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Anne R. Allen's Blog


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Anne writes funny mysteries and how-to-books for writers. She also writes poetry and short stories on occasion. Oh, yes, and she blogs. She's a contributor to Writer's Digest and the Novel and Short Story Writer's Market for 2016. 

Her bestselling Camilla Randall Mystery Series features perennially down-on-her-luck former socialite Camilla Randall—who is a magnet for murder, mayhem and Mr. Wrong, but always solves the mystery in her quirky, but oh-so-polite way.

Anne lives on the Central Coast of California, near San Luis Obispo, the town Oprah called "The Happiest City in America."

Anne blogs at Anne R. Allen's Blog...with Ruth Harris 
and at Anne R. Allen's Books

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Marketing Your Book on Social Media? How to Avoid Scams

Self-publishing and social media have empowered writers in ways we never dreamed of a decade ago.

They've also forced us to learn a lot of stuff we never used to have to bother our artistic little heads about.

These days, whether you're trad-pubbed or indie, the rise of social media has put a lot of the responsibility for book "visibility" into the hands of the author. Some of that is good—it's nice to be in controlbut a lot of it is a major pain in the patoot. And the wallet.  

Unfortunately, the people making the most money from the indie movement these days seem to be the people providing marketing and other services to authors, not the writers themselves.   

In the early days of the "Kindle Revolution" we were all wowed by the fabulous Cinderella stories about superstars like Amanda Hocking and John Locke, who put a bunch of ebooks on Amazon, promoted them on free social media sites, and made millions. We were told all we had to do was to make some Facebook friends, put up a snazzy page on MySpace, follow some peeps on Twitter, and bingo! Instant Kindle riches!  

Funny how those names are never mentioned any more isn't it? Amanda went over to the Big Five and became an ordinary mid-lister and John Locke lost a lot of cred when it turned out much of his success came from phony paid reviews.

And now, five years later, with tens of thousands of new ebooks being published every week, the market is saturated, e-readers and tablets are packed with more content than we can read in a lifetime, and authors have to learn marketing skills or remain invisible in the ever-swelling marketplace.

These days, most indies are fixated on the power of the freebie book and the bargain-ebook email newsletter. That's because they work for a lot of authors.

For writers who aren't in the publishing game yet, the newsletter campaign works like this: you discount your bookor make it freeand buy advertising from a daily newsletter that sends news of your book sale to targeted readers. 

Those newsletters are lucrative, and their numbers grow daily: Ereader News Today, Bookbub, Pixel of Ink, FreeBooksy, the Fussy Librarian, Kindle Nation Daily, EBook Bargains UK, Free Kindle Books and Tips, The Books Machine, Books Butterfly, BookGoodies, and ReadCheaply are a few that come to mind, but there are dozens more. The bigger the circulation of the newsletter, the higher the cost of a one-day ad and the tougher it is to be selected as a client.  

Bookbub, the Rolls Royce of bargain-ebook newsletters is so selective very few authors can get in, and the prices are prohibitive for new writers (now $2300 for a one-day ad for a $2.99 mystery novel.) The others are effective in some genres and not others. It's always a gamble.

There are some newsletters and promotional sites that charge a lot less than the biggies. Some are free. Some work, some don't, again depending on genre. For some great info on them, check out Nicholas C. Rossis' blogpost on his results from using free book promo sites.

But here's the thing: the benefits of the price reduction promowhether or not you advertise in a newsletterare minimal for a new, single-title author. Price reductions and freebies are most effective if you have a substantial backlist and use the freebie or sale book to introduce readers to an established series.

So what other kinds of marketing can new authors use? What about paying for social media marketing? Is it worthwhile to pay for Twitter ads?

What about Facebook? Forbes reported that Mark Dawson made over $450,000 from his books in 2014 using Facebook advertising as a core part of his book sales process. Can the rest of us do that? What really works in terms of bringing in sales and increasing the bottom line?

What about all these scammy people who sell Twitter followers and Facebook "likes"? How can you tell a real fan from a ghost from a "click farm"?

