What Is Evergreening Links?
Evergreening a link means making sure the destination of a link always lands the user in the correct place, even when the correct place changes. (P.S I will probably be tweaking this page for a bit, but as of this original writing, there were a lot of people who wanted to know quickly.)
TL;dr :: use a plugin such as Redirection, or a link shortening service such as Bit.ly (likely the paid version) or an installed application such as YOURLS to manage updating the destination of links inside your books.
I am writing this in the context of eBooks where authors include links to the books they’ve written in the back of the book. However, the concept applies to any link you make.
The Basic Problem for Authors who write More than One Book
The more backlist you have, the more books you end up republishing with updated links for books that have been published since you wrote the previous ones. It’s a problem and can end up being a lot of work. But what if there was a way change the destination of existing buy links without having to edit and update books you have already published?
There is. You need to create evergreen links for your books. You do this by creating a type of link in your book that goes to an external page where you can then send the user to the updated location, a redirection, if you will.
There are Three Ways To Create Evergreen Links
There are 3 basic ways to achieve evergreen links. Some of the methods have more than one approach. Don’t worry, I’ll explain each of them. Also, some people do better when they can see a demo or a video, so don’t give up if a written explanation doesn’t quite do it for you. (Sorry, making an interactive demo involves more time than I have right now.)
- A plugin if you’re on WordPress or Blogger (SUPER easy!! Install the plugin and you’re done!)
- Build redirects at your website
- Use a link shortening service that allows you to update the destination of the link
I assume you already understand how html links work. Even if you’ve only encountered them in the Word document you will upload to vendors, you should have encountered the need to create a link a user will click on to go someplace else. Other books you have written, for example, that you hope your readers will buy.
I also assume you are producing books customized for each of the major vendors such that in the version you upload to iBooks, all your buy links go to iBooks purchase pages. The version you upload to Amazon contains links that go to your Amazon buy pages. If you’re not doing this, you are losing sales.
I feel like I should repeat that. Backmatter links sell books. Vendor-specific links sell more books. You should have buy links in your books, and they should be vendor-specific for Amazon, iBooks, Google Play, Kobo and Nook at the very minimum. You will also need a generic version of your links. Those can go to your website.
No system is perfect (yet) but evergreening your links saves a lot of time and work.
Note: If you’re on the hosted, free version of WordPress, my understanding is you won’t be able to use plugins. Personally, while I realize that money can be an issue, this is an excellent reason to have a self-hosted WordPress install.
This is a business. Don’t leave money on the table because you’re too busy or don’t want to deal with the horror of tech. I get that, I really do. But if either of those things describe you, you can outsource the work. If readers loved your story, they WILL click those links to get more of your work.
Assume you have written a three book series called Animals Who Talk.
Animals Who Talk Series!
- Fred the Cat, Book 1
- Suzy the Giraffe, Book 2
- Roberta the Chicken, Book 3
Because you are a super fast writer, your production schedule looks like this:
Month 1: You write and publish Book 1.
Month 2: You write and publish Book 2.
Month 3: You write and publish Book 3.
The common situation is that at the time of publication, Book 1 will not contain any buy links to Books 2 or 3 because, of course, those books do not yet exist. On publication, Book 2 can contain links to Book 1 but not to Book 3. Book 3 CAN contain links to books 1 and 2.
On publication, without an evergreening system, the best you can do for Books 1 and 2 is send your readers to a webpage you set up about the series and/or each of the books. Sadly, the more clicks you put between your fans and your books, the fewer books you will sell. Commonly, this means an author will publish Book 2, wait for the vendor links to go live, then republish Book 1, which has been updated with the correct links for each vendor version of Book 2. Then, when Book 3 is published, Books 1 and 2 are republished with updated links to Book 3. For each vendor.
An evergreening system means that all three books contain links to all the other books at the time you publish them. As vendor links go live for each of the books, you update your evergreening system (remember there is more than one way to do this!) once and only once without having to reupload ANY of your Animals Who Talk Series books.
Really Long and Detailed Explanation
You might want to skim or skip to the more technical explanations of the method below. Or you might want to read on to understand the use cases.
So, here’s my basic system:
I have YOURLS installed at cjewel.me This is not required, you can use one of the other methods, but the concept is more or less the same.
I devised a naming system for short link naming that I can remember and follow.
Using the example of a booklist in the back of books that are on sale containing a link to a book that isn’t available yet:
1. I create a page on my website in the books section of the site, for that specific book, The Adventures of Roberta the Chicken, let’s say. Below is the URL such a page would have on my website.
That page has all the information about the book as I would do for any book page on my website. This is the book’s permanent home at my website. I can update it at will.
2. Over at cjewel.me (or in my browser, either way works), I create links something like this—not my actual naming convention, I’m naming for clarity here:
I tell YOURLS that all the vendor links resolve to carolynjewel.com/books/robertathechicken.php
3. In my book Fred the Cat and in Suzy the Giraffe for my Animals Who Talk Series, in which Books 1 and 2 are on sale everywhere, but Book 3 isn’t yet, my backmatter list of books looks like this. These are links, of course:
Animals Who Talk Series!
