How to Optimise Web Pages for Direct Sales
In the early twenty-tens, most authors still submitted manuscripts to traditional publishing houses and hoped to “get picked up” one day. Then the self-publishing movement gained traction and authors discovered they:
- Didn’t have to wait for approval and could publish themselves
- Could gain a larger royalty share by cutting out publishers
- Increased their chance of success by managing their own distribution and marketing
Self-publishing portals broke one barrier in the name of author independence. As the community has upskilled, however, we’ve come to realise that relying on retailers only really lets us bypass production gatekeepers.
If you really want to be independent then clearing all obstacles between you and your readers is the only real option. Think about it; while publishers no longer gatekeep, retailers and distributors retain a similar influence over most authors, whether for selling books, courses or merch. Say a retailer suddenly chooses not to recommend your books. What happens? Your sales diminish. Imagine they pull the plug altogether on video courses or merch. Those income streams and reviews disappear. Not only that, as retailers take payments on authors’ behalf, they control when and how you get paid, and what your readers get to see after buying an item.
Without these platforms’ ground-breaking software, many of us wouldn’t have readers. That said, there comes a time when every author asks, “How can I ensure my future?” The answer: selling directly from your website. Doing so, you’ll get better royalty rates, instant payments and control of what your readers see before and after a sale. A direct link! “Perfect!” we hear you shout, “but aren’t readers loyal to their favourite stores?” Surprisingly, many would rather support authors. It’s just that many author websites aren’t great. Master sales pages, however, and your readers will soon fill their carts. Today we’re sharing five tips to help you get started.
Optimise for Search
Authors have been optimising for retailer algorithms for so long that many of us feel like we can’t make a living without them. That’s one of the most commonly voiced concerns for going direct: “I’ll lose out on organic exposure!” But is that true? Not really. You just have to switch your focus from charming retailer algorithms to stimulating search engines. And if you can do the former, you can do the latter. Using genre- or trope-based keywords, for example, will attract a similar audience either way. The only difference is that you need to include them in different places. The terms and execution differ but both result in targeting readers through search.
In the case of keywords, for example, rather than adding them to a book title field in a self-publishing portal, include them in a webpage’s Heading 1 (H1). Likewise, instead of filling retailer keyword fields, add those same keywords as sub-headings (H2s) or as alt text on images. Accurate keywords will draw in a relevant audience. And how about also-boughts? Instead, encourage “backlinks” from thematically linked websites. The practice might sound alien but it simply tells search engines that your sales page will be popular with their audience, much like also-boughts do, leading to better search rankings but via Google or Bing rather than Amazon or Kobo.
Create a Persuasive Page
If you want your website sales pages to perform as well as a retailers’ then you must follow best ecommerce practices. Break the task into halves: copy — that’s marketing speak for “text” — and design. Think: how do companies sell books? Clearly signpost the genre for a start. Maybe mention comp titles readers love, and make the content sound interesting. Showcase your work’s unique selling points and positive reviews, and end your copy with a call-to-action-labelled button like “Buy Now.” Once you’ve done all that, consider using the page’s design to reinforce your claims. Genre-appropriate images, fonts and colours all help convert relevant readers.
Well-tested clinchers and pressure tactics also help close the deal. Which ones you use will simply depend on how “salesy” you want to be. You could, for instance, demonstrate the scarcity of limited-edition products by showing how many are in stock. Similarly, research suggests you’ll convert at a higher rate if you show an old, slashed price near a new lower one when running a promotion, and that you’ll convert more international readers if you set up your site to display prices in their local currency. Offering free shipping alone results in a reported 55% average conversation increase. These tactics won’t work for every author but they might for you.
Speed Up the User Journey
Slick sales pages will interest readers but that accounts for little if buying something then requires them to jump through hoops. Seriously, when it comes to shopping online, many readers will baulk at anything slow. Five clicks? They’re gone. A loading delay? Gone again. Luckily, there are ways to accelerate the buying process. Your first port-of-call should be technical. Do everything you can to improve your pages’ loading speed, like:
- Moving to a better hosting service
- Reducing your image sizes
- Hosting videos externally
No matter how you do it, speed up your website and you’ll convince more visitors to reach your checkout page.
Once you’ve completed a tech audit, next you need to think like a User Experience (UX) designer. Ask yourself, “How can I make this sales process more efficient? That might mean weighing up the costs versus the benefits of a pop-up. It might require you to shorten the click path. Could you turn a paragraph into an accessible diagram to simplify a page? Do you really need that redirect? How about moving the buy button up so shoppers don’t have to scroll? That last option, by the way, typically increases conversions by 2.5%. Frustratingly, the sweet spot for every audience is different. Hence, test and optimise to uncover a user journey that works for your readers.
Offer Expert Assistance
Sometimes it’s worth including the option for website visitors to book a sales call with a representative of your brand. Admittedly, this tactic only works if you sell high-ticket items so won’t be cost efficient for most authors. That said, it could be useful for you. Say, for instance, you’re a non-fiction author who accompanies your books with four-figure training courses, or you’re a sci-fi author selling premium subscription boxes full of high-tech merch that requires a costly deposit. Those are big purchases which many readers will only buy if someone can first answer their questions. Expert assistance in the form of an employee will help close those deals.
Skilled salespeople are expensive and they’ll need training to sell your wares. Providing you have an established brand and can reliably feed them enough calls to turn a profit, however, this tactic might be viable. You see, while a sales page can have limited dynamic content to cater for individual visitors, an adept salesperson is infinitely versatile. They can discuss specific reader pain points and tailor their responses based on who they encounter on the other end of the phone. Yes, hiring an expert may cost you six figures a year in salary and commissions but that’ll be worth it if they can bring in multi-six figures in profit for your author business.
No sales page will ever be good enough to convert 100% of visitors the first time they visit your site. That’s not a problem, though, because you can set up effective website sales pages to “retarget” those shoppers. This strategy turns each one that got away into an acquaintance your products can “bump into” elsewhere on the internet with a second enticing offer. There are two basic ways to do it. An effective one is to capture their email address. Most people understand getting readers to trade this detail in exchange for a free ebook. However, you can also get it by prompting them to fill in a wish list of your books and creating an account to access the list.
What if that doesn’t work? No problem. You can still reach them via paid ads. While it may seem impossible to target website visitors without them first handing over information, it’s easy if you embed Meta pixels and Google tags into your website. Both will tag and follow everyone who visits, making it possible to reach them using retargeting ad campaigns that will remind them that your products exist. Will these strategies convert all the missed readers? No, but they will deepen their awareness of your brand and convince them that they like and trust your work, meaning they’ll be more likely to buy your books and products or services over time.
No doubt, there will always be a place for retailer websites. They’re good at kickstarting new authors and, in many ways, too good at their work to fail. Indeed, many have spent years building brand awareness, earning strong search engine rankings and crafting high-converting sales pages so they’ll continue to thrive. It’s just useful to know as an author that there is another way to work alongside them. A way that puts you in control. Will it require work to build a website of your own with equally powerful sales pages? In most cases, yes, but the process will leave you with a more stable author business and an even greater degree of independence.
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