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Building A Book Website

by Catherine Petruccione

#65, 27 March 2006

Update: How Did We Do?

It's been about a year since I wrote a two-part article for BookThink on building a book website (see part I and part II).

I thought it might be of interest to readers to report on how our own website has been faring over its first twelve months.

The site was launched in March of 2005 through Chrislands.

Listed below are our sales figures for the past twelve months. Numbers of books sold are in parentheses.

March, 2005 (2) - $ 124.10
April, 2005 (13) - $763.61
May, 2005 (6) - $272.23
June, 2005 (6) - $234.60
July, 2005 (2) - $28.00
August, 2005 (6) - $174.44
September, 2005 (0) - 0
October, 2005 (7) - $191.00
November, 2005 (7) - $218.87
December, 2005 (9) - $390.35
January, 2006 (3) - $55.50
February, 2006 (3) - $256.00

TOTAL (66) - $2,708.70

Average sale price: $41.04

Total book sales for the same 12-month period from our online inventory (approximately 6,200 books), including sales from, Alibris, Abebooks, Biblio, Choosebooks, and Amazon:

1241 books sold - $25,801.92

Average sale price: $20.79 generated approximately 5% of our total sales and over 10% of our income from sales.

Website costs for the year:

Website hosting @ $19.99/month = $239.88 Domain Registration = $13.50 ProPay registration fee = $59.95 ProPay processing fees = $111.39

Total Costs = $424.72

It is obvious after looking at the numbers above that the major sites are still the mainstay of online book sales income. However, the website has certainly made a contribution and is well beyond the break even point for its first year. The site seems to attract more buyers interested in collectible books (reflected in the higher average sales price). It will be interesting to see if, over time, our website sales increase as on-line book customers develop, hopefully, more confidence in independent seller security, service and guarantees.

There are many free tools available online for checking your website ranking. Here is one example that checks your site's keywords, link popularity, and search engine saturation.

You can even check your site against other sites to see how you compare. By changing your keywords and phrases, adding links, and submitting your site to search engines, you can see whether or not you are heading in the right direction.

From Marketleap:

"Link popularity check is one of the best ways to quantifiably and independently measure your website's online awareness and overall visibility. Simply put, link popularity refers to the total number of links or "votes" that a search engine has found for your website.

"Marketleap has designed this link popularity tool to help website owners find out who is linking to their site, but also to give a useful benchmarking report to quickly show where you stand in comparison to competitors and other major online players."

(On February 17, 2006, for example, our link popularity total was 38.)

"Search Engine Saturation simply refers to the number of pages a given search engine has in its index for your website domain. Not all search engines report this information but enough of them do to create some meaningful benchmarks for your search engine marketing campaigns."

(Our February 17, 2006 total was 4,839. As you can imagine, these reports are more meaningful when you enter urls for similar websites - your ompetitors.)

"Our verification tool checks to see if your site is in the top three pages of a search engine result for a certain keyword. The reason we only check the top 3 pages is because most queries don't go past the 3rd page of search results."

NOTE: Below are listed several different results after playing with the number and type of keywords we listed on our site:

  1. Site to verify:

    Keyword/Phrase: Old Scrolls, Old Scrolls Book Store,, bookstore, search, bookshop, online bookstore, books, book, used books, secondhand books, out of print

    3 Placed within the first 3 pages, out of 7 engines and directories. 4 Not placed within the first 3 pages

    (See improvement below after changing some keywords.)

  2. Site to verify:

    Keyword/Phrase: Old Scrolls Book Store,, first editions, collectible, old books

    5 Placed within the first 3 pages, out of 7 engines and directories. 2 Not placed within the first 3 pages.

The following 5 keywords, therefore, put us on the first 3 pages of all engines and directories: Keyword/Phrase: Old Scrolls Book Store,, first editions, collectible, old books

All of our keywords do not show up in these graphs. You can check any webpage's keywords on any website page by clicking "View" on your toolbar and selecting "Source." You can learn a lot about keywords this way, but of course it wouldn't be productive to copy them. You must tailor your keywords to your store, your book specialty areas and your customer base.

We are still working on learning the ins and outs of search engine and index placement, selection of keywords/phrases, and other tools to make our website more visible on the Internet. This stuff can make you pretty crazy at times. Internet promotion specialists can be hired to help, or, if you have the time or inclination, you can learn a great deal on your own.

