In Your Corner : Lights! Cameras! Action! Taking your book to the movies

There once was a time when book marketing was mostly a print and maybe occasionally a radio affair. Then came television, and the publishing world absorbed the change. Later came the internet, and the publishing world was faced with a new dilemma: how to make use of the new platform and opportunities provided by the internet to build successful marketing campaigns? Always one step ahead of the curve, self-publishing authors began to look for websites like Youtube and Vimeo as possible platforms to connect with new readers and share their book trailers. And they have been wildly successful!

A book trailer is, in short, a kind of movie trailer for your book. Because videos tap into two fundamentally important human senses–both sight and hearing–at the same time, they have the power to both introduce new readers to your book and inspire them to purchase it.

A good book trailer presents images related to the book’s theme and content in an entertaining way, and is set to music that conjures up the appropriate atmosphere. A mystery novel might be set to a brooding tapestry of minor-key notes, while a romance novel might take advantage of a light-hearted upbeat tempo to clue readers into the nature of its story. Just as moviegoers might find themselves on the edge of their seats at the theater, your potential readers will wait with bated breath for the chance to pick up a copy of your book. It’s all about creating that “buzz” around your book’s release.

YouTube Screenshot

Crafting a book trailer that connects all of the dots in order to inspire this kind of reaction is, of course, quite a challenge. Video editing demands a certain professional creative skill set, complete with a deft hand at image placement, talent with text arrangement, and a nuanced way with transitioning from one frame to the next. And the timing must be precise: the entire trailer must take place over approximately sixty seconds in order to communicate all that it needs to and command a viewer’s attention.

The value of a well-made book trailer is, however, unquestionable. Short movies are the most portable of marketing tools, and are easily shared across all of the major social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, and elsewhere. They can be embedded into blog posts or the link distributed by email. And chances are, nine out of every ten video links you’re going to click in the coming year will lead to something on YouTube–a website which generates its own enormous slice of direct internet traffic and has proven a reliable source of many “viral” marketing campaigns already. But you never know what the next video application could be–even Amazon is getting into the video game these days.

As a self-publishing author, you’re already strategically placed to take advantage of video–but creating a book trailer? That might be outside of your comfort zone or even fully beyond your abilities. There are, of course, hybrid publishing companies that offer these services as part of a package, or you can commission someone to assist you. If you opt to pay for assistance, your music selection, image identification, and text integration will all be taken care of for you, and a draft of your book video trailer delivered to you. As I recommended last week, check the fine print: as author, you should retain the right to review the draft and suggest changes before final modifications are made. You should also own any and all rights to the final book video trailer outright and therefore use it throughout your marketing efforts–by uploading it to Yahoo! Video, MySpace, Daily Motion, Twitter, Metacafe, and other popular video hosting websites.

Book marketing is all about human connection, and your book video trailer is no different. A book trailer puts all of video’s greatest assets–its immediacy, its ability to convey a lot of information succinctly, and its visceral impact–at your command. Movies have the power to move people, and a book trailer has the power to capture your reader’s attention and then translate that attention into engagement on social media as well as drive sales. Your book video trailer is a backstage pass into who you are as a writer, and an all-access ticket to the theme park of your book’s greater universe!

You are not alone. ♣︎

ElizabethABOUT ELIZABETH JAVOR: With over 18 years of experience in sales and management, Elizabeth Javor works as the Manager of Author Services for Outskirts Press. The Author Services Department is composed of knowledgeable publishing consultants, pre-production specialists, customer service reps and book marketing specialists; together, they all focus on educating authors on the self-publishing process to help them publish the book of their dreams. Whether you are a professional looking to take your career to the next level with platform-driven non-fiction or a novelist seeking fame, fortune, and/or personal fulfillment, Elizabeth Javor can put you on the right path.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | Summary Edition

Well, it’s been quite a project, this social media primer of ours!  I hope it’s proven as useful to you, our readers, as it has been enjoyable for me to write!  I thought I’d take a couple of minutes to take a lingering glance in the rear-view mirror, and write a bit of a retrospective on what it means to carry out a social media marketing campaign–and how a primer fits in.

