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The Curious Case of Moonstone Books – E-Commerce Mistakes to Avoid

Back in October 2010, I put up what turned out to be one of my most popular articles, The Failure of Licensed Comic Publishers. The article was so popular, in fact, I received word that a number of publishers had taken some of the comments to heart and are busily updating and reworking their websites (publishers I’ve heard from/about having been influenced by the article: Top Cow, Boom Studios, Ape Entertainment and Th3rd World).

If you haven’t read it, the point of the article was lamenting over the incredibly poor job comic publishers in general, and licensed publishers in specific, are doing with their internet marketing and presence. The job being done is so poor that none of the publishers are currently ranking anywhere in the top 5 pages of Google on something as simple as the names of the properties they license for comic book publication. Truthfully, the Internet marketing and branding of comic book publishers is terrible and, I’d venture to say, probably best described as non-existent. Comic publishers either don’t know how to do it or, in a number of cases, really don’t care about it.

Anyway, after publication of the Failure of Licensed Comic Publishers article, I was asked by a number of readers “What about Moonstone Books? Their line of titles is almost completely made up of either licensed properties or public domain ones…how are they doing with their SEO and Internet marketing? Why didn’t you mention them?”

Moonstone Books, home of Buckaroo Banzai, Kolchak, the Spider and more!

That’s actually a GREAT question and their absence on the list was a conscious decision on my part. You see, during my research for the “Failure” article, Moonstone Books was one of the companies I looked in to fairly extensively and what that research turned up was interesting enough that I decided to hold back on talking about their website until I had a chance to dedicate a bit more attention to it.

Before I get in to what I found, I’d like to make a couple of quick comments. To begin with, I’m a big fan of the stuff Moonstone Books puts out. I absolutely love most of the properties they are publishing — Kolchak, The Phantom (well, up until Dynamite took the license and decided to publish crap on paper), Green Hornet, Airboy, The Spider, Buckaroo Banzai, Vampire the Masquerade, and so on. They have a lot of cool “toys” that I’d love to play with as a creator.

As a fan, I have to admit, up until a couple of months back, I didn’t realize they were even still publishing. I never see them pop up online. Their Twitter feed has been dead for months (a year?). None of my local comic shops carry their titles. TO be honest, I thought the company had broken up and their various creators were off publishing the work independently.

I found out they were still around a few months ago when uber-talented Ron Fortier mentioned them on Facebook (you can find more of Ron’s fantastic work on his great AirShip 27 site). Needless to say, their Internet marketing needs a bit of work.

Enough of that. Back to what I found.

During my research, I started by making a list of some of the titles/properties Moonstone Books puts out and began popping those names in to Google to see how the company was ranking in search engine results. I have to say, at first, I was absolutely amazed by what I had found.

That amazement came from that fact that, with a number of property names (including Captain Action, The Phantom and Buckaroo Banzai), Moonstone was appearing on Google page 1 of the search results! Having seen the Moonstone Books website, which is a decent PDShop e-commerce site set up in the most basic and non-SEO/web friendly manner (I’ll get to that done below), I knew there was almost no way the site should be ranking well. It suffers from almost all of the same problems that IDW Publishing’s Dungeons & Dragons comics product page suffered from AND a few more!

The Moonstone Google page 1 ranking for Buckaroo Banzai!

So, seeing those properties pop up, knowing in the back of my head that the site’s product page were dynamically generated ASPX pages using product ID numbers instead of SEO friend HTML pages or names, completely baffled me.

Baffled me, that is, until I finally clicked on one of the links that were appearing in the Google Search engine results. Where I had expected to find the current Moonstone Books product page for, say, Buckaroo Banzai, I was instead finding an outdated page from a previous incarnation of the website. You can check out that earlier version of the Buckaroo Banzai product page yourself to see

It turns out all of the high ranking Moonstone Books pages in Google were from an earlier version of the website — pages that were fairly “jacked up” because of missing images, bad links and the like, but which featured an OK amount of content AND had more SEO friendly URLs.

If this had been a single occurrence, I would have dismissed it, but it happened with a bunch of their properties. As an Internet marketer, it absolutely baffled me to think Moonstone Books had tossed away a bunch of first page Google rankings on major keywords like this. I mean, when it comes to licensed properties like they base their business on (along with IDW Publishing, Boom and the other terribly performing licensed comic book publishers), ranking well on the name of your licensed properties should be one of the top priorities. The majority of fans interested in your properties will be searching for new merchandise to spend their money on by typing its name into Google and clicking on what appears there.

The top ranked Buckaroo Banzai results from the Moonstone Books website went to outdated pages

Not showing up in those results like IDW Publishing, Boom Studios and Ape Entertainment (for example) is terrible marketing strategy (something that would get marketing people fired in other industries), but having possessed a top ranked result and throwing it away is gross mismanagement. This is equivalent to being given a prime time TV commercial and having the wrong 800 number listed on the screen. You’ve got people’s attention but aren’t giving them a place to buy your product.

What I’m assuming happened with Moonstone Books is this: they were sold on using an e-commerce back-end for their site — in their case, the PDShop Shopping cart. To be honest, this can be a great move for an e-commerce company. Any sort of back-end software, be it PDShop, OSCOmmerce, Drupal, Joomla, ZenCart or even WordPress, is going to give you a lot more power and capability with your site. You’re no long stuck in the 90s with hand-coding a website. I recommend it to anyone who wants to run an e-commerce website.

The problem is, they either set it up themselves or had it set-up by someone with no real knowledge of how the Internet or Search Engines work. They’re using as close to a “base installation” as you can and it is doing them more harm than good. What’s even worse is that they’ve failed to see their former search engine rankings and have thrown away their page 1 results. This again, comes back to the lack of Internet marketing knowledge so often found in comic book publishers. For some reason, their marketing/sales person (or owner, or whoever is in charge of the website) didn’t take that first step of Googling their product before and after the website change over.

If they had, Moonstone could have done a number of things to protect that listing. The best idea would have been to keep the old pages active and updated, and make sure they link over to either the new product pages or, even better, have a “buy now” button of some kind that links directly to the shopping cart. The reason I call that an “even better” option is because it limits the number of clicks between a customer viewing the site and being able to purchase a book. The more clicks you have, the more customers you’re going to lose.

At the very least, they could have set up a 301 redirect of the old page to the new one. This works out OK in the short run because it gets your potential customers to the new product pages, but kills you in the long run by getting rid of the content which ranked so well. Still, doing something is better than doing nothing at all!

My advice for Moonstone Books, and anyone using an e-commerce back-end of any sort, is to move beyond the basic installation. Alias your URLs to be something a bit more SEO/Internet friendly — use keywords in your URLs instead of those terrible, dynamic system-generated IDs. From there, take a look at my article on what was wrong with IDW Publishing’s Dungeons & Dragons Comics product page because your pages have all of the same problems theirs do. Generate more SEO’d content. And, finally, for the love of GOD, make use of those old pages which are already ranking so well in Google. Don’t continue to leave money on the table because of ignorance or laziness!

Again, if you’re working with an e-commerce shopping cart or back-end, keep all of this stuff in mind because it can and will help you in your search engine rankings.

That’s it from me on this post-Thanksgiving Friday. I’ll be back next week with more Internet marketing wisdom for comic books.

Take care!

-Mat Nastos, Super Genius

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Mat Nastos
TV, Film, comic book, fantasy & steampunk writer/director, known best for bad horror movies about giant scorpions, killer pigs & dinosaurs in the sewers. You can find his work on Smashwords or at his Amazon Author Page.

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