SEO for Authors Part 2: Measuring the Results

Yesterday, I blogged about my attempts to improve my SEO language for my listings with Amazon. I discussed my basic methodology and how I went about implementing it. You can review that post here. Today I’ll look at the results.

As you may recall, I resolved to make modifications to the listing for my short story, “Sleeping Beauty,” on three fronts — Amazon keywords, the book’s description, and its title. By embedding what I believed to be more effective keywords in those areas, I hoped to raise the book’s profile and, correspondingly, its sales.

I came at this project in three phases. I’ll explore each one in detail below, noting the results.


First, let’s look at how I measured things. My goal was to land on the first or second page of whenever someone put in a keyword search that pertained to my novel. I made a list of these terms and set up a spreadsheet, so I could track my progress. I started tracking, “Sleeping Beauty” in all categories, books, and Kindle editions, “fairy tale” in books and Kindle, “fairytale” in books, “once upon a time” in books and Kindle, “true love” in books and Kindle, and “modern fairy tale” in books and Kindle.

I made note of what page I landed on and what my overall position was. I tracked each search term five pages deep. If my book didn’t show up on the first five pages (the top 60 products in the search), I marked it as a 0.

The other, much more important metric was sales. Did making changes to the keywords I was using result in more sales? Was it dramatically more? Did it have any impact at all?

Phase 1: Amazon Keywords

After conducting a lot of research using Google Adwords and Amazon’s leading indicators (see yesterday’s blog for more details), I settled on the following seven keywords:

  • Sleeping Beauty
  • fairytale
  • fairy tale
  • fairy tale books
  • once upon a time
  • true love
  • first kiss

I entered those in my dashboard and updated the book. Then I started tracking metrics.

I was very pleased to see “Sleeping Beauty” was immediatley successful. I didn’t land on the first five pages in the “all products” search, but I was on page one in the 11th position for “books” and page one in the fourth position in “Kindle Editions.” I didn’t chart on any other categories, but I was pleased with this encouraging start.

I also got an immediate bump in sales. In 24 hours, I sold four books. Since several good months to end 2012, my overall sales had cratered. I had sold one copy of “Sleeping Beauty” this month prior to making the change. A day afterwards, I was up to five. It seemed there was something to this SEO language stuff after all!

Over the course of the next several days, “Sleeping Beauty” moved up to #3 in Kindle Editions and #10 in books. But it failed to chart in any other search category I was tracking. Worse, after the inital spike in sales, it stopped selling again. I was stuck on those same five sales.

Phase 2: Book Description

When I began this process, I had a three-paragraph description of “Sleeping Beauty” that briefly gave the hook and then teased. It was well written, but it wasn’t enough to really sell the book, and it had almost no SEO keywords in it. I’ve changed it to read as follows:

