How book marketing works: a case study on author websites

I’ve done a handful of author websites but don’t do them often (since I prefer book covers).

But your author website is a big piece of your sales funnel, so soon I’m going to be doing a case-study where I makeover 5 author’s WordPress websites – which range from ugly to mediocre – to see how much a new website can improve sales.

But before I do that I’d like to share my own case study, from my DIY Book Covers site, which I’m rebuilding right now.

For the past six months, I’ve been using a basic “landing page” or “sales page” made with Optimize Press.

A landing page is usually a one-page sales letter making a specific offer.

It’s supposed to convince people to take action – either sign up for something or buy a product.

Mine looked like this. It had a video, with an email optin for a free sample package.


cover design


Then it had the offer, and a button to buy a package of book cover templates in MS Word for $87.

But my conversion rates were very low.

I was getting about 10,000 visitors a month and selling about 10.

That’s .001 conversion – and it’s really bad.

There are some reasons for this: a lot of people were signing up for the free stuff instead of buying. I built a list of about 12,000 in six months, which is great – but that list didn’t know who I was and didn’t really want to hear from me (if I had a special offer, or other publishing tools, for example).

I recently found out that about 6,000 people on that list never opened any of the emails I sent them – so I deleted them.

What’s your conversion rate?

The first thing you have to figure out is, what do you want people to do?

For authors, you’ll probably want people to either:

A) Buy your book(s) or

B) Sign up to your email list or

C) Maybe follow you on social media

But the more choices and distractions you have, the less likely they will do anything. So choose the priority and steer the towards the one thing you really want them to do. Most likely, it’s BUY.

It’s not easy to track that, but you could use some basic WordPress features (like Jetpack’s stats) to see at least how many people were clicking on your ‘buy’ links from your website.

You won’t be able to find out easily how many of them actually buy your book, but that’s OK.

If you have buy links, how many people are clicking on them? That will tell you:

1. Whether anybody sticks around on your website long enough to see them.

2. Whether your sales copy and cover are good enough to make them want to buy.

If you have 1000 visitors a month and 1 person clicks, then like me, you’re in trouble (.001%).

That means, basically, your website is useless.

What can we do about it?

Even with my low conversion rate though, I was making almost $1000 a month.

But I could have been making much more.

There are two things we can focus on:

1. More Traffic

2. Higher Conversion

Actually, “more traffic” doesn’t work if you have a very low conversion rate, so you want to focus on conversions first.

You can:

  • Redesign your website
  • Add social proof and testimonials
  • Build trust and authority
  • Give away great free content
  • Have a better offer

I did all of these things recently, and my site now looks like this.



Along with the Word templates, I now have a pretty awesome online cover design tool, so my offer has at least doubled in value.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any sales in the last week, but probably because the site has been unfinished… I can’t really measure the effects of the new site until everything is up and working.

Hopefully my conversion rate will be better.

I’m determined to sell at least one membership a day – and if I’m not, that’s a signal that my site isn’t good enough yet.

Increasing traffic

Even with the old sales page, which was selling 10 a month, I could have achieved my goal by tripling traffic (if the new page completely fails, maybe I’ll switch back, but I’m hopeful it will prove itself). But you have to make sure you’re getting some sales, and tweak things until you’re getting as high a conversion rate as possible, before you focus on traffic.

This is how my traffic works.

1. I have several blogs, like this one, where I talk about stuff related to creativity, authors, publishing and marketing. People read my articles – and then maybe see an ad or button on my sidebar. I share my articles on Twitter and Facebook, but I also get a lot of natural search results.

2. I get traffic from Google, Yahoo and other search engines when people search for specific terms. Google ranks websites according to:

  • Relevant keywords (basic SEO stuff)
  • Age and size of website (how many articles you have)
  • Trustworthiness (amount of quality links you have from other reputable sites

For example, I’m competing with other sites about cover design, or that offer book cover templates. Luckily there aren’t that many of them, which is why it’s been pretty easy to grow my platform.

It will be much harder if you’re trying to sell “thrillers.” The solution is to have lots of very specific, compelling content, like “best 5 new Kindle thrillers for October 2014” – that’s the kind of post that will bring in a ton of your target readers. And you could write a new one each month.

But showing up in search results isn’t enough, you need to get people to click; so you need excellent headlines. You should Google yourself or your articles and see how they are appearing. Buzzfeed and BoredPanda are great at this – especially with lists like “10 most beautiful castles in the world – you won’t believe #6!” (you have to click to find out what #6 is….)

Anyway, my natural traffic is pretty good, but I wanted more.

