually accessing less information.
We have all seen the effects; as we observe a couple, dining out, fully engrossed in their smart phones rather than each other; maybe it is the feeling we have that there are no new perspectives online; or the frustration we experience having our email, browsing habits and social contacts scrutinized so that we can be more effectively bombarded with advertising.
The emergence of social media, the launch of Amazon, Google, even Wikipedia, promised to eliminate barriers to entry and empower individuals with greater connectivity, reach, lower prices and fast access to information. Instead we now have oligarchies abusing their power in pursuit of more and more money.
These three authors address these issues, and more, with far more clarity and completeness than I can:
Penguin Books (Paperback: 304 pages April 24, 2012)
In December 2009, Google began customizing its search results for all users, and we entered a new era of personalization. With little notice or fanfare, our online experience is changing, as the websites we visit are increasingly tailoring themselves to us. In this engaging and visionary book, MoveOn.org board president Eli Pariser lays bare the personalization that is already taking place on every major website, from Facebook to AOL to ABC News. As Pariser reveals, this new trend is nothing short of an invisible revolution in how we consume information, one that will shape how we learn, what we know, and even how our democracy works.
The race to collect as much personal data about us as possible, and to tailor our online experience accordingly, is now the defining battle for today’s internet giants like Google, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft. Behind the scenes, a burgeoning industry of data companies is tracking our personal information to sell to advertisers, from our political leanings to the hiking boots we just browsed on Zappos.
As a result, we will increasingly each live in our own, unique information universe—what Pariser calls “the filter bubble.” We will receive mainly news that is pleasant, familiar and confirms our beliefs—and since these filters are invisible, we won’t know what is being hidden from us. Our past interests will determine what we are exposed to in the future, leaving less room for the unexpected encounters that spark creativity, innovation and the democratic exchange of ideas.
Drawing on interviews with both cyber-skeptics and cyber-optimists, from the co-founder of OK Cupid, an algorithmically-driven dating website, to one of the chief visionaries of U.S. information warfare, The Filter Bubble tells the story of how the Internet, a medium built around the open flow of ideas, is closing in on itself under the pressure of commerce and “monetization.” It peeks behind the curtain at the server farms, algorithms, and geeky entrepreneurs that have given us this new reality, and investigates the consequences of corporate power in the digital age. Join our online conversation about this book
Basic Books (Paperback: 384 pages, October 2, 2012)
In Alone Together, Turkele argues that we are at a point of decision and opportunity. Technology now invites us to lose ourselves in always-in mobile connections and even in relationships with inanimate creatures that offer to “stand in” for the real. In the face of all this, technology offers us the occasion to reconsider our human values, and reaffirm what they are.
Technology has become the architect of our intimacies. Online, we fall prey to the illusion of companionship, gathering thousands of Twitter and Facebook friends and confusing tweets and wall posts with authentic communication. But, as MIT technology and society specialist Sherry Turkle argues, this relentless connection leads to a new solitude. As technology ramps up, our emotional lives ramp down. Alone Together is the result of Turkle’s nearly fifteen-year exploration of our lives on the digital terrain. Based on hundreds of interviews, it describes new unsettling relationships between friends, lovers, parents, and children, and new instabilities in how we understand privacy and community, intimacy, and solitude. Join our online conversation about this subject.
Jaron Lanier is the father of virtual reality and one of the world’s most brilliant thinkers. Who Owns the Future? is his visionary reckoning with the most urgent economic and social trend of our age: the poisonous concentration of money and power in our digital networks.
Lanier has predicted how technology will transform our humanity for decades, and his insight has never been more urgently needed. He shows how Siren Servers, which exploit big data and the free sharing of information, led our economy into recession, imperiled personal privacy, and hollowed out the middle class. The networks that define our world—including social media, financial institutions, and intelligence agencies—now threaten to destroy it.
But there is an alternative. In this provocative, poetic, and deeply humane book, Lanier charts a path toward a brighter future: an information economy that rewards ordinary people for what they do and share on the web. Read our review of the hardcover version of this book.
These are just a few of the books I feel are important. I’m sure there are many others. Please share any you think are important in the comments section below or, if you are highly motivated, participate on one of the conversations linked above.