Our Faculty’s FCAT blog has a new showcase of Dr Juan Alperin (@juancommander), who has just been awarded a three-year SSHRC Insight Grant for “Understanding the Societal Impact of Research Through Social Media.” The proposed project seeks to create an empirical and methodological basis for the systematic analysis of the societal impact of research through the engagement with scholarly documents on social media.
The Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing is soliciting applications for a postdoctoral fellowship on a SSHRC-funded project entitled “Understanding the societal impact of research through social media.”
As the communication of research increasingly takes place on social media platforms, there is enormous potential to capture and analyze digital traces left by scholars. This offers, for the first time, the opportunity to study—using both quantitative and qualitative methods—the processes of knowledge dissemination and co-creation between academia and the public. Taking advantage of this opportunity, this project asks: What is the nature and extent of societal impact of research that can be observed through the public’s engagement with research on social media?
Led by Juan Pablo Alperin (Simon Fraser University), the team brings together the two main poles of research on scholarly communication in Canada: the Public Knowledge Project (PKP) and the Canadian Institute for Studies in Publishing at Simon Fraser University, as well as the Canada Research Chair on the Transformations of Scholarly Communication at the Université de Montréal (Stefanie Haustein and Vincent Larivière). Collaborators also include the UQAM Research Chair on Digital Technologies Uses and Changes in Communication (Florence Millerand) and the Simon Fraser University School of Communication (Katherine Reilly)
Target start date: July 1st, 2016 (flexible) Duration: one year, renewable Salary: Commensurate with experience Location: Simon Fraser University (Downtown Vancouver Campus) Deadline for applications: This position is now closed.
Applicants should send a CV, cover letter, statement of research interest (1 page), as well as the names and contact information of 2 references to Dr. Juan Pablo Alperin (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Like, Tweet, Read: Exploratory Analyses of Social Media Data as an Indicator for Readership Behaviour in the Newspaper and Periodicals Industries
By Tilman Queitsch
MPub Project Report, 2014
Magazine and newspaper publishers benefit from readership studies conducted by large research organizations. They help publishing professionals keep track of readers’ habits and their competitors’ success. In most areas, surveys of readers and Internet users generate the findings that the publishing industry is interested in. In recent years, market research has developed a new approach combining such survey data with social media data. This approach offers new ways to analyze how social media audiences can be segmented, how readers choose between different media, how they use mobile devices, and how magazines or newspapers compare to their competitors.
Tackling each of these research scenarios, this report summarizes a series of analyses conducted at Vision Critical, a multinational market research technology company. By using basic functions in R, a freely available statistical programming language, the analyses show how this approach enriches results in a way that is useful for publishers.
Brick-and-mortar bookstores have grown scarce over the preceding decade, while online retailers have prospered. This presents challenges and opportunities for small Canadian trade book publishers. Although it is harder to find any given book in a physical store, publishers have an abundance of online resources for book promotion, including the ability to emulate the in-store browsing experience by offering “digital samples.” There is evidence that providing digital samples can increase sales, but a survey of Canadian publishers’ online presence suggests that digital samples are a neglected aspect of trade book promotion. This paper analyzes the trend toward online book sales and the various available methods of sampling, and concludes with recommendations for how publishers can best use third-party sampling options (such as Google Books and Amazon’s “Look Inside”) and own-site HTML-based samples to increase the online appeal, discoverability, and sales of their titles.
To Olin Winter Leyne. I look forward to sharing many happy hours with you in (real-life) bookstores, just as soon as you stop eating books.
Many thanks to Monique Sherret for providing guidance at the outline stage, and to Murray Tong for taking the time to read a late draft and offer valuable insight.
Thank-you to New Star Books majordomo Rolf Maurer, who sparked the idea for this report, and happily shared with me the wisdom gained from an inspiring career.
Many thanks to my SFU supervisors: Rowland Lorimer, whose sage counsel led to many refinements of both big-picture aspects and smaller details; and John Maxwell, who played a critical role in shaping the central thrust of this paper, and then wisely shepherded its development. I’m very grateful for it.
Finally, thank-you to my parents, for everything, and to Raina, a million times over, for the boundless love and encouragement — we make a great team.
AAP: Association of American Publishers ABA: American Booksellers Association ACP: Association of Canadian Publishers BNC: BookNet Canada CBA: Canadian Booksellers Association CMS: content management system CSS: cascading style sheets HTML: hypertext markup language ONIX: online information exchange PDF: portable document format SEO: search engine optimization WYSIWYG: what-you-see-is-what-you-get
On the evening of August 23, 2013, Rolf Maurer of New Star Books received the Pandora’s Collective award for Publisher of the Year. His acceptance remarks were simple yet poignant: by way of thanks, he rattled off a list of about sixty-five Vancouver bookstores that he had patronized or done with business with over the past thirty years — the vast majority of which are now closed. While there is a glimmer of hope for Vancouver patrons of independent bookstores with the August 2013 opening of Paper Hound, the recent closures of Vancouver institutions such as Book Warehouse and Duthie’s have left a sizable hole in the local book retail landscape. Exact figures for nation-wide booksellers are not available, but it is safe to say the phenomenon is not unique to Vancouver; as a recent Globe and Mail story lamented, “bookstore closings have become so common they often pass unremarked.”1
Readers are of course still finding and buying books, but evidence presented below shows that increasingly it is happening online. This trend has implications beyond a mere change of retailer: a recent study in the United Kingdom found that online book shopping tends to be “a more linear process” compared to the “serendipity of browsing” in traditional bookshops, with 81 percent of online shoppers saying they visit an online store looking for a specific book.2 If publishers hope to keep (and grow) their clientele in the virtual realm, they must adapt their marketing tactics to a very different environment.
New Star Books
The first incarnation of New Star Books emerged from a loosely knit literary collective that in 1969 began publishing short fiction and poetry in the “Georgia Straight Writing Series,” a literary supplement to the Georgia Straight (at that time a radical underground weekly newspaper). The group broke away from the Straight in 1971 and formed the Vancouver Community Press. In 1974 it was renamed New Star Books, and in 1990 Maurer became publisher. Today, New Star publishes about six to ten titles per year. The list is a mix of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, with an emphasis on politics, social issues, and local history and culture.3 Sales are generally steady but modest; as Maurer says, New Star is “mostly interested in books that are not particularly mainstream.”4
For the two-and-a-half years up until May 2013 Maurer was the sole employee, and as of September 2013, he was again working solo. To manage the tremendous workload, he employs a number of freelance editors and designers on a book-to-book basis.
Like most presses of a similar size, New Star has a limited budget for marketing and promotion. The bulk of it is dedicated to sending out copies for review in various newspapers, magazines, and academic periodicals. New Star also runs print ads in BC Bookworld, and occasionally in niche publications such as BC Studies. Further marketing efforts include email newsletters (to roughly 1,800 subscribers), blog posts at NewStarBooks.com, readings and book launches, and attendance at events such as Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences and WORD Vancouver.
To spark further sales of certain titles (particularly those whose initial reception was not as robust as desired), New Star has in recent years posted PDFs of entire books for free download. They are not heavily promoted or easily found on the website, but if one navigates to the page for, e.g., Islands of Resistance: Pirate Radio in Canada, there is underneath the bibliographic information a small link titled “Download the PDF,” above a “Look Inside” icon. Ten books are currently available, but Maurer has not detected any noticeable sales impact, positive or negative.
New Star’s experimentation with offering PDFs free online was borne partly of a curiosity in the potentials of online promotion, and partly of a recognition that readers are not finding books like they used to: it is more difficult than ever just to find a bookstore (or a newspaper), let alone a specific title from a small press such as New Star.
As shelf space vanishes and the Internet approaches global ubiquity, it is now imperative for publishers to go beyond dabbling in online book marketing, and begin to develop robust online marketing initiatives. Major multi-national firms have spent untold millions of dollars building digital warehouses and proprietary sampling widgets (which will be discussed below), but there is a relatively simple and inexpensive way for small Canadian publishers to enhance the presence of their wares online: by providing online book excerpts, or “digital samples.”
What follows is an analysis of the rapidly changing book retail sector (Part One), a description of the online digital sampling landscape (Part Two), and a proposal for how small-to-medium trade publishers can develop HTML-based digital samples in the hopes of aiding book discovery and promotion (Part Three). Although many of the examples and circumstances discussed throughout are specific to New Star, the proposal is broadly applicable to most publishers. By ensuring all its titles are easily found and sampled online, a small press will be able to increase the visibility of and interest in its titles, and maintain its sales in a changing marketplace — if not increase them.
Part One: The Changing Retail Landscape
Maurer’s list of extinct bookstores is, while an admittedly unscientific survey, reflective of an acknowledged trend. Upon its closing in 2010, the owner of Sophia Books lamented “there is no room for independents [in Vancouver].”5 The subsequent closure in 2012 of four Book Warehouse locations certainly did not prove him wrong.6 As Kevin Williams, the publisher of Talon Books, has noted, “It’s really hard to have your books on the shelf anywhere in the city. If people want to buy our books, often they have to come to us.”7
With the rise of Chapters and Indigo and its consolidation into one entity (henceforth referred to as “Chapters/Indigo”) in the late 1990s–early 2000s, the ranks of independent bookstores in Canada were “decimated,”8 a development that has since, by all accounts, only worsened. A 2010 wire article noted the “rash of independent bookstore closings in recent months and years” across Canada, the result of increased pressure from Chapters/Indigo and online retailers;9 more recently, a Globe and Mail article noted the “enormous challenges” facing book retailers.10 In a Publishers Weekly article assessing the state of Canadian publishing in 2012, the president of the Canadian Booksellers Association (CBA; since absorbed into the Retail Council of Canada) called it a “really, scary dark season” for retailers; although he claimed membership in the CBA had not dropped off precipitously, the article noted further closures of prominent stores in Montreal, Ottawa, and Toronto, due to the familiar bugaboos of cost increases, price competition with online retailers, and the continued rise of ebooks.11 As one publisher succinctly put it, “We have to work with the fact that there are fewer bookstores.”12
In Canada, Chapters/Indigo dominates the diminished bookstore environment that remains — as of 2011 they accounted for about half of sales,13 and up to 70 percent of sales for some publishers.14 This is especially problematic for small presses like New Star: while the buying decisions of independent bookstores are often more content-driven and motivated by personal idiosyncrasies, large chains focus on sell-through rates, leading to an emphasis on mainstream titles15 — titles for which New Star is largely unable to compete, due to a relative lack of resources.16 This was not such a problem when there were more, healthier independents; as Maurer explains, if you could sell a title into at least one independent store, you could then leverage that fact to sell into more stores — now, a rejection from Chapters/Indigo shuts off a vast swath of potential shelf space.17 As ECW Press co-publisher David Caron put it, “The hardest part is that [Chapters/Indigo will] pass on a title entirely. … But for a lot of people, Indigo is the only game in town.”18
Their status as “the only game in town” results in Chapters/Indigo influencing not just the types of books that are produced and where they are available, but also the very conditions under which publishers are willing and able to sell their books. The favourable terms of sale that Chapters/Indigo extracts for itself then compel many publishers to impose more onerous terms on smaller retailers, as Maurer explains:
Publishers do compete on content … but we also compete on terms. The mainstream of publishing, however, has decided to eschew that competition. They have conceded terms, effectively, to the dictates of the large retail sector. And they have compounded the problem by insisting on tougher terms with the independent sector, which pays ten to twenty percent more per book, and has to pay the supplier in (typically) half the time. This has exacerbated the “competitive advantage” of the chains, and more than anything else (rent; e-books; Amazon) has led to the destruction of the independent sector — to the cost of publishers and writers as well as readers/consumers.19
To make matters even worse, space in the large retailers is increasingly being given over to non-book items. As part of a recently developed strategy, Chapters/Indigo stores will shelve fewer books and more “designer gift and lifestyle products,” which CEO Heather Reisman hopes will increasingly be inspired by books — e.g., throw pillows embroidered with quotes from children’s books.20 Reisman claims the diversification will bring more potential book buyers into stores21; Lorimer, however, sees this as a sign of the beginning of the end for the company.22 In the first quarter of 2013, revenue of Indigo Books & Music fell 8.1 percent.23
In the United States (which accounts for approximately 15 percent of New Star’s sales24), observers such as Mike Shatzkin and Joseph Esposito consider the demise of traditional bookstores a foregone conclusion.25 It is not all doom and gloom though: in 2012, the American Booksellers Association (ABA) reported an 8 percent increase in sales from independent bookstores, and membership rose from a historical low of 1,401 members in 2009 to 1,632 members.26 Much of this renewed vitality can likely be attributed to the demise of the national chain Borders (which closed in 2011), and the growing trend toward “buying local” undoubtedly played a part as well.27 But it is too early to proclaim the unqualified resurgence of the indies: ABA membership is still down 30 percent over the past decade (from about 2,400 members in 2002), and many of the stores that remain are resorting to filling budget gaps through unorthodox measures such as online crowdfunding campaigns.28
The Growth of Online Sales
The causes of the changing book retail landscape are debatable — most of the sources cited above attribute the decline to the rise of ebooks and online retailers and increased costs for commercial space, while Maurer’s analysis focuses more on the consolidation of the retail sector.29 But regardless of the causal link, an increasing proportion of books sold in North America are now purchased online.
In the United States, online sales represented 8 percent of books sold in 2001.30 By last year, they accounted for 42 percent;31 if you consider dollars spent rather than units sold, the figure is 45 percent.32
A report commissioned by Canadian Heritage found that online book sales accounted for just 4 percent of total book sales in Canada in 2004, with brick-and-mortar chains and independents combining for 64 percent.33 The same report examined the sales of eleven literary presses (a category that would include New Star) from 2003 – 2006, and found that online sales increased from 2 percent of the total in 2003 to just over 6 percent three years later, while the proportion of sales via “chain bookstores” fell from about one-third to about one-fifth over the same period.34 As of 2012, BookNet Canada reports online sales at 25 percent of the overall market, while the share of bookstores is down to 37 percent.35
Buying a book online is a fundamentally different experience than buying a book “in real life.” Wandering the aisles of a great bookstore is not just a romanticized notion — there is good reason to believe that nothing sells books quite as well as books: in the estimation of McCabe and Henry,“serendipity and discovery generate as much as two-thirds of UK general book sales.”36
In Canada, a number of studies have established the vital role of bookstores, beyond mere vendors, as generators of sales and awareness of books. In a 1996 survey of readers exiting Canadian bookstores with Canadian books in hand, only 29 percent of respondents said they visited the store to purchase a specific book; 63 percent of purchase decisions were made in the store.37 A survey the following year expanded the purview to purchasers of all books, not just Canadian ones, and found that while 72 percent of respondents “had intended to purchase a book” when they entered the store, 60 percent of them decided in the bookstore which title to purchase.38 A 2005 survey of Canadian book buyers suggests that impulse purchases account for 42 percent of Canadian book purchases.39 More recently, the results of BookNet Canada’s The Canadian Book Consumer 2012: Annual Report indicate that impulsive book-buying — whether it is “title-planned, timing-impulsive,” vice-versa, or a true “impulse purchase” — varies by retail channel, with the three categories of impulse purchase accounting for over 80 percent of book purchases at grocery stores and other “non-book retail outlets,” about 70 percent at chain bookstores, and about 60 percent of purchases online and at independent bookstores.40
Closely related to the role of bookstores in generating impulse buys is their role in creating awareness of titles. In the 1996 study cited above, 39 percent of purchasers were unaware of the title they had just purchased before entering the store.41 By 2012, according to BookNet Canada, only 21 percent of buyers of print books became aware of books purchased through in-store displays.42 Online discovery was the chosen method for 21 percent of print-book buyers and 44 percent of ebook buyers.43 When “awareness factors” are broken down by method of purchase, an obvious yet important distinction is revealed: the most popular awareness factor for buyers at brick-and-mortar outlets is, by far, “in-person” (which includes in-store displays and personal recommendations), while online buyers are almost twice as likely to become aware of a book online (about 55 percent) versus in-person (about 27 percent).44 The most recent Bowker report also breaks discovery down by format: the most popular way to learn about print books is to stumble across them in a brick-and-mortar store (“in-store display / on-shelf / spinning rack”); for ebooks, “friend / relative recommendation” is number one, followed by “read excerpt / sample” online.45
A crucial feature of the bookstore browsing experience, and one that is difficult to replicate online, is the simple act of picking up a book, examining its cover, and perhaps flipping through its contents. “The best way to sell books,” according to Jane Friedman (HarperCollins CEO from 1997 to 2008), “is to have the consumer be able to read some of that content.”46 It is a simple but important observation, and is confirmed by a study in the UK that found “the opportunity to pick up and leaf through books are important qualities for consumers, and are absent from the online book buying experience.”47
Despite the move to online sales, McCabe and Henry believe that “bookshop customers are far more likely to purchase a book they have seen displayed physically than those featured on an e-tailers’ website” — however, they go on to note that “they are also more likely to buy a book because they were able to look inside or read an extract.”48 Bowker’s 2010 PubTrack Consumer Research Panel found that the second most popular reason a consumer chose a book (after “Cover/jacket description/testimonial appeals to them”) was “Looked through book, and liked it.”49 According to Laing and Royle, even many online shoppers end up purchasing a chosen title in a physical bookstore because of a “desire to check the book physically — to pick it up, leaf through, and check the contents.”50
It should come as no great surprise to publishers that people want to look at a book before buying it. Unfortunately, in Canada there are now fewer opportunities for publishers to simply get a book into a store: independents are disappearing, and bookstore promotions are now “just as likely to feature blankets, teapots, [and] owl bottle openers” as books.51 Given the shrinking independent sector and Chapters/Indigo’s diversification into the throw-pillow market, it seems likely that online sales, and hence online discovery, will continue to grow. Much is lost in the online book-buying experience — a browser tab simply cannot recreate with high fidelity the joys of a bookstore. But if that is where people buy books now, than it is important for publishers to offer readers some means of digitally “browsing” a book. As author David Balzer says, “you have to somehow replicate that experience of stumbling upon a book in a bookstore.”52
Benefits & Opportunities
It is tempting (and common) to predict disastrous implications for publishers with each freshly shuttered shop; McCabe and Henry argue that “the single most effective technique for dismantling the physical book sector would be to accelerate the closure of bookshops.”53 Bookstores have long been a critical link in the publishing supply chain, serving as the primary customer of publishers and the primary retail venue for readers.
As suggested by Maurer’s analysis above, publishers seeking to bolster the independent sector could offer retailers better terms. A publisher acting independently would be required to suffer immediate short-term financial pain, in the hopes of contributing to a more vibrant retail sector that will eventually return long-term gains to the publisher. However, since any single small publisher represents only a tiny percentage of a store’s stock, this tactic would be most effective if small publishers acted in concert — but any collective action would likely attract accusations of collusion, as happened with the ebook price-fixing antitrust case in the United States. In an industry reliant on razor-thin margins, this is a challenging path.
Regardless, the shift to online sales need not be calamitous for publishers, and in fact offers some advantages. Publishers can continue to supply the remaining bookstores while recognizing and adapting to the increased role of online sales channels. At the very least, this means better promoting their books to the growing numbers of online shoppers; for the more ambitious publisher, the opportunity exists to sell directly to customers via the publisher’s website.
Selling online allows the collection of useful data about customers and their behaviour. For publishers selling through Amazon.ca, Business Reports allow the tracking of traffic to a publisher’s various titles and the conversion rates of viewers,54 data that would only be available from traditional retailers if they were to install surveillance cameras and closely watch the actions of browsing patrons. Publishers selling directly from their website can track the same data and more: using software such as Google Analytics, publishers can learn what devices buyers are using, how long they are spending on the site and what they are looking at, which other titles they have shown interest in, and where they are located; email addresses can be collected and, if permitted, added to the mailing list. All of this information can be used to tweak the website and marketing efforts, learn what readers respond to, and generate more sales.
Another benefit of selling online is the chance to bypass “one of the most difficult aspects of the publishing business”: returns.55 The standard practice of essentially selling books on consignment is a major problem for publishers (and others in the book trade). According to Woll, the practice distracts publishers, reduces cash flow, inflates inventory levels, and adds cost to the entire publishing process, particularly in warehousing and fulfillment — while return rates for small presses are generally less than those of the bigger publishers, they still account for approximately 11–13 percent of books sold.56 In the New Star office, significant floor space — already at a premium — is occupied by stacks of returned books, which are often dog-eared or scratched just enough that they can not be resold except at remainder-bin prices. Selling directly to the consumer means never fearing that in six months a retailer will return books en masse, potentially damaged and unsalable, for credit or a refund.
There are compelling motivations for publishers to undertake “the more aggressive use of the Internet as an online marketing and sales channel.”57 The most enticing reason may be the increase in profit margins — as Woll explains, “If you sell directly to the consumer, without the need to involve middlemen, you don’t have to give away discount to those intermediaries. You can sell your book for full price and record all of the proceeds as your revenue.”58 Given that the trade discount is generally around 50 percent, this can result in a significant increase in per-unit revenue. There are other costs involved, as Woll notes — notably shipping and direct marketing costs — but it is standard practice to charge buyers for shipping costs, and conducting the marketing online, where the buyers are already, is much cheaper than traditional print-based marketing efforts.59 There are also costs associated with setting up an ecommerce-enabled website, but the majority of Canadian publishers (New Star included) have already done this.60
Thompson’s Characteristics of New Technologies
John B. Thompson lists several characteristics of “new technologies” that allow publishers to “add real value to their content.”61 In the context of selling books online, these characteristics can enable publishers to not merely attempt to recreate the in-store browsing experience, but to enhance it.
Ease of Access: Online bookselling largely erases “certain spatial and temporal constraints.”62 Interested readers can buy books anytime from virtually anywhere, regardless of the location or business hours of retailers, or the number of physical copies of a book in a given store. As of 2010, 98 percent of Canadian households had broadband access,63 and Maurer believes that New Star’s audience is particularly active online.64
Updatability: Compared to printed material, where changes to a text require another print run, online content can be modified “quickly, frequently, and relatively cheaply.”65 Digital samples can be posted early in the book production process and then updated to their final published form, or a new excerpt may be selected for feature based on current events or the conversation generated by the excerpt.
