Independently published authors have many things in common: an unswerving determination to share their ideas with the world, an impeccable work ethic that takes them from a rough manuscript to a polished final product, and a bevy of innate and learned skills that allows them to adopt the roles of an entire publishing house from production manager to publicist. Yet among these enviable qualities, for most indie authors there lies a deep—and understandable—concern that despite all their efforts, their books won’t sell and their rankings on Amazon will linger behind other more visible titles.
With more and more print books selling through Amazon.com as opposed to traditional bookstores, it’s important that indie authors understand how to remove any roadblocks to their book’s ranking on Amazon.
The full answer to “How do I make sure my book ranks well on Amazon?” includes a discussion of how you’re marketing your book. In other words, are you successfully directing readers to the page in the first place? No amount of optimizing the Amazon page itself is going to help your book sell if you’re not marketing it well. In conjunction with your marketing efforts, though, you’ll want to make sure to remove any kind of on-page barriers to discovery.
You can do this yourself by being smart about the categories and keywords you select when uploading your book. We’ll call this “on-page SEO.” Here’s how to do it.
Choose Your Company Wisely
Amazon’s algorithm prioritizes books that are ranked highly within their categories. What this means: it’s better to be the biggest fish in a small pond than one of the million fish caught up in an enormous pond’s feeding frenzy. Categorizing your book in smaller niche categories will help it rise to the top:
1. Go to the books page on Amazon.com under Departments > Books & Audible.
2. In the left-hand column, scroll down to the “Refine By” section. Click on the format of your book (paperback, for example) to make sure you’re searching results of a similar book type.
3. Review the categories in the left-hand column under “Books.” The number of books in the category is listed in parentheses after the category name.
4. Click on the category that is most relevant and smallest. Let’s say you wrote a self-help book about improving your marriage through better communication. The best-suited category would be, go figure, “Self-Help.” When you click on “Self-Help,” subcategories will then appear in the left-hand column of the page.
(Note: Keep in mind that it won’t do your book any good to be listed in a sparsely populated category if its content doesn’t belong there. You don’t want your future readers feeling duped, and there’s the possibility that Amazon will pull your book if it thinks the subcategory is inappropriate for it. So play the game, but don’t cheat.)
5. There are many subcategory choices that will work for most books, so scan the entire list and choose the smallest one that’s relevant. With our self-help book example, you could choose self-help subcategories “Relationships” or “Communication & Social Skills.” In this case we would choose the latter, given that it’s far smaller than the “Relationships” category.
6. Go through this process twice, since you’ll be able to select two Categories/Subcategories when publishing. With the example above, we would return to the Relationships category and drill down to a further subcategory—perhaps “Marriage” or, if it’s relevant to your book’s content, “Conflict Management,” since that is the smaller of the two.
Amazon Is a Search Engine: Use It
Think of Amazon’s search bar in the same way as Google’s search bar. Millions of people type in what they’re searching for, so the search engine has the “predictive knowledge” to auto-fill words as you begin typing. Using Amazon’s search tool gives you a glimpse into some favored keywords buyers use to help them find the books they’re looking for.
When you upload your book’s metadata in preparation for publishing it, you’ll be given the chance to input five keywords. Use all of them.
1. Your first two keywords should be the names of the most specific drilled-down subcategories you’ve selected (coming back to our earlier self-help example, we would choose “Communication and Social Skills” and “Conflict Management” or “Marriage”. Don’t use the general main category names.
2. The remaining three keywords should all be search phrases that are consistent with what readers are looking for when they discover the book. It’s more helpful to use two- to three-word phrases rather than single words. Try to think about what readers will type into the search bar when looking for a book like yours.
3. For example, if you think a user might search for diet cookbooks, then type in “diet cookbooks” or “diet cookbooks and” in the Amazon search bar and the drop down menu will suggest related search terms that are high ranking and more specific—such as “diet cookbooks for weight loss” or “Mediterranean diet cookbooks best sellers” or “diet cookbooks best sellers 2016.” If any of those are relevant, include them in your keyword list as well.
The real key to SEO is the “O” part—optimization. If it doesn’t seem like your book is doing well in a category or subcategory, try it out in a different one, or test alternate keywords to see if the changes increase your sales. By doing so, you can transform Amazon’s search bar into a useful (and free) addition to your publishing toolbox.