Friday, February 21, 2014

Keywords: What Are They Good For?

Another conversation between L.J. Sellers and Peg Brantley... and you!

Peg: There are a few words that strike terror in my heart. Two of them are "SEO" and "keywords." I've read articles, looked at online lists, brainstormed so hard that what's left of my brain flew out the window, and even purchased software. And someone recommends switching categories. Like what? Switch my police procedural to what? Tender romance? I recently changed my keywords on each of my books. How important are they?

L.J: Recent discussions between Thomas & Mercer authors say they’re not as important as they have been in the past. And I’ve noticed that whenever I read articles or paid-advice about keywords, the information always seems to be geared toward nonfiction, where they seem to be more important. I believe that’s because in nonfiction there are more possibilities for categorizing the topics.

Fiction seems to be less complicated. Advice I’ve read recently suggests keywords should simply be the genre, sub-genre, sub-sub-genre, (thriller, international thriller, police procedural), then a few broad topics that readers might search for to find your book (FBI agents, survivalists, hackers).

Peg: So keywords have gone from being the darlings to the stepchildren? Ugh. Like choosing between butter and margarine… Can I forget about them then? Or do they still play some kind of supporting role in my book sales?

L.J.: I’m sure there are authors who still swear by keywords, but I’ve experimented with them in books' metadata, in Amazon’s 7 allowed keywords, and in books' descriptions. None of it made a difference. Except for genre. After listing a main critical category—such as police procedural—I chose a less crowded one such as international thriller. That allows The Trigger to make the top-100 with fewer sales and remain visible to readers.

In another author forum, someone mentioned that the new trick is to stick as many keywords as possible into the space between commas. Like this: love romance sweet love NA young couple summer love may to december love, literary romance romantic suspense passion couples intimacy, ….. and so on. But key phrases should match user searches, so I’m not sure how effective that is.

Another author commented that she had updated and added keywords, and her rankings went down. Which could be coincidental, or maybe fewer readers could find her book because she’d deleted or changed her most effective key/search word without realizing it. With seven possibilities, you would have to be methodical about experimenting with them one at a time and documenting results.

For those who want a thorough discussion, M. Louise Louisa Locke has written a series of blogs on the subject.

Writers, have you gained some expertise you'd like to share regarding keywords?

Readers, how often do you actually search Amazon using a keyword?


  1. Since I never shop at amazon for books, I'd say the only keywords I search for are things like "yoga mats" or "laptop carryon luggage" and I've always found what I'm looking for. I recall trying to figure out how readers might find my last release, which, thanks to Amazon's creation of a new, smaller genre, was in the top 10. It took forever for me to find the right searches, which required digging through several layers in exactly the right order. I'm not sure how "typical" Amazon readers find books. If I want a book, I usually go to the main genre, and then look for authors. Or I'm looking for a book I've already heard about.

    1. I do shop Amazon for books, but I'd agree that the only keywords I use are for other items they sell with the exception of author names or titles. Congratulations on finding that smaller genre!

  2. I only think about keywords when requested for them, such as today, when I was advertising my free book. One of the services, I think it was Pixel of Ink, allowed 5 keywords. Does it help? Dunno.

    1. It seems to me as if one of the "tricks" to keywords is to find those where there is little competition but at the same time a high likelihood of being used by the buyer. How in the world do you find those? Good luck on your free promotion!

  3. I've never used a key word when searching for a book, but that means exactly nothing. I'm sure some people do. I write cozies, or traditional mystery, depending on who you are talking to, and do think people who read those kids of books might search by those keys, but after that, I have no idea.

    1. Maybe I'm fretting over something that isn't worth it. That would be rather cool...

      Thanks for stopping by, Kathleen!

  4. I've been using a program called AKBoosterPro, which searches Amazon's keyword database, those words searched for and those supplied, to find the highest probability of use in a search and least competition for the word. Whether it's helping readers find my books is anybody's guess.

  5. I just bought it too, Terry! I'm not convinced I'm using it properly, but it's there if I can ever screw up the courage to try again.

  6. I think the most important keyword is the author's name, followed by the genre and maybe a sub-genre. Or "books like..."

  7. 1. As a reader:

    Before I published, I used to look for new releases by my favorite authors (therefore, name search only on the web, mainly on Amazon) or browse the tables in Waterstones for new talent. Now that I've published, most of the books I'm picking up are by authors I've come to know and interact with on social media, and pretty much all those buys are through the Kindle platform and specific author name searches.

    2. As a writer:

    When I first published, I picked the best keywords I felt suited my novels. Don't know if those worked well or not. After reading Ms Locke's article last year (and the update), David Gaughran's Let's Get Visible, and one of Kristine Rusch's posts in her Discoverability series, I picked both the categories and the keywords more carefully this year. As luck would have it, my original keywords were pretty much bang on.

    These are what I'm using for both Soul Meaning and King's Crusade

    1. Lit & Fiction > Action & Adventure > Men’s Adventure
    2. Mystery/Thriller/Suspense > Suspense > Paranormal

    supernatural thriller, action-/adventure, paranormal, immortal, urban fantasy

    I contacted KDP via the dashboard and asked them to change the categories of both my books to the very specific ones I've listed. Those are currently not available for self-published authors when they upload their books on the KDP platform but Amazon are more than happy to accommodate authors when they make such requests. I've been very pleased with how prompt and helpful they've been (they've done everything I've requested of them in the last three weeks within 24 hours).

    Again, I have no idea how this will impact on visibility and sales but I believe there is no right or wrong way to do these things and the best method is trial and error, following the advice of people who've done it already. And I'm sure this advice will change again in the next 12 months :D


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