Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Graeme McGaw, and I run the OrderOfBooks.com network of book websites.
Our websites at their core offer services for book readers; primarily in the fiction genre.
We offer listings of books in both publication order and chronological order by both author and series. If a reader is looking to find out the order of books in a series, they can use our websites to get that list.
The websites have been in existence for a decade now and currently make six figures per year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I've been a reader since I was a child. They were my passion growing up re-reading every Enid Blyton novel over and over.
Get to know your customer base and keep updated on them. Their needs and wants are always changing.
I primarily worked as a gambling affiliate from 2000 through 2010. This involved promoting online casinos, sportsbooks, and poker rooms. The industry was rocky, to say the least near the tail end of the decade and there is a lot of high variance within that industry.
A large reason for that was because everything was offshore based as we were still about 15 years away from any sort of legislation. So you would have issues with payment processors, companies closing down with no repercussions against them etc. It made things very tough.
I decided to try various ventures outside of the gambling niche. One of those was the website OrderOfBooks.com. Books were my passion and all my friends would come to me with questions about books; "What is the next book in the Mitch Rapp series?" "If I want to read the Jack Reacher series in chronological order where would I start?"
I decided to create a website around that topic. It seemed like there would be an audience for it and I used my prior expertise from the gambling industry to launch a website that would both serve as a resource for the user, and also lead to income from me.
For the first couple of months it didn't seem like the ROI was worth it; The work involved for the website wasn’t worth it for the money I was making. Along with entering the books into the database and creating a biography for that specific author, it often meant going to the library or to a bookstore to actually verify their lists.
The site wasn’t making much money and more importantly - was not getting any real traffic. It can be important to push through those early months of course but this just didn’t seem like the type of site that would be worth it long-term.
then one night the author Brad Thor went on CNN. He conducted an interview that had lots of people searching for his books afterward. Those viewers then stumbled upon our website and our traffic increased by a large amount.
From then on traffic continued to grow, people purchased books and I realized this had a lot of potentials. We provided a valuable resource for the reader - a list of an author's books in order.
This meant that if you heard of an author who wrote a book series and wanted to read them, you would search for the order of their books. You would then find our website, which provided that order and links beside each book to take them to Amazon to purchase the books.
Not only that - but as a reader finishes book #1, they would refer to our website to read the second book in a series. And so on. So along with a lot of new visitors, we saw a lot of repeat traffic.
Take us through the process of designing the initial product.
The initial workload for the website was minimal; I and one other employee launched a very basic website; we handled all the administration, content, and design ourselves.
The fundamentals of the website design are still the same as they were today, but this is a picture of the initial listing back then courtesy of archive.org:
The aim was to go in with low overhead initially as we had no financial estimations at that time. We wanted to keep things simple and so each author and series page was created with the mindset of giving the user what they wanted immediately.
This is the method I approach all new websites with (especially if I don't have any hard data on traffic or financials); the K.I.S.S. method. Create a very basic website and if it grows - build onto it. The only major changes in the last 10 years have been cosmetic changes to the website. The core remains the same.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The initial launch of the website was very basic as mentioned; using general knowledge and research tools to look up the most popular authors and book series. Then write a bit about them, and also do the actual work of getting a comprehensive listing of their books. Then going through the books to see if the chronological order differed from the publication order.
At the time there weren't many great resources for this. There were a few web resources at the time but a lot of data conflicted so we would end up looking through the books ourselves to verify; whether at a book shop or library.
The initial financial investment was minimal as we did all the work ourselves.
As the traffic and income grew, we looked to expand as the audience did. We were promoted initially via Amazon.com. When we saw traffic growing from areas such as the UK, we hired a programmer to create a geo-targeting script so we could refer people to Amazon UK as well, etc. We now cover all the Amazons.
As the site and traffic grew, the work grew too. That's where we started having to spend money. Initially, all the author and series databases were manually created. We eventually had to create an entire administrative backend to handle all of the authors and series. That was where a lot of money and time went; it was over one year in the making to create that.
We also had to hire content writers who would produce content for the various authors and series we were listing.
I had money and continual income from my gambling affiliate websites so the finances for all this primarily came from that until the website became self-sufficient.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Attracting customers is very simple; giving them what they are looking for. We spend a lot of time and resources keeping updated on all the popular and new authors and book series and making sure we have listings for them.
