A Quick Unpacking of the SEO Landscape
Keywords are a powerful tool for marketers and for those of you trying to make your books more discoverable online. Book SEO on Amazon is a tricky matter, but you’ve come to the right place.
There's SEO in a nutshell. When most people talk about SEO, what they are talking about is ranking sites in Google for search. If you're at a cocktail party (back when we had those), and someone mentions SEO, that's usually what they're referring to.
And what immediately comes to mind are complex equations and ranking signals and all sorts of different details — the world gets very confusing.
This comes as no surprise to anyone, but search is fundamental to how we experience the internet today and how consumers experience the internet today.
Search is Central to the Online Experience
Search is always one of the top five activities that people do online. It's how you find things.
What are search engines up to in general? Well, they're trying to surface relevant results for you that should satisfy your goals, search engines are constantly trying to do that.
What is SEO? It's not actually a chalkboard full of equations. It can be, but at its core, it's trying to align what you have with the people who are trying to find it, and the algorithms behind that.
Optimizing for Google vs. Amazon = Very Different
Those algorithms, they're different. People have been SEOing for Google for an exceptionally long time, 20 some odd years at this point. Google is all about relevance and relevance of websites. And so, there are all sorts of signals that Google considers when it's trying to rank a website.
That's what SEOers are doing when they're talking about Google. They're looking at things that show relevance, what kind of user experience is going to occur, authority, trust of a website. That's Google.Amazon is all about signals related to buying. It's about signals of purchase history. And it's a little bit about relevance. But for Amazon, relevance is a consumer saying, “We'll buy.”
In this cookbook example, a lot of searching in Google is going to be all about how to cook something. You’re looking for one specific recipe in your search.
When you’re looking for a cookbook, that would be the purchase intent, and this is the use case of the Amazon search engine.
You don't go to Amazon to find out facts. You don't go to Amazon to have questions answered. You go to Amazon to search to buy something.
So, you must think about the user and what they're doing because that's what Google and Amazon are doing. Amazon is all about research – purchases of specific items for yourself, or someone else.
Book SEO and Retail SEO in Amazon
What Does Amazon Care About (+Why Do We Care)?
Let's start by looking at their mission statement.
These are the factors that work together in concert, which you can optimize against.
With more than 350 million products for sale and half of the e-commerce market share, many people think about Amazon as the place that their product searches start.
Even if consumers aren’t buying on Amazon, they're thinking this is a place they go when they want to start their product search. That adds up to more competition among sellers and vendors and it is why optimization for your books is important.
We see that when you optimize a book for sale on Amazon, it lifts all boats within the online retail environment.
Amazon SEO: The Factors Work in Concert
Getting indexed is just the beginning to ranking…
Let’s take a trip through the Amazon ranking funnel.
When consumers see your book, do they click through?
When they land on your product page, do they buy?
When they buy, do they review it favorably?
A consumer does a search within the Amazon environment, then they click. That results in a page view. Page views can result in a conversion to sale. When we talk about conversion, we're talking about someone looking at a page and then buying that product. And then someone who bought the product might review the product.
Amazon is looking for is a positive ratio between these things. They want to see clicks that result in pageviews that result in conversions and reviews. They want satisfied customers who buy what they are selling.
If you get a lot of clicks and page views, but nobody buys, your book is going to sink in the search rankings. If you get a lot of clicks and page views and a lot of people buy and give your book 4.5 stars, you’re likely to rise in the search rankings for a lot of different terms.
Keeping this ratio in mind is critical to Amazon SEO. At the end of the day, this is the equation Amazon cares about.
Your Business Needs an Amazon SEO Strategy
1. Amazon’s search engine has a separate set of signals than Google.
2. Among search engines, Amazon uniquely values supplier-provided information. This is likely to change over time.
3. Continued evolution of – and emphasis on – pay-for-placement. Incumbent organic advantage is critical!
It’s important to understand number two and number three here. Among search engines, Amazon must value information that you, as publishers, provide Amazon. Google doesn't need that.
You don't have to give Google anything for them to crawl your site and understand it. Amazon needs product information, they need an ONIX feed. That's why they ask you to include keywords. They want those keywords. They want your help in understanding how to understand your product and surface it to the right people.
Google used to use keywords and they used to look at all page keywords, but they don't anymore.
