Tag Archives: help

2 Ways Google is Killing Online Booksellers & How You Can Help

(1) Google Uses its Dominance in Search to Hijack Traffic from Websites

Google does this by placing content, it has collected from other websites, ahead of their search engine results, to sell its own products and services.  Google engages in this practice in a wide variety of areas from restaurant ratings to travel directions.

However, Google has had a particularly devastating impact on online booksellers—Google has literally embedded its own online bookstore prominently in their search engine results.  Rather than directing visitors to other websites, which should be the purpose of a search engine, Google is abusing their virtual monopoly in search by standing in bookseller’s virtual doorways and grabbing visitors before they can enter.

I’ve been tracking, and participating in, online book sales for 20 years.  My niche is Black literature and the impact on this group of sites has been particularly devastating.

Despite websites being less expensive and easier to create than ever before, there are far fewer websites dedicated to black literature today than there were 10 years ago. Those that remain are struggling to grow because they are unable to attract enough visitors to generate the revenue needed to maintain their websites.

The video below demonstrates how Google does this:

 

(2) Google’s Virtual Monopoly in Search Allows Them to Control Which Sites are Visited

I would argue that Google’s search engine is one of the the most significant developments on the web.  In fact, I use Google’s search engine on this site, because it is an excellent service (Google is discontinuing this service in 2018).

Unfortunately, Google does make mistakes, and these mistakes and be very costly if not catastrophic for the affected business.  Consider the following graph from Semrush’s website, which shows their estimate of this site’s traffic.

Graph of AALBC.com Traffic hit

While Semrush’s data is not prefect, they estimate a site’s traffic based upon how frequently it shows up in Google’s search results (big data stuff), they did correctly identify a significant drop in traffic to AALBC.com, back in 2011.  The drop in traffic was a direct result in a reduction of traffic from organic search from Google.

Now Google never provided, or even made themselves available for, an explanation of this dramatic, overnight, drop in traffic from search.  Many, less sophisticated, web site owners never knew what hit them. The drop in our traffic was apparently the result of a change in the code Google used to rank websites. Affected businesses were left to speculate on the specific underlying reasons for their site being penalized in search engine results.

This lack of transparency from Google has fostered a industry of people touting services to help you understand and improve (or game) your site’s search engine rankings.

This has also fostered a level of paranoia, which has led to an unwillingness of websites to link to each other for fear they could hurt their own site’s ranking in search. This behavior actually puts more power into Google’s hands, as websites are no longer a good way to discover other sites.  AALBC.com has never stopped linking to other good sites. Part of the value the site our site provides is helping visitors discover other websites they will enjoy.

From my experience, the best way to address Google’s search engine rankings is to follow all of Google’s recommendations and guidelines.  No matter how you feel about it, if you want your site to rank on the only search engine that matters, you must follow Google’s rules.

AALBC.com’s traffic has completely recovered 2011. 2017 is on track to be a record year for page views. Visitor quality is also better; visitors look at more pages and stay on the site longer.

AALBC.com is a higher quality site because of my adherence to Google’s mandates, but I invest a significant portion of my time addressing “Google Issues.”  This time and energy comes at the expense of creating valuable content for the site.

The environment created by Google also discourages the creation of new sites because it is not enough to produce quality content, you must also be well versed in Google search engine optimization.

Google Makes the World Wide Web a Less Rich Place

Because of these practices and more, Google makes the World Wide Web a much less rich place.  We are rapidly reaching a point where only the most massive corporate sites have a chance at survival.

Google has argued that they are trying to create the best possible experience for their visitors. In reality, what they have done is help make the web less accommodating to diversity and creativity, by making it an environment hostile to independence and where only the wealthiest companies have a chance to maintain a profitable platform.

Many who would have operated their own website, just 5 years ago, are now using Facebook as their primary web presence, because they believe their chances for discovery and survival are better on Facebook. As a result, visitors need a Facebook account to engage with this content. Once on Facebook visitors are treated to the same cookie cutter style and presentation. This situation contributes to concentrating of wealth into the hands of a few massive corporations. The rich get richer and wealth inequality continues to rises…

What Can You Do?

Support independent bookseller websites by;

  • Visiting their websites (here are more than 50);
  • Purchasing the products they sell;
  • Sharing their content by utilizing word of mouth, social media, anyway that makes sense;
  • Linking to bookseller websites from your website or blog;
  • Engaging with their content by leaving comments and participating in their discussion forums; and
  • Buying advertising on their platforms if available;

Sure, buying from an indie bookseller, might cost you a bit more on the price and you may need to wait a little longer to receive the product, but will we be better if the only place we can buy a book is from Google and Amazon?

Join our conversation about the importance of independent booksellers (both online and physical stores).

Support Independent websites, including this one, especially if you want them to thrive rather than merely survive.

The Results of a Decade on Social Media

One of the most profound changes I’ve witnessed on the web, in the past decade, is the rise of social media.  Here I share my insight and experience in an effort to help you utilize social media more effectively, or as I always say;

“Use social media; don’t let it use you.”

