Blogging Sucks For Search And For Links

I thought a post about the failure of blogging as search strategy for authors would be appropriate for my final Blogger based post. I do intend to continue the Self Publishing 2.0 blog in some other form, but it will look very different starting next week. The reason I started blogging back in 2005 was simple. I had been promoting my POD publishing book through a collection of chapters excerpted on my website and I thought there was plenty of potential to draw new search visitors by writing about the realities of self publishing. The potential was certainly there, but the tool I chose, blogging, turned out to be wrong for the long run. Here’s why:

Blogging is not, and has never been, an efficient tool for drawing search traffic. It is essentially a social networking tool, a means of supplying news or entertainment to an audience who likes the idea of being able to subscribe and occasionally talk back. Effective bloggers tend to write inspirational posts on topical issues that feed back into the Blogosphere, Twitterverse and Facebookcheeks, where people pass on the latest news or particularly sexy tidbits they feel their own readers may find interesting. The fundamental problem with blogging has very little to do with the underlying code or structure of the blog. The poor search performance over time is a result of the authors producing too much competing material, in effect spreading themselves too thin.

The original chapter excerpts on this website, a dozen pages amounting to less than 20,000 words, draw more search traffic than the nearly 500 blog posts, comprising some half million words. While some of the material in the blog posts is overly specific or time limited, I can state without hesitation that at least 20% of it, around 100,000 words, is much better than anything that appears in the book excerpts, or the book for that matter. So why don’t those blog posts draw five times as much traffic as the dozen static pages? The answer lies is in how blog posts versus static resource pages are linked.

The primary factor in search rankings is link context and anchor text. In plain English, this means that search engines try to match your query to a destination that other related pages refer to, with extra weight given to the wording of the link itself. While there are plenty of other relevant factors, including the content of the page the search engine ultimately decides to recommend, the linking from other reputable pages is the closest thing to a controlling factor.

Blogging is a disaster for contextual linking because of the way human beings assign links. Most people link to the main page of a blog, rather than to the individual posts. The consequence is that the main page of my Self Publishing 2.0 blog has far more incoming links than the 500 or so individual posts put together. Once those individual posts age off the “Most Recent” list on the main page, the links people have contributed become practically worthless. A simple example. You may decide to link the main page of my blog today referring to this post about how blogging sucks for search. After a few weeks pass, search engines trying to answer a query about problems with blogging and search traffic will be aware of your link and the proper context, but it will be pointing at the main page of a blog that no longer refers to the subject. The value of your link is essentially time limited.

Now take a standalone chapter excerpt or resource content, a page that has no natural “parent” on the website. Most people providing a link will link directly to the page with the information they are referencing, and the value of that link will persist for as long as the linking page remains online. Another factor boosting the value of a standalone page for search is its very appearance of worth and permanence. People are reluctant to link to blog posts as references. Part of the reason is that some people never realize you can link individual posts rather than the main page, and the other part is because blog posts have a reputation for being tossed-off opinions, even when they are full of facts, tables and graphs. Most bloggers eventually give up, frequently shutting down their blogs in the process. And most blog posts show the creation date, which screams obsolescence to readers, even if the material is still accurate and relevant. Static resource pages, on the other hand, can be updated from time to time, and you can move the copyright date forward.

Of my nearly 500 blog posts, only one has more organic links (and search traffic) than my worst performing static pages about publishing, and it doesn’t beat them by much. This has nothing to do with the popularity of my publishing blog posts. Some have gone viral and drawn far more traffic for a few days than any of my static pages. But after the buzz dies down, they disappear almost completely from search results, maybe showing up for some long tail six word search query that closely matches the title or anchor text from a link somewhere.

So why won’t this post do well for search traffic? The main reasons I’ve covered above, but another reason is that I’ve written about these issues before, including on a static page about blogging draft manuscripts as you write. If the search engines are inclined to send me visitors on the subject of blog results in search, they’ll send those visitors to some of my static page or more established blog posts. Ironically, blogging can actually damage your chances of successfully publishing static resource content at a later date because the search engines see repetition and dilution on your website. None of this is by design. It’s just the way search engines work.

A handful of logically related pages on a subject (ie, book chapters) will draw more visitors from search engines in the long run than a thousand blog posts that beat the subject to death. The only upside to blogging is subscription, an out-and-out popularity contest for short attention spans. A mere handful of entertaining writers will ever break the ten thousand subscriber mark, and the higher you go in subscription numbers, the more you see the self selection of ideas and closed social circles. It’s hardly surprising that social bloggers are losing ground to Twitterers who cover more ground faster, and are consumed by people who may follow thousands of Tweet streams.

Next week this blog will look very different since Blogger is discontinuing FTP support. I still haven’t decided whether I want to shift to WordPress on this site, to start blogging manually (which will limit comments to e-mail), or to simply start adding self publishing posts to my personal WordPress blog and to manually stuff those posts into my existing subscription feed. If you want to comment on this post, you have three days before Blogger disables my ability to update it. Whatever I do, I’ll update my feed to keep my subscribers in the loop.

Pirate Mashups And Promoting eBook Rip-Offs

Everyone who publishes eBooks is familiar with piracy and widespread redistribution on file sharing networks by this point. Filing DMCA takedown requests for copyright infringement usually results in the offending site removing the file, and the offended pirate quickly reloading it, sometimes with a change to the file name or title to get past crude filtering techniques. But what happens when the infringement isn't a mirror copy of the original but a mashup?

