Jonquils, pancakes and books – an experiment in discoverability

jonquils May 2014I’m conducting an experiment.

On Tuesday at the National Book Bloggers Forum, one of Random House’s tech gurus talked about ways book bloggers could boost interest in their blogs and Facebook pages, especially now that Facebook has been cutting down traffic for people who have “liked” your page – unless you pay.

In a fascinating talk that all made sense at the time, this guru (Eva Bui) talked about Google Analytics and trends. She discussed the importance of adding visual elements to your posts. And lists. And catchy headings. Like, maybe:

5 things all book bloggers should do

  • add a graphic
  • create a list
  • use imperatives (“Share this!”)
  • ask questions which engage your audience
  • talk about food

Food? Yeah, right. On a blog about books and reading?

In the break, I asked Eva how posting recipes was going to help a book blogger. She said the benefit would be indirect. Food, chocolate, cats – we all know the posts – are so popular, using pictures of them might drive traffic to your page. More hits on your page means more people start to see your posts in their Timelines. They might even see links to your blog posts and come visit. While they’re visiting, they might read your discussions about books. Extra blog traffic could even mean Google will take notice, and maybe your posts will appear higher on search results.

Ok-ay… It’s worth a try.

So I’m experimenting. Earlier today I posted this picture of jonquils on the Australian Women Writers Facebook page. It’s not a great photo, just one I took in the garden this morning. I put no commentary. Nothing about the unseasonably warm weather we’re having for May, let alone any suggestion of global warming. Just the photo with a question: “What’s your favourite story that features flowers?” (Could have been snappier.)

Guess what? Comments! Not many. Yet. But more than I’ve been getting with my Twitter feed to the page. Someone even shared the photo!

These Random House tech gurus are on to something. The AWW page is (slightly) more “discoverable”. Now I’m going to go away and find a good pancake recipe…

What about you? Share your favourite book blogging tips here.

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31 Comments

  1. Wow Lizzie – thanks so much for sharing! Hmm, Food? Cats? Flowers? Will give it a go!!

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  2. I just gave it a go. Went for the cat option. Marcia, you’ll just have to use the wine pix.

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  3. PS. Food and reading? Yes! That’s why I have a tasty treat with all my reviews.

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    • Thanks for visiting my new blog, Monique. You have the right idea!

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      • Definitely cat pix. 24 likes and 2 comments for the cat reading pic. Am thinking of changing my blog to Reading with Cat-titude.

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      • Classic! I love that title. Monique, did you share on your Facebook blog page? I shared mine across platforms and got the most hits on my personal Facebook page (32). It generated fewer likes but more comments on the AWW Facebook page (10+). Interestingly, the Twitter retweets were better when I titled it “Tips for driving traffic to your blog” rather than the actual title.

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  4. I posted an easy caramel fudge recipe on my blog years ago and it still gets more hits than half my other stuff. I think ‘list’ type posts etc you can stretch to book blogging. 10 reasons you should read xxxx. 5 things I’d change about xxxx.

    And the call to action at the end is something I use on other blog posts but not my book reviews… but only cos I close comments in them. I think asking a Q at the end gives readers something to comment on & helps them feel more comfortable about commenting.

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  5. I’ve given it a try with my latest blog post, here http://wordpress.com/read/post/id/42755866/292/

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    • I loved your post, Jane. It was so interesting to read about your writing process. I wonder what readers will make of the cats! I think I might’ve suggested this before, but is it possible for you to put a Follow by Email button on your blog? (I don’t see RSS feed.)

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      • Oh, good suggestion. I think I just did it (I’m a bit lousy at WordPress), so let me know if I failed.

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      • It’s there now, thanks. Now following. I like how you have the Goodreads widget to show your reviews. (Though I don’t think I get notifications of those, except via Twitter. I love your reviews, as you know!)

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      • That widget is pretty neat, except that it shows ‘read’ books in the order in which you added them – so if you decided three years ago you wanted to read something, but only finished reading it yesterday, it’s not going to pop up at the top of the widget. Bit annoying (but workaroundable if you delete the book and re-add before you start reading). My reviews are barely reviews! They’re usually three sentences of poorly punctuated opinion.

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      • That’s a good tip (about deleting the books). I did wonder how the Widget chooses things. As for your reviews, I’ve probably only read the ones you’ve linked to the AWW challenge, so they may not be representative! I’m hit and miss with Goodreads. Keep forgetting to upload things. So much to do!

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  6. annabelsmith

     /  May 26, 2014

    The picture thing is interesting because I often see posts with stock photos and I find those really impersonal and offputting. But cats! Yes! Always. I’ve been doing the question at the end of the post for ages; sometimes it seems to work, other times less so. There are just so many blogs out there, it’s hard to compete. I have lots of blogs that I read and even if I’m engaged by the content, I don’t always manage to find time to comment.

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    • I’m with you, Annabel. I find stock photos boring. But what is it about cats?! As for the question at the end, I’m not sold on that either. It’s not just any old question. This post ends with a question, but it’s not the issue that has engaged readers. On the other hand, since I’ve posted a picture and photo with a question on the Australian Women Writers Facebook page, I’ve had more comments (and, presumably, that means the page is more visible, more often, in people’s newsfeed). One thing I’ve learned from this exercise is that my chosen title wasn’t attention grabbig. When I tweeted it as “5 tips for driving more traffic to your blog” I received many more retweets. But, you know, do I really want those kinds of headings on my blog?? Perhaps occasionally. I haven’t been very good at commenting on blogs lately, mostly because my iPad and WordPress don’t make it easy and also time…

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      • annabelsmith

         /  May 27, 2014

        Yes, it’s a total pain commenting through a mobile device. I usually save articles from Twitter to Pocket and read them on my phone, but if I want to comment i forward them to my email because it’s so much easier to do it from my laptop. It’s a convoluted process – surely not v difficult to code it to remember who you are when you want to comment instead of making you enter the data every time.