BTW, the one thing I can tell you does NOT work is asking established authors to promote your book for you. We all have our own books to write and market. Asking frantically busy authors to donate time to promote the books of newbies for free will just get you unfollowed and unfriended.

But paid social media advertising is something else. It seems to be working very well for some people. But how do you make sure the plan you're looking at will work? I haven't tried paid social media ads yet, so I asked award-winning marketing expert Chris Syme to guest post for us today and give us the skinny on how to tell a legit advertiser from a spammer...Anne 

How Writers Can Recognize A Social Media Advertising Scam

by Chris Syme @CKSyme

When it comes to online advertising, authors are often frustrated. There are so many options, it is hard to recognize the good from the bad. And to top it off, there are differing accounts on what works and what does not. So what's an author to do?

First Things First: What's Really a Scam?

Before we dive into the scams, let's talk about the reality.

Online advertising (including social media) is a fairly new endeavor so it is not surprising that results are not consistent yet. 

Facebook advertising has only been available to small businesses for a few years and it is constantly evolving. As a result, consistent best practices are tough to pin down without lots of testing. If you take into account budget, sector (books, sports, beauty products, whatever) goal (website clicks, conversion ads, etc.) and audience, it makes advertising on Facebook a challenge to maneuver. But not impossible.

Yes, some have reached their goals with Facebook ads, and some have not.

That doesn't mean that Facebook advertising is a scam. It can be done correctly and successfully. Facebook's ad platform is built on marketing best practices and if used correctly can be a good channel for supplementing book sales or building an email list.

There are many reasons why some ads fail, but I've found the most common one is when audience, budget, and goal do not match. 

  • The targeted audience is too big or too small. 
  • The budget is too small 
  • The length of the campaign is too long or short. 
  • Maybe you're trying website clicks when you should be using download as a goal. 

Going deep into all this is a post for another day. I just want to make the point that ad campaigns do fail…everywhere. Print, radio, TV, online, magazine, and emailall fail if done poorly, but that doesn't mean anybody has been scammed. 

Paid advertising takes some skill, so be prepared to spend time learning out how to optimize your chances of success.

(NOTE From Anne: As I've mentioned before, all writers would do well to add copywriting to their skill set these days. We need to learn to sell ourselves in our blurbs and ads. For more on how to write a good blurb, see Ruth Harris's post, 8 Tips for Writing that Killer Blurb. No matter how much you spend on advertising, if the copy doesn't sell the book, we're wasting our money.)

The Good, The Bad, And The Really Ugly

So we've established that sometimes legitimate ad platforms can produce poor results when not used well. But there is a huge difference between ads that fail on legitimate platforms and platforms that are just hype. 

In order to recognize the scam platforms we are looking for a couple indicators:

1. Best practices in marketing are clearly violated. 

This is where your due diligence comes in. For instance, with a little research from legitimate marketing companies like HubSpot and Buffer, we can find out how to use hashtags (#tags) correctly. 

HubSpot, a free source of top marketing research, reported early in 2014 that hashtags can raise the engagement of a post, sometimes by as much as 55%. People wanting to game the system then started a practice called hashtag stuffing where posts consist just of hashtags thinking they were getting peoples' attention. 

Buffer, another reliable data source, followed up Hubspot's research seeking to find out how many hashtags were the right number. 

They found that TWO were optimum and anything over two caused engagement rates to drop severely. Most people can tell innately that a tweet full of hashtags is annoying but it is nice to have research to validate that gut feeling.

(I ditto that! Tweets full of hashtags make me crazy. I'm so glad to hear they don't even work. So people can stop that now, okay?...Anne)

If you come across a service that uses hashtag stuffing, run the other direction. One that likes to target authors is called Tweet Generator. Another is content.mo whose services I have tested. 

A better option is to develop a team of ambassadors on Twitter that will help you magnify your messages. Use your loyal readers to help.

(But make sure they are actually loyal readers. Following random strangers and expecting them to do your advertising won't sell books. But it WILL get you unfollowed...Anne)

 Do the work yourself and save your money.

Also, an analysis of this company's top 20 influencers did not produce one account that would be in the market for my books.

