Soooo, about my book reviews on my website. I tweaked and played about five major times with layout, format, etc. between 2005 and 2015. It has come up enough that my wife’s reaction to ANOTHER change was basically that I was always fiddling with it, wasn’t I? Not quite, but it obviously seems like it to her.
Early on, it was just by email. Then I had a website, and I tried multiple layouts and even some plugins. I was posting the reviews on Amazon, and even had some inkling that maybe some day I could be a top reviewer for them. Lots of people do 10-20 reviews and stop, and back when I was starting, even 500 reviews would have put you in the top 50. Then Amazon exploded and their affiliate program grew too, so now people review EVERYTHING. So I expanded my reviews to post them elsewhere too — Indigo, Google, Barnes and Noble, GoodReads, Ottawa Public Library, LibraryThing, etc.
But other than that, the major changes have been a result of something external:
- Changing servers — Each time I’ve moved from one host to another, it has almost always broken some aspect of my site because the config was different on the new host, and I therefore had to go in and modify something in my reviews…that’s happened four separate times in total;
- Amazon changed their policy on disclosure — Amazon added a requirement to all reviews that they had to disclose if the writer had received a free book or anything in exchange for the review or knew the author. An extra paragraph for the reviews, and as consistency is one of the hobgoblins in my little mind, I added that section during one of the updates;
- A plugin I used changed — I was using one plugin that would do the link, and it changed the way it worked, requiring me to go in and manually adjust a bunch of reviews…to avoid the gremlins with that, I switched plugins and used a paid plugin with more firepower behind it. Again, it required a revamp and update to the reviews, including for layout as to how the images showed around the text; and,
- I became an Amazon affiliate — this happened in the midst of all this so that if someone read a review on my site, then clicked through to Amazon, I’d get a few pennies on the referral if they subsequently bought something.
Here’s the thing though…If you want people to click through, and get the money, it only works well if they see the Amazon logo and button to buy, etc. I hate that layout. It messes up my theme, in part, but it is also really crass and commercial. I could also make money selling advertising on my site, small banners here and there, maybe even enough to pay for my monthly web bill. And more. But I have ZERO interest in having ads on my site. Ever. Yet there I was considering embedding an Amazon ad? I opted instead for the lowest click-through / least offensive layout and I got almost no click-throughs and thus earned no revenue. I didn’t care about that, I only cared that it let me link to their book images, really. Sure, if I got enough revenue to buy a free book once in awhile, what was the harm?
So that’s where I was as of January 2016 (Finally setting up my book reviews). I had my layout, everything was SET. Perfect. Then I merged my sites back into one, but that was fine, only a minor tweak then. I uploaded 36 more BRs, a few more here and there at a time, added another 10 for my 50by50 campaign (#50by50 #28 – Write ten book reviews). I’m over 100 now, and quite happy with them, Sam I am.
ENTER THE GDPR DRAGON!
Dun, dun, dun! As part of the implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR as it is usually written), many websites are trying to figure out how to deal with transitory data about users. In the old days, they had people register, give them some basic profile info, and then sat on it even if they weren’t using it. Now, in the EU, if the user hasn’t interacted with the website in over a year, and thus can’t be said to be “current”, then a few things happen. Most sites started emailing the user to say “Do you still want to continue?”. Many tried to figure out if there were ways to dump the data but keep some basic profile. And others, like Amazon, who are always in the EU’s cross-hairs due to domestic companies complaining they can’t compete, were forced to look at accounts even in their affiliate programs to see if they were fully “active”. Even if they aren’t EU accounts.
So Amazon et al with affiliate programs are culling the herd. If the affiliate links aren’t generating any traffic, i.e., no referrals, no income, etc., then they are shutting them down. For most people, this seems like an almost no-brainer. If you’re not using it, what does it matter? Well, for one thing, when Google indexes sites, it looks to see who and what links to other places. If I was part of a fanbase that really liked one author, and 100 of us had links to their books on Amazon, it might not generate any revenue (we already have the book), but it would boost Google rankings. If they cull the affiliate accounts, then my link looks VERY different and lots of people will just dump it instead. Fewer links to Amazon, lower rankings of some products in Google. The EU wasn’t stupid. The corollary though was also true…if the link is sitting there, doing nothing but may somehow, somewhere generate a sale for Amazon, why would THEY want to kill it? Lots of people suggested it was better to have updated Amazon databases of active referrers, but they weren’t DOING anything to really service my account. And they WERE getting links, just not ones that generated any revenue for me. So it wasn’t costing them anything. But the GDPR hit, someone decided this was a way to comply, and all affiliate links that hadn’t generated income in the last year were killed. Well, perhaps a better description was that Amazon maimed my API limb.