Searchability: It is possible to search inside a printed book using the table of contents and index (or simply leafing through the pages), but of course an online search engine is “infinitely quicker and more powerful … and can be extended to much larger quantities of content.”66
In the context of the wide-open internet this presents challenges to a publisher trying to stand out from the field, but it also enables readers to quickly find what they are looking for on a publisher’s website and even within the full text of a book, if a publisher partners with Google Books (which will be discussed in some detail below). McCabe argues that “consumer behaviour is highly directed online.”67 When people are searching for a particular book or type of book, ensuring that a title’s promotional material is easily searchable is a critical step in directing that consumer behaviour to the desired location.
Portability: As Thompson notes, unless it is device-dependent, vast amounts of online content can be reproduced and transferred to or accessed on devices including personal computers, smart phones, tablet computers, ereaders, and so on.68 Of course most print objects are highly portable as well, but internet-enabled devices can store vast numbers of books and access infinite amounts of online content — e.g., book excerpts — with little burden to the reader.
This portability also allows online excerpts to be easily shared with friends and family around the globe. In an article that notes the continued importance of “social discovery,” Andrew Rhomberg observes that “we are now able to send quotes, snippets or samples (first 10%) of an (electronic) book with ease to those to whom we are recommending our books, which we could not have done in the day of the printed book.”69 His parenthetical qualifiers need not apply; by offering them online, publishers enable the sharing of digital excerpts of any length from ebooks and print books.
Intertextuality: This refers to the ability to “give a dynamic character” to the “referential function of texts,” by providing hyperlinks to sources cited, other books, external resources of any kind, and online sales venues.70
Multimedia: The ability to offer multimedia features that can not be printed on a page “enable[s] content providers to add real value,” e.g., by adding more photos or streaming videos to supplement a book’s content.71
Interest and Sales
The two pioneers of digital sampling — Amazon and Google — have reported encouraging effects on sales. Amazon’s “Search Inside the Book” feature boosted sales for participating titles (and will be discussed further below), and early adopters of Google Book Search saw the sales of backlist titles increase.72 In touting the benefits of its book digitization projects, Google “emphasizes the marketing benefits to copyright holders,” arguing that the endeavour increases the visibility of backlist and “lightly marketed new titles”73 — which, it is safe to say, encompasses the entire catalogues of most small Canadian publishers.
Whether a publisher opts to sell online via Amazon or their own site, digital samples make books easier to find and peruse. Because “the content of the book is separable from the form,” publishers can “dissociate browsing from the turning of printed pages in a bricks-and-mortar bookstore.”74 The separation of content and form takes on far greater profundity in the consideration of the eBook market, but it is germane to the online sale of print books as well: the content of a print book can be easily and accurately represented digitally — and even enhanced — in order to entice buyers. By embracing online book sales and digital sampling, small Canadian publishers can to some degree unshackle themselves from the turbulent, Chapters/Indigo-dominated realm of physical bookstores. The next section considers various book sampling practices, from Internet behemoths to tiny Canadian trade publishers.
Part Two: Current Sampling Practices
When Amazon launched the “Look Inside the Book” feature in 2001, one of the participating publishers said that “helping [Amazon’s] customers crack the spine is simply smart marketing.”75 Two years later, Amazon launched an enhanced version of Look Inside called “Search Inside the Book,” which allows users to search within a certain book or across Amazon’s entire digital catalogue and then view a limited preview surrounding the results.76 Publishers were “guardedly cooperative;” some feared the service would hamper book sales by offering free content, and the Authors Guild objected to titles being featured without the author’s explicit consent.77
One week after the launch of Search Inside, CEO Jeff Bezos announced that the program was “driving increased sales”: sales growth for participating titles was 9 percent higher than growth for titles not participating.78 After a full year, that number had dropped only slightly, to 7 percent.79
The company has not released related sales figures since, but today the Search and Look Inside widget is a robust and prominent feature, easily identified by either a bright yellow arrow or a blue triangle and the words “Look Inside!” on the cover image of a book. After uploading a PDF that conforms to Amazon’s specifications, publishers are promised “Improved Search Results” and “Point-of-Sale Sampling” that will “help customers to discover and sell more of your books.”80 Of the one hundred “Best Sellers of 2013” listed at Amazon.com on September 23, ninety included Search and Look Inside functionality.81 Interestingly, at Amazon.ca on the same day, only three of the top ten and fifty-six of the top one hundred had Search and Look Inside enabled82 — this may be a result of Canadian publishers lacking the resources or inclination to participate, or it may be simple chance.
With the rollout of Google Print in 2003 (since renamed Google Books), Google’s ambition to digitize and make accessible all the information in the world set its sights on the world’s print books. Through its Partner Program and its (highly contentious) Library Project, Google digitizes and indexes books, so that if a searched term appears in a book it will be included in the results, with a several-page excerpt and links to online retailers.83 Unless a publisher agrees to include more, the excerpts are limited to two pages before and after the search term, and displayed text cannot be copy-and-pasted, to help “ensure that a book’s content isn’t copied illegally.”84
Nevertheless, in 2005 both the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers (AAP) sued Google for copyright infringement. The AAP settled in 2012; Publishers Weekly observed that it became evident during the AAP proceedings that the publishers “never really disagreed about the potential benefit of Google’s index,” but wanted to retain greater control over the contents of the program; one expert on the case said that publishers “invested a ton of time and money fighting something that they realize now really isn’t a problem.”85 A federal judge dismissed the Authors Guild case in November 2013. In deeming Google’s digitization project to be “fair use,” Judge Denny Chin said that it provides “significant public benefits” by giving books “new life,” and “generates new audiences and creates new sources of income for authors and publishers.”86
Publishers can make their wares available through Google Books by joining the Partner Program and sending Google a physical or PDF copy of their book. Search results from the book will then display the book’s title and author, and an excerpt highlighting the search terms. If users click on the book they will see a “limited preview … just enough to give them a taste of the book, as if they were browsing in a bookstore or library.” Printing and text and image copying functions are disabled in the preview. Sales links are clearly visible in a sidebar — if the publisher sells directly from their site that is the top link, followed by links to major retailers such as Amazon or Chapters/Indigo and, if an ebook is available, the Google Play bookstore. Partners can also embed the preview on their own website, and access detailed analytical reports about traffic to their books.87
Google does not provide data on Google Books’ impact on sales, and in the pitch to publishers to join they stop short of promising an increase in sales, instead promising, under the heading “Drive Book Sales,” to “make it easy for users to go from browsing to buying.”88 They do, however, offer this (undated) quote from Kate Tentler of Simon & Schuster: “15.3% … [of] web surfers who clicked on a Simon and Schuster book in Google Books either bought a book or went to the Simon and Schuster web site and, for example, subscribed to a newsletter. Conversion rates for other search engines languish around 1-3%.”89 Oxford University Press also claims that partnering with Google has increased traffic to their site and boosted backlist sales.90 In a recent paper from Duke University, one author claims his sales ranking at Barnes & Noble improved by 85 percent after he partnered with Google Books, an experience the paper’s authors claim is “typical for participants.”91 In a 2006 analysis of Google Book Search, Travis notes that book sales in the United States were up “markedly” since the program began, and “thus far there is little evidence that any printed books have suffered lost sales because Google has made them searchable.”92 On the contrary, Travis argues, “the service appears to have had a very positive effect on the sales of books it has included to date.”93
Book Discovery Services
There are a growing number of dedicated book discovery websites. The sites discussed below were chosen because of repeated references that appeared in the course of researching this report; while none of them have achieved the ubiquity of Amazon or Google, they are worth noting, as they speak to the increased perception of online book discovery as both a challenge and an opportunity for publishers.
Goodreads: Their recent acquisition by Amazon has recently thrust Goodreads.com and its 20 million members into the spotlight.94 The site was conceived as a marketing service for publishers, who have been using its “firm foundation” for that exact purpose “for some time.”95 Although it does not currently feature book excerpts, it is not inconceivable that Amazon will integrate its Search or Look Inside the Book features into the site, further enhancing its marketing potential.
Scribd: Originally a place to make documents accessible to the public, Scribd.com now has a “vast treasure trove of documents,” sees 10 million unique visitors monthly, and is increasingly being used by trade publishers to promote books: in July 2013 “marketing activity” on Scribd was just “a gleam in the eye” of American publishers,96 but on a recent visit (October 1, 2013), the twenty-five “documents” displayed on the homepage were all trade books (twenty-one of which were from HarperCollins). Each book offered excerpts, available to anyone, and for a monthly subscription of $8.99 readers can access unlimited content on the site,97 which could develop into an attractive marketing tool and revenue source for forward-thinking publishers.
Bookish: Bookish.com was developed by Penguin Group USA, Hachette Book Group, and Simon & Schuster, and launched in February of 2013 with the aim of “provid[ing] as many pathways to [book] discovery as possible.”98 The cover images of the majority of titles on the homepage feature prominent “Read a Sample” icons, which open a widget (embeddable on other sites) that displays anywhere from one paragraph to a couple chapters of text in plain, uncopy-able html, and a large “Buy” button. Any publisher is welcome to submit titles for inclusion, with the proviso that all data be submitted via an ONIX 2.1 data feed.99
49thShelf: Two Canadian sites deserve mention. Produced by the Association of Canadian Publishers (ACP), 49thShelf.com “mak[es] it easier to discover Canadian books” by hosting editorial content and a searchable database of over 60,000 titles.100 On a recent visit (September 24, 2013), none of the nine titles on the homepage offered excerpts, but it is possible to include them — all of the tiles on 49thShelf are drawn from BNC’s Biblioshare system,101 which supports including excerpts in the ONIX metadata.
Wattpad: Margaret Atwood’s high profile releases on Wattpad.com have increased its profile as of late.102 Although it is primarily a platform for self-published writers to share their work in serialized installments, American publishers are beginning to use it for marketing purposes.103 Wattpad offers intriguing possibilities for small publishers to develop online fanbases by serializing the digital release of titles, perhaps in advance of the print release, and gain potentially useful feedback about various aspects of a book.
As of 2004, foreign-owned publishers operating in Canada accounted for at least 59 percent of domestic sales.104 Of the major firms identified by Lorimer,105 excerpt practices of the four foreign trade publishers — and Harlequin, one of the largest Canadian firms — are discussed below.
HarperCollins announced plans to create a vast digital catalogue in 2005, and by August of the following year had digitized 10,000 titles at a cost of several million dollars, with expected annual costs of at least a million dollars.106 The most notable feature of the project was the new “Browse Inside” widget that, similar to Amazon’s “Search Inside” and Google Book Search, “allow[s] readers to replicate in cyberspace the experience of going to a bookstore and flipping through a few pages before buying a book,” includes supplementary marketing material such as interviews, tour schedules, photographs, and reading group guides, and can be embedded on other websites.107
Initially Browse Inside was limited to the front matter and the first few pages of each chapter.108 Access to most titles is still restricted, but there are now a limited number of “Full Access” titles that offer the entire contents of the book for preview.109 While browsing, a reader can search inside the book; share links to the preview using almost 350 different social media tools; buy the book from Amazon, Indigo, or a list of independent retailers sorted by state or province; install the widget on their own website; and sign up for email notifications about the author’s promotional activity and new books.
Browse Inside is accessible by any visitor to the website, but the content of the preview cannot be downloaded, copied, or accessed by external search engines — as Friedman said upon the launch of the feature, “HarperCollins is taking a leadership role on the digital front … while, first and foremost, protecting our authors’ copyrights.”110
Detailed sales figures are of course unavailable, but there is evidence that excerpts boost sales: in a presentation to the 2008 International Digital Publishing Forum, Leslie Hulse (Vice President of Digital Business Development) reported “print sales increases of 30% and 250% for specific titles using [HarperCollins’] Browse Inside functionality.”111
In 2007 Random House introduced “Insight,” a search and sample widget and service that “enable[s] the indexing, searching and display of text” of books. The service is very similar to Browse Inside, allowing users to search the entire text of a book and view the results in context. It has since evolved into Insight Web Service, “a set of programming tools that allow internet applications to view and search digitized book content” and display the resulting pages as high-resolution images or fast-loading thumbnails. Insight can be set up on any blogger’s, publisher’s or retailers website, and the Insight widget can be customized for affiliate sales.112
RandomHouse.com and RandomHouse.ca both offer Insight-powered “Look Inside” widgets for many titles; in addition, RandomHouse.com features an “Excerpt” tab for most titles, which displays the selection in simple HTML-based text. During the autumn of 2013, RandomHouse.ca also added simple HTML excerpts, so that users can click a “Read Excerpt” button to launch a pop-up window with simple, copy/pastable HTML-based text. This feature is in lieu of the “Look Inside” widget for some titles (e.g., Let Me Off at the Top! by Ron Burgundy) and in addition to it for others (e.g., John Grisham’s Sycamore Row).
Penguin Books Canada (Penguin.ca) offers excerpts of most of its titles, but in varying formats and degrees: for Joseph Boyden’s latest, Orenda, readers can download a PDF of the first twenty pages, while excerpts for some titles are simple HTML text in a box on the page — though they can run as long as 4,800 words, as is the case for Clive Cussler’s The Mayan Secret. Many titles feature video interviews or book trailers.
In the summer of 2013, Penguin launched its “First to Read” program. People must register for the program (or use their FaceBook accounts) to receive access to excerpts of forthcoming books, be able to post reviews, and request access to digital pre-publication copies of books.113
Simon & Schuster
For some titles Simon & Schuster’s Canadian website (SimonandSchuster.ca) uses the Google Books widget to allow browsing of substantial amounts of content within a book. Other titles have an HTML excerpt from the introduction or first chapter, and many of their recent and bestselling titles have embedded audio excerpts and video book trailers. All of this content is easily shareable via Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, or email.
Harlequin.com provides excerpts for seemingly the majority of titles in their vast catalogue. As well as multiple social media widgets and links to eight major book retailers, each title’s page features a red “Read an Excerpt” link that opens the HTML-based sample in a new tab or window. Selections are presented without context, and average about 2,500 words.
A Survey of Canadian Publishers
Table 1 presents the results of a survey of the availability of excerpts from Canadian trade publishers. Eighty-three publishers were selected from the membership directory of the ACP.114 Publishers of exclusively educational, scholarly, or children’s books were excluded, and in the wake of the bankruptcy of Douglas & McIntyre Publishers Inc., the resulting independent firms — Douglas & McIntyre  Ltd., Greystone Books Ltd., and New Society Publishers — were included. On each publisher’s website, the five most prominent titles (featured on homepage or “Featured” lists) were checked for availability of excerpts, and then titles were searched on Amazon (.ca and .com) and Google Books (books.google.com/). There are some limitations to the methodology: not all Canadian publishers are members of the ACP (New Star, for one), and not every title on every site was checked. Nevertheless, the results offer a valuable sense of what Canadian publishers are doing to make their titles visible online.
Table 1: Digital Sampling Practices of Canadian Publishers
Samples available via:
Google Books (Preview or Snippet)
At least 1 of website, Google Books, or Amazon
No Samples Available
In contrast to the major firms discussed above, less than half of the Canadian publishers surveyed provide excerpts on their own website — despite the fact that the vast majority (89 percent) sell books from their websites, either directly (81 percent) or via links to third-party retailers (20 percent) such as Amazon or Chapters/Indigo.
The format, frequency, functionality, and length of the samples vary greatly. Of the thirty-four publishers that do host samples, nearly half (fifteen) use PDFs, eleven use plain HTML, and only seven publishers use embedded Google Books widgets. At a dozen presses, samples were found for only one or two of the five titles surveyed, while thirteen displayed samples for all five titles. Slightly less than half (fifteen) of the publishers enabled the sharing of the samples via some social media channel. The length of samples runs the gamut from a few sentences presented wholly out of context at Linda Leith Publishing, to Dundurn’s Google Books-integrated website, which allows viewers to search within their entire catalogue and view extensive selections from selected books in Google Preview directly from Dundurn.com.
Although excerpt availability does increase significantly when Google Books and Amazon are taken into account, the titles of about one third of publishers cannot be sampled online. The prevalence of direct sales seems to indicate that publishers appreciate the significance of the online market, but the relative lack of opportunities to easily peruse a title shows that this important aspect of online marketing is either unrecognized, or deemed unfeasible due to financial or technical constraints. The importance of sampling having been established above, the next section consists of considerations and recommendations for how to simply and effectively offer book samples online.
Part Three: Analysis & Recommendations
The mere existence — often at great cost — of the various digital sampling widgets and websites speaks volumes to the efficacy of enabling readers to “try before they buy.” These services are a testament to the growing value of the online market, and the necessity of innovation in the absence of a healthy physical bookstore sector. A publisher with unlimited resources may wish to engage in all the available means above, but for a small Canadian press the time and effort of supplying Google, Amazon, and the various websites with PDFs and data feeds may cancel out any benefit accrued. The following sections consider the myriad options available for offering digital samples, and conclude with recommendations for how to provide effective HTML-based samples.
Book Discovery Websites
It remains to be seen if the latest book discovery sites will survive and flourish, and there is little indication as of yet that they can improve the visibility or sales of a title: a recent study concluded that even though “frequent readers” regularly visit sites such as Goodreads or Pinterest to look for books, “those visits fail to drive actual book purchases.”115 For a publisher like New Star, already faced with pressing demands on time and resources, it is not clear that devoting any considerable effort to developing a presence on these sites would return any tangible benefit — as some observers have noted, there is a glut of such services, indicative of the fact that discovery is a problem for publishers, not readers.116 It is worth keeping an eye on the continued evolution of sites like Scribd and Wattpad, but to achieve immediate results, publishers should focus their efforts on more proven methods.
Google & Amazon
The ease, ubiquity, and effectiveness of Search Inside and Google Books should make them very attractive to publishers. Titles from every publisher surveyed can already be found on Amazon.ca and Google Books, yet less than half have enabled Google Preview, and even fewer use Amazon’s preview functions. Google Books’ Partner Program in particular can be very useful for publishers, as it is effective beyond the confines of one particular website: readers searching via any search engine can find a Google Books page that includes retailer links, and the preview widget can be embedded on the publisher’s own website — as at least seven Canadian publishers know.
There are some limitations, however. Amazon samples are only accessible via Amazon.ca (or .com), and of course do not provide links to other retailers (although there is some evidence of reverse show-rooming behaviour, whereby people browse books online and then buy them in a physical store.117 Amazon requires a PDF free of registration- or crop-marks,118 which in New Star’s case would mean producing a separate PDF, apart from the standard workflow. Compared to HTML, both Google and Amazon’s widgets are somewhat cumbersome to use on smartphones, tablets, and other non-PC devices.
Notably, neither has a sharing function, and text cannot be copy/pasted from the widgets to manually share on social media venues. Whether it is in person or via online “social discovery,” word-of-mouth is still a critically important component of book marketing.119 When readers were asked for a 2005 Canadian study to choose the variables that contribute to their awareness of books they read or purchased, “recommendation from a friend” was listed as “often used” by 40 percent of respondents, second in frequency only to “interest in topic” at 61 percent — but when asked which factors “helped the most” for buying and reading, recommendations were cited by over 30 percent of respondents, compared to 20 percent for “interest in a topic.”120 The more recent BNC report confirms the significance of word-of-mouth for book discovery, and notes that online discovery is increasing121: it seems clear that sharing and recommending books online is an important and growing factor in book discovery, and should be made as seamless as possible.
Even with these limitations they are tremendously useful. So why don’t more publishers embrace them? Thompson addresses this in an interview with “Steve,” the head of “Media Asset Development” at a large trade house in New York, who says his company wants to use the Amazon and Google services, but is not entirely comfortable giving their content to such powerful companies who may not have their best interests in mind: “‘Many publishers in this building just like elsewhere are still not totally comfortable about giving their files to Amazon and Google,’ explained one of Steve’s colleagues. ‘Partly it’s because we’re unsure what they’ll do with it.’”122 Before a New York judge dismissed the proposed Google Book Search settlement agreement (that required authors to opt out of having their books digitized) in 2011,123 Canadian authors (among others) expressed their distinct disapproval of the deal, comparing it to thievery and “legalized, large-scale piracy.”124
There are also practical concerns; Thompson explains that publishers are ceding control of the quality of the excerpts and the quantity available, and cannot easily change or update what is on offer.125
In the case of the quantity excerpted, Amazon has since partially addressed this concern with the introduction of a “Flexible Percent Viewing Limit” feature that allows publishers to determine the percentage of the book that is viewable, in 10 percent increments between 10 and 80 percent.126 The quality concern has been rendered moot by both Amazon’s and Google’s acceptance of PDF files rather than hard copies — the quality of the digitized book is what publishers make it. Concerns over quick updates are still valid, but not entirely reasonable for publishers of print books, who are not able to correct errors in their books once the ink is committed to paper without an expensive and unlikely reprint.
The trust issue is thornier. It is understandable that a small publisher would be wary of placing too much faith in multi-billion dollar corporations. Amazon particularly endures much criticism from all quarters for its impact on the publishing trade in general, and, as a purely profit-driven retailer, cannot be said to share any of the lofty literary, cultural, or political ideas that animate a press like New Star. Google’s mission to make the world’s knowledge accessible (and its famous slogan, “Don’t be evil”) seems to align them more closely with publishers, but also has a whiff of totalitarianism about it, and has of course resulted in numerous lawsuits alleging flagrant and systematic copyright violations. Still: all the publishers surveyed sell books on Amazon; in the absence of any evidence of malicious acts involving digitized books, it seems wise to allow them to present those books in the best possible light. And as Thompson goes on to mention, Google’s Partner Program is, “in effect, a free form of online marketing” that, in distinction to the Library project, “was not a source of concern for most publishers.”127
Most Canadian publishers use PDFs for excerpts. This results in an accurate representation of the printed page and allows the excerpt to be read offline, but there are many disadvantages that make PDFs an inferior choice compared to HTML. They are cumbersome to share, forcing the reader to download and attach them to an email, and can be slow to load, depending on the file size and bandwidth available. They are unreliable: different web browsers and operating systems treat them differently, sometimes downloading them and sometimes opening them in a new window or tab; the ability to view them at all depends on the reader’s software configuration and the settings used in generating the PDF; and if the reader is using a smartphone or tablet they are unwieldy at best, unreadable at worst.
