Today’s guest post is by Penny Sansevieri (@bookgal) and is excerpted from How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon: 2018 Edition.
Even though many experts talk about Amazon keywords, categories, and pricing, few experts mention this important fact: Amazon is more a search engine than a store. In fact, Amazon is the “Google” of online buying.
But there is no instant, magic formula when it comes to ranking on Amazon. There’s a lot of shortcut software out there, and keyword apps, but there’s nothing like good, old-fashioned hard work to make your Amazon page soar. Much like ranking on Google, people are always searching for shortcuts, but they rarely work.
When you want your website to rank on Google, you have to think through what keywords you want to rank for. It’s the same at Amazon. There are approximately one billion ebook titles and three million print books on Amazon, and, yes, you can still be on page one or claim the number-one title. Why? Because most people aren’t aware that Amazon is its own search engine.
The more searchable your book is, the more often it’s going to come up in searches, and consequently, the more you’ll sell. Part of making your book searchable is understanding how to set your categories and keywords on Amazon (and related metadata), which is accessible to any indie author who has their book on Amazon.
When optimizing your title on Amazon, you’ll focus on three areas:
- Metadata: Keywords, keywords, keywords—Amazon loves keywords, and applying that knowledge skillfully will help you achieve better ranking.
- A good book cover: While Amazon may not ding you for a bad-looking cover, your potential readers most certainly will.
- Reviews: Reviews help with the visibility of your page and your ranking on Amazon—even if your book is a few years old.
This post is all about setting your keywords.
Keyword Strings at Amazon
When we talk about keywords, it’s important think in terms of keyword strings, because that’s how people search. Consider the last search you did on Google. Did you hop over to the search engine and pop in one keyword like mystery or romance? Likely not. You probably plugged in a string of keywords like, “most romantic weekend getaways,” or, “best mystery dinner theaters.” Whether you’re talking about Google or Amazon searches, they both respond better to keyword strings as opposed to single keywords.
You’re allowed up to seven keyword strings when you upload your book to Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP). I suggest you come up with a minimum of fifteen keyword strings while you’re doing research so you can swap them out and/or use them in your book description, product page blurbs, enhanced book description, review pitches, and so on.
It always helps if you know the keywords and keyword strings your audience tends to use. If you don’t know, you’ll want to start by testing some keywords on Amazon to find out what seems to work well for your book, subject matter, niche, or genre. I suggest by starting on the Kindle/ebook side of the Amazon website. Not every search is created equal, and searching for “mystery and suspense” on the main Amazon site instead of digging down into the Kindle department specifically will net you different results.
How to Research Keyword Strings at Amazon
When you reach the Kindle Store, click “Kindle e-books.” And then select whatever genre you’re in. For this test, let’s use, “Mystery, Thriller & Suspense.”
Once you’re there, you’ll see this screen:
Right under your genre, on the lefthand side, you’ll see more drop-down lists, such as, “Moods & Themes.” I suggest starting with one from this list—just make sure your book fits into this segment of your genre. Once you’re there, just start typing in your keywords into the search bar. While you’re keying it in, Amazon’s intuitive search will start to drop down suggestions. Not all of the suggestions will be ones you’ll use, but they’re certainly a good start.
Ideally you want your keyword string to match the following criteria:
- Make sure you’re only using keyword strings. Do not settle for single keywords, because consumers don’t search that way. You wouldn’t Google with just the word, “Suspense” either.
- Don’t assume Amazon’s recommendations are the exact right ones for your book.
- Once you have collected Amazon’s suggestions, you’ll want to pop over to those pages and see what kinds of books are listed on the results page, and what their sales rank is. We’ll discuss this more in a minute.
- Be sure to check and see if there are a number of free books cluttering the first page of a particular keyword string search. Let’s say you’re looking at “Suspense mystery books.” You notice lots of books on free promotion, which will always be at the top of the list. Don’t bother to look at their sales rank, because it’s not an accurate depiction of how this string is actually doing. Instead, keep going down the list until you find a book that isn’t on a pricing promo.
- Don’t worry if the search string includes books in Kindle Unlimited. It won’t affect your results.
