Chris Sim, founder and CEO of Kadaxis, spoke at Digital Book World about how indie authors and publishers can better use keywords to increase book sales.
Indie authors and ebook publishers have a powerful tool for increasing book sales that costs nothing and already exists in their online book selling setup: keywords. The keywords associated with an ebook in an online store can help drive readers to your sales page. When you attract more people to your book’s sales page, the more opportunities you have to make sales.
Let’s say there’s book that shows up 1,000 times. Then you do some keyword work that allows the book to show up 2,000 times. You have now doubled the chances of selling the book.
Unlike other book marketing tactics, optimizing your book’s keywords doesn’t have to cost a single dollar. So improving your ebook’s keyword profile can be a valuable way of getting more exposure, improving your author brand and making more money.
What Are Keywords?
What exactly is a keyword? A keyword is one element of an ebook’s metadata that is entered on a book’s sales page when an ebook is uploaded to an online store. (Some other metadata include the name of the author, the book’s title, book’s description, etc.)
Keywords are simple, brief words or phrases that describe the content of a book. Whoever posts the ebook to the online store can choose the book’s keywords.
How to Discover Effective Keywords for Your Ebook
Where should an indie author or publisher look for keywords? Should you ask your editor, talk to a marketing expert or even look inside your book? No, no and no.
According to Chris Sim, founder and CEO of Kadaxis, the best source for keywords is the consumers themselves. One of Sim’s areas of expertise is optimizing keywords for book sales. His experience in helping publishers sell thousands of books has led him to this conclusion.
“Keywords are an exercise in reader psychology and linguistics,” said Sim during a presentation at Digital Book World 2017 in New York. “If you can think and talk like a reader, you are more likely to reader.”
Who can you query to find the best book in terms of keywords? You may first thinking of asking people with editorial expertise. These professionals, however, are probably not the best source for effective keyword terms.
The editor who worked on your book surely knows its content well, and if you ask, he or she will would very likely offer terms that describe your book accurately. But the keywords that come out of an editor’s professional know-how would probably be more lofty and literary than necessary.
For example, an editor may describe your mystery novel as “atmospheric” or “gripping.” But there may not be many readers who would type into a search engine the word “atmospheric” when they’re in the mood to purchase a mystery.
Likewise, asking a marketing professional to pen a list of terms for your book might not be the best way to gather keywords. Marketers are skilled at writing snappy paragraphs that hook readers in to wanting to know more. But the terms used in a marketing sheet are not the same words that a reader may choose when querying a search engine. Comments that are appropriate for back-of-book blurbs or jacket copy do not always match the way real readers speak.
So the best way to find truly effective keywords is to scour the language of the consumers who read your books, or books that are similar to yours. Real readers don’t often type in keywords such as “engaging.” They use colloquial terms that are meaningful to them. In the case of a mystery book, readers are more likely to use terms such as “bad guys,” “FBI” or “courtroom drama.”
A Shortcut for Finding Great Keywords
How do you discover the terms your readers actually use? You could do what marketers do, and sit at your desk and develop reader personas, go out to the community and research customer intent, or perform interviews to understand how readers make buying decisions.
You could do all that. Or you could take a shortcut: look at book reviews on social media.
Scour book reviews on social sites such as Goodreads or even on your Amazon or iBooks or Google Play sales pages. On these sites, readers describe books in their own words, using their own nomenclature. Here they freely offer a wealth of spot-on keyword term ideas.
If your book has not yet launched, or is a new book that has no reviews, you can always look at books in your competitive realm. In those “comp” reviews, readers will likely use language that’s pretty closely aligned to your book, too. It’s in these heartfelt, casual, honest reviews that you’ll find the terms and topics that most speak to your target readers.
Go onto social media sites that offer book reviews and search through many, many reader reviews for your book or similar books. Look for prominent phrases—the most common phrases that are used over and over. Make a long list. Ten or 15 more terms would be a good list.
But just looking at the reviews isn’t enough. The list of terms gleaned from Goodreads and Twitter gives you a set of raw data. You shouldn’t simply pop the first five words you find into the keyword form on your metadata form, however. It’s wise to compare these consumer terms with your own keyword list. Gather all the terms that are both common and appropriate, and then perform an analysis of where your terms and the consumers’ terms intersect and complement each other.
Test Your Keywords and Optimize
The benefits of keyword optimization will not materialize overnight. Plug in your keywords and give them some time to settle into the stores’ search engines. Over time, periodically visit your online stores and check the rankings of your keywords.
To check keyword rankings, type them into the search engine of an online ebook store and see where on the list of results you book appears. If yours is the first book that shows up in the search results, then your book’s search rank is 1. If your book is the third or fifth or eighth book listed, its search rank would be 3 or 5 or 8.
Unless you and your book are fairly well known, the rank will probably not be 1 right away. That’s ok. Now you have a goal to work toward! Keyword optimization is a long-term marketing tactic. Results do not appear overnight. Give your keyword strategy at least six months, or even 12, to move the dial.
Please note: there is not always a 1:1 relationship between the keyword you select and enter in your sales page and a consumer’s search query. The search engines at Amazon or the iBookstore or Google Play take each of those assigned keywords and combines it with their own keywords in their proprietary algorithm. So the results you see in your queries include combinations of terms. Still, the keywords you assign play an important role. Make combinations of your terms.
Once you have an understanding of your book’s keyword ranking, it’s now time to explore modifying, or “optimizing,” the keywords in the metadata section of your sales page.
Keywords: An Under-utilized Visibility Tool
Keyword strategies are what marketers call a “virtuous cycle.” Good keywords can help increase the visibility of your book, and the more eyeballs on your book’s sales page, the more sales you can potentially make.
“Keywords work. Period. It’s unequivocal,” said Doug Lessing of Firebrand Research Labs. “A very low number of publishers are putting keywords on their titles. But keywords are a really good way to increase your book’s position in marketplace.”
Many books don’t have keywords assigned to them. This is because most publishers haven’t taken the time to manually enter keywords into the metadata section of their online sales pages. According to a recent survey of about 115,000 US publishers performed by Kadaxis and Bowker, only 15 percent of publishers had one or more books with keywords. Some publishers that enter keywords for new books have not fully completed updating their backlist titles.
Better Keywords, Better Sales Rank
Keywords are a low risk / high ROI element that can lead to better search visibility, so it can’t hurt to learn to optimize this potentially powerful marketing tool. The more activity on your book’s online sales page, the more the stores will leverage that data, leading to an increased sales rank.
So start exploring and optimizing keywords. It’s an inexpensive and powerful part of your overall sales strategy.
“Keywords are one single piece of metadata,” said Lessing.“ One single piece of metadata can drive up sales for a book.”