Because PDFs are an essential part of a print-oriented production workflow, it is perhaps understandable that publishers would be biased toward their use. As Murray Tong of UBC Press explains, “I think the issue for many publishers (including us) is that the PDF is already there, so why not put it up? — with little thought [given] to searchability, copyability or other forms of access.”128
Another reason for the tenacity of PDFs may be the perceived benefit of restricting a reader’s ability to copy text from them, out of fear of piracy or copyright violations. This restriction is an oft-touted feature of the excerpt methods of Google, Amazon, HarperCollins, and Random House. If the entire book is available for preview this restriction seems reasonable, but in the case of an incomplete excerpt it becomes less defensible. With the possible exception of poetry books, cookbooks, or instructional manuals, there is very little value in owning or reproducing a fraction of a greater work, except insofar as it impels one toward the source material. Rather than guard every scrap of content, publishers should encourage the free sharing and distribution of enticing morsels that enable “social discovery” (via social media) and “distributed discovery”129 (when a book is mentioned or quoted in context in reviews, blogs, other books, or any number of venues).
Whatever inspires their proliferation, PDFs represent a case of persistent skeumorphism. Imitating old media in new ones may be a necessary step to familiarize people with new technologies,130 but people have had a long time to get used to reading on screens: as Joseph Esposito argues in a post that calls the PDF the “supreme skeuomorph,” the challenge for publishers is to consider “what are the properties of a new medium and what kind of new products or services can we come up with that seem at home in that new medium…. Rather than contrast and compare it to print, we could be thinking about digital media’s unique properties.”131
In the context of promoting books, these properties are wasted with PDFs. HTML can now achieve the same level of aesthetic design as PDFs destined for the printer, “and yet,” as John Maxwell says, “offers a whole world more in terms of dynamic, interactive reading experience.”132 There is a broader argument being made that publishers need to shift the bulk of their operations to a web-first workflow, as the web is now “the default platform for reaching audiences, developing content, and putting the pieces [of a book] together” — but for publishers hesitant to “re-orient their operations and start with the web,”133HTML-based samples are a less intimidating place to start breaking the dependency on PDFs, and could potentially lay the foundations for a more fundamental change to workflows down the road.
It is difficult to gauge the dollar cost of creating online samples, given the myriad variables at play. While participation in the Google and Amazon sampling programs is free, overall costs will depend on the method or combination of methods employed; the number of titles for which samples are created; the structure of the publisher’s website; and the extent of in-house programming knowledge. In the best-case scenario, the cost is limited to time. If the publisher already sells via Amazon, they must sign up for the sampling programs and enable them for each title. For Google, once the publisher is signed up they must submit PDFs for each title. The publisher’s own website is potentially more expensive; a template for samples must be created, and the HTML-based samples of each title created. If the structure of the site allows it, this could be accomplished relatively quickly in-house; more complicate websites owned by publishers with little in-house programming knowledge could expect to pay for several hours of web programming to implement the sample program.
Recommendations for Effective Samples
Based on the above, it is recommended that publishers participate in Amazon’s Look and Search Inside the Book services and Google’s Partner Program — the benefits are real and tangible, the perceived dangers largely a matter of fear and uncertainty.
It is also advisable for publishers to create HTML-based excerpts for display on publishers’ own websites. If publishers can recognize that, for the purposes of online marketing at least, “the content of the book is separable from the form” and “the real value of the book lies in the content … rather than in the physical form,”134 they will be a step closer to abandoning PDF samples and taking full advantage of the characteristics of new technologies noted above. HTML-based samples overcome most of the limitations of PDFs and Google and Amazon samples: all browsers can render HTML, making it easily accessible to (very nearly) anyone with Internet access, whether via computer, tablet, or smartphone, and the excerpted text can be easily shared, linked to, and quoted elsewhere. This enhanced “sociability” of HTML over PDFs is a very significant advantage: samples can be easily and quickly spread through any and all social media channels via easily clickable links.
There are two potential drawbacks that merit consideration. The first is aesthetic: web pages are usually less attractive than reproductions of the printed page, which may make publishers somewhat reluctant to present books in what may be perceived as a “lesser” format. This can be overcome to some degree with CSS styling and the addition of images where appropriate, but more importantly, providing HTML-based samples should be seen as a strategic practice that, rather than competing with the physical books, aims to make those books readily shareable to as many people as possible in order to generate sales. In this context, aesthetic imperfection is an acceptable tradeoff for near-universal accessibility, and may even be preferable to high-fidelity page reproductions: as discussed below (under the section titled “Length”), publishers must be careful not to give away too much for free, lest readers feel that purchasing the actual book is unnecessary.There are two potential drawbacks that merit consideration.
Secondly, depending on a publisher’s standard workflow, creating HTML-based samples rather than PDFs may take more time: instead of simply removing the printer’s marks from the print-ready PDF, the text must be copied and pasted from the source file into either a WYSIWYG content management system (CMS) such as WordPress (the best-case scenario), or a text editor for the creation of HTML code (a slightly more onerous route). In the former case, creating the sample is no more time-consuming than creating a web-ready PDF. In the latter, creating an HTML template into which text can be pasted and marked up will ease the burden somewhat. Forward-thinking publishers wishing to entirely erase this burden (and many others) should consider beginning their workflow in a web-based CMS; as Maxwell has argued, one of the many advantages of such a strategy is that “online marketing copy or excerpts for the web” become “extremely easy to generate.”135
Despite these potential drawbacks, HTML is the superior choice for hosting digital samples, and is well worth the interruption to an established workflow. Its content is indexed and searchable by Google and other search engines — a considerable benefit if “Google is your discovery method”136 and “search is the new storefront.”137 Hyperlinks within the excerpt and the publishers website and to external sites can be easily added and used. It enables the addition of audio and video. And a reader’s behaviour and interaction with an HTML excerpt can be tracked and quantified using Google Analytics.
There is another compelling reason to host excerpts on a publisher’s own site, one that is hinted at by the time and care Maurer devotes to maintaining New Star’s blog and email subscriber list: building a relationship with a press’s audience. Excerpts are an incentive to spend time on a publisher’s website, where they can potentially read blog posts, subscribe to newsletters, peruse all the press has to offer, and generally develop an affinity for the publisher. Many observers have recently emphasized the importance of this sort of relationship: “Since publishers can’t physically enter people’s living rooms, turn off their TVs and shove books into their hands, they may instead have to focus on retail and … work on their direct relationships with readers,”138 because “nothing will ever replace building authentic, two-way relationships with customers and readers.”139 As Gonzales says, “The publishers who have a direct relationship with their readers — not necessarily via direct sales, but via direct engagement — are the ones who will not simply survive the ‘digital shift,’ but will thrive, being less prone to the whims of Amazon, Apple, Google….”140
Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Although it is likely already on the radar of many publishers, SEO is critically important, specifically for digital sampling — as Thompson notes, if a site is not “friendly for the Google crawler” and therefore does not perform well in search result rankings, “then your content is, for all practical purposes, invisible.”141SEO is a vast and at-times complex field in itself, but a few simple steps — such as creating unique, accurate page titles, and URLs with descriptive words rather than strings of numbers — can greatly enhance a sample page’s (and therefore a book’s) discoverability.142
For non-fiction titles, SEO considerations can also guide the choice of what book content to sample. By consulting the suggested terms listed by Google’s Autocomplete feature (which terms are “a reflection of the search activity of users and the content of web pages indexed by Google”143), publishers can get a sense of which subjects within a book are most searched-for. For example, querying “Svend Robinson” in Google produces a list of the ten most popular terms queried with “Svend Robinson,” three of which (i.e., “Max Riveron,” “theft,” and “Sue Rodriguez”) point to topics covered in the New Star biography that would be suitable for excerpting.144 Using Google Trends (www.google.ca/trends/), the popularity of these terms can then be compared over time and within regions to aid in choosing what to sample, and fine-tuning keywords to use in optimizing and promoting the samples.
The next consideration is how much to excerpt — Amazon’s default is 20 percent; excerpts surveyed above ranged from a few sentences to dozens of pages; and, as noted, New Star has experimented with offering the entire book — a strategy that has proven successful for some authors,145 and is worth further exploration. Generally though, as Thompson notes, “you want to allow the reader to get a clear sense of the content … but you don’t want them to be able to read so much of the text that the decision to purchase becomes redundant.”146 The nature of the book is another important factor — for fiction the preferred method is to offer the beginning chapters, while “episodic sampling” is often the best approach for non-fiction works.147 Checking various topics from the book in Google Trends could offer insight into what topics are currently popular and will be more likely to attract readers to the excerpt. Publishers must be careful, however, to not give away for free the most sought-after section of the book: in an article questioning the value of book excerpts in print publications, a publicity executive at Knopf claimed that an excerpt of a Jessica Lynch biography in Time “gave away too much — I think people felt they’d had their fill.”148 Ultimately it is a matter of editorial judgment, but the guiding principle should be to entice, not satiate the reader.
A “buy” button is the most obvious link to include, but publishers can take advantage of the potential “intertextuality” of digital samples by including hyperlinks in the content of the excerpt. For a research-heavy non-fiction title such Svend Robinson, an excerpt could feature links directly to available online sources referenced in the text, allowing the reader to engage with the source material in an exponentially easier way than if they were reading it in a bookstore, which would require either flipping to the end of the book to find the endnote, or going online to search for the cited article.
Hyperlinks can also enrich the reader’s experience of the excerpted material, and provide context precluded by the limitations of the print version. With fiction and poetry, samples are a chance for authors or publishers to embellish and expand upon the original text. A recent New Star poetry book acknowledges a long list of bands, writers, “commercials, films, and more” that are obliquely referenced or appear in the text as “phrases and rhythms, sometimes skewed, [that] float in and out of sybil unrest.”149 With only slight visual alteration of the text, these references could be elucidated or expanded upon, offering the authors another layer of expression and the reader a deeper understanding of the references and ideas at play.
The savvy excerpter could also include links to favourable reviews of the work, or at the end of the sample, to excerpts from the author’s other works, and similar works by other authors (offered by the same publisher).
The multimedia capacity of digital samples allows further enrichment of the text. In the case of New Star’s recent titles, this could entail “bonus” photos, e.g., photos that were considered but not included in Svend Robinson or Seize the Time: Vancouver Photographed 1967 – 1974; including promotional videos in a sample, e.g. the promotional video for After Desire; embedding videos related to a book’s topic, e.g., Seize the Time contains two photos of Janis Joplin in performance, and a number of videos of those same performances are available on YouTube; or including audio recordings of readings, e.g., Peter Culley’s (author of Parkway) recent reading at the Western Front or George Stanley’s (After Desire) at WORD Vancouver.
Promotion of samples can and should take place through extant channels, such as a publisher’s website, email newsletters, social media, and even books. It is a common practice to list other books by an author in the front matter of a print book, but if a publisher sells ebooks, these lists could be hyperlinks to samples of the book. Widgets displaying the “Most Read” samples could be installed on the homepage of the website, similar to what most online newspapers and magazines do.
Including social media widgets on the sample’s page allows readers to quickly share them, and these channels can be very effective: “Traditional advertising did nothing for us … absolutely zilch,” according to Emily Gould of EmilyBooks, an independent ebook retailer, “but when I tweet a line from the book or we post a three-paragraph excerpt on our Tumblr, people buy the books just because they want to read more, immediately.”150 The chances are very high that any given member of a book’s potential audience is using at least one social media platform.151 Engaging them with them in these media and linking to samples helps them get read, increases the SEO ranking of the site, and provides useful data about the readers.152
Digital samples can also be easily distributed to specific influential bloggers or reviewers, as part of a concerted “online outreach” effort — the online marketing manager of a large American publisher said, “we outreach to bloggers, and that’s a big part of what we do because it just gets the conversation going.”153 A book like Svend Robinson lends itself well to promotion in a variety of realms beyond book-review sites; members of the LGBT community, provincial and federal NDP members, and political pundits could all be expected to show an interest in reading and discussing online an excerpt from the book. Advanced search options in Twitter and Google allow a publisher to find people that are already engaged with the topic of the book, follow their conversations, and offer them valuable content.154 Proactive distribution of digital samples costs only time, and can help spark a discussion around the book, bringing more visitors to the publisher’s website.
In 2011, the president of Booknet Canada recommended that all publishers include excerpts in their metadata feeds.155 Excerpts are considered “enhanced” (i.e., non-compulsory) metadata, but can be included for those retailers or websites that do display them, e.g., 49th Shelf, which draws all its title information from the ONIX files submitted to BNC’s BiblioShare.156 Enhanced metadata is proven to increase sales, and the effect is even stronger for online sales.157 The Book Industry Study Group’s most recent guide to metadata best practices claims “excerpts can make titles stand out in a list of possible relevant purchases and encourage longer engagement with the product listing for these titles.”158 In The Metadata Handbook, “excerpts, previews, and sample chapters” top the list of enhanced metadata “that make a difference.”159 The authors note that providing rich metadata to retailers will also improve a title’s SEO performance in Google and other search engines; while they caution that rich metadata will not guarantee the success of a book, “the absence of metadata will definitely guarantee its obscurity.”160
Using Google’s “rich snippets,” publishers can help Google parse the content on a page to provide important information about the book in the “snippet,” i.e., the lines of text that appear below a search result.161 Installing rich snippets requires small modifications to the code of a webpage according to Google’s specifications, but greatly enhance the results that people searching for a title will see. Rich snippets for products allow the inclusion of the book title, cover image, publisher, category, ISBN, price, and availability,162 enabling an interested reader to learn of not just the existence of a book, but many salient details that will aid their discovery of it, all with a glance at the search results.
Finally, readers’ interaction with HTML-based digital samples on a publisher’s own site can be tracked with Google Analytics, enabling a publisher to tweak the samples and the site for maximum efficacy. There is a wealth of data available, including geographical location, frequency of visits, device and browsers used, links followed to arrive at the site, the popularity of specific pages, navigation paths within the site, and the completion rates of customizable goals.163 This allows a publisher to track how well digital samples are engaging readers and leading to sales, and can help them modify the samples (and the site at large) to respond to readers’ behaviour.
Analytics results cannot tell a publisher how to improve results, but allows them to methodically refine the site and receive quantified feedback at each step. This process can be sped up by using A/B testing: there are a variety of services that enable A/B testing, and have taught website proprietors that modifications as simple as changing the colour of a call-to-action button can significantly improve its effectiveness.164 Publishers can offer different excerpts from the same book, with varying cover images, photographs, blurbs, etc., track which versions garner the better response, and use the resulting data to inform the marketing of the book (or even the book itself). These online tools allow for a process of trial-and-error that would be prohibitively expensive in print-based marketing efforts, and far more difficult to measure.
This process is fundamental to online book promotion: as Mike Shatzkin argues, “The key to successful digital marketing is to do the research that finds the right messages and targets, test the messages to the targets looking for a defined result, measure the impact, and then adjust the messaging and targeting.”165 By experimenting with different excerpts and their design and marketing copy, digital samples can act as a low-cost testing ground, enriching a publisher’s understanding of their audience and ultimately improving a title’s chances of success both online and in physical bookstores.
The decline of brick-and-mortar bookstores in Canada is a serious problem for publishers, particularly small publishers, who benefit greatly from a healthy independent bookstore sector providing a greater diversity of sales channels. A greater number of readers are purchasing books online, where the opportunity to sample a book can increase the likelihood of purchase. Although digital sampling via Google Books and Amazon has been around for nearly a decade, it has a relatively low adoption rate for Canadian publishers, and only a fraction have placed excerpts in easily searchable, universally accessible HTML-based formats. Digital sampling on publishers’ own websites is often half-hearted and haphazardly applied. Offering HTML-based samples on their own website ensures that a potential customer can find a publisher’s title and quickly determine its attractiveness. Embarking upon the above recommendations will greatly improve the online visibility and appeal of a publisher’s books, and likely result in increased sales.
For small presses like New Star, where limited resources must be carefully allocated, digital samples are an easy and effective way to supplement their marketing efforts. Maurer believes “the best thing for New Star would be to have a catastrophic collapse of Indigo/Chapters,”166 but in the meantime, New Star can boost the online visibility of its titles by adding the creation of digital samples to the workflow of new books, and beginning the process of creating samples for backlist titles. For the own-site samples, eye-catching “Read a Sample” links should be added to a title’s page; while a book is being printed, the final text could be dropped into a ready-made HTML template. Once the backend modifications are in place and the template created, it would be a matter of minutes to create a sample, or at most a couple of hours to include various hyperlinks, cross-references, and multimedia extras. To further enhance visibility and increase third-party sales, Amazon should be provided with the necessary files to enable Look Inside, and New Star should consider partnering with Google Books to enable Google Preview and links to NewStarbooks.com on Google Books pages. Samples could be easily promoted via the existing means, though it would be wise to ramp up the social media efforts — New Star’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been dormant since 2011; at a minimum, tweeting and posting links to new samples as they become available would help generate awareness of them and draw traffic to the website. New Star already has Google Analytics enabled; to determine to what extent any of this affects sales, “goal funnels” could be set up to measure how many people click on the samples, and how many of those proceed to buy the book or click on the Amazon or Chapters/Indigo links.
Despite all of the above, publishers should not wholly abandon the physical retail sector. Traditional bookstores still play a very important role in book discovery, and there is a case to be made that publishers should be devoting more energy to supporting vibrant bookstores.167 However, publishers need not focus on online sales to the total exclusion of all others, and strong online book promotion can drive sales in retail stores: as noted, some people find books online and then purchase them in a physical store, and even people who purchase books exclusively at brick-and-mortar bookstores likely spend some time online — as the online marketing manager at one imprint told Thompson, one of the goals of online marketing is for these people “to be in the bookstore and recognize the book either because they saw an ad or they something else that we did online.”168
A final caveat: if these means of online promotion are universally adopted, then “the playing field is once again leveled” and publishers will live or die solely on the merits of their books.169 But until that unlikely day arrives, small Canadian publishers can gain an advantage on their competitors and increase their share of the growing online book market by ensuring readers can find and sample their books online, in the most enriched and unencumbered manner possible.
37 Rowland Lorimer and Roger Barnes, “Book Reading, Purchasing, Marketing, and Title Production,” in Book Publishing 1, ed. Rowland Lorimer, Jillian Shoichet, and John Maxwell (Vancouver: CCSP Press, 2005), 228.
120 Rowland Lorimer and Lindsay Lynch, “The Latest Canadian National Reading Study, 2005: Publishers Analysis,” report commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage, Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University (2005), 16-17.
121 BookNet Canada, Canadian Book Consumer 2012, 61.
144 It should be noted that Autocomplete results may vary based on whether a user is signed in to a Google account and has “Web History” enabled (See Ibid.); for more objective results, sign out of Google and/or disable the history.
145 John Hilton III and David Wiley, “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales,” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010), doi:dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.101.
Lai, Larissa, and Rita Wong. sybil unrest. Vancouver: New Star, 2013.
Lorimer, Rowland. Ultra Libris: Policy, Technology, and the Creative Economy of Book Publishing in Canada. Toronto: ECW / Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, 2012.
Lorimer, Rowland and Roger Barnes. “Book Reading, Purchasing, Marketing, and Title Production.” In Book Publishing 1, edited by Rowland Lorimer, Jillian Shoichet, and John Maxwell, 220-256. Vancouver: CCSP Press, 2005.
Thompson, John B. Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2010.
Woll, Thomas. Publishing for Profit: Successful Bottom-Line Management for Book Publishers. 4th ed. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2010.
Interviews & Correspondence
Maurer, Rolf (publisher, New Star Books). Email to author, November 19, 2013.
——— . Interview by author, August 22, 2013. Vancouver.
Maxwell, John. Email to author, November 28, 2013.
Tong, Murray (UBC Press). Email to author, November 28, 2013.
Hilton III, John, and David Wiley, “The Short-Term Influence of Free Digital Versions of Books on Print Sales.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010). doi:dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.101.
Maxwell, John, with Meghan MacDonald, Travis Nicholson, Jan Halpape, Sarah Taggart, and Heiko Binder. “XML Production Workflows? Start with the Web.” Journal of Electronic Publishing 13, no. 1 (2010). doi: dx.doi.org/10.3998/3336451.0013.106.
Lorimer, Rowland, and Lindsay Lynch. “The Latest Canadian National Reading Study, 2005: Publishers’ Analysis.” Report commissioned by the Department of Canadian Heritage. Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing, Simon Fraser University, 2005.
ABSTRACT: This report examines the tension between print and digital magazine publishing, the divisiveness around SEO, and the future of BCBusiness magazine’s digital editorial strategy. Beyond simply extolling the virtues of SEO, this report discusses its absolute necessity in the digital editorial workflow, how it can be adapted, and the best practices for digital editors. As the magazine publishing industry moves into a new digital era, magazines have to consider how to align the goals and practices of print and digital editors while developing new online strategies that combine print content, multimedia, SEO, and social media. BCBusiness is on the vanguard of this magazine publishing movement that will see more dynamic editors working as multi-platform, multidiscipline, word- and Web-strategists. All figures and statistics are accurate as of April 2011.
Thanks to my industry supervisor, Shannon Emmerson, and to John Bucher for their support, mentorship, and for letting me stick around after my internship.
Thanks to my senior supervisor, John Maxwell, and the brilliant staff in the Master of Publishing Program. I appreciate all of your encouragement, your dedication to your students, and above all, for helping me see what an exciting time this is to be entering the publishing industry.
And finally, thanks to my wonderful husband, Luc. I couldn’t have done this without your motivation on those early Saturday mornings, your encouraging words, and all of your support as I inched further toward my degree.
