It's been quiet on my blog here lately because I've been heads-down going up a bunch of learning curves. I've dedicated 2017 to moving up a big level in marketing, and it's been a larger task than I expected. (That always happens, and I'm always surprised.)
Psychologically, I'm an analyst, and I am attracted to and comforted by a deep knowledge of the tools and systems I use. This usually means I have a pretty good idea of what I don't know. The flipside of that is that it makes me anxious to fill in the gaps.
I wanted to keep the effort this year focused on marketing initiatives but that has a way of spreading.
Here's what I've managed so far… (you can expect specific articles on some of these in the Just for Writers section).
This stuff is like catnip to me. I love to figure out how it works, but it takes time…
Google Analytics and link sources
On the principle that you can't improve what you don't measure, I've experimented with and set some standards for wrapping links to reference articles from my sites that I post elsewhere in UTM codes masked by PrettyLinks. In other words, I pinned down how to use Google Analytics to track particular articles depending on whether the clicks came from the website, Facebook, various groups I participate in, etc., without the links themselves looking ugly.
Background website improvements
All three of my publishing-related sites (see below) are now SSL-enabled (they use https:// instead of http://).
I'm tracking all my sites in ManageWP.
All the sites have stepped up a level for SEO improvements (Yoast) and I keep an eye on Google's latest demands for mobile compatibility.
All the sites now have structured data for the basic entities (organization, person, etc.), and the new reader-oriented site has structured data for the book entities. This should result in better “knowledge cards” and other enhanced displays for Google Search results.
I create all my own book images, even the full covers (based on background art & illustrated text from my partner artists). I found the simple flat 2D images boring for some uses, and didn't like my amateur versions of 3D, and I also knew I would want more sophisticated versions of the images for Facebook advertising, so I worked with a freelancer to create four separate Photoshop automation “engines” to supply sophisticated output based on flat image inputs.
One engine supplies basic 3D images, from two directions.
This sort of Photoshop automation is completely beyond my limited amateur use of Photoshop, but I can use the template provided by my freelancer well enough to produce the images, and the results look nice and professional.
I've taken on my first two paid consulting services this year, helping one person who escaped from vanity publishing to publish her business book, and helping a colleague improve his distribution for book 1 in preparation for the release of book 2 and more work there.
The proceeds are modest, but in these cases one often gets to be paid for some learning details not yet encountered, which is always useful. It's a very welcome offset to some of the investment costs for this year.
I had grand ambitions to get both Amazon and Facebook advertising running by now. I invested in serious courses for both platforms and in the ancillary tools that would be needed (e.g., video ad creation, as well as the image generators above), but I'm finding these to be big learning curves.
Let me give you an idea of all the bit and pieces from my master guidance list for this year, some of which I've managed to cross off.
To get Amazon AMS ads up, all I needed was the coursework and the image generator for the book bundle. Facebook ads, however, are intertwined with newsletters, landing pages, and lots more, and each of these has its own dependencies.
To place an ad on Facebook, I need images (image generator – done), a place to send the clicker (landing page(s)) on a website (reader-oriented) that ultimately provides a reward (BookFunnel) for a newsletter signup (newsletter system).
I didn't have a reader-oriented website, just a publisher website (Perkunas Press) and a writer website (HollowLands).
My newsletter service is MailChimp and I want to step up to a more sophisticated one instead (ActiveCampaign).
Sounds straightforward, eh? But that means first I have to create a new reader website, update all my mailing list info (including the backmatter of the books) to the new service, and create all the related landing pages. Only then can I start creating useful Facebook ads.
I've been chewing away on this bit by bit, but I could see it would take quite some time, so I went ahead with the Amazon ads which were much simpler and far more self-contained.
Amazon AMS Advertising
I've been running Amazon ads for the last 3-4 months, and that's working well for me. I started with keywords based on 25 comparable authors, and recently doubled that to 50 authors. The first book of each series, and the first part-series bundle for one series are the targets, and the series are long enough and priced well enough that the ads are generating a reasonable ROI, though I'm constantly looking for ways to tune them better.
I've built a solid analytical spreadsheet for tracking the results, and all of this is excellent training for the analytics I'll need to run for the Facebook ads, once they're up.
New Branded Website
The biggest push has been the creation of a new reader-oriented website to drive all the advertising traffic to.
I took a deep breath and decided to invest in a seriously branded website, just for readers — one that I could live with for years as a base. On the principle of “dressing for the job you want”, I designed a site for an “A-list” author, not just a “C-list” indie.
I worked with a consultant on basic strategy and positioning, and then with an artist for imagery. It hasn't been announced yet, but you can sneak a peek here. There will be a matching Facebook group, too.
The site will focus on “hero” articles (my brand's tagline is “Meet heroes in far-away places”), and as soon as I get the first few articles up, I'll announce it.
The next big push will be to transition to a new newsletter service, figure out mailing list automation, and update the backmatter for all the books.
Then, and only then, will I be able to move forward with Facebook ads.