We’re here,” I wrote in that initial blog post, first and foremost, to talk about how to market your self-published book.”  And therein lies both the value and danger of social media as a marketing tool.  If you really are using social media effectively, as a natural and organic extension of your existing work and personality, then you’ll most definitely benefit, and your book sales will most definitely benefit as well.  If you approach social media as an all-purpose tool and the only tool you need in your toolbox–or if you present yourself falsely, inauthentically, or otherwise find yourself at odds with your fans–or if you bite off more than you can chew–or if you find yourself slipping into social media as just another time-waster–then you’re missing the point of being an author on social media.  These are the pitfalls, or at least a few of them, and they should not be taken lightly or underestimated.

social media

Here’s the trick to being a self-published author on social media:  You must always remember that you are, first and foremost, a writer.  And as we’ve said before here on Self Publishing Advisor, the absolute best decision you can ever make in marketing your book is to write another book.  If social media helps you spread the word, and helps you keep writing, then it has a place in your campaign.  If it distracts you, or distresses you, or eats into time you would otherwise spend writing, then you should revisit the expression “effective marketing.”  There is, however, a great deal of value to trying something new, especially when you hit a roadblock.  It is my hope that, by providing a primer guide to each of the major (and some of the minor) social media platforms, I may take some of the guesswork and fear out of launching yourself into the world of social media.  Maybe, just maybe, you’ll be able to bypass some of the misery and second-guessing and mistakes that I myself have made over the years–and find a new home, a new community, and an engaged readership in some unexplored corner of our digital universe.

The List:

  1. First Thoughts
  2. Twitter
  3. Tumblr
  4. Instagram
  5. Snapchat
  6. YouTube
  7. Pinterest
  8. Goodreads
  9. Etsy
  10. LinkedIn
  11. Flickr
  12. Facebook

Thank you for helping me build this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of marketing musings. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | YouTube

You already use it to watch every video your friends send you on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and elsewhere.  Chances are, nine out of every ten video links you’re ever going to click (in this decade, at least) will link to something on YouTube.  It’s about time that indie and self-published authors get in on the action, don’t you think?  Only, wait a minute: they already are!

YouTube Screenshot

But before we dive into just how you can use YouTube to launch your self-marketing campaign, let’s address some of the basics.  What is YouTube?  It’s a video storage and hosting service which allows pretty much anyone who signs up for a free account to upload video files for public consumption (or private; like every other good social media platform, YouTube allows its users to toggle a number of privacy settings for each individual video as well as for their profile pages).  Once a video is posted to YouTube, fans and followers can distribute the link themselves, which makes it a great platform for viral campaigns.  And because videos are visceral in a way text sometimes isn’t, they make a fantastic impact on viewers’–and readers’!–imaginations.

Debunking the Great YouTube Myth: “It’s all cats, cats, cats.”

While I’m not above clicking a link to a good cat video every now and again (see what I did there?), I do think we’re doing a great disservice to the platform by claiming it’s all cats, because pretty much anyone who is anyone worth knowing about has a YouTube channel.  I’m talking VICE, John Green, Oprah, CNN, The New York Public Library … the list goes on, and on, and on, and on, and on … ad infinitum.

Top 5 Best Practices:

1. Post a book trailer.  We here at Self Publishing Advisor have written about the merits of book trailers before (here and here), but I just can’t emphasize enough how awesome a book trailer is–especially as regards your self-promotion and self-marketing agenda.  A book trailer provides a bite-sized (or “eye-sized”) bundle of information about your book to new readers for easy consumption.  A good book trailer will add drama and flair to your book’s public image … and it will also reach far more people.  YouTube’s algorithms will ensure that its users will stumble across your book whenever they search for similar videos or book trailers by other authors in the same genre.  Just make sure to take advantage of the metadata!

2. Post regularly, if not weekly.  You may or may not be familiar (and comfortable) with the term “vlogging,” internet slang for “video blogging.”  Authors like John Green verge on being professional video bloggers, in that they post videos of themselves with updates on their writing, answers to readers’ questions, or more generally, responses to fans, fandoms, and greater cultural trends.  You may not be a titan of Young Adult Literature like John Green, but you can definitely walk away with a few ideas from his channel.  Namely: provide new content on a regular basis (feed your followers!), consider tweaking your on-camera surroundings so that posts are well-lit and free of visual clutter (keep it simple!), and edit your posts before they go up in order to re-craft the posts for easy consumption (keep it short!).