In an increasingly digital world, magazine publishing strategies without Web components are rare animals. The publishing industry has evolved rapidly, changing with the technologies on which it relies to reach its readers. As digital technologies advance, so do its users, and so must the content providers. After spending three months interning at Canada Wide Media, Western Canada’s largest magazine publisher, and studying the evolution of its online publishing strategy, I saw firsthand the speed with which publishers and editors must react to the evolving demands of readers and the market.
This report addresses the seismic shifts in the magazine publishing landscape, how they have given way to new digital strategies and an emphasis on magazines’ online components, and what these changes look like at a Canadian magazine publisher. During my internship at Canada Wide I analyzed online articles from 2007 onwards to ascertain past digital editorial practices and how they figured in the overall workflow of a print article being put online. Beyond analyzing the way things were, this report thoroughly discusses current strategies and their merits in online publishing, and puts forth new ideas for the future of online publishing. Upon being hired as a full-time staff member following my internship, I extended my research to Canada Wide’s current editorial strategies, and looked at how new methods and ideas can be incorporated to improve the digital editorial workflow and the overall success of online magazines. By going inside the current digital editorial practices at BCBusiness magazine, Canada Wide’s print and online business title, and analyzing its past methods, I can trace the evolution of online magazine publishing strategies at Canada Wide Media.
As online magazine-publishing models proliferate, more companies are exploring the opportunities of digital publishing rather than dwelling on the shortcomings of print. Magazines are being published in myriad forms —Magazines Canada calls them “360 degree marketing providers”—and online editions are building credibility with both readers and advertisers. As audiences warm to the idea of consuming robust content online —books, magazines, newspaper articles—more publications are moving their digital products beyond static replications of their print editions and embracing new strategies.
Early online models seemed to be shaped around the idea that “if you build it, they will come;” any online presence was better than none, and digital strategies lacked elegance, using the Web simply as a print-content repository. The prevailing idea was that, if your content was worthy, readers would find it, consume it, share it, and return for more. But with 255 million websites in existence as of December 2010, it has never been clearer that good content alone will not fuel your site’s vitality and success.
The content is king mantra still buzzes in the background of digital publishing strategies, but the sheer vastness and increasing complexities of the Internet demand a more sophisticated approach. Publishing excellent content is the editor’s steadfast goal, but ensuring that it is findable is paramount in her strategy. If you build it, the reader must be able to Google it.
Readers do not interact with a digital publication in the same way as with a print publication, nor do they find it the same way. Adopting a separate editorial strategy for Web content (both print-to-Web and Web-only) involves understanding how readers consume content online and understanding how they find it.
Search engine optimization (SEO) is the Web practice of enhancing an article or website’s visibility online and increasing its findability in search engine results. In the past few years, SEO has become an increasingly fundamental part of online magazine publishing strategies, and thorough knowledge and understanding of SEO techniques are a necessity in the digital editor’s toolbox. By employing SEO methods, the digital editor improves an article’s online visibility, which results in more traffic arriving to the magazine’s website; it is like placing your print magazine at the front of the newsstand in hopes of attracting more readers. Although some aspects of SEO are at odds with the conventions of print editorial—such as headline writing—they have their rightful place in magazine publishing.
By incorporating SEO methods into the digital editorial strategy, editors can ensure that their content is well indexed by search engines and that it drives traffic to the magazine’s site. Although SEO skeptics are still rampant, it is hard to ignore the facts; through Google analytics, it is easy to discern the articles that have been optimized from those that were copied from the print magazine with no further changes. This report looks at the SEO and analytics of successful and unsuccessful BCBusiness articles to clarify the gap between a properly optimized article and one that has not undergone any Web-specific editorial treatment. Analytics reveal how many people see an article, how they arrived there, and many other valuable details that can be incorporated into the digital editorial strategy. A magazine article that is published online without Web-specific editorial treatment or optimization is the proverbial needle in the Internet haystack, a blip on the Google analytics radar. By thoroughly analyzing search optimization methods, this report will determine the best practices for digital editors, look at new techniques, emphasize SEO’s necessity in online magazine publishing, and look at how it can be specifically applied to back issues of Canada Wide’s magazines and to its current digital editorial strategy.
The digital publishing arc of BCBusiness magazine
In 2005, Canada Wide Media launched a Web component for its flagship publication, BCBusiness magazine. The website offered fragments of five articles per month and pushed readers to subscribe to the print magazine. In 2007, BCBusiness launched its full website, BCBusinessOnline.ca. Over the past five years, BCBusiness Online has followed a similar arc to the one mentioned above. The fledgling website published entire print magazine issues by moving content online, but with minimal photos and limited consideration for the articles’ digital environment, primarily due to a small staff stretched thinly over the demanding website launch and curation. The original intention was to bring BCBusiness a Web presence as quickly as possible, populating the site with print content as a mirror to the magazine. The digital staff wanted to serve both readers, in finding content online, and advertisers, in reaching a new online audience. “The purpose of the website was to promote the magazine to advertisers and potential subscribers” with less focus on the reader experience. The website was a means to an end; the goal was to have a Web presence. In conjunction with the website launch, BCBusiness Online developed a blog component, but still left the magazine content with limited digital editorial treatment. It focused, rather, on curating the new Web-only component, a collection of blogs. BCBusiness Online’s Web component concerned itself with fresh, engaging content—which is not a bad strategy, but an incomplete one.
In the years following the launch of the site the magazine has significantly adjusted its approach to include search engine optimization as a critical part of its digital editorial strategy. With editors dedicated to SEO as a stage in each blog post and article’s workflow, the magazine has increased its visibility online and overall visitor traffic to the site. BCBusiness Online began using Google analytics in 2008, and since then the site has seen a 22.7% increase in unique visitors from 2008 to 2009, and a 49.2% increase in unique visitors from 2009 to 2010. This is no doubt the result of BCBusiness Online’s adoption of SEO, social media practices, and continued publication of high-quality content. Excellent content is a priority, but broadcasting it through social media and making it searchable through SEO has made the site significantly more successful, as can be seen by analyzing the visitor sources and keywords in BCBusiness Online’s Google analytics.
BCBusiness Online’s early practices of shoveling print content online has resulted in droves of valuable back-issue articles that have sunk to the bottom of the site and are not easily findable by search. By revisiting these articles with a revised digital editorial strategy, BCBusiness Online can create a valuable archive of content that will drive traffic, create a long tail of organic search-engine visitors, and hopefully convert those visitors to loyal readers.
We know that magazines need SEO, but it is time to revisit those strategies and evaluate which methods have real clout and which can be put aside. Rather than use the shotgun approach, editors must devote more quality time to only the important aspects of SEO than hedging one’s bets by completing every step half-heartedly. Too much time is wasted on methods that have been proven useless, like writing long lists of keywords on the backend of articles. Abandoning ineffective methods to devote more time to others (i.e. rewriting headlines and cultivating strong social media channels) can fortify the overall SEO of an article. This revision of the digital editorial strategy must also involve print editors—SEO should extend beyond the purview of just the digital editor. As magazines’ Web components build dominance, editors must work together as members of the same brand rather than separate print and digital entities.
PART ONE | A Burgeoning BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Early digital workflow; Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007; The importance of SEO in digital
The evolution of BCBusiness Online provides a model in the Canadian publishing industry by which we can trace changes in online editorial strategies. Analyzing articles from even just four years ago reveals a substantially different approach to online magazine publishing and a very basic definition of “Web presence.” In its earliest incarnation—and like many of its peers—BCBusiness magazine approached search engine optimization as more of an overall site-structure strategy with less attention paid to the optimization of individual articles. But as publishers began to grasp a more sophisticated idea of what being online meant for a magazine, digital editors began to emerge and, with them, digital editorial strategies. Search engine optimization grew in relevance as publishers began to consider business models for digital publishing, and as digital editors recognized its reader-attracting power. The sales staff wanted more traffic for the sake of advertisers, and editorial staff wanted more readers. BCBusiness had humble Web beginnings, but carved out its spot online and used the power of search engine optimization to help find its online audience.
BCBusiness Online has developed over time within the Digital Media Department at Canada Wide Media under director of digital media Shannon Emmerson. Since June 2007, the department has grown from a full-time staff of two to a full-time staff of 13. This includes three full-time digital editors, each dedicated to their own digital title—BCBusiness Online, Granville Online, and BCLiving, respectively. The department also has two full-time digital editorial assistants who devote editorial time to these titles, as well as TVWeek Online, Youthink.ca, GardenWise Online, RealGolf.ca, and Wellness Matters. The remainder of the department is comprised of a vice-president of marketing and digital media, a director of business development, an online-product marketing manager, two Web developers, an interactive designer, and a digital media operations manager.
A full-time digital editor and full-time digital editorial assistant run BCBusiness Online, with occasional blog contributions from the BCBusiness print editors. Together, the digital editors manage eight blogs with various contributors, create sales-driven Web-only content (articles whose topics originate from salespeople and are juxtaposed with relevant advertisements), publish each print issue of BCBusiness online, and create web-only multimedia features including slideshows, podcasts, videos, content collections, and weekly eNewsletters.
Recent structural changes at Canada Wide have shifted the digital editors out of the Digital Media Department and under the larger umbrella of the Editorial Department. This internal shift at the company affords the opportunity to make a stronger connection between the print and digital strategies of BCBusiness and BCBusiness Online. Consolidating print and digital editors will make it easier to integrate the digital editorial strategy into the overall editorial strategy of the BCBusiness brand.
Early digital workflow
In June 2007, BCBusiness magazine made its foray into digital publishing with BCBusiness Online. This was a crucial transition for BCBusiness during a period where many publishers feared the Web would cannibalize print sales.
In its earliest incarnation, the website revolved primarily around print content, and was without a proper digital editor for its first eight months. John Bucher, the first BCBusiness digital editor, arrived in February 2008. Under Bucher’s direction, the website was primarily dedicated to Web-only content that would complement the magazine. The digital editor continued publishing every article from each print issue as more bloggers joined and the Web-only content began to flourish. Like many other publications in the nascent digital magazine market, BCBusiness Online was carving out its niche and experimenting with the tension between print and digital. This was in a pre-iPad, pre-Kindle era, where the notion of consuming books and magazines online was an ongoing debate for readers and a relatively new challenge for publishers.
BCBusiness uses—as it used then—a customizable Drupal content management system that creates new articles through a blank “article” template form with required (i.e. title, author, body text) and optional (i.e. meta title, meta description) fields. Once filled in, the article forms can be saved and left unpublished or saved and published at the editor’s discretion by simply selecting or deselecting the “publish” button. The titles, authors, and body text from magazine articles were copied and pasted from their original Adobe InDesign production files into the backend of the website as unpublished articles (not accessible online except by editors), receiving no further editorial treatment beyond the print-magazine workflow. After upload, all print content was published at the digital editor’s discretion.
Before BCBusiness Online developed a strategy around the timing of online content with the timing of print content, it experimented, in an effort to maintain subscriptions and newsstand sales. The first publishing strategy was to sync the website publication with the magazine to be a true digital companion, offering full article access in time with the newsstand date. Further experiments included trickling articles out online throughout the course of the month, and pre-releasing print content “teasers” in the weekly eNewsletters to build momentum. But it was not until BCBusiness Online joined Twitter in February 2009 that the site could effectively generate buzz around print articles prior to the newsstand date without undermining the magazine. By tweeting about topics and people featured in upcoming articles without actually linking to them, readers are left to consider what angle the article might take, and must stay tuned to the BCBusiness Twitter feed (or continue visiting the BCBusiness homepage) until the article goes live online. The digital editor measured his success in this endeavour by retweets and the quality of direct response to his teaser tweets.
At the time BCBusiness joined Twitter, the digital editor was slowly leaking print articles online after the publication of the print magazine. He now gauges the anticipated popularity of print stories and revises his publishing strategy on a month-to-month basis; he publishes articles early, on the newsstand date, and past the newsstand date, all the while tweeting about what’s live on the website and what’s to come. The current role of BCBusiness Online falls under both the idea of the companion and the complement—everything in the magazine is offered online, but with additional commentary and treatment that only the Web can offer. The website plays the companion by publishing online everything in the print magazine, but it also complements print stories by taking advantage of multimedia—and sometimes further coverage in writing—to round out the articles. For example, a February 2011 article on nuclear fusion and Burnaby-based company General Fusion had a Web-only complementary article that featured an interview with the CEO of General Fusion and a lesson on how his company’s particular brand of nuclear fusion works; a January 2011 article on BC architects had a Web-only slideshow of structures designed by the architecture firms mentioned in the print article.
Eight BCBusiness Online bloggers (a number that is currently in flux) and various other contributors provide timely commentary, business advice, and local business insight that reinforce the brand as a trusted authority in BC’s business community.
The table below illustrates BCBusiness’s size as a print magazine and as a website. Comparing the 2009 and 2010 stats of BCBusiness indicates significant growth online and in the magazine’s social media channels.
BCBusiness Circa 2009
BCBusiness Circa 2010
Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2009): >230,000
Total Site Unique Visitors (fiscal year 2010): >315,000
Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)
Magazine circulation: 26,000 (monthly)
Average article and blog uploads per month: 75
Average article and blog uploads per month: 60
Online archives: July 2007 and later
Online archives: Full issues for July 2007 and later; random print articles from 2005
In comparison to sister site and magazine GardenWise, whose current circulation is 35,000 and current average uploads per month is approximately 30 articles per month plus regular blogs and events, BCBusiness has grown its total unique visitors substantially more. From 2009 to 2010 BCBusiness has increased it unique visitors by nearly 100,000 visitors per month. GardenWise decreased from >250,000 unique visitors in 2009 to >235,000 unique visitors in 2010. Although the two brands are under the same umbrella at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness underwent more radical changes to its digital editorial strategy in recent years, has a full-time online editor and assistant editor, and has more fully incorporated SEO into its workflow of print and Web-only content.
Case study: BCBusiness Online articles in 2007
Early digital editorial strategies involved little to no SEO, in part due to unfamiliarity, but also due to fear of comprising the editorial integrity of print articles. But it was hard for publishers to ignore the logic of search engine optimization. Google analytics show that when an article is optimized, it will receive more organic visitors than an article that has not been optimized. Turning up one’s nose at SEO is turning down loads of potential readers. Senior SEO analyst for Hearst Publications, Dan Roberts, was an early proponent for SEO and the man responsible for working it into the publishing company’s online strategy. “There are a lot of people who had to make a paradigm shift [from print editorial] . . . The ones that ignore [SEO] do so at their own peril and their results speak for themselves,” said Roberts.
Print articles do not translate to the Web in many ways—especially visually. A page of magazine article has text that flows around pull quotes, has images and captions, and breaks longer pieces into subsections, even if only with drop caps rather than subheads. These longer articles online appear as blocks of text with few points of entry for the reader; without subtitles to distinguish breaks or shifts in the story, images to create visual interest, or page breaks, online articles can appear daunting and unattractive to readers. And most importantly, print titles are vague and do not contain keywords, making the articles less searchable online. If an article about boating in the Pacific Ocean is called “High Tides,” with no further metadata, and a reader is searching online for information about boating in the Pacific, this article will be buried beneath articles whose titles and metadata are trying to capture that audience. Eventually everything online is indexed, but it is not necessarily easy to find.
Rachelle Money reports that since including SEO in Hearst’s digital editorial strategy, the company saw a 150 per cent increase in overall traffic. This jump in traffic and shift in editorial strategy represents the majority of online magazines and magazine companions; some worried that SEO would compromise the integrity of the original article, and some were just skeptical. In 2007 when BCBusiness was first experimenting with online strategies and digital publishing, it had moderate knowledge of search engine optimization that was geared mostly toward website infrastructure rather than smaller-scale article infrastructure. By analyzing old BCBusiness content, it is evident that the chief priority was getting content online with few editorial changes. Had these articles been under the guiding hand of a digital editor, they could have been rigorously optimized, capturing a larger online audience, ranking higher in Google search results when there was less competition, and enjoying a long tail of traffic over the years. Each visitor in the long tail of traffic represents an opportunity to win over a new reader. Reviewing an article from BCBusiness Online in 2007 demonstrates the lost opportunities of digital editorial strategies without SEO.
On September 1, 2007 (three days prior to the September print issue’s newsstand date), BCBusiness Online published the print feature story “Here Comes the Pride.” (URL: http://www.BCBusiness Online.ca/bcb/top-stories/2007/09/01/here-comes-pride.) The article has a slug-based URL, which means it is automatically created by the online publishing platform, drawing its name from the category under which the article is classified in the Drupal article form (top story), the date on which it is published online (September 1, 2007), and the title of the article, which in this case is the original magazine headline (Here Comes the Pride). Because the title of this article was taken directly from the print magazine with no further changes, the URL contains no useful keywords for a reader who is trying to Google the article. Ordinarily when optimizing a print article’s headline, the digital editor uses the Google Adwords Keyword Tool to research popular words and phrases that pertain to the article. In this case, the digital editor might have found that “gay marriage” was a popular keyword and subsequently used it in the headline. This would create a keyword-based title, reflecting the terms that readers would use in search engines to find this content.
The meta title is an SEO element that appears at the top of the reader’s browser and describes the content of the page; it reads the same as the print story headline, but with BCBusiness appended after a pipeline (Here Comes the Pride | BCBusiness). BCBusiness is automatically added to the end of every meta title, which is good for overall brand SEO but does not help individual articles. The article deck is not visible in the body of the text and is only used in a promotional spot of the article form that appears wherever the article is featured on the website. Including a deck contained in H2 tags is another opportunity to include pertinent keywords and larger searchable phrases that may be too awkward for a title. The body of the article does not feature any further optimized metadata such as H3 tags, article links, or image meta tags.
Reviewing the Google analytics for this article reveals that zero visitors arrived from keywords germane to the article’s content. Without optimizing the article around keywords, it cannot be easily found—if at all—through a Google search. Unless a reader has the exact print title, “Here Comes the Pride,” he would have no other means of finding the article online. In order to capture visitors through Google searches, the digital editor must research keywords and phrases that relate to the article and that she thinks readers would use in order to find this type of story. The Google Adwords Keyword Tool shows the editor which keywords are popular, by how many Google searches they receive each month, and how likely it is to rank highly for the keyword by displaying the level of “competition” surrounding the word. The more popular something is, the harder it will be to win that term. But ranking on the first page of a Google search result for a popular keyword can result in consistent traffic. In Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the following relevant search terms return favourable results:
“gay marriage” – 550,000 searches per month, low competition
“same sex marriage” – 201,000 searches per month, low competition
“gay and lesbian marriage” – 165,000 searches per month, low competition
“legalize same sex marriage” – 18,100 searches per month, low competition
In publishing and journalism, editors and writers refer to an article like “Here Comes the Pride” as “evergreen”—its content does not go out of date and is perennially useful. But without SEO, once the article is shifted down by newer content, it is buried deep within the site with no means of finding it. In the next section we look at a 2008 article called “Red Light, Green Light” that received the full SEO treatment and subsequently ranks highly in Google search results. Since BCBusiness Online began using Google Analytics in 2008, “Here Comes the Pride” has received a paltry 226 unique visits—a fraction of the 9,603 visits that the optimized “Red Light, Green Light” received in just 2010 alone. And of those 226 visitors, not one arrived using a relevant keyword. With such extraordinarily popular search terms at its heart, such low competition for those terms, and an online life of over three years, the article should have tens of thousands of views.
The importance of SEO in digital
By comparing “Here Comes the Pride” to another (optimized) article based around a popular search term, it is easy to see the difference in terms of visitor traffic and longevity. Although the article “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” was published on October 9, 2008, it continues to draw steady traffic. The article covers a salacious, controversial, and highly searched topic (much like same sex marriage but with radically fewer searches per month in the Google Adwords keyword tool), but by optimizing the article well, it ranks highly in Google search results and constantly draws traffic. In January 2011 alone, the article brought in 1,394 unique visitors just from organic Google searches (not including visitors from other search engines). Over its lifetime, “Red Light, Green Light” has brought in the following numbers of unique visitors from the corresponding keywords: 1,205 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitution”; 941 arrived via keywords “Vancouver prostitutes”; and 931 arrived via keywords “prostitution in Vancouver.” Winning such a popular keyword early on in the online publishing game is a feat for BCBusiness and a testament to the power of SEO. Both “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” contain controversial and very highly searched topics and keywords, but only one continues to capture thousands of readers. According to the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, the aforementioned “Red Light, Green Light” search terms bring in the following number of searches per month through Google:
“Vancouver prostitution” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Vancouver prostitutes” – 12,400 searches/month in Google, low competition
“Prostitution in Vancouver” – 1,300 searches/month in Google, low competition
These are the top three keywords by which visitors arrived at the article, and each has a significantly lower search value in Google than the keywords for the non-optimized article “Here Comes the Pride.” The term “gay marriage” may not be as risqué as “Vancouver prostitution,” but it has the potential to garner more organic Google search traffic.
“Red Light, Green Light” was published online on October 9, 2008 under the revised headline “Red Light, Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver.” This article headline combines the original article title (on the left side of the colon) with keywords. Keeping the original title is sometimes desired so that print readers can easily find the article online. The meta title, “Red Light Green Light: The Sex Industry in Vancouver | Vancouver Prostitution| BCBusiness,” includes secondary keywords and phrases that were not used in the title.
In the body of the article, the deck repeats the article’s keywords, and the keywords are repeated again in subheads surrounded by H3 tags. Subheads are a frequently missed opportunity to include keywords and phrases; they serve the double duty of breaking up dense text, offering more points of entry for readers, and adding further SEO keywords to the article. H3 tags can also be used in sidebar titles for shorter articles that do not require subheads. Four outbound links—three to BCBusiness Online and one to National Public Radio—are embedded in the article. The links are created with strong anchor text that denotes the content readers will find on the linked page. Links with properly anchored, keyword-dense text reflect well on an article when they connect to a credible outside source (such as National Public Radio). Including relevant links to outside sources boosts the article’s status in Google and is a standard of best practices in web publishing.