In three to five years, you're going to see a decreased reliance on supplier information on the part of Amazon. It’s highly likely Amazon will move toward machine learning, exclusively to power search now, much like Google. This is sort of the golden age of keywords and vendor supplied information, so you should take advantage of it now.
Think — Pay to Play
Amazon’s pay to play model has risen. It's no surprise. They have 27 to 30 million books on their platform, in the US alone. There's a lot of competition for consumer's eyeballs.
Expect this trend to continue with Amazon, as this is a profitable revenue stream. It's also profitable for publishers who know how to do it well.
Incumbent organic advantage is key. In other words, if you can get a product to rank now in organic search, that's key. Inexperienced players always have a tough time breaking in. That's going to become increasingly true on Amazon. Keep an eye on pay to play as it becomes an important part of the ranking mix.
Remember, two thirds of product clicks happen on the first page. When you're ranking a book on page six of an Amazon result, you’re nowhere. That's being in the back of a store, not even out on the shelves for that search term.
Why Keywords Are So Powerful and Critical for Books
An Amazon strategy is important, particularly critical for books. We saw in 2020 a shift toward the backlist. No huge surprise here because sales shifted online where the backlist is as prominent as the front list.
There are no front tables, there are no front of store, there are no windows. Face out and category end caps, those are SEO. Search engine optimization is critical.
The rise in backlist sales is a fundamental shift and requires you to think about optimization like speed and prioritization, metadata, and off-page keywords. These adjustments will increase organic search and lock your titles in to rank on Amazon and Google.
If you disregard these minor changes, you do so at your own potential peril. But cross-list incremental sales online, that's the winner. Backlist made up a 67% of the share of title sales in 2020. So, everything you can do to lift those sales is great and it has a lot to do with ranking them for search.
Anatomy of an Amazon Search Engine Result Page
Here's a search for graphic novels for girls aged nine through thirteen. What you see are up to 60 results. In these results you see sponsored brands, banners, and ads for non-book products. There's a lot going on. It's a crowded search result. It's hard to rank in there. You know 35% of shoppers are going to click on the first product, two thirds of those are going to be on the first page.
Ranking is critical and sometimes you're going to have to pay to rank because if you aren't there and you've got the right book for graphic novels, girls 9 through 13, it's a problem. You won't be found.
It's going to get more complex over time. It already is. They're monetizing that real estate as best as they can by using ads and products. The more you know, the better armed you are to take on the next steps in the evolution of the Amazon search.
Okay, Time Out!
You're thinking to yourself; this is great. I’m halfway into this blog and haven't learned about keywords. Not the keyword count. I haven't learned about how to use them, how to find them, everything else.
Well, you're going to right now, but quick prelude, keywords are unique to Amazon. Any search engine we can think of, they don't use keywords. Google certainly does not. Amazon is the one place where you can supply keywords to guide them in how to position your product.
That helps you enable discovery of your book. You can drive relevant traffic to your book with those off-page keywords and keywords that you use in the descriptive copy, in your title, in your subtitle, in your series.
Crash Course on Keyword Strategy
Pound for pound keywords is the most powerful Amazon tactic you've got. Maybe, price drops. You are in the driver's seat there and you can control how your book is seen by their search engine.
How are Books Indexed for Keywords
1. Descriptive Metadata
Title and Sub-title
The first source of keywords for Amazon is your core metadata. Amazon crawls your title description and other descriptive metadata elements like reviews and author bios.
Your title information, including the subtitle, series, and some additional information like bilingual or illustrated editions in particular — those are heavily weighted in the Amazon's algorithms.
Having relevant words in the title of the book and the subtitle of the book itself will help improve your Amazon search rankings. Non-fiction titles often benefit from natural SEO with descriptive subtitles.
Series, Edition, and Description
Make sure your copy, your descriptive copy and those other descriptive metadata elements are keyword rich. Be careful not to stuff keywords in there. They should be relevant keywords and feel natural.
Two places you want to focus those keywords in on are in the headline of the description, that's the first 200 characters or so, and any bullet points you use. Search engines like bullet points and structured content.
Don't forget your BISAC Codes. The categories your book ranks for in Amazon also map to consumer search phrases, and you want to make sure that you're in the right categories to help reach potential buyers who are searching for those categories at search terms.