3. Ask to join an existing station as a guest speaker.  Many channels such as Self-Publishing Roundtable will invite authors to serve as “guests” on their YouTube channels, in part to promote variety, and in part because they welcome the opportunity to provide new authors a voice.  Run a quick search on YouTube for channels to do with self publishing, navigate to that channel’s “About” page, and then click the “Send Message” button to contact the people on that channel directly.  You have literally nothing to lose and everything to gain by putting out feelers for folks who might be interested in helping you launch your new (or existing) book.  A few might say “No,” but there are (as my grandmother used to remind me) plenty of fish in the sea.

4. Pay attention to the details.  I mentioned lighting, time length, and editing before.  A good way of figuring out how to frame and film your first couple of YouTube posts is to watch a whole bunch.  Not just Lady Gaga music videos, mind, but videos that are doing something similar to what you aim to do.  Find those self-publishing-related YouTube channels and see what they get up to in terms of audio quality, clutter, editing techniques, and so forth.  You can always choose what to take and what to leave from these videos–they’re just a sounding board, not a structured guide, but they’ll still give you ideas.  You’re not chained to anything that they do!  Just make sure that you’re making conscious and conscientious decisions about content and presentation.

5. Don’t overdo it … on your first video, or any following video.  You’ll notice that some of the most successful author-related YouTube channels preserve an element of spontaneity, of freshness, and of personality.  You definitely don’t want to scrub your YouTube videos of what makes you you.  But another, less acknowledged quality of successful YouTubers is that they pay attention to length.  A long video, even a long and professionally-made video, is daunting to the average watcher.  In 2014, Adweek ran an article full of infographics about the ideal length of everything digital (I’m not even kidding), from Twitter tweets to hashtags to YouTube videos.  And what did they find?  That of the top 50 videos on YouTube at the time, the average length fell somewhere close to 2 minutes and 50 seconds.  Amazing.  Any longer, and the video is no longer “eye-sized” and runs the risk of losing a new reader’s interest.  Once you have built up a substantial network of faithful YouTube subscribers, you can fudge around with limits and goals and things, but for a newcomer?  Stick to a quick hearty blend of style and substance that will hook new readers in without taking up too much of their time.

Most Overlooked Feature:

Without a question, the most feature most authors forget about when it comes to YouTube is the playlist.  What’s more, there are plenty of great resources out there that will walk you through the minutiae of how to set one up (this one, for example).  It’s not an “undiscovered” feature for hearty and dedicated YouTube users, but it is overlooked by many content providers.  Essentially, a playlist allows authors to group together videos to be played by others in a specific order.  It creates a narrative out of your video collection, and helps a lot with the whole “findability” thing.  They’re sharable on social media just like individual videos, and they’re easy to create and edit.  Really, there’s no reason not to use playlists to organize your files on YouTube.

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

An Indie Author’s Social Media Primer | First Thoughts

Everyone’s got an opinion on how best to use social media.  These two simple words have become the locus for more blogs, podcasts, and even heated offline debates than any other subject in the last five years––or more.  In part we can attribute this pervasive conversation to the fact that the advent of social media has radically altered the average Westerner’s daily routine as well as that person’s basic expectations of relationships, whether we’re talking about relationships with other individuals, or with the companies and other institutions with which you or I might have some connection.  These days, for example, it’s entirely reasonable for consumers to expect their favorite companies––whether Nike, or Denny’s––as well as their favorite celebrities––be they Rihanna or Neil Gaiman––to have active and responsive presences on social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.  And while Lady Gaga won’t be able to respond to each and every tweet lobbed her way over the course of a day, the fact that she responds to any tweets renders her a more accessible figure to the average Twitter user.

