SEO for Authors: a guide to marketing your own work on the internet

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SEO for Authors

Why SEO Matters

With traditional book sales dwindling and independent book shops closing in droves, it’s safe to say the days of the printed word on paper may be numbered. Last year, sales of printed books fell by £98m – a drop of 6.5% from 2012, and this trend looks set to continue. So what does this mean for authors and how can the savvy digitally-minded amongst us find a means to use the internet to promote our own work? As the author of three books, I realised six years ago that the cultural shift from analogue to digital was going to change the landscape forever. What was equally clear was that whoever understood the methods of positioning information on the internet wielded a tremendous power. By chance, an old friend of mine was already a leading SEO expert and, through his training, I worked hard to establish myself in a completely new career. A huge part of me resisted this doggedly. I love ink pens and paper, dusty bookshops and poetry readings and resented the idea that these things might vanish. But at the same time it felt impossible to deny the shift which was underway. Humanity was in the grip of a dramatic cyber-revolution and, while I might dig my heels in, that wasn’t going to pay the rent. The only option was to roll with the punches.

These days, I’ve grown strangely passionate about the power of the web to put information where it matters: by day I’m an SEO consultant helping businesses on the internet. As an author, I still yearn for that former era when writers could spend all their time creatively, make a handsome salary, and let others sell the book for them but it’s also clear those days are – unless you’re in the very small minority of internationally best sellers like John Grisham – forever gone. With publishers fighting for survival, there’s no room in their coffers to allocate funds to smaller writers: they need to promote the big names which are still making them money. So for most of the world that calls themselves a professional scribe, there’s a need to now wear two hats: the creative and the marketing. Without learning the latter your work may simply never see the light of day and you certainly won’t make a proper livelihood from the pen. On the other hand, if you accept this brave new world for what it is, embrace the digital revolution, and try to market yourself more intelligently than the next guy, there may be a way for you to continue earning your bread and butter via the written word.

Why writers need to embrace the Digital Revolution

Here’s what every author needs to begin their digital marketing push. No matter how much of a Luddite you are, these are bare minimum it’s going to take to succeed. 

  • A website or, at the very least, a blog – Even if you know nothing about branding, it’s easy to realise that the more ‘you’ you can make your website the more it’s going to appeal to your audience and establish you as a marketable commodity. Think about what your books represent and why people are reading them in the first place. Have a look at the fantastic sites of John Le Carre, J.K Rowling and Anthony Horowitz to see some examples. Make an email sign up box a prominent feature of this website and offer a book as prize to encourage sign ups. As any internet marketer will tell you, your list is your friend. Work hard to build it. Grab yourself whatever social media accounts you feel inclined to as well: LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook at minimum.
  • A product listing on Amazon – This is no brainer. More on Amazon later in the article.
  • A sound understanding of your own market – Who are your readers? Do you have a demographic? If you don’t know, make an educated guess. (We are All Connected can do a great job of helping you, if you need to research this.)
  • Some kind of marketing budget – If you’re a writer the chances are you don’t have one but here’s where you’ll need to beg, borrow or steal to get one. If you get this process right, you’re in with a chance of establishing yourself in your career so, as with any business startup, you’ll need to do some number crunching and find some money to catalyse future growth. There are things you can do without budget but, for this to really work, you’ll need something.

The importance of Amazon

When I’m in bookshops, I’ve been known to find copies of my own books and either move them to the front or even sneakily insert them on to the ‘Our Staff Recommend’ tables at the front of the shop.  Think of Amazon, then, as the biggest bookshop the world has ever seen: how are you going to get your books to the front? Like Google, Amazon organises its products via a complex search algorithm. Say you type in ‘crime books’ it makes a quick internal calculation then spits out a number of titles. How does it choose these? It stands to reason then that if you can understand this algorithm, there may be a way to play it to your advantage. This is really the basis of SEO.

Remember, if you get books selling properly on Amazon, you’ll already have won half the battle.  It has 70%-to-80% market share for ebooks sales and about a 50% market share for books sold online (that’s ebooks *and* printed books sold via the Internet).

Factors which impact Amazon positioning:

Book Title: Each individual word in the product name is searchable by itself. Having a detailed product names helps ensure that your product appears in as many search results as possible. So while I’m not suggesting you choose your book title in order to make more money on Amazon, this can work to your advantage in non fiction. For example, my first book was a travelogue about searching for wild honey called Honey and Dust. This title ensures it will show up in a lot of searches related to honey which, from a marketing perspective, is a good thing. Having the word ‘honey’ in the title is nothing but useful because a lot of searches by bee keepers and honey lovers may offer crossover.