I’ve been building websites for over twenty years.  My first website was created to promote a business I ran selling personal computers. A more recently built site is used in conjunction with a college course I teach on web design.  AALBC.com, was started in 1997, and is the most prominent website in its niche.

AALBC.com is also my livelihood, as a result I have to follow trends on the World Wide Web. Over the last 10 years this required me to keep up with social media.  I have a presence on all of the major social media platforms and have used them as both; as a regular user, for personal purposes; and for marketing, to help promote AALBC.com.

The graph below, derived from data collected by Google Analytics, shows the top 10 social media platforms that have sent traffic to AALBC.com over the past 10 years.

image002

Over the past 10 years Facebook has made up close to 73% of all the social media traffic AALBC.com receives.  Twitter is a distant second at just over 8%.

The bar chart below shows the relative amount of traffic from all social media sites over that past decade, including MySpace and BlackPlanet (remember those sites). Again, Facebook is the leader with Twitter a distant 2nd.

ranking-top-24-socila-media-over-10-years

The following graph is most telling; It looks at the top 5 sources of social media traffic to AALBC.com, during the first 6 months of 2016, and how those 5 sources have performed over the past decade.

top-5-social-media-ver-last-10-years

We see quite clearly that Facebook has always been a much better source of traffic to AALBC.com than any other social media platform, and that dominance has grown dramatically over the last three years.

Given the fact the Facebook is on track to make up 90% of all of my social media traffic for 2016; one might argue that I should invest more time and money on Facebook to grow my presence and increase engagement there.  But…

…social media is not the only source of traffic.

While Facebook is projected to be the dominant source of social media traffic this year, it is also projected to be less than 8% of my overall traffic.  Over the past 10 years Facebook has only contributed 2% of our site’s overall traffic; and the bulk of that traffic was generated in 2016.  Twitter is projected to contribute less than ½ of 1% to our overall traffic this year.

% Total Traffic
Last 10 Years
% Total Traffic
2016 (projected)
Facebook 2.07% 7.76%
Twitter 0.24% 0.48%
Pinterest 0.05% 0.20%
Disqus 0.08% 0.19%
Total All Social Media Sources  2.86% 8.83%

Considering that all of my social media activity over the last 10 years has resulted in less than 3% of my overall traffic (ignoring the surge in Facebook traffic in 2016), one can argue that any resources (knowledge, time, and money) allocated to social media marketing would be better utilized in other areas.

This was indeed the conclusion I arrived at in 2015.  The table below on looks at the last 3 million visitors to AALBC.com (period ending April 2015) and shows where those visitors came from.  The table shows the vast majority of traffic to AALBC.com originated from organic search.

Click image to read more our last three million visitors

Click Image to Learn More About This Table

Since search is a key source of traffic I decided to spend much less time on social media marketing (SMM) and to work harder on Search Engine Optimization (SEO).  Today given Google’s dominance, SEO means making sure your site makes meets Google’s technical standards. As a result, I decided to completely overhaul AALBC.com with SEO in mind.  The meant among many other things, optimizing AALBC.com for mobile devices.

It also meant creating the type of content that will rank higher in search results.  In my case, it meant concentrating on building quality content that is unique.  For a book website, like AALBC.com using the same book descriptions that every other bookseller uses will no longer cut it.  I needed come up with a unique take and add value to information about books that is already common elsewhere on the Web and provided by much larger sites including Amazon.com and Google.

I increased my focus on building direct relationships with other sites and creating content that they would like to link to. I also worked to help those sites understand why linking to each other’s sites is important.  I’ve noticed that I can get more visitors from a link on another website than I can from a social media website, and with far less effort.

I’ve observed that social media websites work to encourage engagement on their platforms. Facebook, for example, said using their platform for organic reach (people you can reach for free) has been made much more difficult. This is true across the social media landscape.

I’ve watched my engagement on social media decrease despite the fact that my number of fans and followers have increased.  All the time and effort I invested in building my presence on social media was wasted, as the rules were changed and social media became pay to play.   Of course there is the very real risk these platforms will shut down or change so dramatically that all of work will simply be discarded.  I worked to create a substantial presence, and attracted thousands friends, on MySpace; which was all lost as MySpace went through several redesigns.

At the end of 2015 I greatly reduced the time spent on social media for marketing purposes, and I work to ensure what little time I do spend on SMM is utilized as efficiently as possible.  Also, I rarely use social media for personal purposes.

In the winter of 2015, I initiated the following 10 tactics as part of my social media marketing strategy

  1. I don’t pay for promotion on social media (buying ads).
  2. I don’t actively seek new fans or followers (I welcome them, but you will never hear me say, “follow me on…”
  3. I don’t post content directly on social media—I only share links, with a brief description, to my website where my content resides.
  4. I only post a links once.  Very popular content will be posted more than once, but this is rare.
  5. I do control how AALBC.com’s content is shared, by using tools like Facebook’s Debugger Tool.
  6. I always use images when posting on social media. Links will images are clicked more often.
  7. I do respond to comments I receive on social media, but I don’t initiate conversations on social media unless there is no alternative.
  8. I removed all social media applications from my cell phone.
  9. I do encourage social sharing. I share content on other websites by using the social sharing buttons on their website.
  10. I engage with others on their websites, not their social platforms, whenever possible.