IMG_0976

But we’re not just here to gab about the latest and greatest in Facebook updates and how to use the Twitter app––even though, certainly, those two will rank among many other topics we’ll examine over the coming weeks.  We’re here, first and foremost, to talk about how to market your self-published book.  It’s already hard enough to break into the market when it comes to books, especially self-published books––talk about a daunting proposition!––without a guide or even professional assistance; we exist to make your life a little bit easier.  To that end, each and every social networking tool I address will be tied back to this notion of marketing, and marketing specifically as a newly-published or on-the-verge-of-published indie, hybrid, or self-published author.

The first social network that everyone thinks of is still, by and large, Facebook.  And don’t worry, we’ll absolutely talk about how to use Facebook effectively.  It is important to note, however, that the bigger a platform is in terms of user base, the more “crowded” the market will seem to a reader seeking new material.  It is vital that an indie author knows the ins and outs of Facebook updates and feeds and public profiles and so on and so forth, because the vast majority of any author’s potential readers will have Facebook accounts; however, it’s just as vital for a self-published author to establish a certain degree of comfort with at least a couple of the lesser-used platforms, because they will be both more “discoverable” and more visible without the throng of other authors competing for attention.  To that end, I will take a stroll through each of the quote-on-quote “major” social networking sites, including:

  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Instagram
  • Snapchat
  • YouTube
  • Pinterest

… but I will also examine lesser-known or more specialized platforms, such as:

  • Goodreads
  • Etsy
  • LinkedIn
  • Flickr

… because, ultimately, it’s the tools we’ve neglected that end up most surprising us with their unexplored possibilities.

There’s a lot more to using social media for book promotion, however, than simply knowing the names of the most popular sites or even how to set up an account with and update each one.  There are a whole host of other behaviors to discover, observe, and adopt––”best practices,” so to speak––than just generating content.  Authors have to know, for example, the inside tricks.  They have to know the whys as well as the wherefores: why does engaging your readers on multiple platforms translate to better book sales?  Why is it important to track your social media efficacy using analytics?  And most importantly of all, why is it necessary to create a strategy, a plan for your social media campaign?  I’ll walk with you through the theory––and together, we’ll peel back some of the layers that lie between us and a social media repertoire that actually makes a difference.  We’ll debunk some myths, learn some new things, and slowly work our way through.

Together.

(Since that’s kind of the point, in the end, of social networking.)

I hope you’ll join me in building this Social Media Primer!  If you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or contributions, please use the comment field below or drop us a line at selfpublishingadvice@gmail.com.  And remember to check back each Wednesday for your weekly dose of social media know-how. ♠

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part V)

And so it begins––my fifth and final post in this series detailing some of the main tips and tricks of the trade when it comes to Search Engine Optimization, or SEO.  In a moment I’m going to dive into a final grab-bag of tidbits that will help boost your SEO ranking, but first, I wanted to take a moment to think back to the five steps I’ve already described:

Step 1: Optimize your keywords.

Step 2: Optimize your content.

Step 3: Optimize your title.

Step 4: Optimize your tags.

Step 5: Optimize your use of Google Analytics.

As you can see, many if not most of these points are geared towards altering what you do on what I like to call the “micro” level.  The idea is that, if you can fine-tune your material down to the sentence or the briefest keystroke, you’ll suck in the readers who might have eluded you up to this point.  And this is true!  … to an extent.  There’s no such thing as a perfect fix when it comes to SEO, particularly for the struggling blogger or audacious self-published author.  It’s tough to compete with corporations and rival blogs and authors in the same field or genre, when they can afford to pay a company to “link-build” or otherwise generate rank-boosting digital content for the paying customer, especially if you’re one of the many writers struggling to make ends meet, whether financially or in terms of the time and energy you have available to dedicate to your own SEO process.

The good news is, all of the steps I have described are easy to replicate, or involve tweaking your already-existing habits to include an extra step.  Crafting and using keywords, for example, should only add thirty seconds or so to your usual blogging time.  Google Analytics, on the other hand, might soak up an hour of your time––but only once a month, or once every six months, depending on how often you find it useful to employ.  The key is, as always, to pick the steps that you can incorporate into your routine, and that actually help you achieve your vision for your own materials.

With that thought in mind, I thought I’d round out this five-blog series with five final––and brief!––thoughts on how best to maximize your SEO process.

