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How to Boost Your Online Title Sales Today with High Performing Book Descriptions (2020)

The Art and Science of Book Descriptions that Sell

Let me guess… bookstore closures have you worried about title sales. The COVID-19 pandemic has all of us worried about many things.

The supply chain of physical goods has been completely upended with stores closed, libraries closed, coffee shops closed, etc.

But there is light on the horizon and the good people at SEMRush have informed us the increase of social distancing has led to more people searching and shopping online for a growing number of new categories. Specifically, books & literature eCommerce website traffic has grown by 16%.

With so many people shopping online for so many different reading needs, there is a diversity of titles being sold (ie. not just bestsellers). The competition for discovery is much higher and price consciousness from consumers will grow as online book availability increases. Comparison shopping – already the norm – may well increase.

So, consumers are rushing to get their hands on the books that you sell.

  • But can they find them?

  • Are your titles positioned for online success once found?

  • Is your list working at 100% for you every day? (Really?!)

  • If not, how do you ensure your whole list is working at full capacity to get discovered and bought?

Your team is flat outstretched with accommodating changes in work life and your marketing spend needs to be producing tangible results. How you prioritize which titles to pay attention to now and which would benefit the most from attention, in terms of marketing dollars and improving placement in the online retail environment, is crucial.

Come, see for yourself.

Online Book Retail Page Analysis

Marketing Insights checks your Amazon product page for key consumer-facing marketing and metadata assets that help improve a book’s chances for discovery and conversion – at Amazon, sure. But also everywhere books are sold using metadata, which is most anywhere online.

Product pages should include as much marketing information and material as possible. A lack of marketing content typically hurts consumer experience and sales, and Amazon and any online search engines and retailers that use algorithms to aid in discovery weight products more highly if all marketing assets are provided. We look at the following items to ensure a rich, complete product page.

Images and previews

Consumers like to see and sample products before they buy. Online shoppers can’t see your book and pick it up, but your cover image and content preview give your potential buyers the chance to virtually leaf through the book as they might in a physical bookstore. Make sure you have digital shelf appeal and give consumers what they need to make a more informed purchasing decision.

  1. Cover image

Upload a high-quality cover image to maximize sales and to ensure the best possible consumer experience. Cover images should be clear and legible at thumbnail size and in grayscale to optimize display across all devices.

  1. Look Inside / Search Inside the Book preview

Enable Look Inside / SItB and other retail preview capabilities to improve search optimization and help to ensure the best possible consumer experience.

Book Description Length and Elements

Include a rich, detailed product description to improve search engine optimization, maximize sales, and ensure the best possible consumer experience. 

Guidelines for Writing a Book Description that Sells


We suggest book descriptions be at least 225 words long and up to a maximum of 4,000 characters (including HTML markup). Rich information about the book will help buyers make an informed purchasing decision. Typically, the more detail you can provide the better without, of course, writing a dissertation when none is required. This isn’t a matter of “write longer because it is better.” Rather, the tendency has been for marketers to write short copy for the web – often far too short. Good, healthy descriptions work the best. People will read them.


Take the book description for Erik Larson’s for The Splendid and The Vile as an example.

You want to describe the book in the ways in which readers think about and talk about books and aligned with how likely buyers might be looking for it. Include details about the content and themes of the book, relevant information about the author, and other attributes that your potential audience cares about.

8 Simple Steps to Boost Your Title Discoverability

  1. Genres, subjects, topics, and themes

What is the book about? Describe the book in simple, straightforward, and consumer-friendly terms.

  1. Important people or characters, series, institutions, and media properties

Who or what matters in the book? Include the important people and/or other “entities” (real or fictional) that the book is about or directly related to.

  1. Locales, time periods, and historical eras

When and where is the book set? Name any places or time periods important to the book.

  1. Audience or age-appropriateness in prose

Who is it for? Include recommended age/grade range and/or leveling information and other audience guidance in the descriptive copy.

  1. Key selling points specific to edition

What sets this edition apart? Describe the format of the book (particularly relevant for highly designed/illustrated titles). Detail any special features.

  1. Bestseller history, critical reception, and awards

How was the book received? Update copy after release to include any notable items.

  1. Contributors’ other titles, series, awards

What else has the author done? Mention other important works and accolades (for books or other work closely related to the topic of the book).

  1. Adjacent people, organizations, experience, media properties, and other connections

Any other relevant context? Describe any other important people and properties that have to do with the title or the author, including important background experience or relationships.

Again, notice how the book description hit on all 8 steps for boosting the title’s discoverability.

Description Structure and Formatting

Format your book description with paragraph breaks and other structural elements to provide emphasis and make it easier for search engines and human beings to parse. No one wants to read a block of text.

Guidelines for Formatting a Description that Looks Good

1. Structure

One thing that study after study shows is that the structure of product descriptions really matters. We suggest you include at least three distinct sections with proper paragraph breaks to optimize for online discovery and consumer conversion. 

  • Start with a bolded headline to grab a potential buyer's attention.
  • Include descriptive detail to tell them everything they need to know about the book.
  • End with a strong close to make the sale.

(As shown above, Larson’s book description is a perfect example of this).

Read more on how to optimize your book description for sales.

2. Paragraph/section breaks

Each paragraph or section of the description should be separated visually by vertical blank space using supported breaking methods:

  • Paragraph element tags

Make sure to include both the beginning <p> and ending </p> tags. This is the preferred code to differentiate paragraphs.