Know what an API is? No, okay, here’s a simple explanation. If you have a smartphone with a Facebook app, that app connects to the Facebook API to know how to transfer info and it connects with your account to allow you to do or see updates. Two permissions, although you only see one — you give it permission to access your account. But long before you downloaded the app, the developer had to get permission to access FB’s API at all.
For Amazon, the API is the guts and power that your website needs to connect to their website and pull some data. And most websites have the same licensing rules — if you link to their site, you have to use their API to pull data, and if you use their API, you agree to their terms and conditions; if you link to their site without their API, you’re violating their licensing.
Okay, enough tech babble. What does this mean? It means that although I get to still be an Amazon affiliate, I cannot access their Amazon API. Which means I can’t pull data from their product pages like the BOOK’S IMAGE and format it however I want. Which was the primary thing I did. I can do banners, I can do detailed pages, etc., but no custom layouts. Heck, even NON-AFFILIATES can pull data from Amazon if they don’t care if it looks like this:
It’s freaking HUGE, and it is hard to style well. Definitely NOT what I wanted.
SO ABOUT GOODREADS
GoodReads is owned by Amazon, but they have mostly left it alone. They increased the links to Amazon products, etc., but you can still do a fair amount with it. And since I’ve also got an account over there, and have posted my reviews there, the site lets me use their API to show that review back on my own site. It even gives me the code to directly embed my review. There are two general caveats with their API usage…first, I can’t start harvesting their site willy-nilly, steal all their data, and create my own database to serve. Seems fair. Second, I have to include a clear and identifiable link back to GoodReads. The code it gives you to paste shows you one way to meet these requirements, and I tweak it slightly for wording and flow, and size of image, all allowable in the terms and conditions. Perfect, right?
Well, not quite. First of all, the code for Amazon has to be deleted — with the API not working for them anymore, or at least not allowing ME to use it, all the old images I pulled are gone. But not just “not showing”, they’re replaced by a little image of a missing picture file. So the code has to be deleted, and done so relatively manually as it is different links on every page (same structure, different sub-elements, so can’t just search and replace).
But I had also conformed to the Amazon rules about disclosure, which doesn’t make much sense on my site as it is the same text almost every time. No I didn’t get a free book; no I don’t know the author personally; no I don’t follow or interact with them on social media. Blah blah blah. A legalistic text that sometimes seems overkill if the rest of the review is short. Yet if I’m no longer constrained by the Amazon API, I can delete that. Sweet.
Oh, but then the bottom-line / one line summary should be in a different spot in the review, it doesn’t look right where it is sitting now. And some text right above it was fine being in 14 point font previously but now that I’m moving things around, it should go to 10 point font and two horizontal lines should be ditched. Plus a heading is no longer accurate.
Sure, they look “okay”, and I could simply go through and do the bare minimum to do the update. I did that once before — I decided that a bunch of individualised links at the bottom were taking too long to generate, so I ditched them. But I didn’t go back and delete them from previous reviews. I just left them. They looked sucky, but I didn’t want to edit.
Since I’m going to have to edit ANYWAY now, I might as well clean up everything, no?
Damn the European Union and the extraterritoriality of their cyber laws!
While this should be the last time I have to ever edit the BRs that I’ve already done, and there is now nothing in any of them that would no longer link properly, it’s still a pain in the patootie to edit 125 posts. But I’m anal about how things appear, which is partly why I have a website at all. At least I’ve got a decent workflow figured out — delete the old images (Amazon link, featured image); adjust the old layout (adjust a heading, remove horizontal lines, reduce font size for a legend, remove repetitive disclosure, move the one-line summary, and delete some old stuff I should have deleted previously); and paste the new GoodReads code (image plus link to more information).
While I’m not happy I “have” to do it, I am happy with the detachment from a commercial vendor like Amazon, and having more control over my layouts and how things appear. I just have to remember to never tell my wife about it again.