Optimizing Your Books for Amazon Keyword Search

Amazon optimization

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:

Amazon Kindle mystery thriller suspense

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.

Amazon suspense keyword

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:

Amazon selling books search

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.

selling books on Amazon listing

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:

Amazon sales rank

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:

Amazon number of titles

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:

Amazon search for romance

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.”

Romance and Christmas

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.

How to Sell Books by the Truckload on AmazonIf 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.

Posted in Guest Post, Marketing & Promotion.

Penny Sansevieri, CEO and founder of Author Marketing Experts, Inc. (AME) and Adjunct Professor at NYU, is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most cutting-edge book marketing campaigns. To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, visit Author Marketing Experts (AME).

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Tom Wood

Hi Penny,

Great post, thank you!

A couple of questions on category keywords.

I’m writing post-cyberpunk (spellings vary) science fiction which belongs in the Science Fiction>Cyberpunk category at Amazon. (It’s also the official BISAC category)

For this category Amazon requires that ‘cyberpunk’ be included as one of the seven category keywords. Do you know if the keywords ‘post-cyberpunk’ and/or ‘postcyberpunk’ and/or ‘post cyberpunk’ will fulfill the requirement for ‘cyberpunk’ as a keyword?

Related, does Amazon parse keyword phrases and also consider each individual word in a keyword phrase when making recommendations?


Tom Wood

Hi Penny, thank you for your response. Yes, in the back-end in the categories. Thanks!

Thonie Hevron

Can’t wait to dig into this for my 3 books! Thanks, Penny!

[…] your sales, too. David Kudler has 6 secrets to pricing your ebook, Penny Sansevieri shows how to optimize your book’s Amazon keyword search, and Ashley Kimler discusses the benefits of publishing wide and selling books directly from your […]

[…] Penny Sansevieri: Optimizing Your Books for Amazon Keyword Search […]

Andrew Joyce

Good stuff … Thank you.


Thanks, Jane for this interesting, thorough, and helpful information

Chuck Jackson

Thank you, Penny, for a great post and tons of information. I use sponsored ads and I would assume using keyword strings would work with this too.

[…] auf die Verkäufe auswirkt, da man über die Suchfunktionen leichter gefunden wird. In ihrem Blogbeitrag erklärt Sansevieri genau, wie man seine Metadaten bestmöglich […]

Tracy Campbell

Hi Penny,
Thank you for this wealth of information.
I found your site via Mr. Ape.

[…] Posted on January 27, 2018 by @SylviaHubbard1 Optimizing Your Books for Amazon Keyword Search […]

Kas Sartori

Hi Penny, I’m late in replying since I just found your article. Ques: I started running an Amazon keyword ad & got 300K impressions in the 1st 4 days plus sold 12 books! I was SO Happy! But then the Impressions dropped off considerably, plus no sales, even though I added @100 more keywords on the 5&6th days. Now it’s the 9th day. Impressions are picking up but not like they did in the first 4 days and suddenly no sales or pages read, which depresses me. Along strings of genre keywords, I was told to use authors’ names and… Read more »

Kate Rauner

I found a nich sub-sub-category and my novel is #35 there. Cool. But… now what? What would it take to get Amazon to add the “best seller” flag?

Lissa Johnston

Finally got a minute to sit down and dig into this today. Wow, what a bunch of junky keywords I had! I’ve swapped them all out. Very curious to see what effects if any this has on clicks/sales. One comment: I discovered I was only able to see Amazon’s recommended search terms if I was searching under All Departments. If I tried to narrow it to any category, such as Kindle ebooks, the helpful suggested search terms disappeared and it would only search on whatever I typed. Maybe I misunderstood your directions. In any case, very helpful and thanks for… Read more »

Alakee Khareh

Hi Penny, and thank you for the informative article. I have the same problem as Lissa. The Amazon keyword strings populate the list box if I’m in the Kindle Store. However, once I choose Kindle eBooks, Amazon stops showing the suggestions. This is also true for when I choose a genre. I’m not using Incognito mode… I was also under the impression that the keyword strings were suggested by the Amazon engine and not by my previous searches. Would love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks.

Gary Townsend

Most of the articles I’ve seen on this subject focus exclusively on ebooks. That’s nice, but not all categories are conducive to ebooks. Journals, for example. Books that the reader is encouraged to and actually *wants* to write in because the book is *meant* for that. This raises the very obvious question: Is this still relevant for print books? I assume it is, because keywords are keywords, and unless you’ve deliberately restricted your search to Amazon’s Kindle store, the results ought to give you both print and ebooks. My next question: Is there anything regarding keywords and categories for print… Read more »

Jane Friedman

Hi Gary: This keyword/category advice applies equally to ebooks and print books. Amazon doesn’t differentiate between formats when you conduct a search.

Phillip W Legg

Great article. When I type in suggestions in the search bar I do not get any predictive info. What am I doing wrong?


Hi Jane – I may have missed this in your post, but do you know if keywords are indexed on book pages within the About the Author section as well? For most categories, you index and organically rank on search results through Title, Bullets and the Product Description. Since most books don’t have that layout (just a long description/summary of the book), I’m curious as to where else on the page keywords can be implemented and indexed.


Steven Sheiner

Hi Penny! For some reason, I’m not seeing any predictive searches when I type in the search bar. I know a few others mentioned a similar issue. Any idea how to resolve this? Thanks in advance!

Coach Vee - Holistic Mental Health & Healing Coach

Great read! Glad I found this article today as I am looking to publish my first non-fiction, self – help book on how to take charge of your mental health next month!
Gots me some keyword string research to do!

Duke Sharp

Hi Penny,

Found this today, good stuff, much appreciated!

Mine is a music ed book, relevant for virtually all instruments.

I have a question about keyword strings, trying to use every one of the 50 characters as economically as possible.

What I’m wondering is whether a keyword string with something like “play guitar banjo mandolin ukulele fiddle piano” will work, or does it need to be entered as “play guitar play banjo play mandolin play ukulele” … ?