Book Description:Make this as full and detailed as possible, including any keywords which are going to be relevant. Clearly, there has to be a balance here between writing something appealing, which is going to sell your book, while also keeping one eye focussed on the Amazon internal algorithm. So just write something powerful and add a couple of keywords in without stuffing it so full it looks ridiculous.

Keywords: Keywords are the primary method buyers use to find products on Amazon. Finding the best search terms goes a long way toward increasing product visibility and sales. Improve the effectiveness of online search results and your book’s ranking on Amazon by suggesting keywords or search terms that apply to your book’s title or topic. 

Encourage customer reviewsThere’s absolutely no doubt that reviews both encourage sales and help get the book more visibility. You need to cajole every friend and family member to get on there and write a review. If you’re selling books person to person offer a discount if they guarantee to login to Amazon and add one. Writing and posting a review is quick and easy, and often has a considerable impact on sales. And remember, reviews are spotlighted or moved to the top of the list of reviews, based on how well the review was written and how helpful it was deemed by Amazon customers, so really encourage people to put some effort into it.

Further Amazon SEO Tips

amazon-author-centralCreate an author page on Amazon Author Central: Your Author Page can be customized to display your biography, photos, as well as videos and links to social media.

Link to your product. Remember to add the link to your book’s Amazon  product page to your email signature, blog, and/or website. 

Listmania: Have you ever noticed when you searched for a book on Amazon, not only the book you searched for comes up but also other book suggestions that you may like? One of the main reasons this happens is because of a function called ‘Listmania‘ A Listmania is a list of up to 40 books linked by a common theme, provided by an Amazon user.  It is a very powerful promotional tool because when your book is in the list it can be included as a suggested book for all the other books on the list as above. So the trick here is to get as many of these listmanias as possible: again use friends and family where possible.

Go Prime: You will notice the prominence of the ‘Prime’ logo for eligible offers in Amazon’s search results: Amazon promotes Fast-Track offers, shipped by Amazon (sold and shipped by Amazon or just shipped by Amazon with the Fulfilment by Amazon programme). FBA helps to increase inventory turns, and the Prime logo in the search results can increase conversion.

Ensure Adequate Stock: It seems likely  that quantities are affecting the search results at a product level. If the quantity is very low, then why would Amazon promote the product in the search results? Using the inventory buffer might affect page views as well so make sure there’s a decent number of your books left.

 The Book Blogs: Targeting Reviewers

Use Google to make a list of the top fifty book bloggers relevant to your work. Once you’ve got a Kindle Edition you can get in touch with them and offer them a free download in exchange for a review. Now remember these people are inundated with this kind of thing so make your email personal and explain you’ve been reading their blog for a while. Offer them an interview if that’s of interest to them and bear in mind some of these reviewers have a truly incredible reach so it’s worth making a concerted effort on this part of the marketing. Most of them are selling books via affiliate links so they stand to make money too if they shift your books.

Good-reads-goodreads-30974686-288-192Paid Advertising

Amazon Sponsored: This can work out a very efficient means of shifting copies of your books and it still isn’t being used that widely in the publishing world. Targeted ads help you boost the visibility of your products when shoppers search for keywords you bid on. You pay a fee for this program only when an Amazon shopper clicks on your ad and is taken to the detail page where your offer is listed. Find more out about that here

Goodreads Advertising: Like Amazon (who now owns them), Goodreads is a pay-per-click advertising system, meaning you pay every time someone clicks your ad. All self-serve ads are sold at a default rate of $0.50 per click

Bookbub (for ebooks only) Bookbub  has emerged recently as a highly effective method for ebook promotion. BookBub has been known to generate very large sales for some authors, for free or sale-priced ebooks.  The benefits of BookBub are their exceptionally large and loyal subscription to their book recommendation emails, by genre, and that they have large numbers of readers favoring Kindle, Nook, and Apple, with readers loyal to other web sales channels as well, like Kobo and Smashwords.  For a pricing breakdown, visit their pricing page here.

Facebook: Facebook remains one of the best places to conduct paid advertising, both from a cost perspective and ease of use. Facebook Remarketing, in particular, offers a huge possibility for authors: target people who have already liked a competitors fan page, or zone in on highly specific demographics. For Honey and Dust, for example, I could target people between the ages of 30 and 75 who like ‘beekeeping’ or perhaps the page of a travel writer like William Dalrymple whose got an impressive fan base. Both of these would be great starting points to generate sales or build own fan page.

Promoting your Podcasts

The podcast world is huge now and authors are beginning to do what are called podcast tours. Check out this site for live weekly podcasts of authors.

Don’t want to do all this yourself?

Here at Barefoot we’re offering a specialist online promotion service for authors. Give us a call or email and we’ll be happy to talk you through how it works.





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