I’ve embarked on a number of low-cost, (hopefully) high-impact advertising ventures to boost my book sales. Over the next few days and weeks, I’ll examine what I’ve done and try to draw lessons and conclusions from the experience. First up…Goodreads!
Goodreads advertising currently comes in two flavors: tiny, highly-affordable self-service ads and large-scale page campaigns coming in at massive cost (when asked about “premium advertising offerings,” Goodreads replied that, unless my budget was over $5,000 per month, I was likely to be more interested in their self-service option. Well, no shit.).
For obvious reasons, I’ll only talk about my experiments with their self-service advertising.
What It Is
Self-service advertising on GR is limited to one type of advertisement: a small sidebar block of screen real estate. It includes:
- An image roughly 50×66 pixels (assumed to be your cover)
- A “subject line” or title that is a bolded link to your choice of URL
- 140 characters of copy
- The URL you chose at the bottom–oddly not linkable, but colored green. Assumption: an alert to the reader where the link will take them?
- Optional: “Engagement stats,” such as the number of reviews, link to a preview (GR .epub document), or a book giveaway (note: the stat manifests itself as a link that you are charged for if the reader clicks, see below)
You must be a Goodreads author and your books must exist in the Goodreads system before you embark on your advertising adventure. Go to http://www.goodreads.com/author/program and read the guides thoroughly if you don’t know what I’m talking about. It will take several days to be approved as a Goodreads author and up to another day to get your books into the system if they aren’t already. Don’t plan on a giant advertising campaign until you have these ducks in a row.
Tip: Make sure all editions of your work are merged into a single record, or you may be hamstringing your advertising impact right off the bat. This includes your paperback version and odd things like Kobo versions, which are considered separate editions by GR (I believe because they are assigned a unique online ISBN by Kobo. ).
To measure and exploit your advertising success, you’ll need an understanding of a few key words.
Views (or impressions)
The number of times your ad was shown per day. Highly variable based on both your CPC (see below) and your ad’s success (see “When Oh When…,” below).
The number of clicks your ad received (note that this can be either your true target URL as your bolded ad title, or an Engagement Stat).
Click-through rate. Essentially, Clicks divided by views, expressed as a percentage. This is the barometer that tells you how well your ad is doing. Goodreads claims average rates are 0.05% – 0.5%, but I haven’t seen anything over .06%. For purposes of predicting outcomes, .05% seems to be a good average to work with.
Cost-per-click. This is the amount you pay each time a visitor clicks on your ad. You choose this price, but this is, in essence, your bid to Goodreads for placement: the higher your CPC, the greater the visibility Goodreads will give you (but see “When Oh When…,” below).
How it works
Once you upload your creative (image, copy, link, etc.), you are asked a few key questions:
- How much do you want to pay per click (your CPC)?
The range is from $.10 – $300, with a suggestion of $.50. The higher the bid, the higher the priority your ad is given.
- What is your daily cap on cost?
This is CPC x Clicks. Do the math before you start throwing numbers around. Since you won’t know your Views until a week or more has passed for comparison, you won’t be able to calculate your cost based on an average of .05% CTR. Since View numbers vary wildly, choose a cap you’re comfortable with, i.e., regardless of CTR, are you okay paying up to $10/day for months?*
- What genres and/or authors do you want to target?
Goodreads allows you to target your audience by picking specific genres that readers have indicated are their favorites as well as the fans of individual authors. This is an exceedingly important step, since you want to maximize your ad by targeting qualified readers.
Be careful picking authors only, however; while there may be a temptation to choose a handful of famous authors that you write like to get even more targeted visitors, there are many more people who indicate favorite genres than they do favorite authors. Too narrow a focus and your ad may hardly get shown in the rotation.
* This is not a runaway cost, so don’t freak out. You can only spend up to a pre-paid limit, which you specify when you pay for your ad. You can’t end up owing any more than you want to. In other words, if your ad is on fire and you’re getting .5% CTR at $.50 CPC and 20,000 Views, but you set a cap of $10/day…you still only pay $10/day. And if you pre-paid only $100, your ad would stop running after 10 days ($10/day X 10 days = $100 pre-paid amount). Conversely, if your CTR is low, you will not hit your cap nor deplete your pre-paid amount. Result? Your ad could limp along for months until it drains the $100 coffer.
Tip: Something I didn’t know intially is that you can create multiple ads under one “campaign.” A very handy email that Goodreads sent (but, to my knowledge, is not found on the site) suggested doing simple split testing by running at least two ads, one with a genre focus only, one with an author focus. I’ve found it worth the time to do both…there’s no extra fixed cost, since you’re paying per click (of course, you’re increasing your ad exposure, so you may run down your pre-paid limit more quickly, but it will be worth it to see the metrics).