My $19 produced zero sales and zero new Twitter followers. Maybe I should have spent more money.

But alas, here's a review from author Stefan Edmunds, who purchased a five-day tweet package. Also no sales.

Scam artists know what they are doing. They are playing on people's pain points and ignorance. 

They can build fake followings completely on accounts that follow back automatically. Keep in mind that all you need to start a Twitter account is an email address. It's an ugly, dark business. There is no verification to make sure that real people are setting up accounts. These companies abound on the internet. 

Hint: if their website looks like it was put up in ten minutes and has no names of real people behind the company or an about page with contact information, beware.

2. The company uses deceptive marketing messages to fool prospective buyers. 

Scamming websites often make outrageous promises about their audiences and their results. If they say they have hundreds of thousands of fans, that doesn't mean that any of them are qualified book buyers.

Or even real people.

Buying followers is also very common (and cheap) on Twitter and many of these followers are fake accounts set up by "farms" of online workers setting up and maintaining fake accounts to service scamming websites. If they say they have 500,000 followers, look at their accounts. See who their followers are.

I ran a test with a couple different promotions just to see what kind of results I could get. The company I used boasts three different Twitter accounts with 375,000 followers. 

I want to add that it is fairly easy to amass Twitter followers if you know what you are doing. For instance, this particular company is supposedly followed by LeBron James, according to the report I ran on their followers on the Social Analytics site, Simply Measured

But the real LeBron James only follows 184 people. 

So, on a whim I looked through them all. This company was not there. And, their fake LeBron James has only three million followers while the real King James has 23 million. This LeBron James page is a fake account built to fool people into following. It has been followed by millions of people who think it 's the real thing. At three million, it adds impressive numbers to their fake reach numbers.

If you are really interested in trying a paid Twitter promotion, try one just for authors run by someone with publishing experience. Also try searching for reviews of the company on Google.

Once you learn how to recognize the snake oil, you will save yourself a lot of grief and money.

Not all digital advertising opportunities are created equal. But the first step is being able to distinguish the legitimate offerings from the scams.

If you have a question about advertising platforms, send me an email at chris@cksyme.com. I 'll do my best to find you a good answer.

Chris Syme has over 20 years experience in communications and marketing and is the principal of CKSyme Media Group. She is a former university media relations professional, a frequent speaker on the national stage, and the author of two books on social media: Listen, Engage, Respond and Practice Safe Social 2.0. Her agency won the 2014 SoMe Award for Social Media Agency Of The Year. Her new book, SMART Social Media For Authors is now available on Amazon for pre-order here. You can follow her on Twitter @cksyme and get more information on her agency’s blog for authors here.

What about you, Scriveners? Do you have any questions for Chris? Have you ever bought an advertising campaign that fizzled? Do you think it was a scam? What advice do you have for new writers who want to advertise their book on a budget? 


Social media is confusing. You're worn out trying to replicate the success of other authors without much luck. Before you give up, get some common-sense advice from a 20-year marketing veteran.

Author Chris Syme believes that trying to mimic the success of other authors is a dangerous and expensive strategy. If you understand the "why" behind marketing tactics, you'll learn how to make strong marketing decisions that will produce results.

In SMART Social Media For Authors you'll discover:

  • The five rules of SMART marketing and how to use them to develop your first successful plan 
  • How to identify must-have social media channels that fit your goals 
  • The fundamental planning steps most authors skip at their peril 
  • How to run short- and long-term digital advertising campaigns 
  • And much, much more! 
If you've struggled to make social media work for you, then you'll love Syme's user-friendly, easy-to-implement, and to-the-point social media strategies.

Buy the book to get your marketing on track today!


The Poisoned Pencil: New YA publisher open to submissions! The well-known mystery publisher The Poisoned Pen now has a YA imprint. They accept unagented manuscripts and offer an advance of $1000. Submit through their website submissions manager. Response time is 4-6 weeks.