Unlike “Here Comes the Pride,” “Red Light, Green Light” is broken into shorter pages as a user-friendly way to present longer stories to online readers. Images throughout the article are tagged with metadata consistent with the article’s main keywords and phrases.
Without the above SEO treatment, “Red Light, Green Light: Sex in Vancouver” would have been buried under years of BCBusiness Online content and poorly indexed by Google. Although some editors have feared that adjusting a print article for digital publication will destroy its integrity by jamming it full of keywords, SEO merely amends the article to its medium without compromising the quality of the original writing.
Analyzing past BCBusiness articles reflects the early standards of online magazine publishing at Canada Wide Media and in the rest of the country; not every publication had a website and those that did were still developing their digital practices. Early digital workflows focused on how content would get online, but not necessarily how readers would find and consume it online. Rudimentary digital editorial strategies were the norm—out of every publication at Canada Wide Media, BCBusiness had, and still has, the most developed online strategy and the most active editorial application of that strategy. Although other publications at Canada Wide Media have comprehensive digital strategies, they have fewer resources and therefore receive less editorial attention than BCBusiness Online. Since its launch in 2007, BCBusiness has taken articles like “Here Comes the Pride” and revised their metadata to capture organic visitors and further expose the magazine’s brand. Parsing the metadata and editorial treatment of “Here Comes the Pride” and “Red Light, Green Light” emphasizes the importance and effectiveness of implementing a digital editorial strategy. Getting online was important, but now getting found online is key.
PART TWO | The Inner Workings of Search Engine Optimization
SEO explained; Social media as SEO; SEO in the analytics spotlight
Using search engine optimization in publishing is a fundamental part of finding your readers and giving them what they want. Revising print articles with a view for increasing their findability online is the cornerstone of SEO. Part two discusses the fundamentals of optimizing an article, how the various elements of SEO function, and how this affects an article’s analytics and traffic. Although social media is not strictly considered an element of SEO, it helps boost traffic and brand presence in a way that complements optimized articles. Social media article promotion is always the last step of a digital editor’s workflow, but it is crucial. Promoting content on sites like Facebook and Twitter gives articles a boost and helps generate inbound links before the article is indexed and begins to draw traffic from Google searches. Where optimizing an article is key to the long-term success of an article, social media act as the short-term portion of the editor’s overall goal to drive traffic and place an article highly in Google search results pages.
As seen in Part One, the difference between an optimized and non-optimized article can be thousands of lost visitors. Proper and thorough SEO ensures that Google indexes a magazine’s content and that quality visitors—the right people—will find it. Google co-founder Larry Page once said the perfect search engine “understands exactly what you mean and gives you back exactly what you want.” By using best SEO practices and getting well indexed by Google, good magazine content can be exactly what someone is looking for.
Although SEO is now a more integral part of online magazines’ publishing strategies, skeptics remain. Not everyone is convinced of search engine optimization’s effectiveness; many print editors fear that SEO interferes with an article’s editorial integrity; some skeptics believe that subtle SEO tweaks do not amount to anything; and others, rightly so, are weary of “black hat” SEO artists and methods.
The fear that SEO will degrade the level of writing in magazine articles is a fear based on unfounded suspicions of the tenets of Web writing. Web writing stresses keyword density and focused content that “lets people grab and go,” but all online content does not have to fall in line under these standards—especially robust magazine articles. When weaving SEO practices into a digital editorial strategy, it is important to remember that “your ultimate consumers are your users, not search engines.” Although the goal is to be indexed by Google and ranked highly, editors have to keep the readers top of mind.
Changing content by thinning it out and stuffing the body text with keywords may help its search ranking, but the quality suffers for it, and so does the brand. Sophisticated online readers, digital natives, and an increasing part of magazines’ broader audiences understand that magazines are fighting for their attention. Finding readers online is a battle. Readers are learning more about SEO and, on the farther end of the SEO spectrum, content farms, whose sole purpose is to optimize often poorly written content around popular search terms. Readers are becoming weary of websites like eHow.com and publications using unethical or misleading practices to capture their attention. A headline and description on a Google search results page that promises to talk about the Canadian political leaders’ debate, but is jammed with keywords and does not cover the crux of the issue results in quick reader turnover. Once the reader is duped into visiting an article that does not deliver on its promise or does so poorly and ineffectively, that brand is now associated with that experience. Many readers have accused Suite 101 and other such sites of being nothing more than content farms. “Quality can be a big issue,” says Jason Glover, a former Suite 101 writer, of the website’s methods. “It can be argued that the primary concern of the sites is to sell advertising and make money, so good SEO is more important than well-written and researched articles.” Optimizing content in a misleading way or posting well-optimized but low-quality content may spike numbers, but it is not part of a long-term plan to win readers’ trust and build a strong brand reputation.
After all, the goal is to attract visitors and convert them to loyal readers, not just to secure the top position in Google searches. Writing for the web in magazine articles is realized through subheads, sidebars, and pagination—methods that improve the online reading experience and boost search visibility without compromising the quality. Content will always be King of any editorial strategy.
Small changes to optimize an article are no trifling thing. Rewriting a print article’s vague title may seem like a paltry adjustment, but according to Google, “when combined with other optimizations, [these changes] could have a noticeable impact on your site’s user experience and performance in organic search results.” Breaking down SEO into its respective parts is useful for understanding how to wield its power properly and learning which parts should be prioritized. But overall, SEO should be understood as a whole, with each step acting as a fundamental part of the SEO machine. If one part fails—a title without keywords—the entire machine slows down. And if enough parts fail—poor title, no deck, not researching the keywords—the entire machine is rendered useless and your article sinks into oblivion.
For every few SEO enthusiasts there seems to be an SEO skeptic who subscribes to the notion of “black hat” methods and “spamdexing.” Black hat artists exploit SEO practices by jamming misleading keywords into articles and metadata, paying other websites to post hundreds to thousand of inbound links to their content, redirecting articles to different pages, and subsequently “degrad[ing] both the relevance of search results and the quality of user-experience.” If Google discovers that your website is using black hat SEO techniques, they will blacklist you, excluding you from all Google search engine results pages. Although bad SEO practices are widespread, reputable publishers and editors do not have time to waste on questionable methods that could blacklist their site or bad practices that damage their brand’s credibility. An important part of a magazine’s online presence is building their community, brand, and reputation—and one instance of bad practices can damage a brand much quicker than a history of good practices can build it up.
Avoiding black hat methods also helps to dictate an editor’s priorities when optimizing an article, such as skipping the meta-keywords field on the backend of an article. Keyword stuffing was a common black hat method in earlier SEO days, and is part of the reason Google no longer uses the meta-keywords field in its indexing algorithm.
Analyzing and understanding each moving part of a machine is the best way to make sense of its function, and the easiest way to know what needs fixing when it is not performing as it should. Parsing search engine optimization lets us see which elements require more attention and where an editor should dedicate the majority of her time. The impetus behind optimizing online articles is not to inflate the magazine’s overall traffic, but to target keywords that will draw in quality visitors who can be converted into loyal readers.
Because navigating the Web is done largely through search engines, ranking highly on search engine results pages is a crucial goal for Web editors. When Google indexes an article for its results pages, it pays weighted attention to different variables on the article page, such as the headline, the image tags, or the URL. By understanding the part each element plays in search rankings, editors can focus their approach when optimizing content. For example, though it is temping to retain original magazine headlines, as seen below in the SEO breakdown, the H1 and title tags are two of the most important SEO elements.
URLs should be keyword-rich and easy to understand. Complex URLs can be a problem for both humans and Google crawlers if they’re too long or include confusing number and symbol sequences. Keeping the tail end of a URL brief is important, using up to five keywords and connecting them with dashes rather than underscores (Google recognizes dashes as spaces between each word). The more words included in the URL, the less each will be weighted in terms of SEO clout. Long and complicated URLs are more likely to be copied incorrectly or posted as broken links by readers, which results in missed inbound link opportunities. Since editors have no control over the anchor text used in the inbound links to their site, having keyword-rich URLs help. Using keywords in the URL provides Google crawlers with more information on what they will find at the link, and this boosts the effectiveness when being ranked.
BCBusiness Online’s slug-based URLs are keyword-rich because they are automatically created from the site’s taxonomy and an optimized headline. However, shortening or amending the tail end of the link can optimize them further.
For example, the headline “Human Rights in Employment: Do You Need a Tune Up?” creates the URL: “human-rights-employment-do-you-need-tune.” Replacing the last four words of the URL (which do nothing in terms of optimizing) with another keyword creates a stronger and simpler URL: “human-rights-employment-law.” Before articles are published, an automatic URL is created for BCBusiness Online articles, but editors should always change the tail end when it does not already include keywords. Any changes made after the article has been published, however, can result in the same page being indexed twice, thus splitting the SEO clout between the old broken-linked page and the newly optimized title’s page. Also, any inbound links to the article will now be broken links, therefore all URL optimization should be completed prior to publishing.
SEO software provider and online SEO resource site SEOmoz calls the title tag (also known as the meta title) the “single most important on-page SEO element (behind overall content),” appearing in two key spots. The title tag appears at the top of the user’s Web browser and at the top of article descriptions on search engine results pages. It is typically the same as the headline (H1), with additional keywords attached to the end. Placing the most relevant keywords at the opening of the title tag is important for search results, as Google only displays a maximum of 70 characters of the entire title tag. To write an optimized meta title, include the article headline and one to two more keyword phrases. Each part of the title tag should be separated using vertical pipelines: “How to Work with Family | Family Businesses | BCBusiness.”
Title tags on BCBusiness Online are automatically appended with “| BCBusiness.” Well-known or respected brands included in title tags can affect a higher click-through rate in search engine results. Including the magazine in the title tag is also an overall good brand strategy to promote the magazine’s presence on the Web.
Article headline <H1>
The H1 tag is the main title, or headline, that appears at the top of an article and should always include the top keyword or phrase. “Placing the keyword early in the header tag will increase its prominence” and will be more indicative of the content than a typical print magazine title. Some online magazines retain the print title in the headline or meta title so that it is still searchable. Reviewing Google analytics indicates that such an insignificant number of visitors arrive by searching the print title, that this practice does nothing more than minimize a headline’s SEO effectiveness.
Although BCBusiness Online sometimes changes entire headlines when optimizing content, it retains the print headline in the online table of contents. Editors who are concerned about confusing readers who are searching for articles online by their print headline can use the original headlines in their archives or tables of contents. BCBusiness Online keeps an archive of every print issue that has been published on the website (with articles listed under their original print titles). Archives are a straightforward point of reference for readers trying to find an article via the issue and original title. Print headlines can stay in the same in the rare case that they include the proper keywords, but should otherwise be replaced.
A deck is an introductory phrase or paragraph at the beginning of the article that gives the reader the main topic and a taste of what is to come. In online magazine publishing, the deck is contained between H2 tags. The H2 tag is one tier below the headline tag H1 and together they are used as a kind of in-article taxonomy. Below the H2 tag are the H3 tags (the next tier down), which indicate subheads within the body of the article. Print article decks are sometimes suitable to be taken as-is and used within the H2 tags. For the most part, however, they should be partially rewritten to include the top keywords and phrases that have already been used in the headline and meta title.
BCBusiness print articles are easily modified to include keywords and phrases, and rarely require an entire rewrite.
Subheads are as much for the search engines as they are for the readers, and are a very important function in Web writing. Because Web content does not have the same layout options as print articles, online text can sometimes appear dense and overwhelming. Using keyword-rich subheads breaks up long articles and gives the reader a better idea of the content at-a-glance. When using heading tags, it is crucial to employ them as part of your SEO strategy, and not just for aesthetics; it is bad practice to use an H3 tag where bolded or italicized text would suffice.
Longer print articles, lists, and how-to articles always take H3 tags on BCBusiness Online. The digital editors create subheads as needed and where useful to improve the reading experience and to capture more keywords in the article’s metadata—in this case, in H3 tags. On occasion, BCBusiness Online uses H3 tags to draw attention to text in slideshows. Using a larger font would style the text in the same manner as H3 tags without using SEO for aesthetics rather than for optimizing.
Sometimes ignored, the meta description is one of the most important factors on the backend of an article. The meta description is chiefly for readers, and shows up on search results pages directly below the meta title. The meta description has the double duty of informing readers and enticing them to click into the content. Although editors should focus on keywords, they should approach the meta description as a sales pitch to potential readers. It must be a brief summary, include keywords, and reflect the quality of writing in the article.
BCBusiness Online writes two to three sentences for meta descriptions, and sometimes copy and pastes the deck, depending on its length. The deck can sometimes be suitable, but in most cases the meta description needs to be a more detailed summary of the article and be economical with its words. Google displays up to 154 characters of the meta description on its search results pages. Descriptions exceeding this size will be truncated, and the meaning could be lost.
Links within the text should be added to articles where applicable. Editors should especially focus on opportunities to link to their own content. The most important element of links is the anchor text—it should be concise and related to the content on the linked page. Links should be structured around keywords or phrases rather than single words like “article,” or irrelevant phrases like “click here.”
Keyword-rich anchor text is for both the search engines and the users. Using proper anchor text gives Google a better idea of what they will find on the linked page. It is also a clearer call out for readers and easier to spot within the text.
BCBusiness Online has a reciprocal link relationship with its sister sites Granville Online and BCLiving, and links to their pages with strong anchor text whenever possible. With more editorial time for print-to-web articles, digital editors could create more links, whether to their own site or to an external source.
Breaking a long article into numbered pages aids readability and navigation. The only time breaking one page into multiple pages will negatively affect SEO is when the pages get into the double digits and higher. When a larger consumer site, like a retailer, takes its online merchandise pages and breaks them into multiple pages for ease of navigation, the higher-numbered pages are not indexed well by Google. These subsidiary pages are improperly indexed and can bury content and limit their potential to be indexed by Google. Because print articles do not have the same excessive length as say, a listing of hundreds of shoes on Zappos.com, magazines do not face this same issue.
BCBusiness Online Google analytics indicate that visitors enter articles on the proper main article page when arriving via search, and not subsequent pages that have been broken off with pagination. The majority of visitors arriving at a page that is numbered two or higher have done so via the article’s main page.
Image meta tags <alt>
Optimizing images is a twofold form of SEO that should never be overlooked. It involves naming the file when saving, and creating an alt tag. Keeping the image file name short and keyword-rich improves its visibility in search engines. On the backend or in the html, digital editors can name images (in the same way as the file naming) with an alt tag. The alt tags are used by search engines (such as Google Image Search), revealed when readers mouse over the image, and used by screen reading technology.
BCBusiness Online has naming conventions for image sizes, and names image files with relevant keywords pertaining to the article content. All embedded images are given alt tags.
Inbound links are cited as one of the most important factors for a website’s ranking in search engines—both in terms of volume of links and quality of anchor text. Inbound links are the key to increasing a site’s PageRank in Google. PageRank is Google’s calculation of a website’s importance and relative authority to all other sites on the Internet. Google gives sites a PageRank from one (lowest) to eight (highest), and uses these numbers to determine which pages have more influence online and which websites’ articles are most likely to show up in the top of search engine results. Every link pointing to an article is like a vote in its favour, and the more votes it receives, the more influential Google perceives it to be.
Although extremely important, this part of a digital editor’s SEO strategy is harder to influence and cannot be executed as simply as the above methods. Publishing high-quality content is the best strategy to attract inbound links. But even if other sites are linking to your article, you cannot control whether or not they are using proper anchor text. Community-building through social media often results in valuable and consistent inbound links.
Social media as SEO
If the goal of SEO is to drive traffic through search, the goal of social media is to drive traffic through the online community; social media in magazine publishing is like SEO for the people rather than for the search engines. Broadcasting to the community to draw in visitors and build the magazine’s brand equates to the practice of boosting PageRank and driving traffic through search. And much like in SEO, the reader remains top of mind.
Having a social media presence is not an element of SEO, per se, but it is inextricably linked to the digital editor’s workflow. Although social media does not fall within the traditional parameters of SEO—which involve directly manipulating an article or its html code for search engine visibility—it is a joint exercise in branding and self-promotion that brings visitors to the site. Social media is most closely related to generating back links, another borderline-SEO concept. In this case, however, the editor has more direct control over the process of acquiring visitors—specifically, through the frequency of messages being broadcasted through social media channels and the number of connections with peers.
Social media should be regarded as secondary to SEO, but still a crucial part of the editor’s workflow. Links created on social media are ephemeral, whereas good SEO will nest an article in Google search results pages creating a permanent long tail of traffic. Organic Google searches outweigh the number of visitors arriving from all social media channels combined, but the branding power and impact of directly connecting with readers on sites like Twitter is invaluable.
The final stage of an article’s life should be when it is promoted via social media, whether it is Twitter, Facebook, etc. Promoting content through social media helps generate inbound links and spreads the brand throughout the magazine’s community.
It should be noted that Twitter surrounds its tweeted links (any link included in any tweet by any Twitter user) with a “no follow” tag that tells search engines to ignore the links. This is so that Twitter users cannot send out a high volume of hyperlinked spam tweets to affect search engine results. However, linking to your content on Twitter gives followers the opportunity to retweet your links to their followers, subsequently increasing visitors to your website. Many Twitter users will also take links from tweets and include them on their website or blog, indirectly creating valuable inbound links to your content (and this boosting PageRank).
Connections made on social media sites influence readers beyond the act of simply clicking on article links. MediaShift, a PBS blog, credits social media with introducing a “new era of pass-along” in magazine publishing. Passing content (links) to your readers is like personally putting a magazine in their hands. And through the ease and speed of social media, it is that much easier for them to pass that article on to a friend.
Social media also provides a venue outside of a magazine’s website for readers to connect and discuss content and related topics. Some social media venues take as little encouragement as posting a link or discussion question to engage readers with each other on the magazine’s behalf.
BCBusiness promotes itself as a single brand (representing both the print and digital teams) on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Twitter and Facebook are obvious—almost compulsory—choices for social networks in which to participate, and LinkedIn is on BCBusiness’s radar because of its association with the business world and business professionals. Based on global traffic, Facebook and Twitter are the two most widely used social media platforms in the world; they are also the most popular choices in the publishing industry. Facebook and Twitter presences have become as standard as having a website.
Facebook is the social media channel that was there from the start. The ways in which magazines interact with their readers through Facebook have evolved over the years and have since settled on fan pages. Making connections with readers via Facebook (getting them to “like” your fan page) lists your brand on their personal profile and spreads your name throughout the Facebook community. It is another channel through which a magazine can build its brand and bolster its reputation through the support of the community.
On Facebook fan pages there is an implicit self-promotional agreement—the majority of content pertains to the magazine and not to material like one would find on Twitter. Although the level of discourse around articles does not match LinkedIn—both in its volume and its quality—the number of visitors who arrive from Facebook are great enough to warrant the upkeep of fan pages. In 2010, Facebook drove 12,174 visitors to BCBusiness Online and was the number seven overall traffic source.
BCBusiness posts feature articles and noteworthy blogs on a semi-weekly basis. Although Facebook fans know a magazine is there to promote itself and share content, flooding one’s fan page with content can clog fans’ news feeds with your articles and cause them to “unlike” your fan page. Like all social media endeavours, there is a fine line between self-promoting and self-obsessing, and timely updates and unrelenting content pushing.
Any magazine with a website or any semblance of a digital strategy also has a Twitter account. The immediacy of Twitter lets readers communicate directly with the brand in real time. A linked tweet holds just as much clout as a verbal recommendation. Twitter is especially useful when leaking print content online before its newsstand date. Alerting your Twitter followers with a short teaser and a link directs them to the site and creates anticipation around the forthcoming print content. However, using tweets sparingly to promote content sets the tone and lets your readers know that not just anything will be broadcasted.
BCBusiness’s digital editor controls the Twitter account with a mix of tweets, some with links and some without. He creates a balance between link-sharing, opining, and cracking jokes, which results in a useful feed of resourceful material, but with a clear voice and personality. Shoveling your website content onto Twitter like coals into a fire misses the point of tweeting. And linking only to your own articles creates a one-dimensional twitter feed with less credibility. Linking to outside sources, staying relevant, and indulging in self-promotion when it is appropriate is how BCBusiness manages its Twitter feed. It uses the same successful formula as The Walrus magazine: “Witty, upbeat, and personal. […] Engaging with the community, not broadcasting.”
Linking to articles via Twitter is also a proven method of increasing website traffic, and draws in more visitors to BCBusiness Online than any of the other social media platforms. Promoting an article with a tweet is like dropping a rock in the community pond—one tweet can cause a ripple effect and reach readers that are not even BCBusiness followers.
Starting a group under your magazine brand on LinkedIn is an effective method of connecting with readers and starting discussions around your content. As a LinkedIn user, every connection you make, whether to a person or an organization, is tied to your professional reputation. Members of the BCBusiness LinkedIn group page are more invested in discussions than their counterparts on the BCBusiness Facebook page; where Facebook has a more casual brand interaction with “likes” and often one-sentence comments, LinkedIn has more ambitious users who are dedicated to professional networking and fostering robust discussions. According to a recent survey on Mashable, more than half of LinkedIn users belonging to groups participate in discussions. Connections and associations are more carefully forged and curated in this online community, and. When Mashable polled a group of 500 LinkedIn members from entry-level workers to top-level executives, it found that the majority of users, no matter the stage of their career, identified networking in their top three uses. It is strictly for professional purposes and group discussions generally revolve around topics germane to the brand.
Because the nature of LinkedIn as a social network is more serious and career-oriented than Facebook or Twitter, discussions and comments are generally more constructive and well developed. In the same Mashable survey mentioned above, users called LinkedIn “more professional than Facebook.” Where 10 readers might simply “like” an article link on your Facebook fan page, two or three members of a LinkedIn group would engage in higher-level discourse around that same article. This makes LinkedIn a good resource for developing high-quality readers who know the brand more intimately, spend more time interacting with the content, and are more likely to share links.
Members can start their own discussions that are not directly related to magazine content, but they are still communicating and gathering in a forum under the magazine’s brand. As an editor, visiting sporadically to stoke the fire of discussion and provide article links drives readers to the site and keeps them engaged.