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  7. Ah interesting … I missed this as the last week of May is always busy for me with family birthdays and anniversaries, and this year we went away for three days, back yesterday, for our anniversary.

    Anyhow, here are my comments and what I’ve discovered, though most are generalisations:

    – images. I used to always put an image in a post – a stock one, even cute ones from clker, if I had nothing suitable – but now I don’t if I don’t have something suitable. However, my top post by a country mile (like 18,000 hits with the next top post having under 7,000 hits) is only top I believe because of the image of Coco Chanel (I discussed the biopic on her in the post). My posts with gum trees get regular hits, though not as much as they used to. Did they talk about alt text, title etc on your images?

    – lists. I think people love list posts – they can read them quickly and respond with their own suggestions. My list posts usually do well, but I feel that are a cheat too. I sometimes use dot points (like you have here), just to break up the text a bit. They can be a bit twee in a review post but I do use them sometimes e.g. list parts of a book, or list pieces played in a concert.

    – headings and titles. I decided a long time ago to title my post with the author and book title rather than something cutesy or witty because I felt that people looking for reviews can tell immediately if your post is likely to be what they want. And also because I believe post titles are important to Google’s algorithm. Internal headings are important too I’ve heard, if they are meaningful not clever, but I often use them in a fun way not an obvious here-is-a-search-term way.

    – questions. I use questions occasionally and they often stimulate responses but I don’t think they are guaranteed to. And, I think it would become boring if I put a question at the end of every post. If there’s one thing I hate as a reader, it’s formulaic writing (though really my reviews do tend to run to a formula so what am I saying!).

    – recipes. No way. While I do wander beyond books it’s usually to music and films. However, funnily enough, my next post is on a book about food! Let’s see what happens. I’d better find a pretty food picture to include in it.

    And now I’ve written an essay and still have things to say and questions to ask but will stop here! Apologies for the verbal diarrhoea!

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    • Comment away, WG! I appreciate your wisdom and experience. (18K hits on one post, wow!) To answer your question about putting words on images, no that was me (and it may backfire). I imagined if the image gets shared people could still track where it came from (and discover the copyright holder, if need be), rather than just becoming part of the internet image soup. I’d also noticed that “greeting-card-like” messages do get shared a fair bit (along with cats) on Facebook, so this was my (not entirely serious) foray into that territory.

      Your other points are really interesting and useful. I sometimes miss seeing images on your post (and, if I remember correctly, you’re wary of using covers). I tend to agree about automatic questions and formulaic writing. I think there’s a difference between “genre” and “formula”. Genre can be a pattern or form, while the content of the post, the unique thought/take on the subject, is the fabric. Whereas formula could be – how do I stretch this metaphor? – where the fabric reveals no individuality. Hm. Not sure if that conveys what I mean.

      I’m not sure about what you mean by internal headings. Can Google differentiate these? I’ve never considered using those.

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      • Yes, you are right about me and covers – I tend to only use them where I have permission though I do think thumbnails are probably OK. When you upload an image there are various fields to complete including Alt Text and Caption. They are important I believe. Well, alt text is I think the words given to, say, blind people who cannot see the image.

        Internal headings are taken note of by Google I believe. have you noticed that drop down list at the top of the Edit Post window that defaults to Paragraph (I think that’s it – in Blogger I think it’s Normal). Anyhow, if you click the drop down, you’ll see things like Heading 1, 2 and 3. I understand that text “tagged” with these get higher precedence by Google. (At least that’s what I’ve read?)

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      • That’s very useful, thanks. I’ll have to start taking more notice.

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      • There’s so much to learn and every now and then I read up on it – but then get befuddled and figure I’m not out to make money so in the end it’s not life and death. But, we do of course want to encourage more reading and buying don’t we, so … !!

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      • It’s certainly not life and death, and maybe content is the key, especially over time. On my other blog, one of my consistently popular posts is a review of Val Plumwood’s posthumous memoir collection, The Eye of the Crocodile (which I downloaded for free from ANU Press). It doesn’t attract comments, but gets more hits than most other posts. For someone who appears to be so little known in Oz, you have to wonder.

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      • Ah, the mystery of life! That is intriguing. Sometimes it’s really hard to tell. Some I can guess they are set texts at school/university and others mystify me.

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      • I hadn’t thought of that, but maybe Plumwood is on a syllabus somewhere. She’s certainly a lot better known outside Australia. (The hits are mostly from oveseas.)

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  8. Hi, appreciate all the info everyone is so free to share, as a newy in the social media, writing a book area (just got my first book out, I self published so have to learn fast!) There is a feast of information, and its so wonderful, thank you. I am reading twitter and trying to work out what to do with it, so happened on Australian women writers and then to your blog site.

    I like the idea of images, and I like the autumn leaves with the lovely caption, it did capture my attention. Beautiful words from the heart and a beautiful image is always an attention grabber, like a stunning view after being on a city freeway! It gives the Aaaahh moment, producing a calming affect on the brain!

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