He wanted to save her. He got it all wrong.
Carl is the only one left. All Beth’s friends were sad when she fell into a coma two years ago at the age of fourteen. But life moved on, and so did they. Except Carl. He still comes to see her. He still visits two to three times a week, talking to her and hoping she will wake.
Her mother, Marie, is insane. She stares constantly through a thick haze of cigarette smoke at Carl whenever he visits Beth, watching him, evaluating, plotting.
Marie knows the truth. She knows why Beth is in that coma. She knows it was Rex, Beth’s father, who did it. She knows he hired a witch to cast a spell on her Pretty Princess until she is old enough to marry, until his hand-picked protégé wakes her with True Love‘s First Kiss.
But if whomever Rex chooses can break the curse, then so can Carl. He’s loved Beth since he first met her in Sixth Grade. Marie knows. She has a plan. And maybe she’s not as crazy as everyone thinks.
First, though, she’ll have to convince Carl to believe in magic. Then she’ll have to encourage him to defy Rex. That won’t be easy. Rex hates Carl. He put Beth into that coma to keep Carl away from her. And Rex has a wicked temper.
Marie is determined, though. She’s going to get her Sleeping Beauty back. And Carl is going to help . . . whether he likes it or not.
Can True Love‘s First Kiss really break the curse, or are darkness, insanity, and self-doubt too strong?
Set in modern times, “Sleeping Beauty” is a creepy reimagining of the original fairy tale. Much like ABC‘s Once Upon A Time, it offers a fresh look at an old story. It explores what happens when parents go too far to protect their children. All parents struggle deciding when to hold on tightly to their children and when to let go. Rex and Marie get it all wrong. A cautionary tale, “Sleeping Beauty” reminds us there is a fine line between love and obsession, between care and cruelty.
I’ve underlined the keywords to make them easier to see here.
I got the new description up five days into the experiment. “Sleeping Beauty” improved slightly in the books search, moving up to #9. It held steady at #3 in Kindle Editions. It failed to chart in all other categories.
Worse, it didn’t sell. Despite my change to the language, I didn’t net any more sales.
Phase 3: Title and Cover
The final part of my plan was to change the book’s title, which also necessitated a minor change to the cover. As you’ll recall from yesterday’s blog, I noticed that books with the phrase, “fairy tale,” in the title tended to chart higher in searches under that category. The same was true for “once upon a time,” “true love,” and “first kiss.”
Sleeping Beauty Mark III changed the title of the book to “Sleeping Beauty: A Modern Fairy Tale” and updated the cover to reflect that. You can see the new cover at left. Yesterday’s blog has the old cover for comparison. I also updated the interior of the book.
Once again, I saw immediate results. The first day, the renamed book landed on page three of the “modern fairy tale” search in Kindle Editions in the 27th overall position. The next day, it was on page two at position #19.
It also improved to #8 on the “Sleeping Beauty” books search, remained in the three-spot for Kindle Editions, and, for the first time, it showed up in the “all products” search for “Sleeping Beauty,” landing on page four at position #52.
Best of all, it started selling again. Once again, I sold four books in the first 24 hours the new title was live.
But just as disappointingly, it has stopped moving since then. “Sleeping Beauty” has made no appreciable gains in where it charts in searches, and it stubbornly remains hung up at the nine total sales for the month. A change to keywords resulted in immediate sales and then nothing.
SEO-rich language is definitely an important part of selling on Amazon. In particular, the keywords you tell Amazon to use on the book’s dashboard and the way you title your book have an appreciable impact on how well your book shows up in a searches and how well it sells.
However, I haven’t fully cracked the code yet. Despite selling initially better each time I make a change, “Sleeping Beauty” hasn’t sold enough to crack the Top 100 of any category it’s listed in. That limits its ability to sell enough books for it to become self-sustaining in its sales.
I have two theories on this, both of which may be true. The first is that I haven’t yet found the right combination of keywords yet. Despite embedding “true love” and “first kiss” into my description, they don’t seem to be helping me. Those are both huge categories (so it may be that I’m getting lost in a sea), and I’m not getting any traction with readers who are presumably searching those terms. I think it’s significant to note that changing my book description did almost nothing to bump my visibility and sales, so it’s possible I need focus my efforts elsewhere.
Second, I may just have to be more patient. Obviously, I would like for this to just take off and have “Sleeping Beauty” sell thousands (or at least hundreds) of books a month. But it’s possible it takes time to build that sort of momentum, and my experiment to date does show steady improvement.
Still, it’s clear that something else needs to change. “Sleeping Beauty” has six reviews averaging 4.2 stars. It’s showing up well on several search terms. It sells every month. All the evidence suggests it is a good book people like and want to buy. But it’s not moving in sustainable numbers yet. Something is blocking it from breaking out. If the other evidence suggests that it is a good book people want to buy, then the logical hypothesis is that enough people aren’t finding it.
And that means there really is something to SEO language. I haven’t figured it all out yet. There’s a piece of the puzzle missing. As soon as I find it, I’ll let you know.

5 thoughts on “SEO for Authors Part 2: Measuring the Results

  1. We have been fighting this same science class project and following many of the same techniques you have slogged through as well. First let me say thank you for your sweat and problem solving logic well applied. Second, our results are similar. We have 24 books up. 21 eBook versions of previously published romance and women’s fiction books, good sellers during their one month on the book store shelves. . First month or two little not nothing. Then some time went by and a review or two literally popped up and they have risen to anywhere from 1 to 120 a month. We have three newly written. A suspense, a mainstream and a young adult mystery. Websites, Ad words, Twitter and reviews. They are very well received and liked / loved but sales have been slow to take off. Same issue as you have hit. The book is more than good enough and the genres are in the wheelhouse of American and global readers. But I digress…back to the “marketing”.

    Maybe the teaming up of authors on Amazon for referrals would help. We just learned yesterday [after 11 months] that the book categories Amazon has established for our customers to use are not the same categories we as authors have in our tool box to set the books up under and that you can request to change the categories. We have and hopefully it will happen in a few weeks.

  2. Bob Kat, thanks for the reply!

    Yes, Amazon’s categories are mysterious. From what I understand, they let you pick your categroies at the outset, and then they watch. After several months, they categorize your book by how customers find it. But, and here’s the key that you yourself have noted, the categories that customers create through their searches are not always available to authors from their dashboards!

    It’s a tricky process to manage. More research is definitely in order. One of the things I’m trying to see is how my competitors are categorized. I want to be where their books are, so people can find mine too. But, unless they are in the Top 100, it’s difficult to see what those categories are. Like I said, tricky.

    Thanks for reading and the reply!

    • We’ll keep in touch. I’ve requested new categories for three books using the customer’s cats rather than author cats. They have not changed it yet but I’m told they will.

  3. Pingback: Rebooted: Will a Makeover Help a Book with Slumping Sales? | John R. Phythyon, Jr., Author

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