Although not a traditional form of social media, eNewsletters are another important tool in the editor’s arsenal. eNewsletters are best used for calling attention to new and popular content or, like with Twitter, generating buzz around an upcoming print issue by leaking articles prior to the newsstand date. Subscribers to eNewsletters are similar in their behaviour to LinkedIn group members—they are high-quality visitors who spend more time on the site.
SEO in the analytics spotlight
It is not enough to use optimized content in online magazine publishing—editors must also have intimate knowledge of how it is impacting website traffic. Using Google Analytics to evaluate how content is performing, how visitors are reaching articles, and which topics are popular is a key part of the editor’s digital strategy. Analytics should help trace trends and inform the editor’s treatment of different types of content, especially once that content has reached the social media stage of its workflow. Identifying the top traffic sources tells an editor where her time is well spent.
Google Analytics provides insight and numbers on a macro scale—like how much traffic a website gets each year, or which day of the week receives the most hits —down to the finite details of which keyword is drawing in the most visitors on a particular article. Editors can adjust their timeline window in Google Analytics by selecting any date range from years at a time to a single day’s worth of visits. For example, after the annual BCBusiness Top 100 Luncheon, the digital editor can measure the spike in website traffic for that one day and determine where the traffic came from. By looking closely at any article’s statistics, editors can see exactly how many hits an article receives and when, where those visitors are coming from, how long the visitors are staying, who is linking to the article, which keywords visitors are using to find the article, and how long visitors are staying on the page. Google Analytics provides these same details on a site-wide level.
Identifying popular keywords in analytics can create new opportunities to optimize content and pages around topics that readers are already interested in finding. Each month the names of BC business leaders figure prominently in the top 10 keywords used to arrive at BCBusiness Online. Because BCBusiness has existing profiles on these people, the digital editor can optimize the articles around the business leaders’ names (if he has not already), and promote them in social media with the goal of driving traffic and inbound links. Google Analytics is useful in this way, as it helps an editor find and fortify his strengths.
Identifying top sources and the articles they lead to can allow editors to target those source audiences with appropriate content. Singling out specific articles that have been optimized and promoted through all of the magazine’s social media channels can shed light on how readers are interacting with the content and how they’re finding it.
By analyzing the short article “Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison” compared to the feature print article “Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors,” we can get a better understanding of how social media audiences interact with the content. Each article was optimized, promoted through social media, and included in a weekly eNewsletter.
“Personal Branding Lesson from Jim Pattison”
Date Published: November 2, 2010
Total visitors: 1490
Average visit length: 2:57
eNewsletter: 306 visitors, average 1:06 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 164 visitors, average of 1:46 on site, 83% bounce rate
Facebook: 168 visitors, average of 2:52 on site, 86% bounce rate
Google: 101 visitors, average of 3:48 on site, 78% bounce rate
“Taxi Drivers: Vancouver’s Road Warriors”
Date published: November 3, 2010
Total visitors: 775
Average visit length: 5:19
eNewsletter: 143 visitors, average of 3:25 on site, 68% bounce rate
Twitter: 7 visitors, average of 4:06 on site, 75% bounce rate
Facebook: 24 visitors, average of 1:04 on site, 75% bounce rate
Google: 304 visitors, average of 2:50 on site, 81% bounce rate
The top eNewsletter spots are guaranteed to receive an influx of traffic; articles in the top two positions of BCBusiness eNewsletters each receive an average of 500 direct eNewsletter visitors. No matter the length, eNewsletter visitors tend to interact with the content in the same fashion. Both articles in this case had a 68% bounce rate, with each article holding readers for a period time relevant to the article’s length.
Although it is difficult to discern the reasons a link receives a click-through on Twitter, the above analytics tells us that shorter articles and quick hits of content (lessons, how-to articles, blogs, lists, etc.) are more popular than long-form journalism. “Taxi Drivers” only received 7 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed, while “Personal Branding” received 164 visitors. The personal branding article had the added glamour of “Jim Pattison” in its title, but even BCBusiness’s wildly popular feature article on local sports hero Trevor Linden only received 56 visitors via Twitter after being promoted through BCBusiness’s Twitter feed. Compared to the other social media channels at an editor’s disposal, Twitter seems more effective for sharing short pieces that can be scanned, understood, and shared quickly, rather than for sharing feature stories and long-form journalism.
Reviewing the analytics is very revealing of the behaviours and preferences of the readers who participate in each social media channel. By understanding the audience for whom they’re optimizing content, editors can adapt their approach depending on which channel they are using. Not every article should be pushed through all of a magazine’s social media channels. But if an editor takes stock of what works well in each channel, she can use these tools to give each audience the content that speaks the most to them.
Understanding the fundamentals of SEO and putting them into place gives the digital editor a tool for long-term growth, while social media act as catalysts for that growth. The strategies and tools discussed in Part Two help editors drive traffic and spread their brand, but they also give editors a better understanding of whom they’re trying to reach and what that audience comes to them for.
Identifying a brand’s strengths plays a key role in properly optimizing content and targeting the right audience. Editors have the power to tailor their SEO and social media treatment of each article depending on the patterns they see in analytics. Part Three takes a closer look at the BCBusiness Online Google Analytics that inform the digital editors’ online strategy.
PART THREE | The BCBusiness Digital Editorial Strategy
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics; Adapting social media; New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media; Content collections
Once the digital editor has established a workflow and online presence, she can begin to experiment and test the waters with optimizing articles, refining strategies, and adapting social media to her needs. One of the great advantages of digital magazine content is its infinite flexibility; articles can be hyperlinked, repurposed, combined with related content, broken into pieces, and myriad other tactics to increase their visibility, promote the brand, and take advantage of the digital medium. Although optimizing and promoting content seems straightforward, there are boundless opportunities for creativity.
The digital editorial strategy at BCBusiness has come full circle from its earliest workflow; from print-focused, to Web-only content focused, and now back to strengthening its relationship with print. Once inextricably tied to the print magazine, BCBusiness Online was a repository with no digital editorial strategy for magazine articles. Shortly after its launch, the BCBusiness digital editor began developing Web-only content and grew the site as an independent entity from the print magazine. Finally, after nearly six years of significant growth and development, BCBusiness Online is returning to its close ties to the print magazine as a dynamic member of the overall brand. Although the current online workflow involves minimal print-editor contributions, the overall online strategy is connected to the BCBusiness brand as a whole rather than just BCBusiness Online.
Digital editors approach articles with a mind for both readers and search engines, and put all online content through a rigorous, SEO-heavy workflow. They have also branched out from strictly editorial tasks and embraced the external tools that go hand-in-hand with SEO, such as Google Analytics and the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. The digital editors at BCBusiness are representative of an overall paradigm shift in editorial work. Consulting analytics is a part of the editor’s regular duties, and although the reader is still the number one priority, the editor has a fussy new audience member to contend with—Google.
Recognizing the value and importance of SEO has led to various emerging and experimental digital strategies at BCBusiness, many of which blur the lines between marketing and editorial. Although many initiatives are brought forth by marketing, they are developed and executed by editors. Search engine optimization seems to be the common ground where many digital jobs converge. Optimizing an article or a website landing page falls under the editor’s purview, but driving traffic and increasing brand awareness is also a great concern of the digital marketing staff. For example, the BCBusiness digital editors and marketing staff worked cooperatively on the keyword research and naming of the new landing pages and categories for the third iteration of BCBusiness Online. Online publishing has drastically changed the role of the editor into a multi-platform, multi-discipline, word- and Web-strategist. The next step is to pull print editors into the melee of digital publishing and unite the editorial efforts under one brand. In the case of BCBusiness, the company is working toward having a print editor to manage the print magazine, a digital editor to manage the website, and a brand manager to oversee the entire BCBusiness operation. Currently, the print and digital editors work on the same content, but they do not communicate, brainstorm and plan as one team.
Parsing the BCBusiness Google Analytics
Understanding Google analytics can help editors prioritize and plan for future content and social media promotion, and hopefully convert more visitors into loyal readers. Parsing a website’s analytics can indicate who the most valuable visitors are, which audiences prefer certain content, and which keywords are the most popular. Editors can separate high-quality visitors from low-quality visitors by reviewing how long they stay on the site and how many pages they visit. As seen in BCBusiness website traffic statistics below, direct visitors are of the highest quality and spend an average of 4:59 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.32 pages. BCBusiness’s overall average time on site is 2:42 minutes and the overall average page views is 2.31 pages. Higher average time on site is more important than number of page views, as it implies that the reader has found what they were looking for, and “if visitors spend a long time visiting your site, they may be interacting extensively with it.” High page views can indicate that a reader is simply jumping from article to article.
In 2010, BCBusiness Online received 461,140 visits. The main traffic sources (excluding the 89,031 direct visitors—readers who visit the site of their own volition by typing the BCBusiness web address into the URL search bar) from these visits were:
Google: 190,084 visits (41% of all site visits in 2010)
Direct visitors are by far the most valuable visitors a website can have; the goal is convert all other visitors into direct, return visitors who become familiar with and trust the brand. These readers either know what they’re looking for, trust the site to know they can find what they need, or have a genuine interest in the brand. Converting visitors into eNewsletter subscribers is also one of the digital editors’ top goals.
Organic Google search visitors
On average, Organic Google visitors spend 2:00 minutes on the site and visit 2.33 pages. Google visitors tend to heavily search business names and businesspeople. Of the top Google search terms for BCBusiness Online in 2010, the majority were B.C. business figures and luminaries. These results imply that editors would see more success by optimizing content (where appropriate) based on people and business names over business concepts (like management tips, etc.) Profiles and feature stories involving top local companies should be optimized with careful attention to names, especially in image tags. Google image search is a good arena to pick up visitors searching businesspeople.
The BCBusiness eNewsletter includes five stories with hyperlinked images, hyperlinked headlines, and teasers; four articles with hyperlinked headlines only; one hyperlinked reader comment of the week; one hyperlinked poll question; and four hyperlinked events listings. In comparison to its sister sites’ eNewsletters (BCLiving, Granville, TVWeek, Youthink, GardenWise), BCBusiness has the simplest eNewsletter layout with the least number of articles. It is believed that including too many articles dilutes the value of each one and lessens the effect of a carefully curated editorial collection.
Subscribers to the BCBusiness eNewsletter spend an average of 3:15 minutes on the site and view an average of 2.74 pages. These visitors are loyal readers and have a vested interest in BCBusiness content. Because the eNewsletter arrives once a week, some readers use it as their chance to visit the site rather than checking in on their own. Using the eNewsletter as a weekly highlight of the best content—whether feature story or blog—is an effective way to promote content and draw readers to the site. The BCBusiness eNewsletter also has its own set of analytics through the eNewsletter carrier, MagMail. The higher the content is placed in the eNewsletter, the more readers it will attract. BCBusiness eNewsletter subscribers also tend to favour content with local luminaries such as former pro athlete Trevor Linden and real estate professional Bob Rennie. Including magazine content prior to the newsstand date is a good promotional tool for the upcoming issue and it gets a high click-through rate in the eNewsletter. Because of eNewsletter readers’ loyalty and high click-through rates, digital editors can also experiment with the kind of content that they promote.
Digg is a type of social networking news site that allows its users to democratically rank online articles by “digging” (voting for) them using a button similar to the Facebook “like” button. The more people “digg” an article, the higher it rises on the Dig homepage and its respective category page (business, entertainment, lifestyle, etc.). Visitors arriving from Digg spend an average of 1:09 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.22 pages. These are some of the lower-quality visitors that arrive at the site, but as it will be thoroughly discussed later, Digg visitors are only the byproduct of a new marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank. Visitors from Digg arrive at light-hearted, Web-only content that goes viral via social media channels. These visitors are not generally a part of BCBusiness magazine’s target audience, and the rest of the site’s content is not what they would be interested in reading.
Of all the social media channels, the BCBusiness digital editor puts the most time and creative energy into Twitter. Twitter followers visit an average of 2.09 pages and spend an average of 2:14 minutes on the site. However, the number of visits from Twitter seems disproportionate to the number of followers BCBusiness has following its stream. This phenomenon is related to the nature of a tweet. Unlike a Facebook wall post or an eNewsletter, tweets are the most ephemeral of all the social media promotions, and can be completely missed by the brand’s audience. Though BCBusiness may have over 10,000 followers, not everyone on that list will see every tweet as it passes by. This makes maintaining the Twitter feed exceptionally challenging—the editor must manage the precarious balance between over-tweeting and sparse updates. A report by ExactTarget reveals that among the top 10 reasons people unfollow a brand on Twitter, the top three pertain to repetitive and too-frequent tweets. So while the editor must be cognizant of spamming BCBusiness followers, he must also post often enough to make the medium an effective channel for funneling traffic to the website.
Twitter followers respond the most to shorter pieces (blog posts), rather than longer articles (print feature stories). By comparing a cross section of short pieces to a sample of long pieces and evaluating the time spent on each article by visitors who arrive via Twitter, it is clear that shorter pieces are favoured. According to Google Analytics, Twitter visitors rarely spend more than two minutes on a page for feature stories; for blog posts, Twitter visitors spend an average of nearly three minutes on the page. This comparison reveals the tendency for Twitter followers to read shorter pieces and discard longer feature stories. However, buzz-worthy features stories with local luminaries (i.e. Trevor Linden, Mat Wilcox, Bob Rennie, Terry Hui) blow up on Twitter, but are the exception to the rule. These types of top stories are sure things, and grow in popularity no matter which channels they’re promoted through.
Visitors arriving from StumbleUpon fall into the same category as those arriving from Digg. They are the byproduct of a marketing/editorial initiative to increase PageRank, and are only visiting content that has gone viral and flooded social media channels. These visitors are low quality, staying for an average of 0:25 seconds and visiting an average of 1.2 pages. The BCBusiness digital editors do not put any effort into promoting content through StumbleUpon (or Digg); all visitors arrive at the efforts of an external company hired by BCBusiness to promote its articles.
Facebook brings in a surprising number of visitors considering the minimal editorial time that goes into its promotion and maintenance. Visitors who arrive via Facebook spend an average of 1:44 minutes on the site and visit an average of 1.80 pages. Although Twitter has thousands more followers than Facebook has fans, Facebook brings in nearly as many readers in a year as Twitter. Facebook is an untapped resource for visitors that could exceed Twitter’s visitor numbers with very little time required. Currently, the BCBusiness digital editors spend a fraction of their time on Facebook, yet still draw in high traffic numbers. With a more developed strategy and more time spent toward Facebook promotion, Facebook visitors could surpass the number of Twitter visitors. Posting magazine content can be done as few times as three times each week. “Facebook users are more likely to stop engaging with a brand because that brand sends out too much information too frequently,” which makes updating the page less laborious than maintaining a Twitter feed. Facebook visitors show no overwhelming preference over feature stories or shorter blog posts. Traffic arriving from Facebook is consistent, and since the digital editors began posting weekly, it has increased.
Combined, Yahoo! and Bing do not come close to bringing in the number of organic visitors that Google does. This is popular knowledge among search engine optimization experts, and for that reason, many people do not pay as much attention to deciphering search algorithms other than Google’s. Bing brings in significantly higher quality visitors than Yahoo!. Bing visitors spend an average of 2:01 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.49 pages; Yahoo! visitors spend an average of 1:26 minutes on site and visit an average of 1.98 pages. This disparity in quality could be attributed to Bing’s superior search algorithm that provides more accurate results; according to search algorithm experts, Bing’s results are more accurate than even Google’s search results.
Although LinkedIn does not generate a high number of visitors, it is valued for its intangible qualities. LinkedIn is a venue in which readers can interact under the BCBusiness brand and extensively discuss magazine and Web-only content, as well as current issues and news. By looking at the discussions in the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page, we see that the topics predominantly relate to professional improvement and business tips, politics, and social media. The readers who spend time on the BCBusiness magazine LinkedIn group page are high-quality visitors when they arrive at the site; LinkedIn visitors spend an average of 4:03 minutes on site and visit an average of 2.47 pages. LinkedIn does not require the same amount of creative energy as running Twitter, or even Facebook; posting articles related to the above topics spark discussion and generate site traffic.
In terms of overall priorities, digital editors should spend the most time making their articles web-ready and well optimized for Google, using business people’s names as the main keyword when applicable. Google is the overwhelming leader in web traffic and has the high-quality visitors to back up its utility. Digital editors should have a targeted strategy when promoting content through social media, avoiding the shotgun approach at all costs. It is about understanding the readers and accommodating their preferences—they get what they’re looking for, and in return the site gets more, higher-quality visitors.
Adapting social media
There is no debate about whether social media or SEO is more valuable to BCBusiness’s visitor traffic numbers. Google visitors outweigh all social media channels combined, and organic search accounts for the long tail of traffic that arrives at old web-only content and BCBusiness back issues. However, the effects of social media also have an intangible quality that cannot be measured against numbers or PageRank. Community building and audience communication via social media is growing in importance, and a magazine that lacks the ability to interact with its readers is missing out on valuable branding opportunities. The Internet is ripe with stories of businesses communicating with their customers, and the subsequent impact that that creates on the community. As discussed in Part Two, social media is a kind of SEO because of the way it builds links to content, but it should be seen as more of a complement to SEO.
Digital editors need to find new ways to wield platforms like Twitter and Facebook. To encourage readers to interact with the magazine on social media, BCBusiness needs to create social-media-only content. Rather than use social media as content promotion, editors need to use social media for content creation—developing new material that can only be consumed on its respective platform. Spamming the same messages and content across the brand’s various platforms decreases the value of each one–there is no incentive for the reader to visit the Facebook page if it is merely a mirror of the Tumblr or the Twitter feed.
This idea follows BCBusiness’s arc of magazine publishing from print-only, to print plus an online repository, to print plus dynamic web content, to its current state combining print, dynamic online content, and using various social media platforms. Social-media-only content is the next phase after Web-only content that will drive readers to interact with the brand in another venue.
The BCBusiness digital editor already has a unique style of content creation on Twitter, one in particular being the “first tweet haiku.” Most mornings his first tweet is a haiku; sometimes serious, sometimes funny, sometimes topical, but no matter the subject, the haiku tweets are always popular among followers. It is a clever way to engage with readers within the 140-character limit while letting them know that there’s more than a robot sending pre-scheduled tweets. It also provides the reader with unique content that he cannot find on any of the brand’s other platforms. Any magazine can promote on Twitter, but it is the voice, original content, and style that make the real impact. Maclean’s magazine is a good example of an ineffective magazine Twitter account; it only links to its own content, and the majority of tweets are cut off mid-sentence, indicating that they’re taken from the article’s deck or description, and not written specifically for the Twitter audience. This creates distance between the reader and the brand, and does not offer content that cannot be found elsewhere. Lots of companies treat their Twitter account like an RSS feed and miss the step of adding value with a real voice.
Magazines commonly use their Facebook page to promote articles in the same way as on Twitter. Even though a brand might promote different content on the different platforms, the idea is the same. By adding Facebook-only content, editors give their readers a reason to visit the page and return often. As proven with the BCBusiness Facebook page in March 2011, creating behind-the-scenes photo albums of cover photo shoots are popular with readers. After posting a short gallery of how the photographer and BCBusiness art director created the conceptual March 2011 magazine cover, there was an immediate reaction of “likes” and comments, and an increase in the overall “likes” for the fan page. Multimedia content, such as photo albums and embedded videos, fits well within the casual culture of Facebook. Two sections of the BCBusiness print magazine—“Primer” and “After Hours”—have section-opening, full-page photographs by accomplished BCBusiness contributing artists, but the images are never used online. Collecting all of the images in albums is another way of engaging with Facebook fans using BCBusiness content that cannot be found elsewhere. The BCBusiness digital editors are experimenting with various new Facebook-only content, including an “editing the editor” post, wherein the digital editors create poetry from the monthly Editor’s Note.
Although it is generally more acceptable to only self-promote on Facebook pages (as they are “fan pages”), including newsy links every now and then that do not pertain to your own brand can be a good way to spark conversation.
In the dynamic publishing landscape, editors also need to consider how they can work across multiple platforms. Something that can be recreated in or adapted to other publishing platforms has more value and potential to engage multiple audiences. The BCBusiness digital editor has considered matching up his haiku tweets with photos from the BCBusiness Daily Photo blog to create a coffee table book. Occupying more spaces than just print or just a website makes the brand dynamic and more likely to reach a wider audience. The key when creating social media content is to offer something unique on each platform that the reader cannot get anywhere else.
Using Tumblr to create unique content will be discussed in more detail in Part Four when exploring the cross-platform migration of print editors.
New SEO strategies at Canada Wide Media
Recognizing the vast importance of Google in digital publishing is the first step toward reaping its benefits. Optimizing content is the best way to attract search engine visitors, but this practice can be bolstered by a new digital strategy: increasing PageRank. Boosting PageRank is a more advanced digital editorial strategy that moves beyond just optimizing content, and can actually bolster those efforts in the long run. As discussed in Part Two, inbound links are the key to increasing a website’s PageRank. PageRank plays an integral role in deciding which content is listed on the first page of Google search results. If two different websites feature the exact same article, optimized the exact same way, Google defers to each site’s PageRank to determine whose article will list higher in results pages. Inbound links and PageRank determine whether an article “should […] be result number one, or appear buried on page 22 of the search results for a given query.” Popular and reputable websites like TheNew York Times (nytimes.com) have a high PageRank, and thus their content will rank well in search engine results pages. The New York Times website has a PageRank of nine out of a potential 10; BCBusiness has a PageRank of five.
Links are akin to one website vouching for the other. The more inbound links your site has, the likelier it is that your site’s PageRank will increase. Links, no matter where they’re from, benefit SEO efforts, but when they’re plentiful and come from a higher ranked website, they’re a stronger force for increasing PageRank.
