My background is heavily in online marketing and SEO, and I love this type of stuff! Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave questions in the comments below.
Shepherd is in beta, what does that mean?
Beta means that the website is missing some key features. It is ready for authors and readers to start using it and still offers a great book discovery experience.
The key features I want to finish in order to exit beta are:
- T̶o̶p̶i̶c̶ ̶P̶a̶g̶e̶s̶ ̶(̶c̶l̶i̶c̶k̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶a̶r̶l̶y̶ ̶m̶o̶c̶k̶u̶p̶)̶ ̶-̶ ̶L̶a̶u̶n̶c̶h̶e̶d̶ ̶J̶a̶n̶u̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶1̶1̶t̶h̶!̶
- S̶e̶a̶r̶c̶h̶ ̶(̶c̶l̶i̶c̶k̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶a̶r̶l̶y̶ ̶m̶o̶c̶k̶u̶p̶)̶ ̶-̶ ̶L̶a̶u̶n̶c̶h̶e̶d̶ ̶J̶a̶n̶u̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶1̶1̶t̶h̶!̶
- ̶A̶ ̶n̶e̶w̶ ̶f̶r̶o̶n̶t̶ ̶p̶a̶g̶e̶ ̶(̶c̶l̶i̶c̶k̶ ̶f̶o̶r̶ ̶a̶n̶ ̶e̶a̶r̶l̶y̶ ̶m̶o̶c̶k̶u̶p̶)̶-̶ ̶L̶a̶u̶n̶c̶h̶e̶d̶ ̶F̶e̶b̶r̶u̶a̶r̶y̶ ̶1̶s̶t̶!̶ ̶
- A much improved book recommendation engine - Coming Q2 2022.
- Genre pages, sub pages, and filters - Coming Q3/Q4 2022 (more accurate estimate soon).
We launched on April 19th, 2021 and I am aiming to exit beta toward Summer/Fall 2022 (I'll have a better ETA soon). We will be planning a big "official" launch event as we get closer.
What is Shepherd's marketing plan while in beta?
We are focused on 3 external marketing channels currently:
- Search Engines - We work to rank pages on Google, Bing, and DuckDuckGo. This helps readers to discover the website and starts building our brand with them. The goal is that the next time readers are looking for a book they come directly to Shepherd. This is my main focus for 2022 and everything I am doing is focused on growing this channel.
- Social Media - We encourage authors to share their list on social media. Not only does this help the author sell their book and engage their readers, but it also helps introduce readers to us and the entire author community. 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 email marketing channel.
- (Coming Soon) - Email Newsletters - We are aiming to roll out our first tests for this channel in 2022. Followed by a full push to deliver customized emails based on what readers want to get book suggestions about each month.
And, here are our internal marketing channels:
- Recommendation Engine - We created a related book list feature that helps readers move through the website horizontally as they follow their curiosity from list to list and topic to topic. This feature will get a big improvement in Q1 2022.
- Bookshelves - Bookshelves are topic pages around things like World War 2, grief, microbiology, or dragons. We use NLP (a type of machine learning) to analyze what books are about and pull them into these sections to help readers browse for books in fun ways. The goal is to delight readers and help them find an author's book list. We have some big improvements coming to this section in 2022 around genre.
- Search - Search allows readers to find bookshelves and book lists based on topics they are interested in, favorite books, or favorite authors. The goal is to connect readers to bookshelves and book lists that interest them.
- (Coming Soon) Genre Pages & Integration - This is a huge addition and this will take up a lot of 2022. We will be adding genre pages around things like Fantasy or Science Fiction as well as filters and other tools to help readers browse for books in some very cool ways.
SEO: Shepherd is pursuing a wagon wheel strategy starting with the spokes.
This means that 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 you slowly build the inner wheel and go after more competitive search phrases.
The book recommendation lists are the heart of Shepherd and we started with them for 3 key reasons:
- We wanted to make sure the book lists delighted readers, 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 as they work really well). By launching with these first we could test our assumptions and evolve quickly. And, these lists power a lot of the next round of features like the topic pages so it made sense to start here.
- It takes at least 3 years for Google to start ranking your website for competitive searches (oversimplification but the gist of it). It made sense to launch as quickly as possible to start that countdown.
- The book recommendation lists are pursuing long tail keyword searches on Google so they are 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, and a new front page. Those are all designed to delight readers and rank for high volume highly competitive searches on Google and other search engines.
What is our marketing plan post beta?
Once we have a solid base and are out of beta we will start big marketing pushes. What types of things will that be?
- New Book Discovery Formats - I am playing with some cool new formats to help authors bump into readers in some very unique ways (fiction and nonfiction). I am going to start testing these on readers in 2022.
- Social Media - I am going to work with social media influencers to create content to delight & engage their audiences while also introducing their audiences to Shepherd.
- 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 working to get that content in front of travel websites, media, and others.
- Social Media - We will be testing some 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 be working to pitch our unique story to larger media brands.
A lot of authors ask me why we were not on social media in a big way. Currently, the work we do with social media is focused on supporting our authors and their audiences. One day we will have more of a social media presence but not for a while given the low value of these channels. We want to focus our finite resources on the highest impact work and that is with channels we control like our newsletter or 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 high value channels.
As we get further along 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.