My background is heavily in online marketing and SEO; I love this stuff! Feel free to email me at email@example.com or leave questions in the comments below.
Shepherd is out of beta as of May 2023!
Soon we will plan an "official" launch event.
What do we need to finish before we do that?
- Genre and age bookshelves added to the front page
- Genre and age integrated into search
- Genre and age bookshelves integrated into the recommendation areas of the website
We should finish all of those in July 2023.
What is Shepherd's marketing plan for 2023?
We are focused on three external marketing channels currently:
- Search Engine Traffic - We work to rank pages on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. This helps readers discover the website and builds our brand with them. The goal is that the next time readers look for a book, they come directly to Shepherd. Growing this channel is my primary focus for 2022 and 2023. Search engine traffic is very valuable as it brings in readers looking to buy a book (unlike social media, where they are just browsing with no specific aim).
- Social Media - We encourage authors to share their book list on social media. Not only does this help the author sell their book and engage their fan base, but it also helps introduce readers to the entire author community at Shepherd. Shepherd itself is not active on social media; that is something we will be planning once we have maximized the search engine marketing channel and upcoming email marketing channel (more on why below).
- (Coming Q4 2023) Email - We will launch a custom book recommendation newsletter for readers - This will launch in the second half of 2023 and will be my other marketing focus (in addition to the search engine marketing channel). Building a list of readers who want book recommendations is very valuable. It is a medium we control and is full of active buyers (unlike social media, where they are just browsing with no specific aim).
Shepherd is pursuing a wagon wheel strategy, starting with the spokes.
This means we are starting with the book lists as they are the spokes. The idea is you build the outside of the wheel first, as those are the easiest terms to rank for, and then slowly build the inner wheel and go after more competitive search phrases (such as fantasy books, nonfiction books, and so on).
The book recommendation lists are the heart of Shepherd, and we started with them for three key reasons:
- We wanted to ensure the book lists delighted readers and authors and drove book sales. They are the core of our services to readers and authors, and if they don't work, nothing works (good news, they work really well). We could test our assumptions and evolve quickly by launching with these first. And these lists power upcoming features like the topic and genre pages, so it made sense to start here.
- It takes at least three years for Google to start ranking a website for competitive searches (oversimplification but the gist of it). Launching as quickly as possible made sense to start building trust in their eyes.
- The book recommendation lists are pursuing long tail keyword searches on Google, making them the easiest to rank for. We wanted to start there and work toward the harder search phrases to rank for.
Now that those are doing well, we are moving to the short tail by launching topic pages, genre pages, age pages, and a new front page. Those are all designed to delight readers and rank for high-volume competitive searches on search engines.
What is coming next?
Now that we have a solid base, we will start big marketing pushes. What types of things will that be?
- New Book Discovery Formats - I am testing new formats to help authors bump into readers in unique ways (fiction and nonfiction). I am going to start testing these on readers in 2022. And you can now sign up for them here as we get ready to launch those in 2023:
- Social Media - I will work with social media influencers to create content to delight & engage their audiences while also introducing them to Shepherd. The goal is to share amazing books and attract more readers to the site.
- Big Content Pieces - Creating set pieces of content for larger marketing pushes. So this would be things like "80 books around the world" and promoting our author's books and lists while creating a unique book browsing experience for readers. And then, we will work on getting that content in front of travel websites, media, and others.
- Social Media - We will be testing ways to help with social media amplification and letting authors know when another author has picked their book as one of their favorites.
- Old School Media - We will pitch our unique story to more prominent media brands.
Why we were not active on social media?
Currently, our work with social media is focused on supporting our authors and their audiences.
Eventually, we will have more of a social media presence, but not for a while, given the low value of these channels versus search and email. We want to focus our finite resources on the highest impact work, and that is with channels we control, like our newsletter, SEO, or content marketing. Social media has repeatedly screwed everyone who uses it (especially Facebook), and we won't invest in it until we have maxed out the higher-value channels.
Why are email and search a higher-value channel?
Because the people using those are looking to buy a book rather than just browsing random stuff on social media. When someone searches for "books about space" or signs up to get book recommendations every two weeks, that strongly indicates they are looking to buy a book. Thus that traffic is far more valuable than the random person who sees something about books on their Facebook feed.
As we progress, I will share concrete plans as we get time to test more and figure out the highest impact features to move forward on. We are lean and resource-limited, so I try to make sure what we are doing has the highest return for authors and readers.