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Building a Website
Successful Bookselling

by Kent Johnson

#93, 30 April 2007

Part I: Is Your Bookstore Website A Ghost Town?

Okay, so you've got yourself a bookstore website. It looks great, you paid a web designer a good chunk of change to put up some cool graphics on the home page, you've got all your books listed at very-competitive prices, your site is friendly and easy to navigate, and your photo and bio are proudly displayed on the "About Us" page for all to see.

There's only one problem: Nobody goes there. Or if a few people do straggle in off the information superhighway, they turn around and leave without buying. You wake up every morning and check your site stats but find that only a handful of unique visitors showed up the previous day, and most of them were friends, family, or co-workers who found the site by typing in your URL from your business card.

This is a frustrating but all-too-common scenario. Some studies suggest that over 90% of all e-commerce websites die slow, silent deaths due to a lack of traffic. And with thousands of new sites springing up like cyber-weeds on a daily basis, the situation is likely to get worse before it gets better.

And the problem isn't limited to small independent bookstore sites. A few years ago, a Fortune 500 company here in the Denver area paid a web development company a small fortune to build their website. And the site was a beautiful thing to behold, with stunning flash animation greeting the awestruck visitor, stereo sound blaring in the background, and graphics straight out of a Hollywood production studio. But the sad fact was that nobody outside of the company knew it existed, it was invisible to the search engines, and a year later they tore it down and replaced it with a static-page HTML website and basically hit the reset button on whole project.

So what's the solution to this lack of traffic - and more importantly, lack of sales? Well, you have several choices when it comes to increasing the traffic to your website. You can pay for it by buying ads on Google or one of the other search engines, at $.10 or $.20 or even $1 per click. This sounds like an attractive option, and many site owners, large and small, have turned to PPC as a way of solving their traffic problems. But paying for traffic also has its downside: It's getting more and more expensive as more and more players jump into the game, click fraud has become a real problem, and the minute you stop paying, the traffic disappears. And if the visitors to your site aren't buying books in sufficient quantities, you can end up in the red real quick.

The other - and to my mind much better - solution is to build your site so that it receives lots of free search engine traffic. Visitors arriving at your site through organic listings (the listings on the left side of the search engine page) are more likely to trust your site. They know the other listings are paid advertisements. They're also more likely to bookmark your site and return sometime in the future, and more importantly, they're more likely to buy that first edition copy of The Da Vinci Code displayed on your home page. And once the traffic starts coming, it usually keeps coming, like water out of a siphon hose.

And best of all, it's free.

But optimizing your site for organic search also has its negatives. Mainly, it's a lot more work. You'll need good quality, original content on your site - and lots of it. You'll need as many high-quality links coming into your site as you can find (or buy). You'll need HTML web pages that the search engines can spider and index. You'll need site maps, directory listings, optimized meta-tags, and yes, more content.

Geeze, you're probably saying to yourself, that does sound like a lot of work. Isn't there any easier way? The answer is no, not if you want to rise to the top page of the listings on Google, MSN, or Yahoo! With billions and billions of web pages in the indexes of the major search engines, the only thing that will lift your site ahead of your competitors is to do the hard work that they don't want to do. And if you don't believe me, just do a search under "used books" on Google and see what pops up on the first page of listings - sites with tons of content, lots of quality inbound links, optimized HTML web pages, etc.

In fact, the site you're visiting right now is a good example. Just click on the "Archives" link in the left column on most any BookThink page and see all of the articles listed there. Years and years worth of articles, which represent pages and pages of keyword-rich content on this website. Which means comes up under hundreds if not thousands of different keyword phrases on Google and the other search engines.

Which means they get lots and lots of free traffic.

Well, that's great, you may be thinking to yourself, but I'm not a writer, and I don't know anything about running linking campaigns and building site maps and web pages. I just want to put up a website, pay $.50 a click for traffic, and spend my time doing other things. And there certainly are a lot of other things a bookseller needs to attend to on a daily basis.

However, if you want to build a bookstore site that will be around in 5 years, selling books and attracting more and more traffic - and happy customers - every month, then you need to at least consider optimizing your site to get as much free traffic as possible.

A quick note before I close: If you're not using a good website stat program, you should be. A good program will show you where your visitors are coming from, what keywords they're using to find your site, what they do and where they go once they arrive at your site, how long they stay, and much more. A good free option is Google Analytics. You can find out more by visiting Google Analytics.

In the next article I'll discuss ways of adding more keyword-rich content to your website.

Questions or comments?
Contact the editor, Craig Stark

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