Last week, I came across such a mashup on the DocStoc website after Googling a unique phrase from one of my books. DocStoc was selling the book for $10.93, which I assume means the individual who uploaded it assigned a price and will get the majority of the earnings. I filed a standard DMCA takedown request with DocStoc, and received a reply from their technical support that while the title of the file was the same as my book and they would change that title, it wasn't an infringement and they wouldn't take it down. When I wrote back pointing out that their own search function brought up the file for unique phrases from my copyrighted work, I received no answer. So the next day, I purchased the file to be able to definitively show that the eBook they were selling had ripped-off my work. I documented this in the screen capture video below, my apologies for the broken commentary, but I wasn't going to make multiple purchases for multiple takes:

Finding that the eBook for sale was a mashup of book excerpts from my website and articles from a computer support website was no surprise, but the Trojan virus downloader took me aback. I would have assumed that DocStoc would at least pre-scan the files that were uploaded so they don't spread viruses to their user base. Another surprise was finding out that PayPal wouldn't refund my purchase. I had chosen PayPal thanks to seven years of a good working relationship with them, and thought that they offered the same protection as a credit card. It turns out that they won't refund for purchases of fraudulent goods or materially misrepresented items, unless the sale takes place on eBay. I invited PayPal to comment for this post without a response, though I did just hear from DocStoc thanking me for pointing out this problem, probably a damage control intern posing as the CEO.

I've seen a number of mashups with my copyrighted content over the years, some of which seem to have been created for the sole purpose of promoting the pirated eBook. Here's an example of a pirate who added a "bonus" infringement to an eBook I originally published in 2004 with Adobe DRM.

Pirates who do mashups can be quite indignant about being identified as copyright infringers. When I commented on a pirated copy of my Laptop Repair Workbook on ScribD that it was a copyright infringement, the uploader actually responded to me saying that his friend had bought a copy of the eBook and he himself had edited it (removed my name and license agreement and added "for ScribD") and concluded, "What are you doing on ScribD anyway?" I leave out the explitives. Another over-active pirate decided that the 2004 version of my computer flowcharts eBook he ripped-off needed an update. He found those updates on my website, and bundled them with the PDF for a file mashup.

My favorite creative rip-off to date was a user on Demonoid who posted a copy of my Laptop book, complete with a link to my Youtube book promotion video, to encourage picky downloaders who aren't willing to steal just anything. The thread included 57 thank you notes posted to the generous pirate patron, including one reading: "Gr8!! I've been looking for this... Ur #1!!" I guess that makes me #2, which isn't such a good thing in either baby talk or eBook publishing.

As I wrote just last month in concluding that DMCA encourages piracy , my primary concern is honest individuals being led to piracy sites by search. Searches on an author's name today often bring up a piracy site in the top ten results, either in the text search results or the integrated image search results. I first noticed a few weeks ago that half the images coming up above the fold on standard Google search results for my name led to piracy sites. I've been using the "Report image" option to try to weed them out with some success. As of this morning, only the last image led to a piracy site.

Add "ebook" to a search on an author's name, and the majority of the results may be piracy sites. I spent about 20 hours in the past week filing DMCA takedown notices and fighting off viruses. Maybe that will help keep the lid on for another few months, but it's clear that word-of-mouth customers searching for an author's books can easily be led astray into piracy sites, without ever realizing they are doing something wrong. In some cases, they may pay a subscription fee to the piracy site in the belief that the author or publisher is getting a share, just like buying an eBook on Amazon Kindle or Apple iPad. Unfortunately, unlike Amazon and Apple, some piracy sites specialize in trying to get you to install malware under the pretense of protecting you:

Hint: Never click "Remove All" on a pop-up window. Close the screen, preferably after severing your Internet connection to avoid mistakes.

Selling Books Worldwide With Free Shipping

International reach is one of the advantages large trade publishers have always enjoyed over small presses and self publishing authors. The large trades developed their worldwide networks through a combination of foreign partnerships, overseas offices and subsidiary operations. In fact, some large publishers have used deep discount sales to overseas subsidiaries to cheat authors out of their full royalty rate, but that's an old story. What's new in recent years is the ability for small players to sell books overseas without gambling on rights sales at international book shows.

Yesterday I signed up for an affiliate account with The Book Depository, which stocks all of my titles printed by Lightning Source. I've been aware of original UK version of The Book Depository and their free international shipping for a couple years, thanks to a cousin in Israel who orders books through them. They are clearly losing money on many of the books that they sell, but so does Amazon, so I suppose they are in good company. What's particularly compelling about The Book Depository is that they offer this free shipping to 90 or so countries, including most of the English speaking world. One unfortunate exception is India, which I assume has to do with the interface between the Indian postal service and the rest of the world. They do offer free shipping to China.

So I started an experiment last night, adding Book Depository links to the order pages for my four current titles, and I'll see whether or not there's enough demand to keep them there. I'm not particularly concerned about the risk of diluting Amazon sales, which are the publisher's best force multiplier, because I believe most Americans will choose the Amazon ordering link without even thinking about options. Ironically, I'm more worried at this point that international book sales with free shipping will cannibalize my direct eBook sales. Wouldn't that be an interesting change? As I was setting up the links, I also noticed that my order pages are all different. I've run so many forgotten experiments over the years that they've become a mish-mash, so straightening them out will make a good project when I have the energy.

Many self publishers have been waiting for a practical overseas solution to selling paper books for as long as they've been in business. Other than my cousin's positive experience, I don't have any insight on whether The Book Depository is a good long term alternative, and I welcome any feedback that overseas users have to contribute. If you're waiting for the Espresso 2.0 book printing machine to take off before you begin selling overseas, you'll just have to wait a few more years.