Where Oh Where Did My Little Ad Go?
You may be interested in knowing what you’re paying for in terms of who sees it and where.
Goodreads’s official line is:
Self-serve ads are currently located on the homepage, search page, and a few other places where members browse books. We reserve the right to change the placements of the ads to provide the best possible service.
When Oh When…
Now that we (kind of) know the where, how about the when? How often are the ads shown? The Goodreads line on this is:
We use a complex algorithm to determine which ads are shown on the site. A major factor in this algorithm is initial click-through rate– that’s the click-through rate for the ad in its first few hundred impressions for the day. The ads that generate more clicks in those first few hundred impressions are shown more frequently throughout the day, while those that don’t generate as many clicks early are given a lower priority. This is how we make sure that the most relevant ads are shown most frequently. How the ad was performing the day before has no bearing on this, as each ad gets a fresh chance each day. (emphasis mine)
I just wanted to get this off my chest (hence the emphasis): gimme a break, Goodreads. While, yes, you could argue that ads that “generate more clicks” are more popular, this a self-fulfilling prophecy (since ads that aren’t shown can’t be clicked and a few hundred impressions is a fairly low sample size for a site that claims over 140 million page views per month) but–more to the point–Goodreads only gets paid when users click on ads. Let’s call this what it is: insuring your revenue stream. Nothing wrong with that, but let’s not talk about ad relevancy.
- Since you only pay for clicks, Views are, in essence, free advertising. It’s non-quantifiable, but there can be some perceived benefit from getting your name and/or book cover in front of thousands of people for free.
- Determine what your meaning of success is. Very high Views but low CTR means you’re getting good absolute numbers (i.e., actual people clicking through), but are you getting quality visitors? Conversely, low Views and decent CTR might mean you’ve got a nicely targeted group. But, if it’s too low, you may not actually be reaching people.
For example, I have two ads running as suggested by Goodreads: one targeting genres, one targeting fans of authors. The average daily impressions of the authors ad over four months has been a measly 87. The daily average for the genre ad? A whopping 6,475 impressions per day. The CTR is .06% and .05%, respectively. Although those are both decent CTR’s, the author ad has so few Views that that .06% is translating into a horrendous actual rate (around 1-2 people per month), whereas the genre ad is generating dozens of clicks. Even if the author ad people are more qualified, there aren’t enough of them to justify continuing that strategy. Time to review the author ad…
- There is a 1-2 day approval process for ads and Goodreads staff don’t work on weekends. Plan ahead if you want an ad to match with a specific upcoming promotion; it may take the better part of a week for the ad to show.
- If your ad isn’t performing, consider changing the cover art (I switched to a 3D view of my cover), the copy, and/or the CPC bid to increase priority. You can also try additional ads within the same campaign and split test authors vs. genres, age groups, genders, etc.
- Be aware that almost any change to your ad requires approval and takes your add offline during the process. This includes innocuous changes like your CPC rate or uploading a new image.
- You can sign up for daily alerts to see how well your ad is doing. The short email includes Views, Clicks, CTR, money spent, Books Added, Daily Campaign totals, and Campaign to Date totals. A nice roundup of info to help you determine ad success.
- Goodreads Advertising FAQ – http://www.goodreads.com/help/list/advertisers
Was it worth it?
The sixty-four dollar question unfortunately still remains open. There’s little way to track sales even when your click-through URL is to Amazon or another seller. They may have clicked, but did they buy?
Goodreads recommends, not surprisingly, to direct your ad URL to point to your book’s page, thereby increasing “virality” as the book is added to a reader’s shelf, to-read pile, etc. Although the temptation may be to send the user right to Amazon, there are enhanced metrics for sending a clicker to a Goodreads page, since GR tracks each of your titles’ “books added,” ratings, reviews, and to-read numbers. By matching these up to your best advertising days, they suggest, you can see impact more directly.
Still, the sample size might be too small to allow you to separate meaningful data from coincidence. For example, my second largest Views day ever (26,500) was on 11/8/12, almost precisely in sync with my best short-term, no promotion run of sales ever. Over a six or seven day period from 11/8 to 11/15, I had about 120 sales. Great! Advertising works! But previous great Views days in October did not precipitate landmark sales–instead I had great Goodreads “books added” numbers. What do I take away from that?
So, unfortunately, I think the jury is out on whether Goodreads advertising equals increased sales. What it will show you, I believe, is your reach and impact. When you know several hundred people have been intrigued enough by your cover or your copy or your title to click on your ad, you know you’re having an impact. As time goes on, that impact becomes a data point that you may be able to link to other data points, connecting dots to ratings, reviews…and eventually, sales.