In order to increase BCBusiness’s PageRank, the digital marketing staff and digital editors teamed with an external SEO consulting company called NVI to create a strategy for new BCBusiness content. Together they created a new digital editorial product (NVI social push article) with the express purpose of increasing PageRank. The articles are better known as “link bait,” and fall under the SEO strategy of link building. The idea of link bait is to create content that is “designed specifically to gain attention or encourage others to link to the website.” These articles do not fall under the black hat link baiting methods, which incorporate keyword stuffing, redirecting visitors to sites different from what they clicked on, and creating inbound links from link farms. (Links farms are groups of sites that link to each other and are devoted solely to linking out to increase SEO clout, with no real editorial or information value.)
Editors come up with broad, sweeping topics that work well in the form of “best of,” “worst of,” and other such lists. They generally lie on the perimeter of the brand’s mandate, and serve as brain candy content—irreverent, witty, and short. The standards of writing and editing remain high, as they would for any other BCBusiness content, but the topics are generally trivial. Although the articles do not align with the print BCBusiness mandate, they are a good fit for BCBusiness Online, which features a broader range of content types and has a lighter tone than the print magazine.
The digital editors work with NVI to prepare the articles using traditional web-writing strategies—short paragraphs, clear subheads, and good use of images. Once these articles are published, the hope is that readers will eagerly pass them on and link to them from various websites, blogs, and social media channels. But rather than wait for chance of the articles going viral, NVI sends them out to its robust list of social media contacts, mostly in Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit; they “push” the article. Although the first line of contacts promoting the articles is working for NVI, the hundreds of links that follow are from social media users with no connection to the company, but who genuinely have interest in the article and want to share it with their online community.
Once the articles have been “pushed” by NVI through its network of contacts, the articles go viral, resulting in tens of tweets, hundreds of links, and thousands of visitors. Although traffic to the website immediately spikes, this is not the impetus behind the NVI social push strategy. StumbleUpon and Digg both have a PageRank of eight, and with the number of links now coming from these sites and the various other who have seen the articles and linked to them from elsewhere, BCBusiness’s PageRank should increase over time.
The overwhelming number of links generated through these social networks ends up winning BCBusiness that article’s keyword on Google search results pages. However, the keyword is rarely a highly searched term in the first place. For example, an NVI social push initiated in January 2011 is the number one search result in Google for “dumbest fads,” but that search term does not even register in the Google Adwords Keyword Tool. By basing these NVI social push articles around relevant keywords from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, or even highly searched terms that fit within the brand, the site could win significant words and phrases on Google search results pages.
BCBusiness sister site BCLiving accomplished this with its NVI social push article “7 Spectacular and Dangerous Mountain Passes.” In the Google Adwords Keyword Tool, “mountain passes” has 49,500 searches per month, and BCLiving appears on the first page of this term’s Google search results. The article found balance between optimizing for a highly searched keyword and creating an article with link-bait potential. This strategy adds another layer to the original strategy and makes each NVI social push article more valuable to the site.
Currently, the Google analytics for the BCBusiness NVI social push articles are irregular, with Google not even falling in the top eight traffic sources. The main traffic sources are Digg, StumbleUpon, and Reddit—all of which provide low-quality visitors. Although the main purpose is to increase PageRank, approaching these articles with a different SEO strategy could give them double the impact for the site—inbound links and a high number of organic search visitors. Google gives every article the opportunity of a long tail of organic visitors, while social media promotion often spikes traffic for the short term and dwindles soon afterward. Basing the NVI social push articles around relevant keywords would require more research prior to writing the article (both for the digital editors coming up with the topic and the writer shaping the article), but being on the first page of Google search results is a highly coveted position. The more important keywords BCBusiness can win, the more it will be seen as the authority on these topics.
Since starting the NVI social push articles in September 2010, the BCBusiness PageRank has not increased. It is yet to be determined whether this link bait strategy is truly effective. The overall tactic of creating light, interesting articles and attracting thousands of visitors—albeit, low-quality visitors—and hundreds of links is effective, but the digital editors need to devise other strategies around these social pushes than just waiting and hoping for the PageRank to increase. Multiple inbound links may not increase PageRank over time, but it will dramatically increase the SEO value of the single articles; because we know that part of the social push strategy works, it is important to take advantage of it to meet other ends.
Choosing relevant keywords is the first step toward increasing the value of the social push articles, but editors can also revise past content that has mass appeal and longevity. Resource and “how to” articles have the same quick-read nature as the social push articles, but with more substance and practical business value. The BCBusiness monthly “Need to Know” column is the perfect resource from which the digital editors can start this project. The goal is to win highly searched terms by using similar methods to the NVI social push articles. However, rather than push these articles through sites like Digg and StumbleUpon, which are chiefly interested in humour, these articles would be more successful on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Because these resource articles align with the content expectations and interests of BCBusiness readers, the influx of visitors from the “push” would be more valuable than the traffic spikes filtering into the short and irreverent NVI social push articles. Visitors would be more likely to return, spend more time on the site, and visit other articles after reading the “how to” articles.
Success in “pushing” these resource articles would have more immediate and measurable results; the digital editors would know the strategy worked when their articles begin appearing on the first page of Google search queries. This method was partially tested (without the help of NVI and its vast social network contacts) with a BCBusiness back issue article called “Value Proposition.” The article was renamed “How to Improve Your Corporate Culture,” optimized, and promoted through BCBusiness’s social media channels. Even without the hundreds of valuable contacts from NVI and links that those contacts generate, this article rose to the first page of Google results pages and continues to have a consistent flow of traffic. With the added resources of NVI, these articles could dominate search results queries and boost BCBusiness’s reputation as an authority on business topics.
The ultimate value of these new techniques is twofold—an increase in traffic to the site, and branching out to a new audience. The higher BCBusiness Online’s site traffic is, the more leverage the sales and marketing staff have for selling ads and sponsorships. The digital marketing department initiated the original NVI social push article strategy in order to spike site traffic numbers and improve PageRank. As an editor, the real concern is not the numbers, but who the people are behind those numbers and how they can be brought back to the site again. The editor wants to drive traffic, but the end goal is always reader engagement and building loyalty to the magazine and site. Adapting the original NVI strategy to target more relevant keywords and a more business-minded audience is more in line with this goal. This audience is not the typical BCBusiness audience, but a higher-quality group than the visitors arriving to content like the “Dumbest Fads” article through Digg and StumbleUpon.
The BCBusiness print reader buys the magazine for its long-form journalism and in-depth discussion of the BC business landscape. When the digital editors spend time creating content that can be consumed quicker and has a lighter tone, they tap into a different kind of BCBusiness reader group. With this method, the content is still driving numbers but the editor is focusing on a specific audience.
At BCBusiness, content collection pages are referred to as SPACs—special ad content packages. SPACs are generally sponsored by one advertiser, and combine a targeted sales initiative with SEO. A SPAC is a landing page that aggregates articles under one topic with adjacent advertisements that are germane to that topic. For example, the clothing chain Wear Else sponsored the 2009 BCBusiness Style Guide SPAC, which included articles about business fashion in Vancouver. SPACS are not, however, strictly limited to sponsored content—the SPAC format is a good way to bring value to readers by collecting popular content in one easy-to-find location. The “how to” social push articles discussed in Part Three fit into the SPAC strategy as a collection of business resources. A SPAC is composed of a headline, a short keyword-dense write-up, and rows of articles, each with a linked image, linked title, and short promotional teaser of no more than roughly 85 characters. Building SPACs increases the number of links pointing to those articles and generates more clear opportunities for internal linking on BCBusiness.
By nature, SPACs are a reactionary type of editorial content. They are strictly based on popular keywords that are thought of as guaranteed winners. Rather than anticipating what the readers will be searching, SPACs use highly searched terms from BCBusiness’s Google analytics, popular topics, and hot current events. Alternatively, SPACs can be built on sales-driven topics, around which the digital editors must commission new articles and collect past articles that are still relevant. Using existing content can result in a more highly optimized SPAC, since these articles generally already have inbound links and have been indexed by Google.
As politics in British Columbia heated up in November 2010, the BCBusiness digital editors created a SPAC as a go-to reference for readers looking for current coverage and relevant past political commentary. Within the B.C. politics topic, they focused on HST in B.C., as they found that it was a top search term in BCBusiness Google analytics. Adding to the past content and incoming blogs, the digital editor put out an offer to all of the BC Liberal and BC NDP leadership candidates to add an article to the SPAC on why they should be leader. This series brought a proactive element to the SPAC strategy and resulted in more traffic, more opportunities to link between BCBusiness SPAC articles, and increased the credibility of the collection as a whole.
Aggregating similar content in one spot gives editors the chance to have an overview of many articles in one stop, which makes it easy to find connections and build up internal links. As discussed in Part Two, link building is an important part of SEO and increasing a website’s PageRank. The SEO aspect of SPACs complements the NVI social push strategy, as it focuses on evergreen articles and building a long tail of traffic. As PageRank increases, so will the Google search results for SPAC pages.
In addition to their sales and SEO elements, SPACs are also beneficial for reader navigation—not only for the website, but for mobile applications as well. BCBusiness has two mobile applications, one for the iPhone and one for the BlackBerry. Using a SPAC as an app category is a simple way of directing readers to popular and useful content, since searching the site on an app is not possible. The apps have four sections: “Latest,” which is a reverse-chronological list of all content; “Blogs,” which is all of the blogs in reverse-chronological order; “People,” which consists of profiles and event slideshows; and “Business Intel,” which aggregates all of the “how to” articles from the site. In the case of mobile applications, editors and other staff planning the platforms need to consider what kind of content readers will be consuming. Using SPACs (in addition to “Blogs,” “People,” and “Business Intel”) as a way for readers to navigate is more logical than listing all content (“Latest”) as one big mixed-bag of content. The only new content listed in latest that will not show up under the other categories is lengthy articles that do not translate well to app reading on small devices. Smart phone apps are a different experience than websites and should be treated as such by offering less content with more direction and purpose.
The sales team sold a SPAC for the BCBusiness April 2011 issue based around the topic MBAs. This SPAC was based on a sales initiative, and combines older content, new print content, and new complementary web-only content. This SPAC displays the opportunity for print and digital editors to develop a collection of content for both print and digital, working together under one brand.
The digital editorial workflow at BCBusiness has evolved to include sophisticated approaches to presenting and promoting content online, and with tools like Google analytics, the editors have a better understanding of who their readers are, where they’re coming from, and what they’re looking for. This understanding of the magazine’s online audience is key when developing new strategies that build off SEO and social media. Part Four will look at the methods discussed in Part Three, and what a complete workflow looks like when incorporating these strategies in an article going from print to online.
PART FOUR | The Future of Digital Editorial Practices
Bridging the gap between print and digital; From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
As print and digital become more entwined and dependent on one another to create a strong and well-rounded brand, print and digital editors are finding that they need to open the lines of communication more often. It is not enough for print editors to hand off the completed magazine—they need to be involved in its digital life and the brand’s online presence.
In the past year there has been a fundamental change to the world of media and the ways in which its readers consume content. These changes are reflected in recent research by the Pew Center, who said more people consumed their news online than ever before. For the first time ever, more people got their news from the Web than from newspapers and magazines. Just as magazines flocked toward website creation, then social media, they are now reimagining their publications for smart phones and tablet computers to account for this seismic industry shift. Popularized by Apple, apps are now just another way for readers to consume articles and entire issues. Gone are the days of online content as a digital afterthought—online creation is in the forefront of magazine strategies as print sees few innovations. As the magazine publishing industry affixes its gaze on the future of digital publishing, we see more and more “digital editors” on magazine mastheads. Advertising is being increasingly sold in packages that include both print and digital exposure as the two entities grow ever closer. Publishers are mastering new digital technologies and methods—like social media and SEO—and they can manipulate those tools and use them beyond their original intended uses. This stage in publishing is opening new doors for editors to rethink content creation and delivery.
As digital becomes a more important form for BCBusiness magazine, the gap between online and print needs to gradually shrink. Integrating print and digital editors can improve workflow, but it also strengthens the brand when the two teams are working toward the same goals.
Bridging the gap between print and digital
Integrating print and digital practices is an important step for magazine publishers in order to strengthen their brand. In the attempt to create more agile workflows and dynamic editors, Canada Wide Media publications with both print and digital editors will be slowly merging from separate departments to one larger department of editors. As the first gesture toward print and digital collaboration, all of the BCBusiness editors (print and digital) were moved into the same physical space in the office, and the digital editors now attend the print editorial meetings. The next step will be to combine budgets and begin cross-platform contributions. Rather than have a publisher who oversees just the print magazine, each publication will have a “brand manager” who looks after the best interest of the brand as a whole. This vision represents the trend in the magazine publishing industry of editors broadening their roles and companies fortifying their digital efforts. Within this joining of departments, BCBusiness editors will be encouraged to pursue work outside their nominal tasks, and digital editors will also put time toward the creation of the print issues. Some tasks will be formed to improve workflow, while others will simply give editors the opportunity to work across multiple publishing platforms.
Getting print editors involved in search engine optimization is the first step in helping them understand the goals of online publishing. As discussed earlier, SEO can be mistaken for a process that compromises the editorial integrity of the writing. Having print editors research keywords and work them into subheads and decks of print articles is an effective method of improving workflow while performing one of the more creatively satisfying SEO tasks. The print editors work closest with the articles before they are passed on to the digital editors and have intimate knowledge of the subjects and topics, thus it would be easy for them to identify the most pertinent keywords and names in each story. One of the most time-consuming optimization tasks is splitting the articles into sections and writing subheads. Transferring this task alone to print editors would save significant time for digital editors. When digital editors publish print content online, they often have to read the entire article to get a better understanding of its main ideas, and the best keywords to research; only from there can they write optimized titles, decks, and subheads. Print editors could even provide a list of keywords with each article for the digital editors prior to optimizing the articles for the Web. Not only would this save time in the article’s workflow from print to Web, but it would also begin the integration of print editors into the online lives of the articles. Print editors can also make suggestions for internal links, whether they are to articles in the same issue, a past issue, or to Web-only content. Using the black and white proofs (“black and whites”) as a message board between the print and digital editors is an effective way of communicating these ideas. Once the black and whites have been proofed, print editors can mark up them up with notes for the digital editors, such as pointing out names, companies, and terms that can be linked to other BCBusiness content online. Because the print editors work more intimately with the text than the digital editors, they have more time to consider how the content relates to past articles.
With the time freed up from print editorial contributions to the digital editorial workflow, digital editors will have more opportunities to develop concepts for the print magazine. Digital editors can create content for the print magazine from digital-first material, like following up on popular blog posts with more in-depth coverage. Most recently, the digital editors developed a caption contest on the BCBusiness Facebook page using illustrations from Kelly Sutherland, a contributing artist who illustrates the monthly “Complaints Department” column in the magazine. The winner of the caption contest had his caption run in the print magazine alongside Kelly’s illustration. Although this first digital-to-print content is small, it is a gesture in the right direction.
As discussed in Part Three, adapting social media to create unique content is an important endeavour for brand building and expanding a magazine’s Web presence; this is a prime opportunity for print editors to get involved online and explore the different ways that BCBusiness content can be used in digital spaces. Giving the print editors ownership over a social media channel—in this case, Tumblr—helps to diversify BCBusiness’s social-media-only content. By nature, Tumblr is more of a blogging platform than a promotional tool like Twitter of Facebook; print editors do not need to follow the everyday activity of BCBusiness Online as the digital editors do when linking to timely articles through Facebook and Twitter. Editors can use Tumblr to comment on BCBusiness blogs and magazine content as a kind of meta interaction—BCBusiness blogs about BCBusiness blogs, so to speak. Tumblr is more of a blank canvas on which the print editors can make their mark and further develop BCBusiness’s online identity.
From type to Twitter: An optimal workflow
In the current magazine publishing industry, putting print content online is only a fraction of a magazine’s digital editorial strategy. There are multiple considerations outside the print magazine, including Web-only content, social-media-only content, and SEO, to name a few. However, if an article is approached with a dynamic strategy that involves both print and digital editors, and looks at more than just having a Web presence, it can make its way through an entirely new and dynamic digital workflow.
Looking at the BCBusiness April 2011 issue—and in particular, a print article called “How to Ace Your MBA Application”—we can trace the workflow from start to finish in a hypothetical, best-case scenario using the methods already discussed.
While the article is being edited, the print editor researches appropriate keywords (using the Google Adwords Keyword Tool), which can later be used by the digital editors. The print editor records the top three keywords or phrases on a sticky note, which he will later add to the article’s page in the black and whites of the April 2011 issue. Once the print editors proof the black and whites, the pages are passed on to the assistant digital editor as her cue to resize, upload, and name the image files with keyword-rich phrases. Having sticky notes with pre-selected keywords significantly speeds up the image uploading process for the assistant digital editor, as she does not have to read each article and research keywords prior to saving the images with optimized titles. On the black and whites, the print editor also indicates phrases in the article that can be linked to past BCBusiness content or external Web pages. Having both the print and digital editors look for internal and external linking opportunities increases the overall imbedded links of the articles, and therefore the overall optimization. Because the digital editors often do not have time to read every word of every article, the print editors find opportunities that would be otherwise overlooked. Even simply highlighting a single name in an article can alert the digital editor to a link opportunity. Having the print editors focus on links helps them understand the importance of the interconnectivity of content when it goes online.
Depending on the size and nature of the article, the print editor adds optimized subheads. Rather than using a vague phrase, like “Making it count,” the print editor gives the MBA article the subhead, “3 MBA application tips.” The headline of the article is not necessarily optimized, but he adds a suggested optimized title to the black and whites for the digital editors to consider.
When the assistant digital editor receives the black and whites, she resizes the images and renames them using the keywords from the print editors. She reviews the April 2011 content and devises an online strategy for the more complex sections, like the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. and the MBA-related articles. She identifies two opportunities for SPACs (one sales-driven and one editorial-driven), and sketches a strategy that will maximize SEO and make it easy for readers to jump back and forth between related articles.
When the production staff upload the XML on the backend of BCBusiness, the images have been resized and optimized and are ready to be uploaded to the articles. With the marked-up black and whites by her side, the assistant digital editor begins optimizing the articles. Based on the keywords from the print editors, she leaves the headline, “How to Ace Your MBA Application,” with one very minor change: “How to Ace the MBA Application.” She writes an optimized meta title that includes the print editor’s suggestion of “MBA admission” as a top keyword phrase. She adds a subtitle (“The 2011 BCBusiness MBA Guide”) that links back to the MBA SPAC. Other changes include rewriting the deck to include “MBA application,” writing an optimized URL, adding H3 tags to the subheads, and creating internal links. The print editor highlighted the phrase “MBA programs” on the black and whites, and after doing a quick search on BCBusiness, the assistant digital editor finds a 2010 article that outlines nine MBA programs in B.C., to which she creates an internal link. The 2010 article is still a relevant resource to readers, and the assistant digital editor decides to further optimize it and add it to the 2011 MBA SPAC.
In anticipation of the MBA content in the April 2011 issue, the assistant digital editor creates a Facebook contest—Facebook fans are invited to comment with their best University application tip, and the winner wins a collection of business books. The digital editor promotes the contest from Twitter, linking to the Facebook wall, and from the BCBusiness eNewsletter. The assistant digital editor adds the photo from the “Primer” section to the 2011 Primer Photos Facebook album, and the photo from the “After Hours” section to the 2011 After Hours Photos Facebook album at the end of March. She reposts both albums to the Facebook wall, but waits until the issue hits the newsstands (April 4) to change the profile picture to the April 2011 cover. After the April issue hits newsstands, the digital editors create a piece of humour poetry from the April Editor’s Note and post it to the BCBusiness Facebook wall.
The digital editor reviews all of the uploaded and optimized content from the April 2011 issue and begins publishing them online on April 1, with all of the content live on April 4. The digital editor promotes various articles from the Twitter account, and puts the best feature story at the top of the next eNewsletter. He focuses on promoting the MBA content on LinkedIn, starting a discussion around the best MBA programs and how to prepare and get accepted, linking to the “How to Ace the MBA Application” article and the MBA SPAC.
The print editors add posts to the Tumblr site, including photos of bizarre inventions, and link to the Top 20 Innovators in B.C. SPAC.
In this digital editorial strategy, one article saw optimization from both print editors and digital editors, and went through every social media platform BCBusiness has at its disposal.
There are endless opportunities for cross-pollination of ideas and tasks between print and digital editors, and even art directors, for that matter. While the first physical gesture has been made at BCBusiness (moving the digital editors into an office with print editors), there is much collaboration yet to be explored. Under the brand manager structure, more editorial projects can be developed with a view for both print and digital. Beyond the workflow discussed above, an integrated print-digital team can brainstorm projects that are deliberately planned for both mediums, not just created for print and adapted to digital.
The above SEO and online publishing research and subsequent modifications to the digital editorial strategy in magazine publishing reflect the shifting tides of the industry. Digital publishing has reached a new phase, in which a magazine’s Web presence needs more than just good content to survive. Few, if any, digital publishing models operate without SEO and Web-specific editing. Digital editors must be cognizant of publishing high-quality content for their audience of online readers, but they must also consider their second audience, Google. The search engine giant is like the digital mail carrier that brings your online magazine to readers worldwide. Publishing an article online without SEO is like dropping your magazine in the mail without postage; someone might see it, but it will soon disappear, never to resurface. Publishing an article without SEO falls under an antiquated online model that relies on the naïve notion that quality alone will prevail. The cruel reality is that in our saturated digital magazine industry, the odds of high-quality getting noticed without SEO or social media are slim to none.
However, there is still a long road ahead for digital editors to fully convince SEO detractors of its indispensable role and value in online publishing. As digital and traditional editorial roles grow closer, as the roles are at Canada Wide Media, print editors will see, first hand, the virtue in optimizing headlines and further altering articles for the Web. After recent firings at AOL and the Huffington Post after the former bought the latter, the now-former Cinematical editor-in-chief Erik Davis identified SEO as creating distance between the reader and the content. “When you concentrate on SEO, you lose your passion, and readers see that,” said Davis. But citing SEO as a hindrance is a cynical view of digital publishing and shows a lack of creativity to use it in more ways than keyword stuffing your content. Search engine optimization is a proven method and integral part of the digital editorial strategy, but agile publishers are thinking beyond just optimizing their content. As discussed in Parts Three and Four, editors need to consider different ways to wield SEO, and new methods of reaching their readers. Online content should receive the same editorial rigour as in print, but without special consideration for its digital environment, even the strongest article can wilt.