Step 6: Optimize connections between your own materials.  Many search engine algorithms are smart enough to exclude internal links, so providing a list of links to my own blog posts as I did above won’t automatically boost my SEO.  But what it does do is make it a whole lot easier for my readers to navigate my material, and browse from blog to blog––and reader behavior does boost my ranking.  Make sure your digital content is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate, and also make sure that your readers can find your other platforms––whether Facebook, or Twitter, or Instagram, or Tumblr, or some other––with as few clicks or keystrokes as possible.

Step 7: Optimize external opportunities for links.  Your SEO is most powerfully influenced by links from external and respectable sources, like .edu and .org websites.  The higher the search engine ranking of the website that refers to your digital content, the greater the effect on your own ranking.  Don’t forget to be ambitious when it comes to asking websites to list a link to your content––as my mother tells me, the worst thing someone can say is “no.”  And if you host an event such as a reading or a book signing, make sure every email and piece of promotional material that goes out lists your email and website (or websites) in full.  That way, if you’re quoted in a newspaper or a blog, the link is right there.

Step 8: Optimize your page speed.  This one just makes sense, right?  If your website loads slowly, readers may grow impatient and simply move on, particularly if they’re trying to read on their mobile devices.  Search engine algorithms are smart enough to take this loading speed into account when they generate your ranking, so don’t underestimate the value of a streamlined, elegant, and speedy interface.  (You can check your current page speed using Google’s handy page speed tool.)

Step 9: Optimize your goals.  It is possible to sabotage your attempts at SEO, as with many other things, by attempting to do too much at once.  You don’t want to reach a point of burnout, when you’re so sick of trying to keep a hundred balls in the air by sheer willpower, and you’re not enjoying the process of creating your own digital content any longer.  Baby steps, baby steps.  Your readers know when you’re not having fun, and when you’re no longer writing for them but rather for a set of 1s and 0s.    The truest secret to creating masterful, authentic, and valuable content is to really love what you do.

Step 10: Optimize your optimism.  SEO can take time, and energy, and money, and perhaps a chunk of your peace of mind (if you’re not able to follow step 9, that is).  But SEO is not the enemy, and low web traffic doesn’t have to be a problem. It’s a start. You’re only going to learn more, and grow your reader base, from here.

Keep in mind that SEO isn’t magic, and it isn’t deliberately trying to be difficult.  It is, instead, the natural byproduct of human attempts to best utilize a system––a mathematical algorithm––and to stand out in a crowded marketplace.  You may just need a little boost.  SEO is a rocket engine powering through the clouds of material obscuring your voice from your readers.  With a little time, and a little care, you can master the basics of SEO!

Check back every Wednesday as I begin a new series.  If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part IV)

Welcome back to my five-week series on Search Engine Optimization (or SEO)!  I’m back this week to speak to the specifics of Google Analytics and what it can do to boost your digital platform.  Three weeks ago, you’ll remember, I launched this series with a brief history of search engines and an inquiry into the necessity of SEO.  I investigated a few ways in which we can better employ keywords.  Two weeks ago, I dedicated an entire blog post to talking about matters of content.  Last week, I opened up the possible Pandora’s Box of metadata by showing some of the benefits of maximizing your SEO through the use of carefully curated titles and tags.  

Analytics, on the other hand––Google Analytics is its own unique creature, and unlike the other SEO tips I’ve already described, Analytics exists outside of your material.  It is a third party, so to speak, and consulting a Google Analytics report is a little like consulting a book review written by an independent literary critic: sometimes, it’s hard to know just what to do with the material.  In this blog post, I hope to unravel some of its many mysteries for you.

Step 5: Optimize your use of Google Analytics

What is Google Analytics, in the first place?  As you will already have guessed, it’s an offshoot of––or a service provided by––Google for producers of digital content.  If you own or otherwise run a blog, that’s you.  Google Analytics tracks the traffic to your web pages, particularly the number of times individual (or “unique”) internet users access (or “hit”) your pages, how long they stay on a given page, and their general demographic data.  Best of all, it’s free!