Many customers find us via search engines and we retain customers with the main goal of giving them what they want. If they're able to find the book listing they were looking for initially they gain trust for us, and will normally skip the search engines to go straight to our sites.
Many people talk about targeting long-tail keywords; and technically that’s what we do considering our target keywords are “order of Jack Reacher books” etc. These are still primary keywords though and the user is typing in looking for something specific.
If they are searching just for “Jack Reacher” it could be anything. By targeting these specific keywords, we know exactly what people are looking for, and are able to provide it for them.
I also retain customers primarily via e-mail marketing. Mid-monthly newsletters which are catered to the reader's needs and giving them what they want; recommendations, top lists, that sort of thing.
I initially incentivized people to subscribe by offering up Amazon gift cards to random subscribers. After studying my analytics months later, I decided to stop that incentive. I still offer the gift cards - I just no longer promote them. The reason for that was many people were subscribing and not opening - essentially freeloaders simply hoping for a gift card.
When it comes to the newsletter I open it with what is essentially a personalized blog. I write about what I have personally been reading that month, and I may discuss my life or family a bit. People seem to love that personal touch and I’ve had countless people tell me when they receive my newsletter it stands out as it feels like I am writing to them as an “old friend”. That is what I am for.
I also make sure to reply to every single email received. If people are taking the time to write to me - even if it is just to tell me what they are reading - the least I can do is take that same time to reply back.
I freshen up the newsletter each month with various features. Some of them will benefit the website, such as different top lists each month. For example, a top list of book series which are profanity-free:
I have many readers who enjoy profanity-free books. This is providing them an excellent resource which will also benefit me as they will be likely to purchase the books via the website.
I will also introduce new features such as New Author Spotlight where I focus on a new author, or the Audiobook Arena where readers can write in and discuss audiobooks. I monitor each section closely and if people don’t appear interested in it based on the analytics - rotate it out with a new section.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Things are going great; the websites run like a well-oiled machine.
We have employees who deal with creating the content; others who handle all the new books coming into the system and who audit both existing and new authors. Then others who handle the marketing of the websites.
All of the website work is covered 1-2 months in advance; so all content going up in July is already audited and scheduled by May.
We have a programming team who are currently responsible for an entirely new project under the OrderOfBooks.com banner which will roll out many features and be a big expansion project. Like an alternative to Goodreads; just without all the issues that many people have with such a site, and with new features to benefit readers.
Long-term it is just a case of trying to benefit book readers the most and coming up with features on our website to help benefit readers.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
The majority of what I have learned is from simply talking to the customer base. I talk to fellow book readers regularly and I learn so much from them and what they want from a website.
That has been extremely helpful and something I would strongly encourage; take a step back from your business and sit and talk to your customers. Put yourself in their shoes. Visit your competition from a user perspective and see what they are doing right and wrong, and what can be improved upon.
I learn from them and that’s been the biggest benefit.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
We use Wordpress as the platform for some of our websites. However we also have a complete custom system that was necessary for a new project we are launching. This also goes hand in hand with our own internal book database which was created ourselves.
We use social media such as Facebook and Twitter primarily to alert followers to new posts and also to get discussions going for the monthly newsletter.
I use tools like Ahrefs for research on the popularity of authors to help prioritize them.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There have been no specific books, podcasts, or resources that have been a direct influence. However, I spend hours per day listening to various podcasts, reading different SEO and entrepreneur websites and blogs, etc, and always learning.
I also pay attention to the world of Book YouTubers and Instagrammers to keep up to date on what they are talking about. The authors they discuss are the ones people will be searching for so we need to make sure we have listings for them.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Go into it with the goal of not making money but provide a valuable resource for the audience. That’s a tactic that is very important for the long term.
It’s a method I have used since I first got into internet marking back in 1998 and it still serves me well today. Even if that means less income in the short term; it results in strength long term. There are many additional monetization methods I could utilize but would make for a negative user experience. I refuse to do so and I feel that it benefits the long term.
My initial plan with building this website was to provide a resource for the user first; worry about making money later. That is a tried and true approach by me that has worked over various areas of affiliate marketing.
Get to know your customer base and keep updated on them. Their needs and wants are always changing.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Within the next few months we may be looking to hire some more database administrators. Within the next year we may look to expand to video podcasts as well. That is likely a few quarters away though.
Where can we go to learn more?
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