One thing we want to point out here when you're looking at your Amazon page, A+ content (high-definition videos, enhanced images, comparison charts, robust FAQs, etc.), if you're implementing any of that, it is not currently indexed for Amazon search. However, it absolutely can improve sales conversions and worth keeping in the mix as part of your Amazon optimization strategy.
💡Pro Tip: If you search Amazon for a keyword or phrase, and you include the ISBN or the ASIN for your book in the search bar, you can see if you're indexed for that phrase. It's a fantastic way to spot check if the updates you've made are expanding your ranking opportunities and going through on the Amazon side. Remember, this isn't going to show you how highly you will rank for that term, just if the book is indexed in the first place.
2. Off-Page and Retailer Keywords
This could be called retailer or subject keywords in your digital asset or title management system, and it's included in the subject composite and ONIX. This is a field that Amazon and other retail partners use.
Amazon's algorithm and their use of these keywords is the most sophisticated and we're going to focus on best practices there. What works in Amazon will work well elsewhere.
If you're an ONIX user, editors suggest a limit of 500 characters for the keyword field. However, Amazon is now recommending a maximum of just 250 bytes to their sellers. That translates to 250 characters in most cases. Accented characters are two bytes. Other special characters can be larger, but 250 characters.
Spaces and punctuation are not counted against character count. It’s only the letters you're using in those terms and phrases and you don't have to repeat the same word in multiple phrases.
If you want to go longer than 250 characters, we recommend making sure the most important and relevant keywords are first in case Amazon doesn't index those later terms at a future date.
💡Pro Tip: You can view the off-page keywords for a book. You can do this by looking in the Amazon page source code at what's called the meta keywords element. This is not always available, so you might look at a title and there's nothing in that field. But it is available for many products and it's a terrific way to research keyword and category information to see what's on your own books and even potential competitors. You can do some rich research that way.
Step 1: Clear out all “ref=” and “keywords=” and other parameters from the Amazon URL and reload the page.
Step 2: Type Ctrl+U or right-click on the page and “View page source”.
Step 3: Type Ctrl+F to search for the “keywords” element on the page and copy the text into a notepad to view and explore.
3. Consumer Behavior
Another way your books can be indexed for keywords is based on consumer reviews and their shopping and buying behaviors.
For example, this title is ranking very highly for the search term, “baby shower gift book.” But baby shower and gift don't appear anywhere in their metadata.
If you look at the consumer reviews for this book, many customers have noted that the book makes a great baby shower gift. So, to consumers, this is a baby shower gift book, and Amazon has understood that over time.
Both consumer reviews and the search terms result in a book being purchased will reinforce and enhance the keywords you supply in your metadata over time. This process isn't guaranteed, it takes time, and you don't directly control it.
It's always best practice to include those consumer phrases in your own keywords and to revisit your keywords periodically to make sure that the way consumers are talking about your book when you get those reviews coming in are reflecting in your keywords themselves.
Use Keywords to Drive Relevant Pageviews
Supplement organic keywords you supply to Amazon with paid keyword advertising by driving qualified keyword-driven traffic to your Amazon page from other channels outside of Amazon.
Within Amazon, we have seen publishers have a lot of success running small keyword advertising campaigns to improve their organic ranking for a search term.
By spending a little bit of money, you can use sponsored product placements to make sure you're up at the top of the search result to drive sales for your keywords.
Over time, Amazon will increase your organic ranking if people are clicking on your paid ad campaigns, landing on your book page, and making a purchase.
You can do this outside of Amazon by sharing and promoting Amazon links in social media, on your website and blog posts or emails, and using ads to strategically further that reach.
Any time you are running any advertising campaigns within or outside of Amazon, make sure you're monitoring your sales trends because you want to make sure the potential buyers that you are sending to Amazon become actual buyers.
If you're sending a lot of traffic that doesn't buy that book, you could be hurting your chances to rank for that keyword.
One great trick you can do in links outside of Amazon is include the keyword itself. This will mimic as if the consumer searched for the phrase to find your book. Driving sales and traffic to Amazon in this way can help to boost your ranking for the phrase.
How Do You Find Keywords
There isn't a silver bullet solution to give you the precise keywords you need right out of the box. Instead, we recommend taking the approach of the augmented marketer.
You’re at the center, you're applying your knowledge about the book, your knowledge about the market, your knowledge about your audience and taking all that instinct and blending it with keyword suggestions, consumer reviews, and other data from a variety of keyword tools to develop a rounded approach to your keywords for each of your titles.
