Ageless and Evergreen: Web Links
[Originally published in the magazine Romance Writers Report, July 2018.]
Here’s a pop quiz: Which came first—the book or the marketing for that book? The answer, of course, is that they evolve simultaneously. Authors typically build excitement about new releases well before books are available for sale.
In some cases, promotional efforts are hobbled because authors can’t effectively direct potential buyers to where specific books are actually sold. The book might not be available yet at online vendors (either for pre-order or for regular sale). Sometimes, a book was on sale, but a title or other pertinent data was changed, resulting in a new web address at vendors.
The problem isn’t limited to pointing readers toward books. An author might move her mailing list from one provider to another, losing the advantage of all the places where she promoted the original mailing list. She might set aside one Facebook fan group in favor of another, again forfeiting the value of every mention of the old group. She might promote sequential raffles, wanting to direct potential contestants to whichever giveaway is currently open.
Factor in managing web addresses that are long and complicated. Add in the challenge of knowing where readers found a particular link—was it from promotional material at the front of your book? At the back? From your website or blog or social media?
The solution for all these problems is the same: Evergreen links.
Defining the Concept
Evergreen links grew out of an existing technology—link shorteners. As the name implies, link shorteners allow a user to take a very long website name, give it a much shorter “alias,” and share that new name with others. For example, a user types the address for a specific target into a web-based link shortener, such as:
The program then generates a much shorter link, which is easier to remember:
In this example, the user chose “123” as the alias of the shortened link. The user could have chosen any combination of letters and numbers to create a meaningful short link. Shortli.nk, in this example, is not a real link shortening program, but common link shortening programs include TinyURL, Bitly, and the Twitter-owned T.co.
Evergreen links take link shortening one step further, providing increased flexibility to users. After the alias has been created, its target link can be edited so that the alias redirects to a completely different website. Thus, an author can create a shortened link directed to one place, share that shortened link widely with potential readers, then change the direction of that shortened link.
All evergreen link systems can be used to shorten links. Not all link shortening systems can be used in an evergreen fashion; some do not allow the target link to be edited.
How to Implement Evergreen Links
Numerous services provide evergreen link shortening for fees as low as $2.99 per month. For slightly more money, users can personalize the domain name so that links seem to originate on their website. High-end services provide country-specific redirection based on the location of the person who clicks on the link. (A French user is channeled toward the Amazon.fr site, for example, when she clicks on a link for an author’s generic shortened link.) Providers include Littl.ink, SmartURL, and Tiny.cc. (Edited on 3/22/21: While I used to use Littl.ink, and I still maintain some links there on a legacy basis, I no longer rely on the service.)
Evergreen link shortening services are easy to implement, and they are generally low in cost. Users are, however, vulnerable to doing business with a third party. If a service goes out of business, users will need to retool, using a different service to forward the out-of-service links.
In the alternative, users can add plugins to their websites to implement evergreen links. Popular plugins include Prettylinks, Redirection, and YOURLS. These tools give users greater control than a service; the plugin cannot go out of business (although its creators can choose not to update it.) (Edited on 3/22/21: In the interest of full disclosure, I use Redirection.)
Plugins require greater technological sophistication than merely hiring a service. Users need to have some general knowledge of how their website handles information when a user requests a page that doesn’t actually exist. In addition, some Internet service providers refuse to allow redirection plugins on websites, citing the potential for security risks.
Both services and plugins provide extensive reporting options. Typically, authors can track where a clicked link was located (e.g., on an “Also by” page placed in the front of a book, as opposed to an “Also by” page placed in the back of the same book, or an “Also by” page placed in another book entirely), the location of the person who clicked on the link, the browser of that person, and the time when the link was clicked. Those data can be used to fashion additional promotional efforts.
Structuring Links for Fun and Profit
Whichever method an author chooses for generating evergreen links, she should give substantial thought to designing a system for structuring those links. The majority of an author’s links are likely to be for books sold at various vendors. If those links are structured in a uniform manner, readers can understand what to expect and authors can formulate links quickly. Ideally, the system for creating links is simple enough that the author can recall a specific link without using a spreadsheet or look-up table.
For example, assume Abigail Author has written a series of historical romances, the Regency Rakes Series, which consists of three books: The Duke is a Rake, and The Earl is a Rake, and The Viscount is a Rake. Abigail sells her books in print at Amazon and Barnesandnoble.com, and she sells electronic copies at Amazon, Barnesandnoble.com, and iBooks. Abigail might use the following evergreen links through her (imaginary) service, shortli.nk:
The Duke is a Rake
Print from Amazon: shortli.nk/DukeAmazon
Print from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/DukeBN
Ebook from Amazon: shortli.nk/DukeKindle
Ebook from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/DukeNook
Ebook from iBooks: shortli.nk/DukeIBooks
The Earl is a Rake
Print from Amazon: shortli.nk/EarlAmazon
Print from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/EarlBN
Ebook from Amazon: shortli.nk/EarlKindle
Ebook from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/EarlNook
Ebook from iBooks: shortli.nk/EarlIBooks
The Viscount is a Rake
Print from Amazon: shortli.nk/ViscountAmazon
Print from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/ViscountBN
Ebook from Amazon: shortli.nk/ViscountKindle
Ebook from Barnes & Noble: shortli.nk/ViscountNook
Ebook from iBooks: shortli.nk/ViscountIBooks
This is not, of course, the only naming scheme Abigail can use. She could decide to emphasize her series name, relying on a number to indicate a specific book in the series. (The Duke is a Rake in print from Amazon would then be designated shortli.nk/RR1Amazon or shortli.nk/Rakes1Amazon or shortli.nk/RegencyRakes1Amazon.) She could resort to even longer links, capturing both the series name and the book information: shortli.nk/RakesDukeAmazon. Abigail might want to emphasize the difference in formats: shortli.nk/DukeAmazonPrint and shortli.nk/DukeAmazonEbook. With any of these nomenclature systems, she might want to substitute her own website name for shortli.nk: AbigailAuthor.com/DukeAmazon.
Whatever system an author creates should be flexible enough to handle additional books in series, and additional series in a genre.
Disadvantages of Using Evergreen Links
Evergreen links provide solutions to a variety of marketing problems. They allow an author to begin promoting a book before that book is available on vendors’ websites. (During the interim, the author can direct a link to a “Coming Soon” page or a customized “Link Not Found” page.) They also allow an author to direct new subscribers to a newsletter signup (e.g., shortli.nk/AbigailNewsletter) without tying an author into using one newsletter provider forever. (If, for example, an author changes from MailChimp to MailerLite, the target of the link can easily be modified.)
Nevertheless, evergreen links aren’t perfect. Users who click on a link experience a delay while the link is redirected to the ultimate website. In most cases, that delay is not perceptible to the user; however, some evergreen link services are slower than others, and Internet traffic issues may cause more noticeable delays at times.
Also, some email programs consider common evergreen link providers (along with common link shorteners) to signal a higher likelihood of spam. Newsletters that use those links are more likely to end up in a subscriber’s spam inbox. They might even be labeled as “dangerous” for the recipient to open.
In fact, some users will not click on a link from a recognizable shortening service or evergreen service. They rightly note that the link could transfer them anywhere on the Internet—to websites with disagreeable content or to malware intended to infect their computers. (These cautious users have a more difficult time identifying evergreen links when those links are branded with an author’s website: AbigailAuthor.com/DukeAmazon instead of shortli.nk/DukeAmazon.)
Despite these relatively minor challenges, evergreen links give authors the power to manage their careers in a dynamic manner, promoting what and when and how they want, reaching a greater number of readers on a continuing basis.