A Tale Of Two Social Media Ads: Facebook versus Goodreads

Note: This post was published in 2015 so much of the information contained here about specific types of ads is outdated. Make sure you check the two platforms for more current details.

One of the pioneers of modern advertising, John Wanamaker, is credited with the famous line, “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” For authors, there is no better place that applies than digital advertising. Some think spending time and money advertising books on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, or book selling websites is just a colossal waste of money.  As someone with a professional background in marketing, I couldn’t agree more…and less. The trick is to build a system that works–one that makes the best use of your time and money. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water.

Recently, Goodreads launched a new advertising platform called Self Serve Advertising where authors can sell books via ads much like Facebook ads. They can be directed to a focused segment of readers you choose and the cost of advertising is $.50 per click-through (CT). I had seen mixed reviews for the Goodreads beta ad platform so I decided to test it against my preferred social platform for advertising, Facebook. I know some don’t consider Goodreads a social platform, but it is–one where every author needs a strong presence. So I decided to set up an A/B test for a client’s book launch.

goodreads vs facebook ads

How I Use Online Ads

It might be helpful to explain how I use digital advertising to launch a book first. I use several different kinds of online ads depending on the book and what audience it appeals to. When books are expected to sell well, such as the last book in a series, I tend to have a larger budget. If it is a more niche genre with a specific targeted audience, I do more email marketing and less digital advertising.

My go-to social media paid ad platform is Facebook. I also target specific online blogs with large core readership numbers that sell banner ads or cover campaigns. I’ve found that I get good spikes with these two methods that usually help the books climb faster in Amazon’s ratings. I use them during the first ten days of the launch. I’ve also used these ads on occasion to promote backlist books in a series when a new addition to the series is launched.

On Facebook, I have used three different types of ads: promoted posts for direct sales, promoted posts for teasers, and display or sidebar ads for direct sales. The size of the book campaign depends on two things: anticipated sales and a contingency for unexpected traction. The second type often falls outside the budget and pushes the bottom line a bit.

The data I’ve studied in this client’s campaigns shows that most customers are buying books on the weekends so I usually confine direct sales ad campaigns to the weekends. I may promote a teaser post a week out from launch, run a regular sidebar ad pointing to a buy button the first three days of a launch and then another promoted post the first weekend after the launch. I also keep an eye on the ad traction daily and if it looks like it is climbing fast, I may up the budget to increase the reach. I’ve done A/B testing on ad formats and have never been able to quite figure out the perfect ad but there are guidelines out there, and most of them are found in Facebook’s advertising guide. And there is a wealth of good information about running successful Facebook ads online. Also, I have found that promoted posts perform better than sidebar ads. Also, I am careful to follow Facebook’s best practices for putting display ads together.

Sometimes I will promote a post after it has taken off with fans. I have a contingency fund for this. I am often surprised by what resonates with fans. But my main goal in scheduling a promoted post or ad is to increase reach to hit the author’s whole fan base and entice them to share and buy.  With most Facebook post organic reach rates running under 40 percent, you have to pay to all your fans anymore.

First Things First

To begin with, a campaign must have a plan. I use the GOST system for campaign strategy: goal, tactics, strategies, tactics. In my years of marketing I’ve used other systems like SMART, but since the advent of social media I find the GOST system to be the most successful because of the need to be able to have more than one goal in a campaign that can be tied to common measurements. GOST works best for that. I talk a lot about measurement because I’ve always believed in making informed decisions. I like the confidence that data gives. Otherwise, I feel like I am throwing darts at a target blindfolded.

This campaign was part of a book launch so I started with one goal: to compare the results of an A/B ad test on Facebook and Goodreads for the book launch XXX for author client A.  Also, I needed to be sure the two advertising platforms were similar in reach, audience target, and message. In an A/B test, you cannot compare apples and oranges. The ads both need to be apples.