- Fred the Cat, Book 1
- Suzy the Giraffe, Book 2
- Roberta the Chicken, Book 3
In the Amazon versions of books 1 and 2 my url (link) for Roberta the Chicken is:
There is no www because the point of YOURLS is to have short links, the install process makes that clear enough, so don’t worry about that.
For my iBooks versions of books 1 and 2, my link for Roberta The Chicken is:
Currently, both the Amazon and iBooks links will send the user to my website page for the book.
so, for iBooks:
<a href=”http://cjewel.me/RobertaTheChicken_iBooks”>Roberta The Chicken, Book 3</a>
Again, recall that, currently, all the various links take you to my website page for Roberta The Chicken.
This means that when readers of Books 1 and 2 click on the Roberta link, they will end up at my website page for Roberta the Chicken where they will be told the book isn’t available yet and hey, join my mailing list to get notified as soon as it’s released.
4. Fast forward 6 months and now Roberta The Chicken is done and I’ve uploaded it to all the vendors. iBooks goes live first because they are awesome like that. As soon as I have the live iBooks links:
I go to YOURLS and edit the link cjewel.me/RobertaTheChicken_iBooks so it points to the live iBooks URL instead of my website.
From that moment forward, a reader of the iBooks versions of Books 1 and 2 who clicks on the Roberta link, will go to the iBooks page for Roberta The Chicken.
When Amazon goes live, I go to YOURLS and update cjewel.me/RobertaTheChicken_Amazon to point to the Amazon page instead of my website.
Same for Amazon, as soon as I update the YOURLS link, anyone clicking the links in the Amazon version of books 1 and 2 gets sent to the Roberta Amazon buy page.
You can make your links book-specific so you know not just that your link came from an iBooks reader, but an iBooks reader of a specific book. I advise you to think about this and devise a system that works for you:
For Fred The Cat and Suzy the Giraffe, you could make links like this if you wanted to:
cjewel.me/FredTheCat_RobertaTheChicken_iBooks <– use that link in the iBooks version of the Fred book for the Roberta link
cjewel.me/SuzyTheSwan_RobertaTheChicken_iBooks <– use that link in the iBooks version of the Suzy book’s link to the Roberta book.
You need a naming system that makes sense to you. There”s no reason you can’t use really long “short” names, but it’s more opportunities for typos. But longer tends to make more sense. If you use abbreviations, never deviate from them. It’s worth it to spend some time working out your naming system.
YOURLS is also case sensitive, so FredTheCat is different from fredthecat.
It’s more work to track book-specific urls, but then you have more granular data and more data is better! You’d know that iBooks readers of FredTheCat clicked on line to the Roberta book 500 times while iBooks readers of Suzy The Giraffe have clicked on the Roberta link 754 times. Up to you.
This way, I do a lot less reuploading of books in order to update links. As long as I’m using my cjewel.me links, I can repoint my short links to wherever I want them to go. Some reuploading is unavoidable of course. Series you haven’t thought up yet, etc.
But How Do I Achieve this Magic??
If you have a WordPress driven website, the Redirection plugin is simple to use. I know several authors who are using that plugin. My site is hybrid, so though I have Redirection installed for my WordPress instance, the plugin only redirects WordPress pages, not pages on the non-WordPress portion of my site, so this is not as useful for me as it is for others. But it’s nice to have. If you’re on wordpress, I’d recommend that. You don’t need to read any farther, unless you’re unclear on the timing of the process.
2. Redirects on a non-WordPress or non-Blogger site
Depending on your webhost, you can do your own redirects, either directly in the htaccess file (assuming you’re on a Linux flavor server) or via a tool your host provides, or by building a redirect page.
If you don’t know what an htaccess file is DO NOT not use the htaccess file method. You don’t know enough to do this safely. A typo or wrong setting could disable your entire site, and really, just don’t if you haven’t mucked around in this file before.
If you’re on a windows server, well, I doubt your webhost would give you direct access to IIS. If you don’t know what IIS is, then this is also not something you should expect to do.
Most people are going to be on a linux server and if you have a good webhost, there will be a website tool that allows you to set up redirects. Mine has one that is OK enough, and I use that tool from time to time, depending on what I need to do. I explain more about this below.
2A. HTML redirects
If you have a regular website, you could also build web pages for your redirects. This is probably more work and the reporting would depend on how good your website analytics tools are. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed on your site already, get it set up (Google “Google Webmaster Tools” and you should find all the info you need.) That will help with overall analytics. Plus, if you ever have a malware issue, having access to Webmaster Tools can get your site cleared faster.
This method requires that you know now to create a webpage and upload it to your server AND realize you have to test that you did it right. Typos happen, people. It’s not hard, but honestly, why would you want to learn to do this when you could be writing instead? Outsource it.
