By: Jake Handy (@jakehandy) and Margaret Harrison (@NerdInNashville)
(Excerpt from Metadata Essentials)
Your long and short book descriptions should be an accurate, compelling, and comprehensive guide to the inside of the book.
In this blog, we’ll provide best practices designed to optimize your descriptive copy, both for machines (e.g. Amazon, Google and other search engines) and humans (potential readers considering the book) in general search and at retail stores.
A long description (often simply just called the description) is exactly that: a lengthy, detailed description of the work you’re distributing. Effective descriptive copy should meet established criteria and best practices for structure, length, and content, and it should provide rich, full information about the book.
Structure: Anatomy of a description
A well-constructed book description is critical for search engine optimization (SEO) and consumer conversion. Proper description structure comes in three parts: the headline, a detailed exposition, and a strong close.
- Make it clear and punchy. Highlight the big things that matter about the book from a reader’s perspective (genre, key topics and themes, major brands, awards). Get them to want to find out more or simply purchase based on what they’ve already seen.
- A headline should have a strong selling focus—less about plot and the specific details and more about why a busy reader should want this book. If someone didn’t know the book existed, what might they be looking for that would bring them to this book?
- Remember that the headline will often be seen on retailer pages before consumers are prompted to “read more.”
- Make the text bold and follow it with a paragraph break.
- Work in a couple keywords to help your title get indexed in search engines.
- If a consumer clicks “read more,” you want them to find rich details about the book.
- Convey the notable topics, themes, plot elements, and features of the book.
- For fiction titles, describe the plot, settings, and key characters.
- For nonfiction, detail the subjects covered, as well as important people, places, and things.
- This is where you can “set the mood” and give readers an idea of the style and tone of the book.
- Use paragraph breaks and bulleted lists as appropriate to add structure and break up large blocks of text.
- Emphasize why someone should buy the book. If a potential consumer has read this far, they are interested—now make the sale.
- Who is the book for? “Fans of….”, “Great gift for…”
- Consider including awards, nominations, and/or a strong review quote. (If included here, do not exclude them for their respective specific metadata attributes.)
Book description as seen on Amazon.com, captured December 2017.
Content: What to include
While it is not essential to incorporate every element listed here, these are the major components that impact online discovery and consumer-purchasing decisions. We strongly recommend that you include them in the description when and as appropriate:
- Genres, topics, and themes
- Important and directly related people and brands
- Locations and time periods
- Special features and selling points specific to the edition or format
- Contributors’ other titles, series, and awards
- Audience or age appropriateness
- Adjacent people, organizations, experience, media properties, and other important connections
- Bestseller history, critical reception, and awards (these can be retroactively added to a description following the book’s initial sales cycle)
Use consumer keywords, topics, and phrases to align your description with the ways in which potential buyers talk about and look for books. Speak their language!
HTML markup is accepted by most retailers in the description, and you should use it to include formatted and structured content:
- Use paragraph breaks or break tags (<br />) to break up large blocks of text, making the description easier for search engines and human beings to parse.
- Bold and italic text provides emphasis and draws attention to important points.
- Bullet points are useful (for nonfiction descriptions in particular) to highlight key aspects of the book.
We recommend an overall copy length of 200–750 words, though some books will lend themselves more readily to longer descriptions than others. Typically, the more information you can provide, the better.
Within ONIX, the description has no real text limit, but most distribution platforms will place a character limit on it to prevent extremes. We recommend a maximum of 4,000 characters and a minimum of 200 characters.
The short description can be thought of almost as an expanded headline, however be careful to not just repeat your headline. The short description should vividly and precisely describe what a consumer would want to know about the book in as few characters as possible, while also conveying what sets it apart from other novels that may share similarities.
Often, distributors will display the short description and cover art or brief metadata about your book alongside various other products. Therefore, it’s important that your book’s cover art and short description deliver a one-two punch that compels consumers to dive in and learn more.
The ONIX character limit for a short description is 350 characters, but we recommend something even more concise, around 150 to 200 characters.
In closing, a book’s short description and long description are rarely displayed side-by-side and should work in tandem to complement each other and provide a rich and vivid narrative. The short description should house what you believe buyers will find most important, prompting them to take the next step to the long description, where further attractive details await in the headline and beyond.
Metadata Essentials Book
Metadata Essentials: Proven Techniques for Book Marketing and Discovery provides clear and easy-to-implement recommendations so you can focus your efforts on the industry’s most relevant metadata. For more information and to purchase the book, click here.
Ingram's Book Metadata Enhancement Service
Smart Metadata, from Ingram, is a book metadata improvement service that helps you improve your books' discoverability through data-driven analysis and industry expertise.