12 October 2011

How do review styles affect site traffic?

What are you looking for in a review?  Why?  What makes or breaks who you look to for reviews?  How do we, as bloggers, know what to put in our reviews to get more people to our site to read them?

If you're like me, review style is a big deal when I'm in the process of choosing who I want to go to for reviews.  I love finding new books to investigate and read, but I don't want my time wasted. 

Over the nearly two years I've been blogging, I've rarely read other people's reviews.  This may seem like a rude thing to do—bloggers are a very "reciprocal" kind of people.  (The "Follow Friday" meme by Rachel @ Parajunkee's View is a prime example of that.)  So why would I be so arrogant as to not gather other people's opinions before going out to purchase a book?

Because I haven't found a review style that I like and trust.  Readers may all share the same passion to devour books, but I want to read the opinion of someone who likes the same things I do in a book.  Determining whether our interests mesh is time consuming.  And frankly, I don't have that much time, or patience.

I may appear to be placing too much concern over something as transient as a book review.  Yet doesn't it suck when you read someone's review of a book you haven't read yet and before you realize it, you've just read a spoiler?  Also, remember that book reviews are not purely just about stating opinions and leaving it at that.  One of the rationales of a review is to influence someone, usually to go out and buy the book (especially if you're reviewing a book for an author/publisher and you liked the book).

So I rarely read reviews.  I don't want to be fed fluff just so I can go out and buy a book—I don't want to be influenced.  I just want straight up opinions for me to weigh at my own discretion.

What style do you trust?  What do you look for?  What makes-or-breaks a review for you?

And then, of course, there's the issue of drawing readers.

Well how the heck are you supposed to figure out what the general populous is going to be looking for?  Do you follow the "be yourself" logic because this is a hobby and not a job?  Or do you balance business and pleasure?

I think it can be fairly easy and practical to be yourself and still apply some business logic.  The success of your blog is generally determined by your readership, yes?  So a little application of corporative-style tactics can be practical without squishing your liberal spirit. 

First, what are people looking for and how do you find out what it is?

Here's one way:

If your blog is hosted by Blogger, then you are most likely aware of the "Stats" feature that Google has installed for you to keep track of your blog traffic.

If you don't frequent the "Stats" tab very often, do this for me really quick.  (It will take two seconds, I promise.)  Open up a new window and get to your Dashboard, then the "Stats" tab.  You'll see a bunch of graphs and links.  Whoop-di-do, right?  Next to "Traffic Sources" hit the "More" link.

This will give you three things: Referring URLs (the specific places people clicked to get to your site), Referring Sites (the site host), and Search Keywords (searches in Google, I'm assuming, as Blogger is a Google product).

Under each heading, you'll see how many people got to your site via each of the links/sites/keyword searches.

I've used the terms under the "Search Keywords" to determine what people searched for that got them to my site.  For example, my most popular source from Google searches is the word "eezvehneetyeh".  (This is the Russian word for "sorry".)  I used this word for my review of 13 to Life by Shannon Delany.  So what this tells me is to include things in my review that are specific to the book—maybe things that other people will be confused about and go onto Google to help clarify it.

Also, a popular search for me is quotes from a specific book (people seem to want quotes from What Happened to Goodbye by Sarah Dessen).  So this tells me that maybe I should start including quotes in all my reviews.  Wouldn't be hard to do and might increase traffic to my site.

Toggle between the time stamps (from "All Time" to "Now") and see what you get.

As of now, I am putting a lot of thought into how I review books.  I want them to be engaging and informative and yet not time consuming to put together.  Most styles I see consist of paragraph-style reviews that each delve into different aspects of the book: characters, plot, setting, romance, etc.  I do this, except I bold the most important aspects.  I know from reader feedback that this is an appreciated aspect of my review style. 

So what else can I do?  I know that some people divide up their reviews by creating headings for characters, plot, setting, etc. and spending a few paragraphs elaborating.  I've done the divider-headings before and stepped away from it because it wasn't widely applicable to all the books I was reading.

I also don't like to grade books anymore.  This was my original system, but I also stepped away from it because it was simply easier for me to transpose between my blog and Goodreads if I used a star system.  Also, letter grades seemed condescending to me, whereas the star system is more business-like and more widely used.

And then, if I do put in some drastic changes, there is the possibility that it will get a negative result.  Maybe I'm doing pretty good as I am, and readers are okay with my review style as is.  Right now, my style itself seems okay, but I'm of the mind to add in quotes and things unique to the book.  Perhaps also links to the author's, publisher's website and the Goodreads page.  Talking about the author's other works might also increase hits.  (I got a few hits for mentioning Cinda Williams Chima's fourth Seven Realms book, Crimson Crown.)

What makes your style unique?  What do you think drives readers to your reviews?