Here’s an example of an html redirect page:
This will display the information about an updated page, then take the user there. For evergreening, you wouldn’t want the page to wait. I built this page when I switched my site from html to php and certain files needed a manual redirect. The page “about.shtml” redirects users to “about.php” so if someone out there on the web is linking to my about.shtml page they’ll end up at the new page.
<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC “-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN”>
<title>Carolyn Jewel – About Carolyn Page Redirect</title>
<meta http-equiv=”REFRESH” content=”5;url=about.php”>
<p>This About Carolyn page has been updated. Please wait while you’re redirected to the spiffy new page!</p>
This line is the key one:
<meta http-equiv=”REFRESH” content=”5;url=about.php”>
The number 5 tells the page to wait 5 seconds then take the user to the url listed after ;url (that is, about.php)
You can set the number to any integer.
0 would be no wait. You’d still want to have the header and paragraph just in case someone’s browser or settings disallow redirects. Additional considerations go into deciding how to style the page and whether to provide a URL in the body, but I won’t bore you with that. For some pages where I do this for one reason or another, it looks just like my regular website.
If you elect to do this, I assume that you already understand at least something about what considerations go into building and styling a redirect.
3. Roll Your Own Short Links: YOURLS
YOURLS is free software that you install on your own domain that allows you to create and manage custom short links. Since the point is a short url you’ll need to register and host a domain then install and configure the software. I blogged earlier about installing YOURLS
Most of the process details for using YOURLS are explained above. When I needed to install an update to YOURLS I hired someone from Odesk. He was a Polish college student and did a great job for $22.00. It was totally worth it.
YOURLS comes with reporting so you can see how many times a link has registered a click, where they came from (IP address or country, and what time, etc.) There are other graphs and charts. Another advantage is that some vendors or sites have an issue with Bit.ly links because they can be used to obfuscate malware. Technically, so could a roll your own solution, but your short link domain wouldn’t be flagged unless you were a really bad person or got hacked. (Please don’t use a stupid password to secure your domain or the login to administer YOURLS.)
The advantage to a link shortening service (there are several such services) is that you can use them anywhere you want to, including Facebook, Twitter, etc, and for reasons other than book links. YOURLS includes a nifty tool that allows you to create short links from your browser. There is also a WordPress plugin that will create YOURLS short links to posts.
YOURLS is free, but I recommend you donate an amount you can afford. That would be super nice.
On Naming Systems and YOURLS customizations
Updating this post Dec/2016 to add some additional information.
Here is the naming system I devised. YMMV. If I’d been thinking further ahead at the time, I would have made a few refinements, but this works for me. My short URL naming system consists of 3 parts.
1. Title Acronym
2. Vendor Acronym
3. Book Number (I assign a number to each of my books.)
So, suppose I have a new book titled Mika the Mouse and I have assigned it the acronym mtm. This is my 46th title.
My vendor acronyms are as follows:
Nook Press: NP
Google Play: GP
My website: WS
Now, suppose I want to add this link to my very first book, Passion’s Song. (acronym psong, book No. 1) My second book, Stolen Love, has an acronym of slove. It’s book #2.
Here is the short url for the Mika book at Amazon inside Passion’s Song:
And here it is for link in the Amazon version of Stolen Love:
Now the links Mika the Mouse inside those took books at B&N would be:
So, mtmiBooks45 is corresponds to the vendor URL to Mika the Mouse at iBooks inside Book No. 45. Which is… whichever title corresponds to Book No 45.
Inside Mika the Mouse at Amazon, I have links to all my other books, as follows:
This means that for any given title, I am able to tell which clicks came from which title at which vendor. So, now I know things like, my collection of erotic short stories gets a lot of clicks. I was surprised. And now I know I should be writing more of those.
I know how many iBooks readers of My Dangerous Pleasure (Book 4 in a series) are clicking the link to Book 5.
Custom YOURLS updates
So. As of this writing, I have forty-five titles for which I have vendor links. At present, each new book contains links to all my other titles. I need 45 links for a book times each vendor plus my website. That’s 45×6 which is 270 links required for every new book. Obviously, it is not a very good use of time to do manual link creation or manual updates at that scale.
Because I elected to use a tracking system at a per book/per vendor level, I commissioned two custom YOURLS plugins to solve that problem. The plugins are based on my naming convention.
One of the plugins creates all the required links for a new title.
The other one batch updates a given title’s custom vendor link from one URL to another URL. Typically, that’s from my website to the now live vendor URL.
Suppose I have a brand new book in the Animals That Talk series, Mika The Moose. I will need a total of 270 inks for this book; One for every other book at every other vendor, plus my website. All those links initially point to my website. My custom plugin creates all 270 links automatically. All those new links point to my website page for the book. We’ll pretend, for the sake of the example, that I am so totally on the ball that I have loaded updates to all my other books with the link to this forthcoming title.
Now suppose I have a live vendor links for this title at iBooks. For all instances of the iBooks links for Mika the Mouse in all 45 of my iBooks titles, I need to change the destination of that URL from my website page for the book to the iBooks book page. My custom update plugin does this automatically.
If you have questions, let me know in the comments and I can clarify or what have you.