So I removed the email optin (since those email addresses were proving of very little value) and added a cool plugin that makes people share before accessing the content.

social share plugin


(“Social Locker” – You can get it here)

Email optins are great of course, because it allows you to develop a relationship with people through email – if you set up your autoresponders properly – but in this case, people were just signing up for a free download and didn’t want a relationship with me.

With Social Locker, this week I’ve gotten 85 Facebook Likes, 23 Tweets, and 57 Google Pluses. It’s also doubled my traffic.



And that’s pretty awesome… except for the fact that nobody is clicking on my buy button, which means my conversion rate is worse than before… but as I mentioned I hope that’s just because the site is new and still has some bugs.

Paid Advertising

Natural traffic is the best long term strategy. When you’re starting out and your site is new, Google won’t trust it – that’s why you need to write guest posts on bigger blogs linking back to your site. “Content Marketing” is absolutely the best way to sell things.

But advertising can do wonderful things as well.

My first goal is to stabilize conversions as much as possible. If I’m getting 1,000 visitors a day, I should easily be able to sell one a day (or 10, if I have a really powerful offer). I want to test that out as much as possible with “split-testing” (making little changes and seeing what performs better.)

But once that’s sorted and I know the website is working and getting the conversions, I’ll begin advertising. The trick to advertising is making MORE than you spend.

For a book launch, actually, it doesn’t matter – you can advertise hard just to get sales and hit the bestseller ranks, which is worth it even if you don’t immediately make your money back.

But for long term growth, you need ads that sell enough to pay for themselves.

For example, since my product is $87, I could spend up to $80 or so per sale. If I know I’m getting 1 sale per 1000 visitors, I just need to get 1000 clicks. That means I’d have to spend only $0.08 per click, and that’s too low actually. The cost per click will depend on competition, but it will probably cost me more than that.

But if I found a way to make it work – for example if I’m converting at 1/500, then I could advertise $40 to get 500 visitors and make one sale at $87. If that’s working, I could start advertising $400 to get 5000 visitors and make 10 sales at $870, and so one. I’d keep scaling up until the ads aren’t effective.

It’s much harder to do this with just one book, however, since you’ll probably be making less than $10 per sale. Instead, you need to be thinking about the “lifetime value” of a reader.

If you have 10 books (or plan to write 10 books), then you are trying to build a relationship with a super fan, so they will buy all of them. If you profit $5 per book, that fan may be worth $50 – so that’s how much you could spend trying to attract them. But it’s very hard, unless you have higher priced products, to make this work – so instead you need to be focused on getting traffic through content marketing (writing articles for your blog, and other big blogs or websites).

Takeaway tips

  • If your website isn’t selling books, why do you have one?
  • You need to test your conversions.
  • You need to set a goal and keep tweaking till you reach it.
  • You can do that by increasing traffic.

PS) I’m insecure about my new design for, and I’d appreciate your feedback.

What do you like/hate about it? Anything that’s confusing or distracting? If you remember the previous version, did you like it better? Is the sales page cheesy or annoying?

I’m still working on it but I’ll relaunch next week.



  • Nancy Posted

    Looks good, Derek. Since you’re looking for feedback, personally I don’t understand why suddenly everyone is using this type of template. Almost every blog/site I go to now looks like this. The scroll down, the circles, etc. If I was buying from someone who told me their covers stand out, I’d want their site to stand out from the pack as well.

    Hope this makes sense – the site itself looks very nice, but I get the feeling all the web designers out there have jumped on this bandwagon.

    Just my two cents! Good luck!

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      The style is ‘responsive design’ – they are built to automatically display well for smartphones, which is why they are so popular. Like everyone else, I’m using a WordPress template, and most WordPress templates for the last 2 years have been responsive, so they look a lot like this.

      I’ve just been setting up the content, so I’ll go through and make it more pretty soon. But it’s possible my simpler, flat sales page I had before worked better. Too soon to tell.

  • Rebecca Cantrell Posted

    Fascinating post! Would you mind taking a look at my web site:

    • Derek Murphy Posted

      Your site looks great Rebecca, a little gray/corporate but it lets the covers stand out (and you have really nice covers). On thing missing is a clear call to action, what would you like them to do most? Make it easy for them. Also, the sidebar book covers link to Amazon, but probably before they are ready to actually buy; I would have those link to the book pages where they can read a summary (you have buy/excerpt but you should also have some personal stuff, why you write it, the process of writing it, etc). Need to give people are reason to like you, or at least really generate interest with a powerful teaser and a few reviews, before sending them to Amazon so they are already convinced to buy.

      • Rebecca Cantrell Posted

        Thank you! I’ll definitely give the site another looking at. I feel like it has all the info about the books and me, but I don’t think it’s been driving sales, so I appreciate you taking a look at it from that perspective!

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