Open call for the Independent Women Anthology: short stories (flash fiction included), poetry, essays, artwork, or any other woman and/or feminist-centered creative work. 10,000 word max. All genres but explicit erotica. $100 per short story, $50 for flash, poetry, and photography/artwork. All profits will be donated to the Pixel Project Charity to end Violence Against Women. Deadline January 31, 2016 with a goal of publication on International Women's Day, March 8, 2016.

TETHERED BY LETTERS' FALL 2015 LITERARY CONTEST ENTRY FEES: $7-$15 Currently accepting submissions for short stories (1,000 to 7,500 words, open genre), flash fiction (55, 250, or 500 words), and poetry (maximum of three pages per poem). All winners will be published in F(r)iction. All finalists will receive free professional edits and be considered for later publication. The prizes are $500 short story $150 flash fiction, and $150 for poetry. Multiple entries accepted. International submissions welcome. Deadline December 1.

The Ernest Hemingway Flash Fiction Contest. $10 fee Unpublished fiction. 1500 words or less. Simultaneous submissions ARE welcome. All entries will be considered for publication in Fiction Southeast. (a prestigious journal that has published people like Joyce Carol Oates) Winner gets $200 and publication. Deadline: Dec. 1st

Writers' Village International Short Fiction Award winter 2015. Cash prizes totaling $3200.Ten further Highly Commended entrants will have their stories acknowledged at the site and gain a free entry in the next round. Entry fee $24 INCLUDES A PROFESSIONAL CRITIQUE. Any genre of prose fiction may be submitted up to 3000 words, except plays and poetry. Entries are welcomed worldwide. Multiple entries are permitted. Deadline: November 30th.

The IWSG Short Story Anthology Contest 2015.  NO FEE! The top ten stories will be published in an anthology. (Authors will receive royalties on sales.) Eligibility: Any member of the Insecure Writer's Support Group is encouraged to enter – blogging or Facebook member (no fee to join the IWSG). The story must be previously unpublished. Entry is free. Word count: 5000-6000. Theme: Alternate History/Parallel Universe. Deadline: November 1st

$20 ENTRY FEE. 7000 word limit.The winning story will receive $2,000 and publication on the site. Second and third place stories will receive $200 and $100, publication, and all story winners will receive a critique. Fifteen finalists will be recognized online and have their stories read by the VanderMeers. Deadline October 31.

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Blogger Melodie Campbell said...

I had no idea hashtags were an annoyance to many people! Once again, I have learned something on 'Sundays with Anne' - I'll limit myself to two.
On the ad front, the ONLY ads that paid off for me were Bookbub. I tried Goodreads ads, thinking they target directly to market, and they do: however, the market on Goodreads isn't looking for ads. Only a sale or two. Not recommended.

October 11, 2015 at 10:07 AM  
Blogger Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Think I need to pick up his book.
I'm not on Facebook, so not concerned with ads there. But I am on Twitter and I've being followed by three to five companies a day who promise a ton of followers. I've never even considered looking into any of them. Good to know that two hashtags is best - that's what I've been using this past two weeks in a Twitter image campaign.
Shame BookBub's prices went through the roof. My publisher used them almost two years ago for one of my books, but when they tried again earlier this year with another book, the price had tripled - and they were denied. (I think they were glad they were denied...)

October 11, 2015 at 10:11 AM  
Blogger CS Perryess said...

Fascinating stuff. Thanks Chris & Anne.

October 11, 2015 at 10:17 AM  
Blogger Louis Shalako said...

Since I don't have any money, I don't have to worry too much about scams. But fine-tuning the skills can't hurt. If you want to add followers, all you have to do is sit there and click. By posting interesting content, you can add a few followers every day. Part of that is simply by being 'active'. But you lose followers as well. The trick is to gain them faster than you lose them. As to whether you can really sell a lot of books via Twitter is a good question. It might help to give books away. How 'sticky' that is in terms of sales is a good question. The real key is making a good product.

October 11, 2015 at 10:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Melodie--I think it's harder for people with fading eyesight to see those hashtags. They tend to be a lighter color so they're harder to see.

Thanks for the info on Goodreads. I stay away from GR because I've had run-ins with the bullies there, but I know lots of people do use their ads. Good to know we don't have to bother!