In order to set up Analytics, you first need to have a Google account (if you have a Gmail address, or use Google Documents, you already have one).  Then, you log in to the Google Analytics home page by clicking the “Access Google Analytics” link in the top right corner.  If it’s your first time using Analytics, Google immediately provides a handy and relatively intuitive tutorial on how to set up your websites to be tracked.  In simple summary, for any website platform other than WordPress, you will copy a short digital code that Analytics generates for you and insert that code into the HTML of your blog’s template.  (WordPress provides a handy plugin that does this for you, with a little tweaking.)  If you’re not familiar with HTML, that’s okay!  You can type “How do I use Google Analytics in Tumblr” (or any other platform you can think of) into a search engine, and find several step-by-step tutorials.  The trick is not to be daunted by the fearsome language of code!

Once you have successfully set up Analytics for your blog, you need to give the service a good span of time to collect information before checking back.  Google Analytics only tracks content going forward from the date it is installed, so it can’t retroactively give you information on the traffic to your website.  I recommend giving yourself about a month before logging back in––a month will give you a good chunk of useable data.

And then?  It’s as simple as clicking a link to view the compiled reports.

So, how are Google Analytics reports useful to the self-published author?

What Google Analytics really does––what it really boils down to––is it sheds light on how users behave once they access your digital content.  You will quickly see what material is popular––more people will “hit” that material, and stay on those webpages longer––and you can easily measure what impact your decisions have on your readers.  Did you adopt a few of the SEO tips I’ve talked about in previous weeks?  Google Analytics will show you if they’re working.  Did you alter what content you provide?  That’s easy to track, too.  Did you host a reading at a local bookstore, or promote your book using a seasonal discount on social media?  The “audience” reports on Google Analytics will show you just how effective that outreach has been in boosting traffic to your blog.  You can use the “Content Experiments” feature to test the efficacy of specific changes––whether you shake up your website design, or start using meta tags, or adopt some other change to your method.  There’s even a specific report you can run to view details about traffic directed to your website by search engines (check out the “Acquisition” tab, then the “Search Engine Optimization” sub-tab).

Essentially, the benefits of Google Analytics to SEO are manifold.  I could go on and on about how much I love using the Analytics interface, and how I used to watch in real-time as my blog posts were accessed in various cities and regions across the globe.  Google routinely updates the features offered by its Analytics service, and every year (sometimes, every month!) I stumble across some new and great application it provides.  Google Analytics is the ultimate resource to help those of us who are striking out on our own to tailor our digital content to our readers!

Once again, I find that I’ve run out of room—check back here next Wednesday as I wrap up this five-week series on SEO.  I have a few final tips and tricks to help you maximize your digital platform, and you don’t want to miss a single one!

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.

Rising Through the Ranks | A Beginner’s Guide to Search Engine Optimization (Part III)

As promised, I’m back this week to unpack some of the specifics when it comes to using titles and tags to boost your dividends during the Search Engine Optimization (SEO) process.  Two weeks ago, you’ll remember, I launched this series with a brief history of search engines and an inquiry into the necessity of SEO.  First, I investigated a few ways in which we can better employ keywords.  A week ago, I dedicated an entire blog post to talking about matters of content.  This is because keywords are often an important doorway, or entry point for many new readers––that is, the way in which they first stumble across or access your work––and content is the house you build behind that doorway, the material that absorbs new readers and gives them a place to settle into conversation with you. 

It might be tempting to view titles and tags as merely decorative––a nice piece of wall art to hang above your mantel, or a set of attractive but generic photographs to tuck into the guest bathroom––but this is far from the truth, and far from doing justice to the potential benefit that a knowledgable and strategic use of these tools can provide.  Titles and tags are highly functional components of your digital content.  Think of them as the windows, screen doors, and patio of this metaphor; they increase the visibility of your material.  Today, I’m going to lead you through two additional steps that may be of use to you as you get started with your own SEO.