Ex.) <p> Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet. </p>

  • Consecutive line breaks

    To create visual space between paragraphs with this method, you must include two consecutive tags. This is often used and is acceptable but note that it can lead to larger than intended spaces. Other break element variations (<br> and <br/>) are also acceptable but <br /> is recommended for the broadest compatibility. 

Ex.) Quisque id rhoncus justo. <br /><br /> 
Duis id nulla risus.

  • Ordered and unordered lists

    Lists are a great way to break up your description and outline features or topics in a book. Make sure to properly nest and enclose each list item and include the ending list tag (</ul> or </ol>).

Ex.) <ul>Mauris nec urna varius:
<li> Maecenas in ante et tellus sodales iaculis.</li>
<li> In ac ex a augue finibus fringilla. </li>
</ul>

3. Common HTML errors

Though other paragraph break methods may appear correctly on the Amazon product page, you may still receive a red flag from Marketing Insights if your content does not meet established best practices.

  • Do not use <div> or <span> tags to structure descriptive copy.
  • If using paragraph tags, make sure you include both the beginning <p> and ending </p> tags.
  • We do not assess single line breaks (just one <br> tag) as a new paragraph, as that does not create visual space between paragraphs.
  • We also may not recognize paragraph breaks if extraneous code is nestled between single line breaks (e.g. <br> </div><div> <br>).

Headline optimization

Book descriptions should begin with a brief, bold headline (approximately 25 words or 200 characters) to entice potential buyers. This straightforward “elevator pitch” is critical for search engine optimization and discovery. 

Guidelines for Writing a Headline that Catches Your Audiences Attention 

You have a very brief chance—a few seconds or less—to capture a potential buyer's attention and get them interested in learning more. The first sentence or two of your book’s description is your chance to hook readers in and to incorporate important keywords, topics, and phrases that will help you optimize for consumer search.

1. Structure and formatting

The headline should be approximately 25 words, up to a maximum of 200 characters in order to optimize display across devices. Longer headlines may be fine but be aware that mobile shoppers will likely not be able to read the entire headline without clicking to "read more." Less clicks, the better.

  • Format for emphasis.

The headline should be in bold (using either <b> or <strong> tags). Bold headlines draw consumers' eyes, signal to retail and search algorithms that the content is important and have been proven to improve consumer conversion rates.

  • Set it off from the rest of the description.

Follow your headline with a hard paragraph break. (Read more about supported paragraph breaking methods and why structure is important in product descriptions.)

2. Content
  • Sell the story, don’t tell the story.

Emphasize key selling points that will resonate with potential buyers. Focus less on the plot and more on why someone might want to buy. 

  1. What’s the genre or subject?
  2. What are the key topics and themes?
  3. What are the important brands or characters?
  4. Has the book or author won any awards?

Ex.) “A fast-paced crime thriller set in Sweden from the award-winning author of…” is better than “It was a dark and stormy night...”.

  • Describe what it is.

Remember that online shoppers can’t see the book for themselves, and this is likely the first thing they’ve read about it besides the title. Cues that readers might have picked up on in a physical bookstore—like where a book is shelved, how it’s merchandised, or a descriptive blurb on the cover—may not translate to your online buyer. 

    1. Is it a picture book?
    2. A tax guide for small businesses?
    3. A Christian romance?
    4. Is it a Mediterranean cookbook or a travelogue about the sights, sounds, and taste sensations of the Greek isles?
  • Optimize for discovery.

Include the consumer keywords, topics, and phrases that likely buyers might be looking for. How are readers talking about and searching for books like this?

Market Your Titles with Confidence with Marketing Insights

A publisher recently asked one of our experts if they’re seeing other publishers cut down on their ad spend. She explained, “No, but they are being more judicious about where to spend, AND they really need their bets to pay off.” This is why access to the data Marketing Insights offers is so important. Which is why this tool is so important.”

Marketing Insights checks your Amazon product page for key consumer-facing marketing and metadata assets that help improve your book’s chances for discovery and conversion.

5 Quick Ways You Might Use Marketing Insights

 
  1. Monitor the way Amazon is displaying availability for your titles to consumers; download this report daily to check against inventory positions. Information is changing very quickly right now. 
  1. Use the Get the Word Out report to flag titles that are converting well but may not be getting a lot of attention. Consider filtering by format to see ebooks only, if this is relevant given new buying patterns. What type of titles are you seeing that are outside of your usual playbook (but make sense related to how our lives have been changed by COVID)? Are these candidates for price promos, marketing pushes, social sharing, etc.?
  1. What about Capture Consumer Interest? These are titles where demand is healthy but something (price, discount, categories, product metadata) is causing friction in the conversion process. Sort by Amazon rank and consider updating in your title management system, for uplift in all channels.
  1. What are your Big Movers? Can you amplify these (get the author involved, run social ads, ads on Amazon, include these in your consumer marketing or even trade emails?) Whatever your levers are, use them! 
  1. Avoid errors. Check the titles scheduled for promotion/marketing in the upcoming week---are they optimized? A quick check can help to avoid costly errors and maximize return on any campaigns---or, you may even find a better candidate to include.

Marketing Insights is a sales growth tool designed to help you increase your odds of selling more books, day in and day out, by making the online channel more transparent and suggesting specific actions you can take to grow sales across channels. It is also a prioritization tool and now is a time when prioritizing actions is more critical than ever. We’ve given you several ideas that tend to be broadly applicable and evergreen winning moves. The book market is a tough one now – one that makes being able to see and optimize the online channel more important than ever. We hope this helps.

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