October 11, 2015 at 1:44 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Alex--I agree that BookBub has got too high-priced for most indies and small presses. They're great for the Big 5 looking to promote their backlist, but most of the rest of us have to look elsewhere.

October 11, 2015 at 1:46 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

CS--This can get kind of confusing for the author who isn't published yet, but it's good to know this stuff for when your books do come out. Publishers expect us to do so much of the promotion these days.

October 11, 2015 at 1:48 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Louis--I don't know if Twitter sells many books or not. I know it's essential for getting word out about blogposts. I mostly don't set out to get followers. But if somebody RTs me or posts something I like, I follow them. They usually follow back. And I follow back most people who follow me. (Unless they're selling Twitter followers. :-) Knowing they're following me just to sell my name is pretty annoying. I'm kind of amazed they're so blatant about that.)

October 11, 2015 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger mindprinter said...

Something I knew zero about. Now much more. Thank you both, Anne and Chris, for such great info on marketing. It's also nice to know there is someone out there who can answer questions when you think something is a scam. Paul

October 11, 2015 at 1:51 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Paul--I know you're with a small press. I've found that most small presses tend to be behind the curve on social media marketing. And they usually don't have much of a budged for advertising. They tell you to get on FB and Twitter but don't tell you much else. Some, like Alex's publisher, do pay for newsletter ads, which used to be cost effective, but they may not be any more. It's tough to know what direction to go in with marketing these days.

October 11, 2015 at 1:55 PM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

I agree about Goodreads Melodie. I just don't think people are thinking about buying books there yet. I ran two trial campaigns with no success.

October 11, 2015 at 2:47 PM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Louis- part of the reason we lose followers is that many of them are fishing for follow-backs and if you don't, they will drop you. Twitter has a policy about the number of people you can follow in relation to how many follow you so. Accounts are capped after you follow 2000 people until the number of people that follow you reaches Twitters ratio. It is a formula they use to try and prevent abuse and spam. Many people are trying to stay away from that limit by dropping people that don't follow back.

October 11, 2015 at 2:51 PM  
Anonymous Chris Syme said...

Paul-If you are looking to stay up to date on scams I recommend following the Writer Beware site: http://accrispin.blogspot.com/ Victoria's site always has the latest info on everything from marketing to vanity publishing to whatever is out there aimed at authors.

October 11, 2015 at 2:56 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Chris—Thank you for sound and sensible guidance. Author scamming probably dates back to the days we used a chisel and clay tablet to get our books out. Remember the agents who used to advertise their "fee reading" service?

October 11, 2015 at 3:11 PM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Haha Ruth, you are so right. Shysters are plentiful and the anonymity of the internet just fuels the fire.

October 11, 2015 at 3:15 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Ruth--Unfortunately, those "agents" are b-a-a-a-ck. I've run into two newbie writers recently who had been told they had to pay a fee for a "real read" from an agent. Now the indie thing doesn't seem like such a magic-carpet ride to riches, the scammers in trad pubbing seem to be resurfacing. Alas.

October 11, 2015 at 3:20 PM  
Blogger Roland D. Yeomans said...

Thank you for your FB post letting me know about that Bangledsh site offering positive reviews on Amazon for $7 each. I have just bought two dozen for my latest book! Just kidding. I do not want to become another John Locke.

Actually, I have given up hope for my books -- which frees me up to just write where my muse and heart leads me with no social media to drain my writing time.

Thanks for all your helpful posts.

October 11, 2015 at 3:28 PM  
Blogger Ruth Harris said...

Anne and Chris— Plus ça change! I had a friend (he went on to a dazzling career) who was one of the readers when he was first starting out in publishing. There was a hefty quota of how many mss had to be read and returned with comments each day. You can image the high-quality help aspiring authors got from this!

October 11, 2015 at 3:30 PM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

Another one for my files to use when the time is right (although things change so quickly these days, it's hard to know what will work even months from now!) Thanks Chris and Anne for a well-researched, informative post.