Thinking of social media as an extension of SEO and as another opportunity to create unique content is a step toward a more robust digital strategy. In the same way that digital editors need to develop new strategies around optimizing content, they need to reimagine the ways in which they use social media. Simply being present on Facebook and Twitter is not enough to satisfy an audience; editors need to find ways to adapt social media to serve more purposes than just promoting content.
With the introduction of each new technology and the rapid decline of print media, companies scramble to further develop their online strategies. Looking at print and digital as disparate entities creates a fracture in a magazine’s brand and ignores the opportunity to build ideas across multiple platforms. Canada Wide Media—BCBusiness magazine in particular—is proactive in its approach to navigating online publishing models. In anticipation of an industry where digital will eventually surpass print in terms of reader consumption, BCBusiness is taking steps to increase collaboration between its print and digital editors. Print and digital editors working together under one brand creates a stronger team, a cohesive strategy, and is representative of the publishing industry’s direction.
12 Janice (Ginny) Redish, Letting Go of the Words: Writing Web Content that Works (San Francisco: Morgan Kaufmann Publishers, 2007), 4. RETURN
13 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
14 Jason Glover. “One Month Working on the Suite 101 Content Farm.” Touch the Stars, July 9, 2010, http://youcantouchthestars.net/entertainment/one-month-working-on-the-suite101-content-farm/. RETURN
15 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
19 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
23 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
24 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
25 John Britsios, “6 Ultimate ON-Page Search Engine Optimization Tips,” Search Engine Journal, August 26, 2010, http://www.searchenginejournal.com/6-ultimate-on-page-search-engine%C2%A0optimization%C2%A0tips/23546/. RETURN
26 SEO Boy, “What is Pagination and How Does it Affect SEO?” SEO Boy, March 2, 2009, http://www.seoboy.com/what-is-pagination-and-how-does-it-affect-seo/. RETURN
27 Google Webmaster Central Blog, “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide,” Google Webmaster Central Blog, November 12, 2008, http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html. RETURN
30 Susan Currie Sivek, “How Magazines Use Social Media to Boost Pass-Along, Build Voice,” PBS, March 16, 2010, http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/03/how-magazines-use-social-media-to-boost-pass-along-build-voice075.html. RETURN
37 Lauren Dugan, “If You Want to Keep Your Followers, Don’t Repeat Yourself,” Media Bistro, February 11, 2011, http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/if-you-want-to-keep-your-followers-dont-repeat-yourself_b3257. RETURN
40 Taken from the @MacleansMag Twitter feed on March 4, 2011: “BLOGS: The most expensive game on earth: When it comes to extracting money from local governments, the NHL has i… http://bit.ly/dJSZQu.” RETURN
41 Rebecca Lieb, The Truth About Search Engine Optimization, (New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009), Electronic Access: Safari Books Online, http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/9780768687873 (accessed January 2011), 80. RETURN
Dugan, Lauren. “If You Want to Keep Your Followers, Don’t Repeat Yourself.” Media Bistro. February 11, 2011. http://www.mediabistro.com/alltwitter/if-you-want-to-keep-your-followers-dont-repeat-yourself_b3257.
Google Webmaster Central Blog. “Google Search Engine Optimization Starter Guide.” Google Webmaster Central Blog. November 12, 2008. http://googlewebmastercentral.blogspot.com/2008/11/googles-seo-starter-guide.html.
Lieb, Rebecca. The Truth About Search Engine Optimization. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2009. Electronic Access: Safari Books Online http://proquest.safaribooksonline.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/9780768687873 (accessed January 2011).
Sivek, Susan Currie. “How Magazines Use Social Media to Boost Pass-Along, Build Voice.” PBS. March 16, 2010. http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2010/03/how-magazines-use-social-media-to-boost-pass-along-build-voice075.html.
In April of last year, Facebook bought Instagram for $1 billion USD1, setting the blogosphere alight with speculation. By September, the photo-sharing app crossed the 100 million-user mark,2 and those numbers continue to climb. Despite a few initial limitations – it was only available on iOS until recently – Instagram is still picking up steam, with growth that digital consultant Kat Tancock calls “steady rather than meteoric.”3But what’s behind the social media mechanism’s slow-but-sure success and how can magazines harness its power as a marketing tool? Let’s take our cue from some general Instagram best practices, as well as what some of the biggest magazines are doing right with the app. But first, what is Instagram and why should we care?
The Story of Instagram
The company was founded by Kevin Systrom, a Stanford University grad who, according to Inc.com4, interned at Twitter and worked for Google before starting Instagram in March 2010. His initial idea was to combine the GPS-based “check-in” ability of Foursquare with the points system of a game called Mafia Wars. The ability to share photos was almost an afterthought. He called the app “Burbn” and received $50,000 USD from investors to start the company.
With a small team of developers coaching him, they decided to strip the app of everything but the ability to share photos, comment, and like. Essentially, users take photos with their iPhone, filter them to look like vintage Polaroids, then share them with a network of followers who are able to like and comment on the photos. Systrom renamed it Instagram, an amalgam of “instant” and “telegram.” He and his small team released the product via Apple’s App Store to immediate popularity and steady growth. The app had over one million users after their first month online. More investment money followed, Instagram managed to nudge out its early competitors (Hipstamatic, anyone?) and eventually Facebook bought the company, rewarding investors with a 100% return.
Why It Works
Instagram was essentially destined for success. Since its inception, digital communication has been trending toward being easier, quicker, and more visual. Instagram owns these in spades. Add to that the ability to share your photos (read: brag about stuff), plus the vintage-looking filters and square shape, and you’ve got an undeniable success. Especially after making the app available on the Android.
As of yet, however, the app is not monetized. Facebook doesn’t make a cent off of it. So why would the company buy it for so much money? According to Om Malik5, the answer is: fear.
“Facebook was scared shitless and knew that for first time in its life it arguably had a competitor that could not only eat its lunch, but also destroy its future prospects,” Malik writes. “Why? Because Facebook is essentially about photos, and Instagram had found and attacked Facebook’s Achilles heel — mobile photo sharing.”
What magazine marketers (and really, marketers everywhere) need to know is that Instagram is popular, free, and backed by one of the biggest companies in the world. Its connection to Facebook means that photos shared on Instagram can instantly be shared on users’ Facebook walls at the same time, exponentially increasing each photo’s exposure. So if your magazine isn’t harnessing the power of this trendy app to share your content and build your brand, you’re missing out. If you’re new to the Instagame, let’s begin with some simple steps for how to do it right.
Instagram Best Practices
Before we get started on how the magazine publishing industry should be using Instagram, let’s consider a set of best practices for all content marketing, as defined by SocialFresh6. Author Jason Keath spent a week following 23 big brands to see how they were using the app. Here’s what he suggests:
Post interesting images. This goes without saying, and should be simple for any magazine. You are, after all, in the business of interesting images. Mainly, you should try to avoid annoying clichés like photos of feet, decorative fingernails, or whatever you’re having for lunch.
Post consistently. Don’t suddenly flood your followers’ feedwith 15 photos after forgetting to upload all week.
Post often. But not too often. SocialFresh recommends 5-10 photos a day as a good standard, but I would suggest 1-5. If you only have one interesting photo to share that day, stick to that.
Involve the community. Use your photos (and the descriptions you write for them) to start a dialogue within your community, and make a point of replying when someone asks a thoughtful question.
Use themes. Just like you have recurring features in your magazine, try posting recurring themed photos on Instagram, using #hashtags. Vanity Fair (145,000 followers) regularly posts photos of vintage covers, tagging them with #classiccovers.
Magazines On Instagram
Marketing magazines is a subtle art; you have to build the title’s brand while supporting your advertisers, all without compromising your editorial integrity. So, more than any other business, magazines must offer value to their followers. Reward them for being part of your audience.
Ethan Klapper, writing for 10,000 Words, suggests four ways that news organizations can use Instagram7: give users a behind-the-scenes view, display the work of photographers, share breaking news, and crowdsource. With these in mind, here’s an adapted list that any consumer magazine can follow to use Instagram to their advantage.
Pull back the curtain: Klapper’s advice to give a behind-the-scenes view of the action is perfectly applicable to all magazines. Get your audience involved in your brand by giving them a taste of what goes in to making your magazine come to life.
Nylon (260,500 followers) gives a glimpse of the behind-the-scenes goings-on during their cover shoots, like this one with Lucy Hale.
Sneak a peak: Sharing the content from your magazine on your Instagram feed is a given. But try creating some excitement by previewing material from an issue before it’s released. It will help build anticipation for the release, and possibly create a bit of buzz in your community.
Teen Vogue, who leads magazines on Instagram with over 370,000 followers, does this well. Here, they snap a pic of a photo shoot with Zac Posen happening in real time.
Break the print cycle: The immediacy of social media can be used to level the playing field between long-lead magazines and daily blogs. Use it to discuss important, timely events as they’re happening, before going into them in more depth in your next issue.
Time Magazine (267,000 followers) beat the daily news media at their own game when Hurricane Sandy struck the Eastern Seaboard last year8. Rather than waiting for their next issue to cover the storm, Kira Pollack, the magazine’s director of photography, gave five of Time’s regular photographers access to the Instagram feed and sent them out to share their photos in real time.
Pollack said the move was an experiment, not an attempt to follow trends. “It was about how quickly can we get pictures to our readers,” she says.
The effort gained them 12,000 new followers and was responsible for 13% of their site traffic that day (their fourth best ever). In fact, photographer Benjamin Lowy’s Instagram photo made the cover the following week.
Rather than grumbling about having to use iPhones to do their job, the professional photographers were excited by the experience. “To ‘point and shoot’ has been a liberating experience,” says Lowy. “It has allowed me to rediscover the excitement of seeing imperfections and happy accidents rendered through the lens of my handheld device.
Go with the crowd: Crowdsourcing is a great use of Instagram. Klapper recommends asking your followers for photos on a subject, or searching Instagram to find art for future issues. Go beyond that and ask your readers for interesting stories on a topic, problems that need solving, or unique solutions to a problem. The simplicity of social media makes it easy for people to contribute, and you can always follow up for more details.
Time took the lead here again, using Instagram to ask for photos for the magazine.
Not many other magazines have used Instagram to crowdsource material, but Levi’s used the app to nab their next crop of models with this photo:
It is a contest: Rather than asking your followers to give you something, why not use Instagram to offer them something instead? It’s a great channel to give away sponsor packages or subscriptions. Just structure it as a contest to try to get something easy in return: ask followers to repost your photo, submit their email address for a newsletter, tag the magazine in a specific photo, or post your photo to Facebook. Anything to increase your platform.
National Geographic ran an Instagram contest called #UntamedAmericas, asking followers to upload photos of North and South America and offering a prize pack for the winner. And with 917,000 Instagram followers, the magazine must be doing something right.
In the end, Instagram probably won’t make or break your marketing plan – it’s just one tool among many in your digital marketing toolkit, along with Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. However, it does happen to be very simple to use and, actually, a lot of fun. Start slowly, uploading a few photos from your last issue and see what starts to resonate with people. The (marketing) beauty of the internet is that everything you do is measurable – if people like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you.
In 2010, John Sargent, the CEO of Macmillan, wrote an open letter addressing a pricing dispute that Macmillan was having with Amazon.com. Before explaining why Amazon had removed the entire Macmillan book collection off of its website, Sargent begins his letter by calling Amazon a “valuable customer.” However, if it’s the reader who Macmillan makes its revenue off of, and who is effectively keeping Macmillan’s doors open, why does Macmillan consider Amazon a customer, and not the actual readers? If the CEO of one of the largest publishing houses in the United States is ignoring its real consumers — the people who actually purchase and read Macmillan’s books — is anyone considering the needs and wants of the reader?
Publishers need to shift their focus from the supply chain and realize that they have to transform their business-to-business model to a business-to-consumer model. They have to reach out and interact with their consumers directly and get them involved in the book publishing process as much as possible. Instead of using social media to start conversations about books, publishers should use “social listening” tools to find conversations that are already happening and they should enter those conversations organically. Using social listening tools will also allow publishers to hear to what the real consumers want without cumbersome intermediaries getting in the way.
Simply put, social listening involves “listening to the conversations that are going on in social media channels and using the information gleaned to gain insights in things like customer sentiment and, more generally, ‘what’s going on’”(Rubens, “Social Media Tools and Listening Tools: A Primer“).
If you go on any major publisher’s Facebook or Twitter page, you will see a myriad of postings that advertise books, ask questions and promote contests. However, it’s not enough for publishers to bombard their customers on social media by virtually screaming at them and throwing heaps of promotions at them, as consumers have become very adept at ignoring them completely. Also, all the social media activity is happening within the safety of the publisher’s personal pages, and you rarely see interaction between a publishing company and a consumer anywhere else on social media. It is clear that publishers are not doing enough to find consumers who may be interested in their books, and instead, they are waiting for the consumers to come to them. However, in order to be successful, publishers must focus and target their promotional efforts strategically.
The Change From B2B to B2C is Critical
Most publishers can’t seem to shake the business-to-business model that the publishing industry was built on, which stemmed from a reliance on retailers to reach the readers. When there was no real way of reaching the consumer directly, publishers conceded to the demands of retailers, so their books at least had the chance to be discovered by readers. Before considering the needs and wants of the end-user, they worked on creating relationships with booksellers. However, as Mike Shatzkin says in his article, Publishers, Brands, and the Change to B2C, “it is increasingly apparent that the retail network is reducing its size and scope and, unless publishers develop alternate channels to consumers, they’ll be reduced in size and scope as well” (Shatzkin, “Publishers, Brands, and the Change to B2C”). Just last week, Mitchell Klipper, the chief executive of Barnes & Noble’s retail unit, announced that the company would close a third of their bookstores in the next ten years. Consequently, this decrease of physical bookstores makes it very difficult for consumers to discover books organically.
During a webinarpromoting the 2012 Publisher’s Launch Conference in Frankfurt, Peter Hildick-Smith, Founder and President of Codex group, relayed some interesting statistics about discoverability in bookstores after surveying five thousand book buyers. In June 2010 about thirty three percent of new books bought that month were discovered in-store, and by May 2012, that figure had dropped by almost half to seventeen percent.
However, it should be noted that consumers are not trading their in-store discoverability experience to online. In June 2010, only six percent of consumers discovered their purchase online, and in May 2012, that figure rose by only three percent. It is clear that consumers are not discovering their books through retailers, and instead, are only using retailers to purchase books, since they cannot purchase their books directly from the publisher (out of the big six publishers, only Penguin and Macmillan offer purchases directly off the website).
It is clear that consumers are no longer perusing through the stacks of brick-and-mortar bookstores to discover their next read, nor are they searching through pages and pages of online retailers. Instead, they’re relying on the people they trust and the people who know their tastes and interests to recommend books, which minimizes the risk of dissatisfaction. Hildick-Smith explains that in June 2010 fourteen percent of book buyers bought a new book based on a personal recommendation, but only two years later, that figure jumped to twenty two percent. Consumers are not taking risks on how they spend their leisure time. They are being mindful of the books they choose, taking into consideration what people recommend for them and valuing the opinions of others.
Since consumers are no longer using bookstores to discover their next read, publishers no longer need to rely on bookstores as heavily as they had to in the past. Instead of focusing their attention on ensuring their books are in stores and are prominently placed for the book buyer to see, publishers should reach out to consumers directly. They should stop trying to reach readers through a third-party, and instead of nurturing their relationship with booksellers, they should develop a relationship directly with the end-user, their real consumer. Publishers should take the place of that person who offers recommendations that people value. As Brett Sandusky said in his article The Proverbial Sex Reassignment Surgery: What This Transition is Really About, publishers have to stop being “ninjas, or a group of faceless factory workers buying, creating, selling, and promoting products without one genuine interaction with the people for whom we are making these products,” (Sandusky, “The Proverbial Sex Reassignment Surgery”) and instead should become reader-oriented, marketing and gathering consumer insights through social listening.
Stop YELLING! Start Listening.
Perseus, one of the largest independent publishers in the United States, has been experimenting with social listening by engaging with consumers on social media in a new way. Instead of using social media to promote a book, they are using social media to join conversations and to create relationships with readers. Rick Joyce, Chief Marketing Office of Perseus, explains in an interviewthat through the use of social listening tools, they are parsing the conversations consumers have on Twitter, Facebook and the comments section of blogs, looking for “consumers out there talking about the subject of our books… If you can find them you can join an existing conversation” (Greenfield, “Discoverability and Marketing are Publishing Company Differentiators”).
Joyce also goes on to explain that publishers must adjust the model so it is “much more about engaging consumers in the way they like to engage [which] requires some steely nerves from publishers to try not to sell a book to a reader at every occasion” (Greenfield, “Discoverability and Marketing are Publishing Company Differentiators”). Joyce is encouraging publishers to replace the recommending-figure that consumers value so highly. Social media is about talking to your consumers directly, engaging in conversation, learning their needs and wants, and gaining their trust. Social media shouldn’t be used to enter as many conversations as possible in order to blatantly and transparently promote a book; it should be used to join the right conversation in a way that directs the conversation to be about the book.
By authentically entering relevant conversations, not only will publishers build their profile with consumers, they will also find out who the influencers are, and who they should pay special attention to. According to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, “an influencer is defined as a ‘person who has a greater than average reach or impact through word of mouth in a relevant marketplace’” (“7 Reasons Why Social Listening is Important”). Since recommendations are a vital aspect to the book discovery process, keeping track of who the influencers are will help facilitate the recommendation process in the publisher’s favour.
Running Press Cooks, a division of Running Press, originally began as a trade cookbook catalogue, but has since manifested into an online community that looks more like a food blog. After the food blog rose in popularity, Running Press, who was listening and paying attention to what its customers were interested in, created a platform that was attractive, enticing, and exactly what their customers were looking for.
Tools to Use
CoverCake is a new technology analytics tool that was specifically designed to meet the needs of the publishing industry. In her article, CoverCake: Social Media Analytics Customized for Publishing, Rachel Adyt compares the power and magic of CoverCake to “being handed every focus group you could ever want to watch from behind the two-sided mirror, without having to organize the groups” (Adyt, “CoverCake: Social Media Analytics Customized for Publishing”). CoverCake asserts that its algorithm allows book publishers the ability to:
Identify- “Sift through more noise through robust filters and analytics. Find out who is saying what about anything you want to know. Find out their demographic and geographic information, and their influential reach.”
Engage- “Focus on who has online potential for your brand. With CoverCake’s engagement console, you can easily reply, retweet, queue a comment, create group lists, send group messages and campaign links, or just export users into a CSV file.”
Amplify: “Design, launch and analyze campaigns that will drive your key influencers to action, expanding your message and increasing your social influence” (CoverCake).
CoverCake gives its users the ability to search by individual titles, content titles and even BISAC codes. CoverCake results are then filtered, and the valuable influencers rise to the top of the list. You can narrow that list down further, eliminating categories or demographics that aren’t relevant to your marketing plan. CoverCake pulls conversation from Twitter, Facebook, popular blogs, Goodreads, and Amazon, with plans to include Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
INscribe Digital, the leading eBook distribution and services company recently employed CoverCake’s services. In a press release, INscribe Digital explained that their decision to use CoverCake stemmed from the prospect of having access to their complete and wide-ranging platform that “brings together the power of social media to discover not just how millions of people are reacting to specific books and who those people are, but how they’re reacting to entire book subjects, both at a macro and micro level” (INscribe Press Release).
The Marketing Cloud
Like Cover Cake, Radian6 has created the Marketing Cloud for companies who want to “listen, engage, gain insight, publish content, optimize social advertising, measure social marketing programs and integrate social data with CRM information” (Radian6). Unlike CoverCake, the Marketing Cloud was not made specifically for the publishing industry. They have a variety of clients from agencies, consumer packaged goods, retail and financial services. However, like CoverCake, the Marketing Cloud allows users to pull valuable insights such as demographics, influence reach, sentiment and intentions, on the topic of their choice, from platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, mainstream news, forums, videos and image sharing sites.
The Marketing Cloud also provides a few more services. They have an “Engagement Console,” which allows users to find conversations online and join them in real time. A “Summary Dashboard,” which monitors the health of the brand on social media; a “Salesforce Social Hub” that automates workflow actions to help companies that are not able to keep up with the online conversations about their company; as well as a mobile iPhone App, which allows users to have access to their data at all times.
Publishers can very well take the topics of one of their books and scour the Internet for relatable conversations. Entering those conversations organically opens up a new market of consumers that are interested in that topic, who marketers would not have had access to otherwise. Without the marketing cloud, not only do marketers have to convince readers that their book is worth reading, they have to convince readers that the topic of the book is interesting. But with the Marketing Cloud, marketers will find those groups who are already interested and who will be more receptive to books on that topic.
Imagine there is a conversation happening somewhere in the internet-universe about a particular topic, and a publisher has a book on that same topic. That publishing company can join that conversation (let’s say its on a blog that the publisher did not even knew existed), and become a part of that conversation, contributing valuable insights and building a rapport with all of those involved. After the publisher has built relationships with the other members of the conversation, when he or she let’s them know that there is a book on this exact topic, they will be much more likely and willing to purchase it.
Come On Publishers — Make the Change!
CoverCake and the Marketing Cloud are just a couple of tools publishers can use, but there are many other tools out there that do a similar job. Markus Dohle, the CEO of Random House, once said in an interview that he’s “convinced publishers have to become more reader oriented in marketing and trend finding/setting away rather than in a direct consumer way” (Shatzkin, “Publishers, Brands, and the Change to B2C”). It’s clear that publishers have to start listening and paying more attention to their end-users, the readers, and build better relationships with them, not the retailers. Publishers must be able to make recommendations that their customers value. Finding conversations that are already happening on the Internet, and entering those conversations organically in order to build a trusting relationship with those readers is the best way to change the publishers’ business-to-business model to a business-to-consumer model.