March 7, 2021

You’re the Boss: Can Muster Enough Traffic to Sustain a Business?

Site Analysis

What’s wrong with this Web site?

Last week, I asked you to take a look at, a site dedicated to fans of independently published books and the authors who produce them.

If you recall, Amy Edelman, a published author, wanted to turn her passion for reading and her interest in independently published books into a business. The site had been attracting a fair number of independent authors but had failed to draw an audience of readers. Ms. Edelman submitted her site for critique because she wanted to know why her traffic levels were so low.

Most of the You’re the Boss readers who took a look at the site were not impressed. Several were turned off because the site was featuring the Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, as an example of a self-published author (citing his 1,500-page manifesto). As PW from Texas put it, “Indie equals too out of the path and non-commercial content to me. I was shocked to see a picture and article on the Norwegian drama that happened this weekend. It looked totally out of expectation and didn’t make me want to go any further.”

When I reviewed the site, it became clear to me that had a number of issues that were conspiring to keep traffic down:

  • It failed to get its central message across.
  • It failed to create a sense of community or belonging.
  • It isn’t doing enough to make sure fans of independent books find the site.
  • It is going after a very small niche audience.

If you want a content-based site to succeed as a business, you have to be able to drive significant amounts of traffic. While I concede that I am not an expert on the indie book scene, I’m afraid I agree with MHF from Houston who noted: “Much of the content doesn’t really make me want to give self-published books a chance — should we really accept the bad editing just because some mainstream books have typos, too, and why are those 400,000 authors gathering rejection slips if the books are any good?”

If you are going to try to make a go of this kind of site, it is essential that you do more than just present information (news, reviews and interviews). You have to tap into the passion of people who are really into reading. Long before the Internet, there were book clubs. Everyone has their opinions about books and authors. For generations, book clubs have thrived because they bring together people with a shared passion and strong opinions. might be a great place to take advantage of that dynamic, but thus far it has barely scratched the surface.

The site does little to build user participation. I would encourage Ms. Edelman to add discussion groups, create a members area and allow visitors to contribute their own reviews and share their favorite books. Give visitors the chance to pass articles on to friends and make those calls to action powerful.

There are some literary Web sites that have done an excellent job of integrating user-generated content. Look at Shelfari (below). It created user groups to discuss specific topics about books and authors. allows visitors to create personal pages on which they can talk about their favorite books, show what they are reading at the moment and find “friends” with similar passions.

Working with a relatively small budget, providers of original content can get the word out by contacting the “influencers” in the literary blogosphere. There are hundreds of blogs out there that discuss books, authors and publishing. Ms. Edelman should offer to contribute reviews and articles from her site (asking for links back to, of course). She can also offer to be interviewed by the bloggers. Another way of getting the word out to bloggers is to comment on their blogs.

It is clear that very little energy has been devoted to search engine optimization. Titles and tags need to be added that will drive visitors to the site. General terms like “books,” “authors,” and “novels” won’t do much, because you’ve got monolithic sites like Amazon and Barnes Noble out there dominating such terms. If she is looking to get traffic from her niche market, she needs an S.E.O. campaign with keywords featuring prominent independent authors.

Reader NY Nice Guy had this observation: “My sense is that Ms. Edelman’s vision is viable but she needs some SEO right now so that when her market catches up with her (as it is, she’s opened a lemonade stand on the moon), the site will have been well established to take advantage of the Zeitgeist.”

For this business to succeed, it needs to bring in money from a variety of revenue streams. Currently 70 percent of its revenue comes from consulting services performed by Ms. Edelman’s team. Advertising revenue is tied to visitor traffic and, at current levels, will not contribute much. A third stream comes from selling books through an affiliate program, but does a poor job of encouraging these revenues by failing to highlight the ability to purchase.

At the end of a book review or article about a particular author, there is a short, bland offer to purchase. Ms. Edelman seems almost apologetic when asking visitors to buy. By way of contrast, Salon books highlights the books that are reviewed and creates a clear feature called: “Buy Reviewed Titles.” This is a far more compelling call to action.

Ms. Edelman Responds

Ms. Edelman was disappointed that more You’re the Boss readers didn’t comment on her site. She took it as a sign that there just may not be that big of an audience for As for the advice she received, she plans to look into S.E.O. services and is already thinking about ways to get her visitors more engaged.

Got a Web site or mobile app you’d like to have reviewed? We are always looking for sites and apps. We are especially interested in hearing from businesses that are using smartphones, iPads and other mobile devices and apps as tools in marketing, selling and branding. To be considered, please send an e-mail to and tell us about your experiences — what works, what doesn’t and especially why you would like to have your site reviewed.

Gabriel Shaoolian is the founder and chief executive of Blue Fountain Media, a Web design, development and marketing company based in New York.

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