October 11, 2015 at 3:51 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Roland--Ha! And even better, you can buy a bad review for some other poor writer you consider a "rival" and really screw up your karma!

I think that sometimes giving up all expectations and just letting the muse take you where she will is the best plan of all. What worked for somebody else probably won't work for everybody and when we start chasing every new marketing scheme that comes along, we drive ourselves nuts. I'll bet you're enjoying your writing time more.

October 11, 2015 at 4:05 PM  
Blogger Patricia said...

As always, very helpful, especially since I am in the middle of buying promotional tools and help; but I'm using a list from one of your previous blogs and it's been VERY helpful. Thank you for all you do for us writers.

October 11, 2015 at 5:22 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Jan--It's true that things change quickly, but one thing remains constant: scammers try to exploit new writers. Take care!

October 11, 2015 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Patricia--Thanks! I'm glad to know our previous posts have been helpful. Ruth has used a number of tools to "move the merch" and she's got some great insights.

October 11, 2015 at 8:03 PM  
Blogger Carol Hedges said...

The 'latest' scams seem to be people offering book reviews to up your book in the Amazon ratings..and ..a REALLY'clever' one...how to play the Kindle system by offering your book for free...then not...then using the rating boost..then offering it for free...etc etc....I never PAY for advertising..for all the reasons you both say, which I have always suspected tp be true. I do promo, with appropriate #, but mainly hoe that my sparkling personality and witty presence will sell my stuff...Oh and the 2 'free' blogs I offer every week. The hard work is MY hard work! But it works..mainly coz I realize that I'm not going to make a fortune at writing. Great blog post, btw!

October 12, 2015 at 12:04 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Excellent points, Chris. I can attest to them, from 12 months of pain. Ads on KND and elsewhere didn't work for me and I'm not about to gamble a four figure sum on Bookbub. But here's a BIG warning: avoid paid blog tours! I paid a promoter $200 for a trial book tour. It didn't sell a single book. Why? Some of the promised reviews didn't appear. But above all, none of the review sites scheduled had any Alexa rank at all. That meant they got no visitors. They were presumably charging the tour promoter to display my book but nobody was seeing it. (You can tell a scam or shell site by looking at the comments below a post. No comments suggests few visitors.)

Some authors have told me 'I love blog tours!' But when pressed, they have no idea if they made any sales. Blog tours exist solely for ego glow - and to provide an income for tour promoters.

October 12, 2015 at 3:39 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Roland- I agree that marketing our books should never get so burdensome that it becomes draining. But there is hope. If you start small, keep it manageable, and do a little learning up front about best practices, you should be able to feel good about it. Maybe someday when you feel you have the head space for it, you can tackle it again. But smart marketing is not chasing every new marketing scheme that comes along. It's purposeful and informed. Once you clear that hurdle, I think you feel a lot better about the process. It is something we can learn, not something we have to guess at. Good luck!

October 12, 2015 at 3:43 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Carol- I definitely think you have the right idea. If your fans can make a connection with you and that creates an emotional response on their part, then you have the main part of the battle won. Social media really just helps us develop that more. Good luck with your writing. And I like the way you think about your blog as as valuable content for your fans.

October 12, 2015 at 3:46 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Dr John- It's sad to hear an author talk about pain when it comes to promotion but it is a jungle out there for sure. Just a word about blog tours. I have a client that networks with author friends and they put their own "tours" together on Facebook instead of their blogs. But the goal is not to sell books, it is to increase the number of fans on their Facebook page and get more email sign-ups. They each have a time slot on a given day, ask a few fun questions, talk about their books, give away a few prizes and ask fans to like their pages and sign up for their email list. We've had a lot of success with those two goals but they are not designed to sell books, just build each other's platforms and get more email addresses. We don't do paid blog tours. Tried them a couple years ago with the same result you had. Sorry you had a bad experience.

October 12, 2015 at 3:56 AM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

Thanks, Anne. I will! <3

October 12, 2015 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Jan M. Leotti said...

That's supposed to be a heart. :)

October 12, 2015 at 11:03 AM  
Blogger Claude Forthomme said...

