The idea for this case study was born in January of 2009. That date may not seem significant to you until I mention the fact that this was the day that USAir Flight 1549 ditched in the Hudson River. The accident was especially significant to me personally because I had written and published a book about a lesser known airline ditching that had occurred in 1970. My book 35 Miles From Shore: The Ditching and Rescue of ALM Flight 980 tells the true story of the first and only open-water ditching of a commercial jet and the efforts to rescue those who survived.
In addition to being an author, I am also a professional pilot. I am type rated on the Airbus 320, the same type of aircraft that ended up in the Hudson River, and I wrote a book about the only open-water ditching of a commercial jet. More importantly, I had a web presence. That web presence led the media to me, which led to media interviews. The same day of the ditching I was contacted by a number of news outlets for my opinion on the ditching. I was interviewed on the Fox show Studio B With Sheppard Smith. I was interviewed by CNN and by a reporter for the New York Daily News. I would eventually take part in an MSNBC documentary called Why Planes Crash.
By this time my book had been out for a little over eight months. Most of my marketing efforts were winding down. I had done many of the same things that other authors have done to market their books: I sent out as many review copies as I could; I did a virtual blog tour; I did a limited bookstore tour; I did a few interviews on TV and radio; I started a blog and a website. I had also experimented with running a Google Adwords pay per click (PPC) campaign. I had sold a respectable 2,500 or so copies, and the book was still moving albeit at a slower pace.
One gauge of how my book was doing was my Amazon sales ranking. I wouldn’t say that I was obsessed with tracking my sales ranking, but I’ll admit that I looked at it every now and then. Prior to January 15, 2009, the lowest my ranking had been was around 15,000. For those of you unfamiliar with the Amazon sales ranking system, the lower the number the better. A best seller will typically have a sales ranking of under 1,000. The sales ranking (also referred to as Amazon’s Bestseller Ranking) represents how your book stacks up against the millions of other books listed on Amazon. On January 15, prior to the UsAir ditching, my sales ranking had been averaging between 50,000 and 150,000. That evening and the next day my Amazon sales ranking went as low as 2,000. It stayed low for several days afterwards. The news about the ditching was obviously driving sales of my book, but more importantly it was the visibility that was driving sales.
While the news about the ditching was great for potential sales of my book, my personal life took a nose dive when I lost my job a few days afterwards. More on that later. As I said earlier, I had experimented with Google Adwords, but I had no clue what I was doing. Google’s online help material was extensive, but I quickly got lost among the thousands of links and help files and never could get a solid grasp of how it all worked. My initial Adwords campaign contained just one ad and a handful of keywords. I basically set it up and put it on autopilot for a year. I just didn’t have the time to really get into the nuts and bolts of things. Unfortunately, it was time and money wasted. A poorly designed PPC campaign will be as ineffective as any other half-hearted marketing initiative.