Unless you live in a completely analog world—and if you’re reading this, then you don’t—you’ve heard of search engine optimization (SEO), even if you don’t really know what it means. Following, I present some SEO tips for authors to help them boost promotion and, therefore, sales of their books.
Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com by NeONBRAND.
In general terms, SEO refers to improving the likelihood for search engines like Google and Yahoo to find whatever you’re selling. For authors, that means your brand or your book.
Companies like newApps Agency offer best practice or “white hat” SEO expertise to increase search engine rankings, meaning that an author’s name or book title will be more likely to appear on the first page of a web-based search, rather than six or twelve pages back where no one ever looks.
High ranking increases awareness which translates to increased sales and higher royalty payouts.
Amazon: The 800 lb. gorilla
Every website that employs a “search” feature relies upon SEO to order results of site visitor searches. After all, if you search for “historical romance” in Amazon, the site will come up with over 60,000 results.
Then you must refine the search by adding variables or additional search parameters, such as historical period (medieval, Regency, Victorian), region (Scottish, western) or other defining characteristics that describe the type of book you want to read. Accuracy in identifying these parameters or keyword terms helps readers to find what they want to read.
Increasing SEO goes beyond the integration of likely search words and phrases. It involves adding pages to websites. It can entail radio, podcast, and newspaper interviews, which those media will promote to attract viewers and website visitors. Keywords in those promotions may include author names, book titles, genres and sub-genres, and even snippets from back cover blurbs to improve SEO ranking.
When writing blogs to promote your books, include terms that you’d use in a Google search. You can be very specific. Use links, but don’t litter the blog with links. The Pro Writers Toolbox notes, “You want to keep people on your site, so use links that connect to other pages on your blog or website.” More advanced social media marketers will use hashtags and modify the meta data. Website development and hosting sites like WordPress and Weebly allow for manual, precision tweaking meta data.
BookBub lays out marketing ideas that any author can and probably should follow. One such suggestion concerns defining the personas of your target audience and then adjusting your marketing efforts to cater to them. They strongly recommend using press release distribution services. Make sure you embed those keywords as well as your author name and book title in press releases.
On LinkedIn, Karen Williams offers some simple, sensible SEO tips for authors. They can employ these tactics to boost their book sales, one of which is—you got it—picking relevant SEO-friendly keywords. CreateSpace and Kindle Direct Publishing (both owned by Amazon) offer authors specific fields in which to insert SEO keywords and phrases.
These SEO tips for authors also pertain to author posts on Goodreads, which Amazon owns, too. Really, authors just can’t avoid Amazon. Don’t believe that little tidbit? According to Author Earnings’ February 2017 report, “Amazon accounts for more than 80% of English-language ebook purchases.”
Authors can also include SEO keywords in book descriptions and even in titles and subtitles, although such tactics used in titles and subtitles often cross the line from intriguing to tasteless. I find the most egregious examples of poor taste in keyword stuffing subtitles within the romance genre, as shown below. Be careful.
Screenshot from Amazon.com shows keyword stuffing of book’s subtitle.
Amazon author pages and Goodreads author profiles also offer opportunities to embed keywords and phrases for SEO. When telling readers about yourself and your writing journey, include some keywords and phrases that will help them find you. Consider terms that not only label what you are, but also what you do and what you write.
SEO isn’t a magic bullet that will solve all an author’s anxieties and woes when it comes to book sales. If reader reviews decry a manuscript littered with rampant editing errors, poorly written content, and formatting problems, the best selection of keywords won’t result in a significant increase in sales. Content remains king and well-written, engaging content reigns.
Don’t do this …
Good SEO tips for authors also include what not to do. These discouraged practices fall under the label of “black hat” SEO.
Readers quickly catch on to dishonest SEO practices, such as plugging in keywords for a book in a niche genre when the book does not fit that genre. Authors who engage in such practices also risk scathing reviews from readers who download content they were not expecting.
Keyword stuffing also ranks as bad practice. Keywords should integrate naturally into the content. Content stuffed with keyword phrases, such as those tacky subtitles, doesn’t flow and sounds contrived.
Other SEO errors or bad practices include failing to update author pages. Whether it’s your own website or the author profiles on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites, obsolete information shows a lack of engagement with your audience. Put simply, if you don’t care enough about them, then why should they care enough about you to buy your book?
Spinning articles and duplicating content requires maybe 10 seconds of machine time and costs immeasurably in terms of reputation and lost readers. Content spinning results in lost meaning, disjointed flow, and annoyed readers.
This is akin to a lazy editor using a global replacement of the “beautiful” for the word “fine,” which happened with one of my manuscripts. Luckily for me, I always review every edit and caught the problem, because my heroine used a “fine-toothed comb” not a “beautiful-toothed comb.”
Spun content makes just such cringe-worthy errors and produces boring, poorly written, and often incoherent material, something with which no author wants to be associated. Sometimes, someone else says something that you simply cannot improve upon or you need another person’s word to confirm your own assertion. Quote that content from those other sources for corroborative authority, and then be sure to cite that content and link it to the source documents for proper attribution.
Beware the old “copy-and-paste” temptation. Duplicated content may not only infringe upon someone else’s copyright, but it also won’t trick Google and other search engines. Their sophisticated algorithms will recognize the original content and downgrade your plagiarized content.
Developing well-written, original content takes time, research, and hard work. Writing books, including fiction, requires honest effort, diligence, and integrity. Readers sense when an author uses someone else’s words and penalize that deceptive practice with negative reviews, complaints to publishing platforms, reports of abuse to web hosting services, and even notification to those authors whose content was stolen. And they’ll talk about in social media. Then you’ll see the result of effective SEO when directed against you.
Fuze SEO also warns against “sleazy” affiliate marketing practices: “don’t try building links by giving out your products for free to review sites … [and] don’t use tactics like link-cloaking and dofollow linking for businesses you promote.” In other words, if you don’t trust the products and services sold through sites you’re promoting, then don’t link to them and seek backlinks leading from their sites to yours.
Low quality content also detracts from SEO. Many authors accept guest posts on their websites; however, badly written, plagiarized, or irrelevant content not only turns off readers, it also lowers search rankings. If guest posts don’t meet your conditions for well-written, original content, then don’t accept it and don’t post it on your site.
Related to this is the bad practice of cloaking, which refers to hiding a link’s true destination. Algorithms and search engines can identify this deceptive practice and search engines will penalize such sites that employ it.
Hire an expert
Google and Amazon adjust their algorithms all the time. Amazon’s constant modifications often result in such annoying results as verified buyer reviews being removed or not posted as the company seeks to level the playing field so that the best content rises to the top and to punish dishonest players.
The rules and practices change as opportunities open and close. Frankly, it takes someone who specializes in SEO to keep up with it all and exploit it to its best advantage. Of all the SEO tips for authors, the best I can recommend is to hire an expert.
Sure, learn everything you can about white hat SEO practices so you understand what your consultant is doing and why, but leave the execution to the professionals for best results. After all, how many of them are writing books?