I had a bad experience too with blog tours - just like Dr. John.

Which brings me to another important point about scams; and, btw, Chris, thanks for an excellent insightful post! But I wanted to add this which I think is pretty important: always check the Alexa ranking of any website you plan to use for your marketing!

Chris, I would love to know what is your view of the usefulness of Alexa ranking and how to evaluate them...

October 13, 2015 at 3:03 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Great question Claude. I don't really put much credence in Alexa--that might be a bone of contention based on what I see here, but let me tell you why. Alexa's rankings are based on the lowest entry level of data--site visits. And yes, it is a third party site so their data is correct as far as they can measure. They are not Google so they do not have access to everything. Most of their data is derived from member sites, so if you embed Alexa's code in your website, they have very reliable data for that site. I don't think their main business is ranking blogs. Their main business is providing competitive analysis for your own website. But all that aside, it may be a good place to start. But I wouldn't make a decision based on that alone. I digress-- let's return to the data of site visits and what that means for judging a blog's potential to sell your books. I am not sure the data they provide (which is good) is the data I should be looking at to judge their ability to sell my books.

I am much more interested in two other metrics that I believe are better indicators of a website's ability to generate sales that should be easily obtainable from blogs that sell their services, no matter what type of advertising it is: subscribers and social proof.

A blog's subscriber has taken an action--they have opted in to receiving their information from that source. So they have declared there is value there for them. Any reputable blog should be able to tell you their subscriber rate and their monthly visits. If they cannot, don't waste your money. If they are serious about selling their credibility, they will probably be serious about delivering for you.

Social proof means they have real people that have used their services that I can contact to find out their experiences. If they won't give you people to reach for recommendations, don't waste your money. Social proof can also come in the form of peer recommendations. Ask on forums like KBoards or ALLi or author Facebook groups, especially in your genre. Look for reviews online by searching their blog name with the word review in the search.

Reputable advertising outlets will be anxious to give you their data. Just one word of caution: if a blog is relying on social media followers for proof, that is a yellow flag to me. Anybody can buy or game followers these days. If you want proof in that area, look at their Facebook presence and not their Twitter account. Fake followers are harder to pull off on Facebook just because their system is more wired to catch them--especially purchased fake followers.

I try and remember that anyone can drive traffic to their blog with good SEO and promises of offers on social media. But getting them to take an action there is much better proof that their followers are willing to take other actions like buy your book. Unethical advertisers can have high site visit numbers. It is only an indicator of traffic, not a measure of qualified buyers.

Finally--put the call out to your author friends for recommendations or stories of their experiences. Get on Facebook author groups and ask questions. Most of all, share your stories. Review your poor experience online in a forum, if it is appropriate. The more authors are willing to step forward and say, "I had a bad experience here", the more others will learn to avoid the same pitfalls.

Claude, I am sorry about your bad experience. Good luck in your writing.

October 13, 2015 at 3:57 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Carol--Those paid reviews are a menace. And review numbers DO NOT raise your numbers on Amazon. Only sales do that. The number of reviews only matters in buying Bookbub and other newsletter ads.

And Amazon is cracking down on those paid reviews. People who get caught not only lose their reviews (sometimes the legit ones, too) but they also can get banned from Amazon for life. See my post on Paid Reviews: Why Authors Should Never Pay for Amazon Reader Reviews. http://annerallen.blogspot.com/2015/05/paid-reviews-why-authors-should-never.html

You're doing just the right thing engaging with readers on your blog. I think blogging and guest blogging are powerful tools for becoming "visible' in the marketplace.

October 13, 2015 at 10:22 AM  
Blogger Claude Forthomme said...

Thanks Chris, that's HUGELY useful. Of course, you're right, Alexa provides only one metric - about overall traffic - and doesn't say zilch about whether these people sell books on their site with any kind of success, certainly nothing like "social proof". I know Alexa belongs to Amazon and I find it surprising that they don't try to improve their site - particularly since (inevitably) Amazon's into book marketing with the Kindle Store. Because when one speaks of "ranking", the only site that comes to mind is Alexa and that's potentially big! And it still is a good first indicator (after all, a site with no traffic is hardly going to be able to do anything at all, least of all sell books) - but as you say, an overall traffic indicator is far from sufficient in our case.

