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Building Shepherd - Google traffic, conversion rates, and more.

Shepherd is like wandering your friendly local bookstore but reimagined for the online world (friends don’t let friends buy books like they buy toothpaste).

Summary: February 21st to March 4th
What have I been working on for the last 2 weeks?
1. Search engine optimization!
I am 100% focused on growing traffic from Google in this initial stage of the project and growth has been amazing until February. Our month-over-month growth has generally been around 48% to 70%, but February was only 11%.
Why did growth slow down?
  1. Once I added bookshelves and the new front page it changed how our internal links flow and this affects SEO heavily. I was expecting this, and I probably should have done more to improve internal linking before we launched those features. But, that is hard to say as getting them out faster at this stage might be more important.
  2. The bookshelf feature added some content cannibalization issues that I need to fix manually.
  3. We hit some server issues in early February due to our growth, and Google dinged us on page speed.
What have I been working on to improve these?
  1. We’ve been working to fix the slow server issues and optimize performance. We got that fixed this week from Google’s POV, and we are improving a few more things while we are at it.
  2. I’ve planned out some improvements to our internal link structure and I will be rolling those out over the next 30 to60 days (as part of the update to the recommendation engine on book lists).
  3. I’ve been doing a lot of calls with SEO experts to check my plans and work. That has been a nice confidence boost and so far so good.
  4. I am working to fix some content cannibalization issues and should have all those fixed by next Friday.
Things are already looking better for March! March 1st was an all-time record for the day (a good sign). I am hoping the other improvements further accelerate growth over the next couple of months.
(I have the ambitious goal of reaching 20,000 visitors a day by EOY so the search engine channel is hugely important)
2. Conversion rates...
I’ve gathered data on the bookshelf pages and the conversion rate to bookstores is half what they are from the book lists. That is not what I want to see and I am planning some improvements. Plus, I want to increase traffic and exposure for authors and their book lists from those pages.
Here is an early preview of a new card for the bookshelf page. This isn’t finalized yet, as we are still testing and playing with ideas
Our goals with the new card are:
  • Clearly show who is making the recommendation. I believe that will improve the conversion rate if readers can see who is making the recommendation and why they are a great person to listen to.
  • Make a stronger call to action around the bookstore links.
  • Demonstrate the recommender’s passionate expertise through their book, as well as give them a little plug (still playing with this).
A new card we are playing with for the bookshelf.
A new card we are playing with for the bookshelf.
3. Genre research and testing!
Along with our developer a lot of my time this week has been testing several book API providers to see who might be a good fit for us.
What are my goals with this data?
  1. Know which genres/subgenres a book belong within
  2. Know what age children’s books are aimed at (including middle/YA)
  3. Know the first date published for the book (I don’t care about editions, I just want to know when it was first published)
  4. Possibly improve our topic detection engine (using LC data).
  5. Determine the readership level for each book.
What have I learned so far?
The data is super messy… which makes sense as it is entered by humans and isn’t really verified by anyone. That is ok, and eventually, we will put together a librarian system to crowdsource improvements. I also aim to give authors control over their books as we get further down the road.
This is a big one and everything looks good.
Now we are doing big data pulls to figure out if we are going to use BISAC or THEMA (or if we are feeling really crazy some combination of the two). I really like THEMA’s qualifier setup and I think it is superior to BISAC, but I am not sure if American books use it correctly.
I love categorization structures, so I have been nerding out a bit as I dig into this.
Ages For Children’s Books
This is a really important one and I am disappointed with the data so far. My hope was I could use the data to map out books per age, but I am not sure if this is possible yet.
I am going through another data dump today to test. I am hoping most children’s books have THEMA data for age range as that appears to be the only place to get this information. I am also going to test a second provider to see if they have better data sources.
Date First Published
I was hoping it would be easy to get the first date published for a book… or at least we could do something fancy where we pulled related ISBNs for ISBN #1 and then determine which version was the oldest. So far this is not looking good.
For example, if Dune is published in 1972 but you have a new edition of the book it will say it was published in 2015. So, that means if we really want this data we will have to add more ISBNs manually under a book so that we have a better chance of determining the first published date…
We are still testing but I think this is a bust.
Improve Topic Detection
This looks like a huge win, as we should be able to feed in the Library of Congress data at a 1:1 relationship to Wikidata topics. This will drastically improve our topic detection and I am super excited about this :)!
Determine Readership Level
This also looks good, and the data should allow us to one-day filter books and book lists around general readers versus academic and so on.
What else is going on?
Life is good!
Life is good!
I am doing much better than I was on the last update (as is my family). We are on a big road trip and we enjoyed our time in Montepellier France and Karlsruhe Germany. I’ve had some nice bike rides in the sun which are always great for recharge.
Have a great weekend! :)
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Ben Fox

Follow along as I build the Shepherd book discovery platform (updates every 2 weeks).

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