Image: Matthew Loffhagen
Although being in the right online stores is key to how well your book will do, wherever you sell your book prospective readers still have to find it. That can be a more daunting prospect than it first appears but happily you can make your book far easier to find with just a few minor changes to the keywords in the title or description.
One of the most effective things you can do is use keywords to make your book as ‘searchable’ and ‘discoverable’ as possible.
Searchability & discoverability
- ‘Searchability’ is how easily your book can be found when searched for online. Online sellers such as Amazon and the iBookstore feature millions of books and even if someone is deliberately searching for yours it could still be found at the bottom of a long list.
- ‘Discoverability’ is how likely your book is to be found by prospective readers who are searching for something to read but not for your book in particular.
Both are qualities you want your book to have in abundance: the easier it is to find the more copies it will sell. Happily the more copies a book sells the more it will be favoured by various search engines, so even adding just a little searchability to your book can result in a big boost.
But how can you add these qualities to your book? It all comes down to keywords.
Keywords are the words, terms and phrases which people use when searching for a book online. Think of the titles and book blurbs that intrigue you when you find them in Waterstones, then imagine asking for that kind of book. The words you used would be broader than those the book used about itself.
H.P. Lovecraft’s famed The Call of Cthulhu is an incredibly popular classic but there’s no chance of asking for it by accident (unless you sneeze while asking for something else.) If released for online download today the relevant keywords to increase discoverability would be phrases such as ‘weird’, ‘arcane’ and ‘horror’. While ‘Cthulhu’ isn’t the kind of word people can easily commit to mind ‘The Call of…’ is unique enough to be memorable and along with the key words the books searchability would be good.
Keywords are often very different to the words that make someone want to buy a book, so there’s an art in striking the perfect balance. While fans of Lovecraft might be drawn to novels which describe themselves as ‘eldritch’ it’s a term that’s unlikely to attract readers who aren’t already familiar with the genre. The more general ‘horror’ draws in a wider audience while words such as ‘weird’ and ‘arcane’ provide more specific details for people searching for that kind of fiction.
The good news is that as important as keywords are you don’t just have to guess which will work.
Keyword research for authors
Finding out which keywords people are searching for involves studying search metadata. Metadata is data about data: in this case the number of people searching for certain terms and how they’re doing so.
Google’s Keyword Planner provides estimates of how keywords will perform and even makes suggestions based on what you already have. It will show you how many people search for each keyword/phrase and the devices they use to do so. To use this tool you’ll require an AdWords account.
Another method is to use Amazon’s search bar to see the most common searches attached to a keyword. Typing anything into the search bar and waiting a second will cause a dropdown list to appear suggesting possible search terms.
Using Amazon’s dropdown is more useful for non-fiction books, as it shows how people phrase searches on certain subjects, but can also provide valuable information for fiction authors.
There are also a number of free 3rd party tools which can help you find keywords:
There are three places where you can make use of keywords.
Keywords are at their most effective in your title. Again this is easier for non-fiction authors, who should tailor their title to the exact phrasing prospective readers are searching for. Fiction writers will find it trickier to choose a title that puts them at the top of every Google search and attracts those readers who see it.
The description you provide for online booksellers is an excellent place to plant keywords. Remember the more you use the more people will see your book, but you still need to write a description that interests them once they’ve found you.
Many sites will allow you to select 5-7 keywords with which to associate your book. Make sure to use every possible slot you’re given, and implement the method above to choose the keywords which will do most for you.
If your book is listed by a publisher they’ll take care of this themselves, but there’s no harm in doing some research yourself and letting them know which keywords you think would work best.
Use search engines to find books similar in nature to yours. What do their titles have in common? Are they long, short? Do they utilise a certain form of language or structure? What keywords do they use? While anyone with the will power and talent to write their own novel is above mimicry there’s nothing wrong with seeing what works and designing your own original title around it.
Use your book blurb to communicate memorable themes. We’re far worse at remembering names and titles than we are at remembering situations and stories. Make sure your blurb contains some concrete plot details a reader can use to find the book when the title just won’t leave the tip of their tongue.
Increasing searchability isn’t the only step you can take to ensure more people see your book. Check out our Bookbub vs Bookgorilla vs The Fussy Librarian article for advice on which promotional service will attract the widest audience. Remember that choosing your online bookstore is a fluid process: our articles on Amazon’s KDP Select and Which iBooks Publisher Account is for You offer recommendations on the deals and promotions offered by the two major retailers and how to make the most of them.
Are you an author who’s made keyword changes and seen their downloads increase overnight, or are you concerned with making your book as searchable and discoverable as possible? I’d love to hear about your experiences in the comments below.