Heidi Thorne is a self-publishing advocate and author of nonfiction books, eBooks, and audiobooks. She is a former trade newspaper editor.
An author on social media was frustrated by results from her use of keywords for marketing her low content books on Amazon. She was showing up in results for some super niche keywords, though not near the top.
I did a quick search for a related, more generic keyword, and it had over 60,000 results. I would expect that she would show up in this larger, more competitive pool of results, though I would also expect that it wouldn’t be on the first page.
Her situation is a common one and one that frustrates self-published authors on Amazon and KDP. Let’s dig into marketing your books on Amazon with keyword research and SEO.
SEO Ain’t What It Used to Be . . . But It’s Still Important
Both Google and Amazon are dependent on what’s called search engine optimization or SEO.
In the early days of these monstrous organizations, many people were jumping onto the SEO bandwagon and profiting from it, particularly small businesses. Then, like for anything that works too well, these platforms became glutted with a groundswell of players, all jockeying for position with tricks and gimmicks.
I remember taking a self-study course on SEO back in the early days of Google. The course said that you should be targeting keyword categories that have at least 40,000 monthly search results and that 250,000 or more results would be too competitive.
Those who were SEO savvy could cash in on niche keyword topics for cheap, easy-to-get web traffic. That also saw the rise of “riches in the niches” marketing tactics, even if you weren’t an expert in that niche and created mediocre content and products.
Today, it’s difficult to find any significant, or even niche, keyword that doesn’t have at least millions of results. The internet kept expanding quickly and exponentially with blogs and websites. Then the onslaught of social media arrived later in the first decade of the millennium, and the internet exploded with even more search results.
This explosion didn’t only happen on the internet at large. As Amazon expanded its foray into self-publishing services and allowed third-party sellers on the platform, the SEO situation on Amazon started and continues to become extremely competitive.
Regardless of what the Amazon SEO and keyword “success” courses tell you, playing the SEO game is one of chasing a constantly moving target, like a game of Whack-A-Mole. Please do not fall for these dream sellers. It’s obvious that many authors and Amazon sellers want a quick and sure way to work their Amazon SEO.
Currently, there are over 14 million results on Google for “Amazon SEO training” and over 19 million results for “using keywords to market books on Amazon.” The success courses would have you believe that making lots of book sales on Amazon is as simple as picking the perfect keywords. That’s a dated notion.
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This is not to say that SEO isn’t important on Amazon. You should pick relevant keywords for the books and content you sell and use them in your book description, book title, and your selected keyword list when you publish on KDP.
Currently, you’re allowed up to seven keywords when publishing on KDP. Amazon’s algorithm robots use this data in creating search results. But that doesn’t mean it will put your book on page one of search results, even if you have all the best keywords. And it doesn’t mean that people will automatically click the “buy now” button when they see your book’s listing, even if it lands on page one.
Think Like Your Readers
Authors can get enamored with the idea of being a big fish in a small pond. They’ll choose some super niche, obscure keywords. When they type in those keywords on Amazon search, they’ll see that it puts their books near the top of results or in a category with a low number of search results. They think that’ll be the key to selling a ton of their books. It’s not.
My first book, SWAG: How to Choose and Use Promotional Products for Marketing Your Business, falls into this category. After I published it in 2011, I could type in “promotional products,” and my book would come up on the first page, along with the handful of other books on promotional products marketing. The key phrase here is “handful of other books.” There aren’t many dedicated to the topic. I was a big fish in a small pond.
Realize, too, that search terms and results are in a constant state of flux. For example, when I launched that promotional products marketing book in 2011, there were no promotional products sold on Amazon. Now there are thousands of entries for the physical imprinted products, with the ability to specify product customization before checkout.
So today, when you type in the keyword “promotional products,” you can order your customized swag from sellers right on Amazon. This also means that my book isn’t even showing now under that keyword. But two of my books on the topic are showing under “promotional products books” on page one, and two more aren’t showing at all in search results. I could not have anticipated nor would I have had any control over this new buying capability on Amazon. Yet my basic topic keywords haven't changed.
What authors also forget is that readers usually don't type in super niche keywords. You need to think like a reader. What would you type into the Amazon search bar to find a book like yours? Better yet, ask some friends what they would type in to find your book, outside of your name or book title. This brings up another very important point about keywords and search results for books on Amazon.
Buyers Should Go to Amazon to Buy Your Book, Not to Search
Books are not like other products on Amazon that are distinguished by slight variations in features and benefits. A buyer isn’t going to say, “Hmm, this book has three more characters than this other one. I definitely want more characters for the same price. It’s a great deal!”
If you have to depend on search on Amazon for readers to find your book, you’re in trouble already from a marketing standpoint. Amazon ads might be able to put your book in front of buyers who have a high potential to buy your book, based on Amazon’s deep customer knowledge.
But even that’s not a sure thing these days either. I started advertising my books on Amazon in 2016, and my ROI with them was amazing in the beginning but has been declining in the past few years, likely due to dramatically increased competition for ads, too.
Actually, your readers should be heading to Amazon with the intent to buy your book. If you haven’t provided a direct link to your book, they should only be searching for your name and book title. That’s what building your author platform and fan base is all about.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2022 Heidi Thorne