Getting your website to come up on the first page in a search for your book store name is one thing - it's pretty easy to make this happen - but getting the same result when keywords such as "used & rare books" or "Civil War books" or "used book stores 'my hometown'" are entered is another story altogether.

There is also something called the "sandbox effect" in Google rankings. Relatively new and/or infrequently updated websites are placed in a sort of holding area and not ranked - in other words, over time and with regular updating, your site will earn its ranking. If this is true, it seems fair enough.

I have said this before, but it bears repeating: Whoever has the best books wins. If you have books that are in demand, the customer will hunt you down! If you answer customer queries promptly and courteously, fill orders in a timely way, provide photos when asked, package books with exceptional care, you will be rare book dealers indeed, and your customers will appreciate you. Although there are large numbers of competing booksellers now, we keep hearing from customers that there are comparatively few that offer reliability and a pleasant buying experience. This is the ace in your pocket: Keep improving your knowledge base, your books, and your customer service and delivery - and stay the course.

Speaking of shipping, we experimented for about a month last summer with free Media Mail shipping to US customers. This didn't seem to increase sales, however, so we returned to our regular rates. In November, we tried it again. Abebooks had launched an optional free shipping program for sellers; at first, we thought it was crazy, but after looking at the bigger picture, we considered that it might help combat Abebooks' "one-dollar booksellers" who count almost exclusively on shipping charges for profits. Perhaps if free shipping was offered for an extended period of time, it would lead to some stabilization of book prices. I'm not sure if this is true, but after we designated ourselves as free shippers, our sales seemed to perk up considerably. And, since we were offering free shipping on Abebooks, we felt an obligation to match it on our own website. Still, I don't think that this has greatly increased sales for us on Old Scrolls, but it appears to have boosted somewhat on Abebooks. I say "appears" because there are so many factors that can influence sales. At any rate, it hasn't had a negative affect on our income because higher sales have offset higher shipping costs. Also, many buyers choose Priority Mail or are buying from outside the U.S. where International rates apply anyway.

It is important to note that adding interesting content to your website will help drive traffic to your website. Although I have not eked out enough spare time to work on doing this as I had hoped over the past year (blame one full-time job at our local college, book store operations, and part-time writing assignments for BookThink!), we have recently added an "Authors of the Past" feature. We plan to continue this feature and add other informative articles on a regular basis. Also, we change our featured books on the home page (with digital photos) monthly to keep things fresh, and we update our inventory daily. Many books in our inventory now have photos, and, if they don't, we provide them for customers who request them. Several customers have told us that it was the photo that sold the book when they visited our site.

Most of our advertising has been via distribution of business cards, word of mouth, and satisfied repeat customers. We received some limited exposure on our local PBS website and TV station early in the year after we donated several books to their fund-raising auction. We also donated books and bought advertising space for a Braddock Bay Raptor Research Center/Cummings Nature Center fund-raising dinner event. We have worked at getting links on some area sites and recently succeeded with a large private college in our area. My thinking is to put your name and money where there are likely to be folks who read, also where you will feel good about the money being spent whether or not it results in additional sales.

The website has been easy to maintain, and we have been capable of accomplishing most of the changes and additions on our own. Lance at Chrislands has been most helpful whenever we have needed it. These are some of the services they provide:

  1. Static Pages that are automatically created that make it easy for search engines to index the store's inventory.

  2. Automated inventory uploads to Froogle.

  3. Automatic inclusion in Google SiteMaps program to improve inclusion in Google search results.

  4. Automated creation of Yahoo Site Feeds to help Yahoo index the store's inventory.

However, no matter who hosts your website, staying out of the sandbox and improving your ranking will be mostly up to you.

If you aleady have a website, here are some additional free tools for checking your performance:

Listing Checker

W3C Markup Validation Service

Submit Express

Overall, we feel that launching our website was a good business decision, and maintaining it has been a very satisfying experience.

One final thought: Looking back at our sales record on the site, I see that our best month (by far) was in April, when our book shop was featured in a Bookseller Profile on BookThink. So you booksellers out there may want to get going on submitting your Bookseller Profile to Craig Stark or consider using his advertising services!

[EDITOR'S NOTE: Yes, I still need profiles! Write me at for a template.]

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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