Amazon’s search function will drop down suggestions much like Google does. But there’s a right way and a wrong way to use it. Take a look at the screenshot below. I’ve typed in “selling books,” and Amazon’s top suggestions for this particular keyword string are:
This is where things start to get really interesting, because these search suggestions from Amazon will show you what’s trending with their consumers. And if you click on one of the search terms, like, “Selling books on Amazon,” it will take you to the page below where you’ll see another technique for increasing visibility: Several of these authors have included the popular search term in their title, which also helps with their ranking.
If you’ve already published your book (and likely most of you reading this are in this boat), then don’t worry. There are a lot of other things you can do to help spike your book sales that don’t involve changing the title, at least on the cover. Subtitles with keyword strings can be added to product pages. But if you haven’t put a name on your book yet, you may want to seriously consider using this method to find and use trending Amazon keywords or keyword strings!
Let’s look further at how you can determine if a keyword string is right or wrong for your book. First you need to check out the sales rank of the top books that show up in the keyword string search. For example:
Sales rank indicates a book’s sales in relation to other books’ sales. A book ranked #1 has sold the most. So a high number on the sales rank line isn’t good. A book ranking #88,453 means that 88,452 books are selling better than it. A great high-sales rank is normally #10,000 or less.
But this also depends to some degree on the genre, niche, or subject matter. For example, a sales rank of #13,000 may not seem great. But for some of my own nonfiction, it means they’re selling pretty well. In some cases I’m doing $500-plus in book sales per month at that sales rank. However, when I look at that #13,000 rank in fiction, the sales are often lower. Anything you’ve heard about how sales rank works should be taken with a grain of salt, because the numbers can vary depending on the category (genre, niche, or subject matter).
That being said, you want to look for keywords that support two things. First, you want to look at whether the search term produces a lot of results. The number of books for each particular search term is located at the top of the page. See the arrow below:
Let’s say you have a military romance book, so you go onto Amazon and type in, “Romance and military.” If you click on the first few titles, you’ll see they have a high sales rank. The general rule about the ideal number of books for each particular search term is that you want a low number so you have a better chance of getting to number one.
While that’s true up to a point, there’s something else you should consider. For some categories, you may find a small number of books, but the sales rank on the books is pretty high, generally in the one hundred thousands. This means that, yes, there are a small number of books under that search term. But it also means they aren’t selling.
The flip side of this is when you think, “Okay, I’ll put my book in there and get to the number one spot with little or no effort.”
I thought that, too, and I shifted a romance book into a narrow keyword string. The book fell like a rock in the rankings, which points us back to this important thing to keep in mind: Even if Amazon suggests the keyword string, you still need to do your homework to make sure it’s the right choice for you.
Quick side note: At the time I ran my search for “romance and military,” the first few titles weren’t great with regard to sales rank. The covers weren’t stellar, either. In most cases they could have been better. So why do such titles rank so high if the covers aren’t great? I’m betting the authors tinker with the keywords in the titles. Sometimes you’ll find the book titles and subtitles have a lot of extra words added. So look closely when you search … but don’t discount a good cover. In most cases, your cover greatly contributes to whether someone clicks on your book. When you find a book with a good cover, click on it and take a look at the sales rank.
More Unique Ways to Search Amazon
Let’s say you wrote a romance novel, and you’re trying to find out what your potential readers are searching for. Head on over to Amazon and type in, “Romance and,” and see what pops up. For example:
These are autosuggestions based on your keyword plus the word, “and.” Now let’s take this a step further. Let’s add the beginnings of another letter to this, creating a search string that looks like this: “Romance and c.”
Fiction authors, particularly romantic fiction authors: take a page from the Hallmark Channel and make sure to incorporate the search term “Romance and Christmas.” All you have to do is flip through the TV listings to see that, starting at Thanksgiving, Hallmark goes all romance-and-Christmas all the time. It’s big business for them, and it should be for you too.
If you decide to change your keywords, be sure to add them to your book description and maybe even incorporate them in your title if your book’s not on the shelves yet. And be sure people are actually buying the books in the search results using the keywords you’re considering.
If you found this post helpful, you can learn more in Penny Sansevieri’s How to Sell Books by the Truckload on Amazon: 2018 Edition.