The tools that we've highlighted here are some of our favorites, though there are plenty of others, especially in the general keyword space. These tools can help generate new keyword ideas, help you understand related searches and consumer interests and provide metrics like search volume competition and cost per click to help you prioritize keywords.
Provides auto prompts across several sites and platforms. So rather than having to go to Amazon, Google, YouTube, or other search engines and type in your search queries and see what those auto-complete suggestions are for each of the platforms individually, you can do that all at the same time with Soolve.
Offers a lot of keyword suggestions and you can get free keyword volume and difficulty metrics for up to three searches a day. In a lot of other tools, it's hard to see those competition metrics for free.
Sonar from Sellics
Offers Amazon-specific keyword suggestions, and they have a search volume estimate for Amazon as well, and that tool is also free.
Align Your Book with How Readers Look for Them
If you think back to consumer intent within Amazon, there are four primary types of searches.
1. Specific products
2. Types of products
3. Searching for a purpose
4. Searching for a person
You want to balance your keywords to meet all these needs. Make sure that you're describing your book in terms that consumers use. And then you want to think about your audience.
Searchers often look for books for themselves or as gifts with those descriptors in the search terms. For example, in Amazon auto-completes, you see a lot of searches for men or for women or for boys for different ages. For moms, for nieces.
People are using search to help answer a need, I want to buy this for a reason. You can make sure that you are targeting that kind of intent when you're looking at your Amazon auto prompts and working those terms into your keywords as well. And make sure you're taking all that you know about the content of your book and lining it up with that audience.
You can optimize for many phrases and combinations by building out your terms and understanding those variations, how consumers talk about and look for books.
Optimize for Keyword Clusters
What are the terms consumers associate with a book like yours and which of those are relevant to your specific book? We talk about seed terms, starting with some core seeds, the descriptions you know to be true about your book, and using those tools to identify all the variations and synonyms around that, the additional context that you might build in.
Amazon is indexing your book for all these specific words, and then combining those flexibly based on consumer search patterns.
In this example, you're starting with a seed of “fitness,” you've got a fitness book. There's a lot of different variations within that. Is it about health? Does it talk about exercise, wellness? Is there a format to it? Does it have guides or logs?
If we look at how consumers search for these things, there's a purpose that they're trying to meet. Or is it more professionally oriented? Would it be better described as a manual? Or what are the uses that a consumer might look for this book on? Are they runners? Is it good for people who are dieting or looking for lifestyle tips? What is that audience that it's fit for?
Then, start to combine those and build out your keywords to some of these specific phrases. Now, suddenly you are potentially indexed for thousands of variations. This gives you flexibility and starts to open your potential reach to an infinite number of searches.
What Makes a Good Keyword?
When you're looking at your SEO, one of the items we often talk about is what we call head of tail and long tail terms, and you can see that in the chart below.
Head of tail terms, on the left, are high search volume, they're broader, they're more general. They're searched more often, but they are harder to rank for and the conversion rate is lower.
If somebody searches for a tomato plant, they could be looking for that for any number of reasons. Are they looking for a book or are they looking for how to grow it? Are they looking for how to handle pesticides, or when to plant?
And so, that general term is going to be hard to win. If you start going further down the tail, you can see the intent starts to increase. If somebody searches for when to plant tomatoes, you know a lot more about what it is they're looking for; and even deeper, why are tomato plants turning yellow? The volume on that is much lower but they’re more likely to engage with your content if it's relevant for that search.
Find words that people do search for, but it doesn't have to be the highest volume. Having a lot of lower volume terms can add up to a lot of potential searches in a month. Look for words you can win and where the competition may not be as high.
You can see the kinds of keywords that would be good fits for these chapter books and relevant to the content.
Wonderland, a book about friendship. There's a dog in it and features girls prominently. You can start to rank and optimize for those higher volume terms like girls’ chapter books, and then also look at chapter books for girls aged 6 to 8. The volume on that is low but if you can rank, that's going to be a more direct sale for your book.
On the right, you can see you're starting to build out that keyword mix. You're getting data mining in there, business information management, econometrics, statistics. Now suddenly, you have the potential to rank for econometric methods, innovating for business information.
Make sure you're casting a broad net but in a relevant and specific way for your book.