Ebook sites that don't suck?
January 9, 2006 1:44 PM   Subscribe

I am working with a client who is convinced this e-book web site is awesome. I am trying to convince him that a long page of text (not to mention the annoying popup) is boring, unprofessional, and no potential customer would bother reading it all. In his defense, he points to the Alexa rankings, which are indeed impressive. Does anyone have any examples, preferably with a better Alexa ranking than that site, of a web site selling an ebook that has a few short convincing paragraphs that sum up why the book is worthy of purchase and has a professional design that doesn't look so awful?
posted by banished to Technology (25 answers total)
Those kind of sites are actually quite effective for their audience. If you're selling something that doesn't have a notable brand and working the hard sell angle. I've worked with some guys that put out sites like this - and they do actually sell at a good clip.
posted by muddylemon at 1:57 PM on January 9, 2006

Wasn't there a parody of this sort of hardsell, long sales letter site published on the Blue just last week? Perhaps showing them a link to the parody would help.
posted by jacquilynne at 2:01 PM on January 9, 2006

clickhereyouidiot.com (from this MeFi post) is, sadly, pretty much correct when it comes to e-books -- it's all about persuading people to part with their cash, and a few paragraphs won't cut it for many e-books. The techniques that the site mocks have, in fact, been tested for many years by traditional direct marketers, and have proved successful.

Sad, but true.
posted by littleme at 2:02 PM on January 9, 2006

God, that's awful stuff . . .

But it works in the same way an informercial works. If you have a unique widget to sell (or can wrap something up such that it seems unique) I suppose this can be successful.

If you're not selling something akin too the food dehydrator or the pocket fisherman, I don't think it can work. I certainly wouldn't buy something I can research elsewhere (a watch, camera, etc.) from a site like that.
posted by aladfar at 2:04 PM on January 9, 2006

This guy sells books, among other things, and the site isn't an eyesore.

posted by frogan at 2:06 PM on January 9, 2006

Perhaps we can get enough mefi-ers to comment here how truly awful that layout is and you can just direct them to this AskMe post.
Sorry, I don't know of any better examples, but perhaps that is a reason why I have never bought anything via this format.
posted by like_neon at 2:09 PM on January 9, 2006

The site is unreadable, at least for me. Why don't you erase the AxMe tab on this screenie I took and show him what his audience sees?
posted by shepd at 2:14 PM on January 9, 2006

Well, his website back in November of 2004 wasn't so bad. Someone without web design skillz must have gotten their hands on it and mangled it up.

posted by UnclePlayground at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2006

Sorry, here's the clickable November version shown above.
posted by UnclePlayground at 2:17 PM on January 9, 2006

Response by poster: Nice work UP! Problem is, according to his Alexa traffic graph, his traffic didn't start booming until after 2005, which was probably after the page design switched to the sucky one. There are a multitude of causes that could account for the traffic surge that are not necessarily attributable to the page design of course, but I suppose it still doesn't help my case any.
posted by banished at 2:28 PM on January 9, 2006

Response by poster: I should do a graph based on length of the page and a graph of his traffic rising and watch in disgust when the two sync up identically... And how is it all of these sites are so successful despite the fact they put the PayPal or purchase button at the BOTTOM of the page? It's a total blow to everything I thought I knew about usability... I thought it would be wiser to make the book as easy as possible to buy and in the least amount of clicks. Ebook sites live in bizarro world I think.
posted by banished at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2006

I have to agree with some of the above posters. With the exception perhaps of the pop-up, instinctively it feels like a good design for SHIFTING SOME PRODUCT and convincing the reader to GO FOR IT NOW.

Not the right approach for a softly-softly, super cool CSS Zen Garden design firm of course... but just perfect for a site called Website Marketing Bible.

ClickHereYouIdiot is the very definition of an exception that proves the rule. The fact that the site can so easily satirise other marketing sites proves not only that these techniques are widely used, but also that they are easily recognisable. And if the marketing techniques are both widely-used and recognisable, I'd surmise they are probably successful, too.

Annoying? Yes. Successful? Probably. You can see the clear traffic growth after a certain point in 2005. It may be hard to admit that bad design can sometimes be good salesmanship, but that could in this case be a possibility. It may be harder than you think to find evidence proving that such sites are "boring, unprofessional, and no potential customer would bother reading [them] at all".
posted by skylar at 3:17 PM on January 9, 2006

Incidentally I guess this Metafilter page might boost the site's Alexa rating even further, which is a bit of a Pyrrhic victory in this instance. :(
posted by skylar at 3:35 PM on January 9, 2006

Unprofessional. Looks awful. Those are valid if subjective criticisms. But your belief that "no potential customer would bother reading it all" may be quite wrong.

Can you not gratify his wish to use a time-honoured form of sales material but make it look nice?

Ugly and amateurish design is not bad if it works.

"examples... a few short convincing paragraphs that sum up why the book is worthy of purchase."

Amazon? Admittedly they're selling dead trees books, but I don't really see the difference. They show you the cover, they let you peek inside, they quote a short passage, and summarise the contents with the best review they can find. And then you buy the book.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 4:10 PM on January 9, 2006

shepd: exactly what I was going to suggest. Show him the page in Firefox, maximised to full screen on a high-res monitor.

