By Dave Chesson
Keywords and categories are often spoken about as tools to generate book ideas. And while it’s true that writing a book to match specific keywords can be an effective strategy, it isn’t the only way to take advantage of keyword and category research. If you’ve already got a solid book idea, you can still use keywords and categories to merely shape your writing — and in the process, optimize your book to sell as many copies as possible.
In this article, we’ll look at how to use keyword and category research to write a book that is primed for more online sales.
Here’s the framework I use to think about it.
Keywords Tell You What Your Market Wants
If you think about it, keywords are the words readers use to describe what they want. When they’re visiting Amazon, they type a specific phrase to get the book they want. And through keyword research, you can find out what words they’re typing. Knowing these keywords can help you understand how your target market describes a novel the want to read, or a personal development book they hope to learn from.
Having keyword knowledge is the closest thing to reading the minds of your target market. And the good news is, most authors don’t invest the time to take advantage of keyword optimization, so this can truly be what separates you from your competition.
Now that you understand the concept, here are two examples of how you might put this keyword strategy to good use.
Nonfiction Example: Not long ago, I was working with an author who was writing a book on “how to sell art.” However, by doing research with my software Publisher Rocket, we found that more people were actually searching Amazon for the phrase "how to sell art online."
This author hadn't even thought about that angle! If we didn’t check Rocket, we definitely would have published under her original idea. As a result, we wouldn’t have been a good fit for readers looking to sell art online, which would have cost us potential book sales and could have resulted in some negative reviews from readers wanting to learn more about that topic.
Thankfully, the author not only added a major section to her book to cover this aspect of selling art online, she also made an email opt-in offer that gave readers information on the different online sales platforms out there and how to set up your accounts. By simply running some keyword research, she was able to build on her original idea and create a more thorough book that better appealed to her target market.
Fiction Example: Last year, I was working with a novelist who had an interesting book that took place in the late 1800's. We’re talking about the true industrial age of London here. But to our surprise, her target readers were not typing in words like “London,” “1800's,” or “industrial.” So we did some keyword research on Rocket, looking for terms and themes we could feature to get the book in front of more readers. Ultimately, we found that a common phrase readers were using when searching for her kind of book was "gaslamp."
Yep, you read right; gaslamp.
While gaslamps are definitely in my mind’s eye when I think about industrial London, it would never have struck me as something to deliberately include in a book for marketing purposes. But thanks to the work we did, the author can now do exactly that — feature gaslamps in her book to make it appeal to readers who are searching for that.
Having an idea about popular keywords in your genre can help you write a book that speaks to what readers are looking for. In that nonfiction example we spoke about earlier, the author was able to take her already great book about selling art and add a section to include selling art online, and you don’t even go to that length. Sometimes you can simply use keyword data to reconsider phrasing. For example, if there were more people searching for ‘how to sell art’ than there are searching for ‘selling art’, all you’d have to do is line up your phrasing to match what’s popular and you’re good to go.
Now that we’ve looked at the power of keyword research, let’s talk about its best friend, category research.
Category Data Tells You Where the Market is Heading
One thing most major publishing companies track and follow is where the trends in the market are going. More importantly, they look at categories and subcategories in order to see where things are shifting and center their publishing deals, headhunting, and publishing dates around this data.
The good news is...this advanced technique isn’t just reserved for publishing companies with millions of dollars. You can use a range of online tools to find what’s hot.
Imagine having a young adult vampire romance book written and prepared for publication back in 2006 when Twilight was just taking off. Or a LitRPG Gamelit book coming out in the heyday of the Ready, Player One fervor. When you start to use category data to shape your writing, you can do that.
There are thousands of categories on Amazon, with new ones being added all the time. And I mean thousands… including some super obscure categories that I look at and have a bit of a laugh and think “how on earth did you come up with that”? Regardless, you need to be intentional when you pick your categories because the right categories can help you get in front of readers who are more likely to enjoy your book. And since Amazon bestseller status is category-specific, choosing the right category can make or break your chances of achieving that goal too.
Not only does a book with a ‘bestseller’ tag stand out on a crowded search page, there are so many readers who browse the top twenty books in their favorite category to find the next book to read. I know that’s what I do when I’m looking at military science-fiction books.
