(Excerpt from Metadata Essentials)
Search engine optimization (SEO) is critical to success in today’s market, and metadata is the key to making your book discoverable to consumers. In this blog, we’ll help you understand how Amazon’s search algorithm works in particular and which metadata elements are essential to help place your book among top search results for relevant queries. We’ll also examine the potential for exploiting smart searching at other online bookstores.
Search Engine Optimization
Think about how a consumer might have stumbled across a good book in a bookstore or library in the 1990s:
These discovery experiences still happen today but consider how limited each experience is. It’s limited to the inventory on the shelf, selected by a buyer or librarian. It’s limited to the knowledge of my bookseller or librarian. It’s limited to the publishers who have advertising budgets.
Enter search engine optimization, commonly known as SEO. The internet has opened a floodgate of opportunity for authors and publishers through the ability to enable long-tail discovery. True, you’ll still compete against ad dollars, online and in-store, and you’ll compete against well-known brands, but you’re no longer limited by the knowledge or budget of a bookseller or librarian. By ensuring your book can be returned in the top search results of relevant online queries, you can connect with more readers than you ever imagined. This takes some practice. It also requires an understanding of how search engines work.
Not all search engines are created equal. As you’ll learn, Amazon is the most sophisticated retail search engine by far, but it’s important to understand how search engines contribute to the book-discovery process across the entire book landscape. This will help improve the odds of your title coming up in every relevant search, whether at Amazon, Booktopia in Australia, or OverDrive for library patrons.
How Amazon Search Works
Amazon’s search algorithm is called A9. As we’ve observed, unlike Google’s search algorithms (designed to provide the most accurate answer to your question), Amazon is singularly focused on getting you to buy as much as possible on the site. To achieve this, Amazon has designed A9 to call up the products that are relevant to you and also the products you are most likely to buy. Accordingly, key factors in Amazon search include:
A unique and specific book title (such as The Hidden Life of Trees) will have better search relevance than a less unique book title (such as The Nest), which will share search results with other non-book products.
Search results for The Nest at Amazon.com, captured October 2019.
There are many factors that contribute to search results at Amazon. It’s important to remember that an algorithm is a melting pot of all those factors, so you won’t always see a direct cause-and-effect outcome to changing your metadata for Amazon SEO. By familiarizing yourself with the various factors and search “markers,” you can give yourself the best odds of boosting your search results and sales.
For books, Amazon typically matches keyword search to title name first, followed by contributor and subtitle. But there are other factors as well, especially in a more congested search. Remember that Amazon is trying to make the most revenue possible—not just short-term, but long-term—and they want you to buy and be satisfied with your purchase so you’ll come back. In no particular order, here are other search factors at Amazon:
Star reviews. Positive star ratings (4 or more stars) from Amazon customers are a search marker.
Beyond Amazon Search & Other Booksellers
You probably weren’t surprised to hear that Amazon’s search engine is far more sophisticated than any other bookstore. Consider, though, that when it comes to selling books, Amazon can be at a disadvantage: as the online “superstore,” Amazon must position books alongside millions of other products in a search, from dishwashers to diapers. A customer browsing for books by a particular phrase (also called a keyword) may find other products in search results.
A bookstore or book-focused site has the distinct advantage of focusing on the book-discovery journey. For example, Barnes & Noble has optimized their search engine as well as the web pages that display a book (called product detail pages) at BN.com to cater to the many consumers who are searching for a particular book series on their site.
A book-focused site may have a landing page for a series or author or even a special promotion, such as a theme or a price promotion. Strand Books, an independent bookstore in New York City, often creates these custom landing pages on their website (strandbooks.com). These landing pages may come up in search results, or a customer searching for a particular author or series may be redirected to the page automatically, depending on the website. Of course, Amazon may do these pages as well, but given that books are merely one of hundreds of categories of other products on the site, they will be more focused on bestsellers and less focused on niche books or local content.
Typically, online booksellers and book websites return search results based on three key metadata elements:
More sophisticated search engines may also index (or use as content for search results) the series, subtitle, subject, keywords, format (e.g., hardcover or ebook), or even book descriptions. A small number of book-search engines do factor in star ratings and images, but by and large, most are searching against the title, contributor, and ISBN. This is why it’s important to create a keyword-rich title, if at all possible. In the wide world of bookselling, it is your best shot at achieving that serendipitous online discovery from a consumer who would otherwise have never heard of your book.
While search beyond Amazon is fairly limited, there are many examples of brilliant bookselling and marketing out there on the web. Here are a few of our favorite examples:
Barnes & Noble Book Graph. Launched in 2017, it aims to make recommendations based on tastes, not purchase history.
Search results for “slow cooker” at Booktopia.com.au, captured July 2017.
Book discovery relies on optimizing the search results of your books on retail, library, and other discovery websites. Because these are product-driven searches (generally, people go to retail sites because they want to buy something), rather than question-driven (generally, people perform online searches to have a question answered, which may or may not be product-driven), the search journey is somewhat different. This makes search engine optimization a key component to your book's success.
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 book's discoverability through data-driven analysis and industry expertise.