A little narrow strip of text down the centre, with the top half overlayed by a pop-up DIV so that both are unreadable, in the middle of 3/4 of a screen of red background, should be enough to make all but the most retarded have second thoughts.

(For the remaining few - drop the colour depth down to 16 colours and dithering should take care of them...)
posted by Pinback at 4:36 PM on January 9, 2006

muddylemon: Those kind of sites are actually quite effective for their audience.

"For their audience" is the key. The people who would run screaming from that layout (i.e., us) are probably not people who would buy that book no matter how it was presented. So there's no point catering to us.

If you dip a toe into the world of MLM-ish get-rich-quick sites (not the MLM companies themselves but the sites of individuals toward the upper-middle part of the pyramid), you'll find that a ton of them look like this. When your goal is to overwhelm the mark customer with a relentlessly upbeat pitch in order to shut down their skeptical faculties, presenting your "information" in a well-organized fashion actually works against you.

So if your client's book doesn't have similar subject matter, maybe that could be your argument: Yes, it gets a lot of traffic, but are the people going to that site really the people who might buy your e-book?

Heh, this goes in the "No comment" file:

"Thank you Michael, for the first time I have actually read something intelligent and in plain English regarding a website. Very big pearls of wisdom. Great to have things clarified in such a way that even non-tekkies understand."

Gillian McNeish, Wordz - Proof Reading & Copy Editing

posted by staggernation at 5:21 PM on January 9, 2006

It's my understanding that the Alexa web rankings reflect the number of hits (or visitors or some similar metric) a site receives. Lots of hits doesn't mean a site is well designed. Lots of hits means that for some reason, people are going to that site.

The guy's book is about website marketing. I'm guessing that the author used some of his super marketing skills to encourage people to visit his site.
posted by i love cheese at 5:25 PM on January 9, 2006

yippie... another site that I can show my students. I am always looking for sites with poor design for them to study.
posted by nimsey lou at 7:28 PM on January 9, 2006

Do you measure the quality of the design by how aesthetically pleasing it is or by how many books it sells?

I would say propose to you client that you do two sites, one his way and one your way and see what happens. On the Internet there's no reason to have only one approach to sales. The extra cost is not significant if it helps you nail down the best sales method -- or, better yet, if you find that both approaches work
posted by winston at 9:05 PM on January 9, 2006

And how is it all of these sites are so successful despite the fact they put the PayPal or purchase button at the BOTTOM of the page?

Well, that's where people are when they make their decision, I'd guess. I'm not claiming to know anything about it but selling people something that they didn't previously know they wanted is very different from selling somebody something that they came looking to buy.
posted by winston at 9:08 PM on January 9, 2006

Nobody has mentioned something I think is obvious - search engine ranking/traffic doesn't necessarily translate into sales. It's the number of conversions of readers into customers that counts.
posted by phearlez at 9:59 PM on January 9, 2006

I wouldn't put a lot of stock into the Alexa ratings. If you got five people to install the piece of crap Alexa toolbar and hit your page a few times every day, you'd have a similar rating. Alexa is close to being accurate for sites that rank under 5000 perhaps. Anything over that is just noise.

I wouldn't waste money on any book that isn't reviewed outside of a publication (ie. reviews on amazon). Most of the "media mentions" are just summaries of press releases from what I can see. No real reviews from people who actually do web work for a living.

I wouldn't buy a book on this subject without checking out more legitmate avenues first. This thing screams amateur.
posted by inthe80s at 6:15 AM on January 10, 2006

If both you and your client are adamant that "your" way is better, I'd suggest an A/B split test. Anything else is just opinion.
posted by Leon at 7:10 AM on January 10, 2006

It's the webpage version of those money-making letters (often in big print, a catchy headline like 'retire in 3 years' and a special "PS" after the signature about being sure not to miss out). It's called Direct Response marketing, where the advertisement itself makes the sale, unlike magazine adverts that merely advertise a product and you go to the store and get it yourself.

A writer of such direct marking letters gets paid (1) for the actual letter itself, upwards of 1k-5k per, depending on his track record, plus (2) a few cents per letter actually mailed out. If a mailing of 1,000 letters (royalty of $20 if $0.02 per letter) it may get sent out to 10,000 or 100,000 depending on how good it brings in sales, resulting in a check in the mail for $2k just for having written a letter a few months ago. I'm unsure if the writer gets paid a royalty per web hit, or just charges more to compensate for gray-area royalties with websites. Check out AWAI Online for a credible school in this field.
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:28 AM on January 10, 2006

Regarding to the "bottom of the page" remark -- if the letter was read up to the point of being convinced, the reader doesn't need to read any more necessarily and continues scrolling and is steadily confident in their decision to purchase due to the extensive documentation and massive listing of benefits so when he/she gets to the bottom he is more than ready (unless he/she thinks the price is too high -- whereby many letters will offer a reduction with some condition..
posted by vanoakenfold at 7:31 AM on January 10, 2006

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