October 13, 2015 at 10:52 AM  
Blogger Dr John Yeoman said...

Excellent advice, Chris. Metrics like Alexa are only guidelines. My own Alexa rank goes up and down every day in tune with the pollen count: 110,000 one day, 190,000 the next. Provided I stay below 200,000 I reckon I'm doing okay. A more reliable metric is how many comments do you see below the blog posts? Again, mine vary between 25 and 185 per post. My 'best', most original or cerebral posts have pulled the fewest comments. The ones I drivelled out in 20 minutes pulled down the chandeliers. Why? Check the pollen count...

I agree that 'Unethical advertisers can have high site visit numbers.' If their site goes viral on Pinterest or Stumbleupon - not difficult if they include the word 'scandal' in a post title - they'll be hit by 10,000 trolls and children. (Note: never go viral on Stumbleupon. It happened to me once. Comment spam everywhere.)

But I disagree that reputable sites will give you their site data. Why should they? That's proprietary information. True, if they're selling advertising, it's a must. But otherwise? Better to check their Alexa ranks and comments! Those don't lie...

October 16, 2015 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

John--I'm so glad to read that you had a similar experience with Stumbleupon. One of our posts went viral there and we got all these trollish comments. Then I tried going to Stumbleupon and found out I'd been blocked! And I'd only been there a couple of times. But somebody had shared a post somebody else didn't like and...disaster. Now I just pretend it doesn't exist.

You've got better Alexa stats than me, although once we did go below 100K. I think your pollen count theory may be on the right track.

But I agree that a ballpark Alexa rating helps. Like if there's "no data" or the number is in the high millions, paying to be on the site is probably not going to have a good ROI.

October 16, 2015 at 5:23 PM  
Blogger Jewel Rahman said...

It's a cracking article really. Concisely written and full of useful advice and links. I’ll definitely be bookmarking and sharing. Thanks you for sharing.

October 17, 2015 at 11:04 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, Jewel!

October 17, 2015 at 2:07 PM  
Blogger Florence Cronin said...

Anne, you and your army of experts continue to amaze me with talent, tips and temptations. I might need any of this right now, but I am collecting quite a library of blogs and books that will serve me well down the road.

As always, your posts are wonderful !! :)

October 17, 2015 at 8:39 PM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

Thanks, Florence!

October 18, 2015 at 9:17 AM  
Blogger Chris Syme said...

Dr. John-
Most reputable advertising sites will share their data as a way to validate their advertising potential.Site visits and unique visitors are not proprietary. Just to clarify: if you are considering buying ads on a site, they should be more than willing to give you their numbers: subscriptions, site visits, unique visitors. Now they can lie, I suppose. And there, Alexa is a good back up. My other filter is to look at recommendations by other authors and search for reviews on Google. My only problem is that every site doesn't have reputable data on Alexa.

October 22, 2015 at 6:44 AM  
Blogger G. B. Miller said...

Very delusion in regards to querying. It took me until I was doing my 2nd and 3rd go-round to realize how badly I messed up the 1st go-round (and yes, I seriously stunk up the East Coast with my querying).

Had the right idea about self-publishing, except it took me over 3 years to recover from the ASI fiasco I graced my ego with.



November 1, 2015 at 11:55 AM  
Blogger Anne R. Allen said...

G. B. You scrolled down through a couple of old posts before you hit "comments" so this one showed up on an old post. I copied and pasted it into today's post.

Here's my reply: "G. B.--Thanks for speaking up about ASI. You are not the only writer to have been waylaid by a vanity press! They make their packages sound so professional and they even team up with the Big Five. Then they have you under contract and it's hell to break free.

And I so much hear you about the stinky queries. I had file drawers full of them that I only finally tossed a couple of years ago. Cringe-making! I was the master of the two page verbose query. Unreadable stuff."

November 1, 2015 at 2:34 PM  

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