The Results

My social media traffic for the first 6 month of 2016 has already exceeded the traffic I’ve gotten from social media for all of 2015 and all of 2014—combined!

Interestingly, despite greatly reducing my activity on social media, traffic to my website from social media (from Facebook in particular) has increased during the first 6 months of 2016, both as a percentage of my overall traffic and in terms of the number of visitors to the website: social media is a larger portion of a growing pie that is traffic to AALBC.com.

I’ve discovered that building content that appeals to AALBC.com’s visitors, which also meets Google’s technical guidelines, is actually more effective in generating traffic from social media than working to strengthen AALBC.com’s presence on those social media platforms. I guess the old adage applies;

“Content is King.”

Despite all the hype and attention paid to social media, social media has no content of its own. The only content social media has is the content that we give them.  Content is indeed king, but it is not free.  Both Facebook and Twitter and are now paying for content in an effort to attract new users and increase engagement.  On top of that Facebook is also battling a 21% decrease in personal sharing.

Adding AALBC.com’s content to a social media platform enriches the social media site and impoverishes AALBC.com.  My strategy of limiting the use of social media to notifying readers about content on AALBC.com, while facilitating sharing of information, has allowed me to invest much more time creating content for AALBC.com and and engaging with readers here.

social-media-icons-2010The effectiveness of this strategy can change tomorrow, but change is the very nature of the World Wide Web.  Anyone unable to easily adapt to change would never be able to run a website for more than a few years—certainly not as a business venture.

Back in 2010, I used to be a strong proponent for using social media and even gave workshops on the subject. However, the Web is a very different place in 2016 than it was in 2010 and my tactics and strategies have changed, out of necessity.

There is one constant however, no website can survive without support from visitors—not even Facebook.  AALBC.com survives because visitors read and share our content through social media, email, and even word of mouth.  Visitors buy books from our website, and authors and publishers purchase advertising or participate in our discussion forums to promote their work. This is the only way we can survive.


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2016 National Black Writers Conference

Update: March 25, 2016
The Conference’s Complete and final Schedule of Events is Now Available.

Greetings Colleagues,

national-black-writers-conference-2016We are excited about the upcoming 13th National Black Writers Conference. Thank you for your support of the National Black Writers Conference and the Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College. You have witnessed the growth of the National Black Writers Conference and the Center for Black Literature over the years, and we truly appreciate your support as you are aware they both add value to Medgar Evers College, the Brooklyn community, and the general public. Both the Center for Black Literature and the National Black Writers Conference are known nationally and internationally.

Our 13th National Black Writers Conference will be held at Medgar Evers College, from Thursday, March 31 to Sunday, April 3, 2016. Poet laureate Rita Dove is the Honorary Chair for the Conference and we are also honoring Edwidge Danticat, Charles Johnson, Michael Eric Dyson, and Woodie King Jr. I hope that you will attend some of the programs and that you will be able to attend our opening and Awards Program.

Please see the attached press release, as I hope you will be able to offer some coverage of the conference, as well.

You are important to ensuring that the public knows about the value and importance of our work. There are other organizations that focus on promoting African American studies, but we are the only Center for Black Literature in the country still focused on doing this work. We value your support in helping us to realize our mission.

Sincerely,
Clarence V. Reynolds, Director
Center for Black Literature at Medgar Evers College, CUNY
718-804-8881


Highlights from the National Black Writers Conference Include:

publishing-workshop-530

Publishing Workshop: Editing, Marketing, Book Production, and More
Join book industry leaders; Earl Cox, President of Earl Cox & Associates; bestselling author and editor, Carol Taylor; and AALBC.com’s Founder, Troy Johnson, in a workshop on the publishing process.  This workshop will introduce participants to the book publishing process by detailing the path that a book should take from writer’s mind to reader’s hands. (Sunday, April 3, 2016, 12:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m.)


news-youth-program

Youth Literacy Program
Award winning children’s book authors, Jerry Craft, Cheryl and Wade Hudson, Denise Patrick and Calvin Ramsey, will meet grade school students and talk about their work. (Thursday, March 31, 2016, 9:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m.)


provocateurs-530

Provocateurs: The Symbiotic Relationship Between Photographers & Writers Photography
This group show features the work of, Laylah Amatullah Barrayn, Rachel Eliza Griffiths and Marcia E. Wilson. The purpose of the exhibit “Provocateurs” is to present the linkage writers of African descent and their photographer counterparts share in rendering the Black experience and historical narratives.  The opening reception will be held Monday, March 28, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.


To learn about other major events, coming up this year, visit our events page.