How good are you at selling books online? Take the test and find out.

Following on from my previous blog - 25 ways to increase your online book sales - is this short test, which I've interpreted and modified from Google's Zero Moment of Truth report. The idea is to quickly test how well any book, and indicatively your publishing programme, is working to maximise sales via online retail. I'll also give you a few ideas on how to interpret the results.

I'd also like to add at this point that I have not read Fifty shades of Grey.

1. Choose your book.

Pick something that's been released for at least a couple of weeks but it doesn't matter whether it's frontlist or backlist. Arguably a backlist title should perform better in this test as it would have been available for a longer period of time, but there are parts that are essential for frontlist titles and pre-order campaigns.

2. Type the name of your book into a Google search. Don't hit enter.

Let Google's predictive search load up. This will tell you what people are searching for alongside your book title. In the example of 'Fifty shades' (I hope nobody looks at my search history), what comes up is 'Fifty shades of Grey', 'Fifty Shades Darker', 'Fifty Shades PDF' and 'Fifty Shades Movie'. This tells us a lot already. Firstly that the book title is the most searched term. Secondly that people want to read the next book in the series. Thirdly that people are (probably) hoping to download a PDF without paying for it. Finally that people are hoping to see a movie get made. I am not one of those people. You might decide to explore the PDF result and see if pirated versions are costing you sales.

3. Search for 'your book title + reviews' (e.g. The Kite Runner reviews)

This search is about acknowledging that in an online retail environment, your customer is likely to be searching through supplementary information to help convince themselves to come to a buying decision. The majority of people like to buy things that are popular and so this search will let you understand the experience your customer may have if they are considering buying your book. Assume they've ssen some stimulus already, probably via your marketing and that they've jumped online to do some more research. There are a few things to look for here. Firstly look at the top 5-6 results. Ideally you'll see a spread of press reviews, blog reviews and reviews via retailers (probably Amazon) and maybe a Good Reads result. If you aren't seeing those things then your PR and marketing teams aren't performing or maybe they are ignoring the importance of achieving online coverage, but ultimately your potential customers aren't being serviced. If you are seeing that sort of spread then the next measure is sentiment. Have a look at each of the results and give a measure of the overall sentiment expressed in the review. If the reviews or ratings are poor then it might help explain poor results. The key thing is to learn - what didn't people like about the book? Can you make sure you avoid the same issues in future? Can you engage in the discussion and turn some of the sentiment around?

4. Best + <category>  - be specific here.

Although it paints me in a poor light, I'm going back to Fifty Shades of Grey. My search here would be 'best erotic fiction'. This search represents a measure on whether your book is considered best in class. It can only really be measured after a reasonable amount of time has passed, post release. But if your book performs in this search, you should find that it keeps on selling comfortably for a long time - and we know how important those long tail income streams can be. The results of the search I performed are really interesting. The first thing to note is that there are LOADS of relevant results, so this is obviously a hot topic. The second thing to note is that there are loads of ways you can position your book to perform in this search. Try the search yourself and you'll see a list from Amazon in position 1, a blog post from Women24 inn position 2 and a list of questions from Yahoo Answers in position 3. You can influence each of these results. Firstly, why not create your own list on Amazon - you need to be honest though. your book isn't likely to be the best of all time so don't make it number one, but the top 10 is fine. Secondly, you could comment on the Women24 post and put the case forward for your book. Thirdly, jump into the Yahoo Answers community and again make the case for your book - you could even link to a free sample or to other good product reviews. You must make sure you come across as genuine and not salesy though. I'm expecting some comments here saying these tactics aren't genuine but that's not the point. The point is that, as a publisher, you need to become part of the discussion, not watch it happen from the outside.

5. Search book title + retailer e.g. 'The Kite Runner Amazon'

This is really important. Yes, it's a basic search but ask yourself, is anyone in your company actually doing this? The goal here is to check that your data is flowing through correctly to retail. Try this search with your top 5 or 6 retailers. You should expect that your book is ranking in position 1 in your territory (if you are in the UK make sure your search is Google.co.uk and not .com). This search will flag up all sorts of issues (if there are any) like if another territorial edition of your product is encroaching on your turf. It could show you issues with how you are populating the title fields in ONIX if the results are unexpected. If you do the search 3-4 weeks prior to release, you might see old book jackets, and out of date synopsis information. You'll also likely see no reviews. Wouldn't it be great to set up an initiative to get pre-release copies reviewed on retailer sites so that on launch day and during the pre-order phase, customers are more likely to convert and as a reuslt boost first week sales? Clicking through to the result may also show you that your product is incorrectly categorised, is missing metadata, has the wrong territorial information, is out of stock when you have hundreds in the warehouse - the list goes on. It's a basic health check but a vital one if you are going to give yourself the best chance of success online.

Although this test is quite basic, it represents a really quick and simple process you can go through for every book you release to ensure that you are giving it the best chance of success online and it will help you learn where you need to focus your efforts to ensure there are no obvious holes in your online sales strategy and associated processes.