Advertising on Goodreads
Goodreads is packed with my favorite kind of person. Readers. In fact, Goodreads was made for readers. But they also welcome that other type of person, the one with an agenda, you and me, the writers.
The resulting friction is not lost on Goodreads, and they do their best to make sure the experience is good for book lovers of all bents. Simply put, Goodreads, while a bit obtuse, is a microcosm of all the reading/writing forums you’ve ever joined on the Web. It’s rules-heavy, with discussions and contests and promotions bombarding you on every page. The end result is a Wild West of niche groups, having a blast enjoying each other.
One note of caution for you. Don’t expect to luck out on your first group. I’m still searching for my home on Goodreads, and I’ve been enjoying the site daily for a year!
In the midst of this carnival are ads. Small, but visible, meekly raising their little ad hands in the air and whispering “…hey…look at me…”
Goodreads recently started a test service called Goodreads Self-serve Advertising. You can buy cheap ad space on the right or left column of some of their pages. The ads consist of a small image, ad copy and a link to wherever you want. You can set aside any amount as your spending limit (I chose 10 bucks for my test) and you can track your ad’s performance.
The big benefit of ads on Goodreads is that everyone who sees the ad is more likely than the public at large to be interested in your book ad. Still, to ensure you get the most bang for your buck Goodreads allows you to target your ad, meaning you can offer the ad to certain kinds of Goodreads customers. They allow you to show your ads only to people who enjoy (for instance) mystery and YA. You can choose as many genres as you’d like to target, but it’s a fine line you’ll walk in trying to target correctly. If you target too broadly you risk getting people clicking on your ad who are not interested in your kind of book. That’s wasted money. Conversely, if you target too specifically you can filter out perfectly good customers and not see anyone click on your ad at all.
You can also target customers by the author they like, which is an interesting filter that I plan to test out more in my next campaign. First, I need to find out from my current readers who they think I’m similar to!
Here’s what I did for my test ad campaign on Goodreads. I advertised two books in my Middle-Grade series, Shirley Link. I set my daily budget to 2 bucks. That meant I was planning to pay for a max of 4 clicks per day on my ad (they advise you spend 50 cents per click, but you can spend .10 to $300 per click). I set 10 bucks as the campaign budget, meaning I planned on eventually paying for 20 clicks at 50 cents each.
daily cap $2.00
total credit purchased $10.00
total views 116,129
total clicks 20
ctr for all time 0.02% (ctr means “click-through rate” and measures how many people actually clicked on an ad)
cpc for all time $0.50 (cpc means “cost per click”)
The ten bucks took over a month to spend. I started fast out of the gate, but the activity stopped fast, and I was stuck at having a few bucks credit to spend. The reason for this, according to Goodreads, is that they aggressively push all ads at first to see what performs well. If an ad gets a lot of clicks then they give it preferential treatment. They claim this is a service to their readers because they’re highlighting the popular ads. Take that with a grain of salt. The fact is they make more money quicker by highlighting high performance ads. Fair enough. It’s their site!
A lot of people had the ad put in front of their faces. 116,129 views to be exact. A “view” is simply defined as “your ad showed up on the person’s web page”. Goodreads can’t actually guarantee that someone saw and read the ad, they can only tell me that 116,129 people had the ad served to a page that they loaded. Of those 116,129 Goodreads people, 20 people clicked on my ad. That is .02% CTR.
While that sounds miserable, it’s likely a middling result. Word of mouth amongst authors who advertise on Goodreads is that a super-success would be half a percent point. That makes sense since Goodreads doesn’t give you a sexy place on their page to put your ad.
Did my targeting work? Kind of. I targeted one ad using genres and authors as filters. I used no targeting for the other ad. The ctr was higher for the targeted ad (.01% vs. .02%).
When the ads started to perform poorly, I made them link off to my Goodreads page, and not to my Amazon pages. That simple move seems to have pushed it over the top and my ten bucks quickly got spent. A definite benefit of linking to Goodreads’ book page is that I saw a spike in my books being added to Goodreads’ bookshelves.
But did they buy anything?
This is where I learned my biggest lesson. Because I don’t have a sale page on my personal website where I can track traffic, I can’t see how many people actually bought the books. I can look at the dates when the ads ran and guess but that’s not a good way to measure these things.
My conclusion is that it’s best to have a page with a shopping cart on your own site so you can check the traffic for your site and see “oh, he came from Goodreads.com and he browsed the excerpt, then looked around at other books, then bought a copy on my site.” This way you can see how successful the ad campaign is AND tweak your ad and/or purchase experience next time around.
Some writers suggest using an Amazon/Smashwords/etc. affiliate link. This way you can go to your Amazon/Smashwords/etc. dashboard and see the conversion rate. I plan on trying this next time, but there are reports of Goodreads denying affiliate links (though they don’t explicitly forbid them in their rules anywhere). In addition, the ideal data, in my opinion, is the kind you get from using your traffic tracking service of choice.
Goodreads, for their part, advises ad buyers to make their ads link to the book’s Goodreads page. They likely do this for two reasons:
1) They want to keep traffic on their site, not send everyone to Amazon
2) The Goodreads customer likes their ads to stay within the Goodreads ecosystem because they’re loyal and enjoy the experience.
Make a product/landing page that you can track!
Target the ad, but not too strictly. Limiting it to a few genres and several authors is a good place to start.
Adjust the ad when the views drop. Change the copy and graphic, if possible.
For first-timers/dabblers: If you don’t have a landing page of your own where you can sell the book directly, then point the ad to your Goodreads page, NOT an online retailer. Since it’s probably really attractive to link to the online retailers (just to see what happens) I’d wait to do it on your second campaign. That way you can spot your own ad’s performance and adjust around the most important part…the conversion!
I saw a substantial uptick in my ads’ performance when I did two things:
Updated the copy. I went for the soft sell, instead of the hard sell. I toned down the language and removed the “Get the book for Xmas”-type wording. The hard sell doesn’t work well on Goodreads.
I changed the ad so it linked to Goodreads instead of Amazon. This made the link at the bottom of the ad read “Goodreads” instead of “Amazon” which, again, appears to be what Goodreads customers prefer.
My goals for next campaign:
Get a full half percent ctr
Track my custom sales page!
So go forth, and experiment! My background is in videogame design, and I can tell you that diving into cheap, potentially effective advertising for your labor of love can be as fun as Angry Birds! Set a budget, set low expectations, watch closely, tweak with logic, watch closely some more and then sell some books!
For a breakdown of Goodreads ads from the horse’s mouth, read this: http://www.goodreads.com/help/list/advertisers
About the Author:
What do you want to be when you grow up? For a couple of decades I had a lot of answers to that question. I was a filmmaker, a travelling salesman, a bookseller, a videogame tester, and a videogame producer before I figured it out. What I discovered was that sometimes we save the best part for last. Now (and forever) I’m a writer.
Shirley Link, a series for kids 8-12 years old, has been my focus since 2012. Both books in the series have hit the top 5 in Teen Mysteries on Amazon, which was a dream come true. Shirley’s fun because she knows what she’s doing. There’s no stumbling across victory. She plans eight moves ahead. I could write her forever, and plan to.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t have other worlds ready to spring! In fact, I can’t wait to roll out my next series, The Camelot Kids. Merlin, the greatest wizard to ever live, may be prepared for the random rogue wizard, or a hive of hungry dragons. But is he ready for The Camelot Kids?
I live in Massachusetts, surrounded by the Forbidden Forest, with my wife and son. I’m scheduled to begin teaching classes in digital publishing and marketing at New York’s School of Visual Arts MFA Visual Narrative program in 2015.