Marketing Meetup Recap: Live From the 15th Annual Winter Institute

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Booksellers attending the 2020 Winter Institute in Baltimore had the chance to attend a live Marketing Meetup focused on search engine optimization (SEO). The meetup, called “Why SEO Matters to Your Marketing Plan” looked at the value of SEO to independent bookstores.

Guest speakers included Jordan Brannon, president and COO of Coalition Technologies; Cassandra Cross of Coalition Technologies; Eileen McGervey of One More Page Books in Arlington, Virginia; and Cassie Clemans of Roundabout Bookshop in Bend, Oregon.

Search engine optimization, said Cross, is the process of getting website traffic from free or organic search results on search engines. All major search engines, such as Google, Bing, and Yahoo, have primary search results, where webpages are shown and ranked based on what the search engine considers most relevant to users.

When constructing a website, booksellers should keep the following in mind:

  • Words matter. Search engines account for every word on the internet. For example, if someone is searching for a book of recipes, the search engines will narrow the results to those that contain selected words or keywords.
  • Titles matter. Each page on the internet has an official title that users may not ever see because it’s on the backend of the page, in the code. Search engines pay a lot of attention to page titles because they often summarize the information on the page.
  • Links between websites matter. When one website links to another, it’s usually a recommendation communicating to readers that the site has useful information. Some links are more valuable than others — trustworthy sites like The New York Times and Publishers Weekly will offer more SEO value than others.
  • Reputation. Websites with a consistent record of fresh, engaging content and growing numbers of quality links and pages may be considered “rising stars” in search engine rankings.

Google algorithms often update and change, Cross added, and while this can be overwhelming, booksellers should focus on providing quality content on their websites, which in turn will help their SEO ranking.

Brannon also offered attendees some tips based on discussions he had with McGervey and Clemans on how they could better use SEO:

  • Focus on title tags and meta descriptions. These are key because they introduce the website or page to users. Put keywords in early, and make sure that each page has its own unique keyword.

    • A common mistake is making every page centered on the same keywords — for example, if every page is about a bookstore in Baltimore, this makes it harder for Google to distinguish what each page is for and which ones should rank higher. 
  • Update homepage. Booksellers will often update event pages or promotional pages on their websites but neglect their homepage, which is the first thing users see. The homepage should have a clear, direct, and unique statement about one’s bookstore and the key genres of books carried.
  • Customize navigation menu. On the navigation menu of a bookstore’s website, booksellers should customize page titles to better incorporate keywords. For example, instead of having a basic “about” page, it can be called “about my bookshop” instead. This helps Google to better understand a bookstore’s brand.  
  • Build a link profile. Local community pages and publications that have events pages will likely include links to event host websites. Over time, as a bookstore’s events are published to these pages, a link profile is built that helps Google understand that store’s relevance or place in a community as well as establish that there is valuable information offered on that site.

McGervey and Clemans also shared some of the ways they have experimented with SEO, including:

  • Creating a standard set of keywords

    • Keywords are not necessarily marketing terms or buzzwords, but rather words that define what the bookstore is. Examples of One More Page’s keywords are bookstore, Arlington, and author signings.
  • Creating short and specific page titles and meta descriptions, since only a certain number of words or characters may be visible to users
  • Naming photos with keywords, taking ADA compliance into consideration

    • Renaming every photo on one’s website can take time. For Roundabout, this took about 25-30 hours.
  • Setting up community-specific landing pages to increase marketing opportunities
  • Validating higher authority domains and business listings on sites like Twitter, Facebook, Google My Business, and Instagram.

    • Other places booksellers can claim their businesses include sites like TripAdvisor, which Roundabout hadn’t done before embarking on this project.
  • Posting website and events to online calendars

Brannon noted that after about 60 days of implementing SEO strategies, Roundabout saw a 31 percent increase in site traffic year over year as well as an increase in online revenue of 344 percent year over year. Roundabout also saw 25 new terms that the store started to rank for inside of the two-month period; a 17 percent increase in Oregon users in the metropolitan area around the store; and a 40 percent growth in revenue from that same region, in addition to a 72 percent growth in online transactions.

For One More Page, in 60 days there was a 13 percent growth in organic traffic and an 82 percent growth in organic online revenue. Six terms that had been unranked moved into “clickable sweet spots,” and the total traffic opportunity for those six terms was 20,000 impressions. The store also saw a 47 percent growth in Virginia users and a 92 percent growth in revenue in that same time period.