Amazon only shows you a tiny percentage of categories when you first list your book, so you’ll have to do a lot of the work yourself. But Rocket makes it easy to find the right categories.
And Rocket is about to get even better too. In February 2020, Rocket will start to include all historical data for categories, so you can see how popular a category is over time. Think of it almost like Google Trends for authors.
This will be a free upgrade, so you won’t have to invest anything extra if you’re already a Rocket owner!
How to Use this Information After Writing Your Book
Okay, so you’ve used some keyword and category research to help shape your writing, now what? Well, now that you know the words shoppers use when looking for their next book, and the type of sub-genre they are most interested in, you can use that data in plenty of cool ways.
This is where all your hard work researching categories and keywords really starts to pay off big time. We’ve found all of the great keywords and categories, now it’s up to us to make sure Amazon shows our books for those keywords and categories.
Here are four areas where you can apply your knowledge to help get your book listed, or “indexed,” for your target keywords and categories, so you can show up in the results and compete for sales.
- Your 7 Kindle Keywords: When submitting your book in the KDP dashboard, Amazon will give you seven boxes to fill with Kindle keywords. In each of these boxes, you can enter up to fifty characters (that’s fifty different letters and spaces in total). Put your well-chosen keywords in this section. You can read my full recommendations for Kindle keywords right here.
- Your Book Title or Subtitle: If you can, having targeted keyword phrases in your title or subtitle can be beneficial. A keyword-targeted title will give the potential reader a great indication that your book is what they’re looking for. Now, you don’t want to over-optimize your title with a bunch of keywords that sound spammy. Just remember that keywords are the phrases potential readers are already using and try to position your book to those phrases. For example, if I typed in ‘How to use Trello’ into Amazon and the first result was literally a book titled How To Use Trello, odds are I’d at least click through to read the description. Speaking of which, another area to use keywords is...
- Your Book Description: While we’re talking about sales copy, the same goes for your book description. There are arguments on both sides as to whether or not Amazon checks for Keywords in the description. Personally, I don’t know for certain, but I strongly believe they do, since their algorithm, A9, used to say so on their homepage until Amazon shut down the website. Your book description will often be the final opportunity when it comes to converting sales. If they’re reading your book description, readers must have already liked the cover and title of your book. They’re so close to purchasing, but they just need that last bit of guidance. Include the keywords you know readers are looking for inside your description copy to push buyers over the edge. Eventually, Amazon’s algorithm will notice that when people type in a specific keyword, they buy your book. Once it notices that, your book will shoot up the search page.
- Contact Amazon Directly For Categories: As we spoke about earlier, Amazon has over 16,000 different categories you can list your book in. However, when you go to list your book in the KDP dashboard, they only give you a small selection of categories to choose from. The trouble is... because these are the default categories, they’re usually super competitive and often not niche enough for most authors. You can also only choose three categories when using the dashboard. However, you can actually have up to ten categories on Amazon, not three. This video goes over all the steps you need to take to make that happen. This is a method that Chris Fox, the author of one of my favorite book marketing books Write To Market, has found a lot of success with. Chris was able to sell lots more books by being careful about the categories he was publishing in and writing for.
You don’t have to use keyword research as a crutch for your writing. This information isn't here to restrict writers or force them to write something they don't care about. It's here to help you make more informed writing decisions, understand your readers better, and ultimately create a book that really resonates and sells well as a result.
For writers whose goal is to sell more books, don’t make the common self-publishing mistake of assuming simply writing a good book is enough. It’s true that a great book can spread like wildfire through word of mouth, but you have to attract initial readers to create the spark. That’s exactly what these techniques are designed to do. I hope you’ll give them a try.
Dave Chesson will be joining us at S3, February 1-4 in Austin, TX to lead a Track 2 session.
Meet Dave Chesson in person at S3!
Track 2: The Advanced Keyword Strategy that Impressed Amazon
Learn the secrets behind the keywords strategy that is so good that even Amazon promoted it and changed the way they discuss keywords with authors. With this strategy, you’ll learn how to generate keyword ideas that buyers not only use, but that aren’t competitive, and can help you get your book in front of more readers. Click the link below to reserve your spot at StoryShop Summit 2020!