Step 3: Optimize Your Title

Coming up with a title for your digital material can be every bit as difficult as creating the content that follows.  As other websites can tell you, search engines like Google and Bing have character limits on title tags.  This means that above and beyond considerations of readability on your website or YouTube channel or blog page, you have to consider an additional layer of presentation: will enough of your title show up on a search engine listing to pull new readers in?  To show you what I mean, I plugged “Rising in the Ranks” and “Self Publishing Advisor” into Google (top) and Bing (bottom), just to see how much of my own title tags are showing up after my blog posts are indexed and cached:

Google search listing
Google search listing
Bing search listing
Bing search listing

As you can see, Google displays the titles of my individual blog posts twice––first, in a larger typeface and a more eye-catching color, and then again in a smaller font.  The larger typeface only leaves room for 55 or so characters, and the rest is covered by an ellipsis (the “…” at the end of the line).  The smaller font below allows for my full titles to be displayed, along with the dates of posting, my screen name, and however many of my tags (more on that later) as can fit.  The shorter your titles, the more room there is for tags.

Bing, on the other hand, doesn’t repeat the titles and omits the tags altogether.  Instead, it provides an excerpt from my biographical information.  The moral of this particular story is: while most search engine listings will include the title of your individual posts, the rest of what they may show is up for grabs (that is, determined by different algorithms).  The only common denominator between search engine results is your title.

So, what makes for the best of all possible titles, when it comes to SEO?  A balance of simplicity with accuracy and description.  This may prove to be a bit of a tug-of-war, especially if you’re posting complicated and thematically rich material––but three quick rules of thumb are:

  1.  … keep your title concise, catchy, and grammatically correct,
  2.  … include one or more of your most relevant keywords, and
  3.  … try to stay below the 50-60 character limits imposed on the listings.

Step 4: Optimize Your Tags

I’ve already mentioned that tags boost the visibility of your digital content.  Google and other search engines will sometimes display your tags, or meta descriptions, on search results as a kind of preview to help readers to determine what your blog post or YouTube video or other digital content is actually about.  As with keywords, you want to prioritize what you include in your tags.  Tumblr, for example, only indexes the first 20 tags you attach to a post.  This sort of cutoff is fairly typical for both normal and micro-blogging platforms.

So, what do tags look like?  Here are just a few examples, posted with permission:

SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags
SelfPublishingAdvisor.com (WordPress) tags
One of Tumblr's many tag display options.
One of Tumblr’s may tag display options
Another of Tumblr's many tag display options.
Another of Tumblr’s many tag display options.
One of Blogger's tag display options
One of Blogger’s tag display options

As you can see, each platform has its own ways of displaying tags, and sometimes a single platform will allow you to customize the appearance of said tags.  Even if you set up your blog to not display tags, make sure you do generate metadata for every post or page, since tags play a vital role in how search engine algorithms determine the relevance of your material to searches your target audience will be running. 

I should note that there’s a difference between the tags that are displayed alongside blog posts like this one and meta tags, which are the actual chunks of mostly-invisible HTML code that make up the architecture of your digital content.  It used to be true that if you wanted to build a website, you had to develop a working knowledge of HTML in order to take advantage of SEO.  Today, most of the big blogging platforms (like WordPress, Blogger, Tumblr, and so on) allow you to input information in the tag field and they convert some or all of that information into HTML meta tags for you.  It’s not a perfect translation––but if I’m getting too technical here, remember that the point of SEO is to take advantage of as many simple tricks as you find feasible and translate those tricks into increased website traffic.  Not every trick is going to be one that fits your needs.  As with all other self-marketing methods, you must weigh the benefits against the costs yourself––and the main cost here is time: the time it takes to learn HTML may offset the actual net benefit, especially if you can take advantage of built-in features like tag fields

Well, I’ve run out of room this week—check back here next Wednesday to learn more about search engine optimization.  I’ll be addressing the matter of analytics!

If you have a question about any of these tools for self promotion, would like to hear from me about something specific, or have other big news to share, please comment below!

KellyABOUT KELLY SCHUKNECHT: Kelly Schuknecht is the Executive Vice President of Outskirts Press. In addition to her contributions to the Outskirts Press blog at blog.outskirtspress.com, Kelly and a group of talented marketing experts offer book marketing services, support, and products to not only published Outskirts Press authors, but to all authors and professionals who are interested in marketing their books and/or careers. Learn more about Kelly on her blog, kellyschuknecht.com.