The specific objective: to get a click-through rate of three percent (each) on the author’s Facebook page ad and the Goodreads ad. This objective was based on our average engagement rate on sidebar Facebook ads. Some of our Facebook ads deliver more, some less. I’ve found in research, that around five percent is a good engagement rate for ads on the brand page. I know it seems low, but that’s the rub of measuring with a click-through as opposed to sales. But note, you never really know what kind of awareness the ad creates for your products. Personally, I don’t believe reach is a reliable metric for awareness.  Just because an ad shows up in a newsfeed doesn’t mean it got noticed. But it is a residual benefit of any ad you run so you can count on it is a factor in discoverability.

The strategy for this campaign was fairly straight forward. The strategy step in the GOST system is the place where you map out the journey. How are you going to get from point A to point Z? In this particular campaign, this meant dotting all the “i’s” and crossing all the “t’s” to get the ads as similar as possible. Since Goodreads does not have promoted posts, this meant putting together an ad that used the same image, the same text, the same landing page, the same campaign duration, and aim it at the same audience in a display ad (the only type Goodreads presently offers in this program). I defined a set of ad elements that needed to be coordinated in the two ads.

Next, the tactics. Writer Amber Naslund calls these the “down and dirty execution steps you’ll need to take to support the strategy.” For this campaign, the details were such things as finding the right image, copywriting the text, scheduling the ads on both platforms, and so forth. If strategy and tactics sound the same remember that tactics are steps to accomplish the strategy. If you have more than one strategy in a campaign you’ll have to describe tactics for each one.

The Results

As I expected, the Facebook ad out-performed the Goodreads ad. With all factors being basically the same, the Goodreads ad had only two click-throughs at the end of the three-day campaign and an engagement rate well below one percent. The Goodreads ad had a pre-determined CPC (cost-per-click) price of $.50 (fifty cents). The campaign had such dismal numbers after the planned campaign period, I left it up for about three weeks to see if the ad would take off at all. After the three weeks and a total of 15 clicks, I spent $7.50. The number of impressions were impressive (41,871 over three weeks) but the CTR was awful. I decided to put the Goodreads experiment on hold for a while.

The same Facebook ad ran for three days and had a reach of 5,511 on an author page with only 635 fans. The ad got 172 clicks at $.72 per click. I spent the original budget of $60 in three days. The engagement rate on this ad was two percent—at the low average of our ads. So, I am led to believe that the ad (or the book) was not as engaging as our normal display ad. I should also add that we always have better performance with promoted posts than with sidebar display ads. My theory: people ignore the sidebar ads in general.

In all fairness to Goodreads, it is a new ad platform and I didn’t expect whopping results. I am not sure that Goodreads users are trained to respond to ads yet. I did read a discussion on ads in the indie author forum on Goodreads, and there were very few positive comments. I just think it’s too early. I may try again when I have a more prominent book to promote and other authors are seeing better results.

So the bottom line? Here are my online priorities (by performance) for Facebook advertising on a book launch:

  1. Promoted post on launch day on the author’s fan page (landing page: buy link on website or link to exclusive book content/teaser).
  2. Promoted post on the author’s fan page on first weekend (landing page: buy link on website).
  3. Sidebar “website click” display ad on the author’s brand page on launch day (landing page: buy link on website).
  4. One week before launch: promoted post in Facebook group (landing page: exclusive look at insider content, fun content highlighting the upcoming book, or event invite).

Finally, I want readers to know that social media advertising is not the first line of promotion for a book launch, in my opinion. I’ve found that a well-done author website and strategic use of email lists are a bigger deliverer of sales. Also, a final word of caution: social media ads will only work if you have an already vital and dynamic presence on social media that you have cultivated over time. You can’t just get on a platform every time you launch a book and yell “buy my book!” That is a fail of the first degree. Social media isn’t for everyone, and if it’s not for you, certainly ads on social media channels are out. Email me (chris@cksyme.com)—I’d like to know what your biggest marketing challenge is on social media.