SEO for Authors Part 1: Choosing Keywords

I haven’t been blogging as much in the last few weeks. I’ve had my head down, buried in the mysterious world of Search Engine Optimization.

You might wonder why an artist like me is messing with IT guru stuff like SEO principles. Or maybe if you’re an indie author struggling to make a sustainable living at it, you wouldn’t.

The reason is pretty simple. Search Engine Optimized web pages get more views. Pages that get more views have more opportunity to sell their goods. So the principle was simple. If I could get more people to view my pages on Amazon.com (where they can buy one of my books with a single click), I’d have a better chance of selling more books.

So for the last three weeks, I’ve been studying just how to write SEO-rich language to improve the number of times one of my pages comes up in a search. Below I’ll lay out my methodology and strategy. Tomorrow, I’ll discuss the results. I will say this at the outset, though: there’s something to this SEO stuff. It can make a difference in a lot of different ways.

Methodology

First, let me give credit where it’s due. Most of the methodology I used below I developed from a pretty good book on selling for indie authors. Make a Killing on Kindle by Michael Alvear is a brilliant book that exposes a lot of the ways Amazon’s search engines work, how to take advantage, and explodes a number of myths about selling in the Brave New World of e-publishing. Some of his advice borders on unethical. Practically everything he writes about reviews should not be followed. But his understanding of how to use Amazon’s functionality is must reading for any indie author serious about making this his or her full-time job.

The first thing I did was pick a book to experiment with. One of Alvear’s maxims is to only change one variable at a time. My father the research scientist would no doubt agree. So, despite having four books that are selling at various degrees of Teasing to What Is This Sales Thing You Speak Of, I only wanted to mess with one at a time.

Sleeping Beauty CoverI chose my short story, “Sleeping Beauty,” for several reasons. First, it is my most successful book. “Sleeping Beauty” sells far better than anything else I’ve published, so, given it is my most popular work, it seemed like the right choice to try to push.

Second, it has the best cover of my four eBooks. A good cover is a critical component of selling eBooks, so I elected to go with one I wouldn’t have to redesign.

Third, “Sleeping Beauty,” being based on a fairytale, is the book that can best tap into the cultural zeitgeist of the moment. ABC’s Once Upon a Time is popular, and there have been several films in the past year that have been reinventions of classic fairytales. Thus, “Sleeping Beauty” is predisposed to be more successful than some of my other books.

With all that in mind, I went out to Google Adwords and started doing keyword searches on anything I could think of that sounded like it would relate to my novel. See, Google Adwords will tell you how many times a month a keyword is searched on the web, and it will show you variations on the keyword, so you can see how people are searching it. For example, an Adwords search on “Sleeping Beauty” produced the following results:

  • Sleeping Beauty — 1,000,000
  • sleep beauty — 49,500
  • story of sleeping beauty — 27,100

And those were just the top results. What does it mean? One million times a month, people search the phrase, “Sleeping Beauty” on Google. One million times a month.

I searched phrases like, “fairy tale,” “once upon a time,” “true love’s first kiss,” and others to see what sorts of results I could get. The winners were:

  • fairy tale (7.48M)
  • once upon a time (5M)
  • fairytale (1.5M)
  • true love (1.222M)
  • sleeping beauty (1M)
  • first kiss (450k)
  • fairytale story (368k)
  • faerie tale (368k)
  • fairy tale stories (301k)
  • once upon a time abc (135k)

Armed with that information, I then started conducting searches on Amazon.com. I plugged in the keywords that had the best results to see what Amazon’s search engine found. Alvear calls these “Amazon’s leading indicators” because the results are ranked according to popularity. I was particularly interested to see what keyword phrases Amazon would finish for me. That is, I start typing something, and Amazon suggests possible finishes. For example, I’d start typing “sleeping” and Amazon would suggest “sleeping bag.”

I’d click on the most popular results for keyword phrases that seemed to pertain to my book, and see what sorts of books I found there. Were my competitors in those categories? If so, that was a good thing, because it meant books similar to “Sleeping Beauty” were in the category, and this was a good place to try to sell my wares.

After comparing the results of the keyword hits from Google Adwords with Alvear’s leading indicators, I drafted a list of what I thought would be the most successful search terms for “Sleeping Beauty.”

Strategy

With my list of keywords assembled, it was time to optimize “Sleeping Beauty’s” Amazon page to make it friendlier to search engines. Alvear posits there are three places to imbed keywords into the book’s page to make it optimal: the book’s title, the product description, and the keywords box on your dashboard, where Amazon allows you to enter up to seven keywords for people to search with.

With that in mind, I developed a three-step plan to overhaul “Sleeping Beauty.”

  1. Change the keywords on the book’s dashboard
  2. Change the product description to include more SEO-rich language
  3. Change the title, cover, and interior of the story

The first phase was pretty easy. All I had to do was change the keywords I had in there (and I had to wonder what I was thinking on some of them) with the new ones.

The second part was harder. I basically had to rewrite the marketing copy. I had a three-paragraph description, but it was really more of a teaser than an actual sales pitch on the book, and, worse, it had very, very few SEO keywords in it.

The trick is to write something that is good copy but still contains the keywords you want search engines — particularly Amazon’s — to find. Based on my research I made sure to use the phrases, “true love’s first kiss,” “fairy tale,” “once upon a time,” and, of course, “Sleeping Beauty” several times. Because all of those have to do with the story or in cross-marketing it, it was easy to embed those phrases into the copy without overdoing. After all, I didn’t want my pitch to just look like it was a bunch of search terms. It needed to read well too.

The third phase came about as a direct result of my searching Amazon. I noticed that when I searched the phrase, “fairy tale,” books with “fairy tale” in the title came up first. The same was true of “modern fairy tale,” “true love,” “first kiss,” and “once upon a time.” Despite being marketed as a fairy tale, “Sleeping Beauty” wasn’t landing very high on searches for those terms. I wasn’t entirely certain this wasn’t just because I hadn’t used those terms very well in the product description, but I remembered Alvear’s contention that your title is one of the three places you can embed keywords. Given that assertion and the evidence of my eyes, I decided a modification here was in order.

I changed the title of the story from “Sleeping Beauty” to “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale.” One of the other things I noticed was a lot of fairy tale retellings used subtitles like that, which seemed to be landing them higher. Since my version of “Sleeping Beauty” is indeed a modern fairytale, the change might improve my rankings without affecting the integrity of the story.

And there was another subtle change in there too. I prefer “fairytale.” It’s correct, and I like the way it looks better. But Google Adwords told me “fairy tale” got 7.48M hits a month, whereas “fairytale” got 1.5M. Since both versions are correct, it made better business sense to go with the version that was getting almost six million more hits a month.

Of course, all that meant I was going to have to change the cover, since the original didn’t have “A Modern Fairy Tale” on it, and I didn’t want to confuse readers or look like I’d been inconsistent. I hadn’t wanted to change the cover of the book, because I think it’s a good, dynamic cover, but I wasn’t planning to change the imagery. I was only going to change some of the words, and that’s a pretty simple fix.

With that plan in hand, I sat down to start making changes that would earn me millions. I’ll discuss the results in tomorrow’s blog.

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5 thoughts on “SEO for Authors Part 1: Choosing Keywords

  1. Pingback: SEO for Authors Part 2: Measuring the Results | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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  3. Pingback: Is Free the Key to Sustained Sales? | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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