How search terms affect how well–or poorly–your book sells

Posted: November 15, 2017  |  Updated: February 8, 2023

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predictive metadata is crucial to high-performing page rankingsHow the right keywords increase the discoverability and sales of your book

The two main ways an audience finds a new book to read are through recommendations and keyword searches. Recommendations range from casual suggestions from friends and families all the way to sophisticated recommendation engines found on websites. These engines (software programs) generate similar titles to the book one is considering or has read. (Learn more on recommendation engines from this Dataconomy article) Many consider current recommendation engines hit or miss.

Searching for a book is a different animal and is solely based on the words a person puts into a search field. The search engine will look for the metadata — digital fingerprints in the form of keywords — attached to a book. This includes the book title, reviews or its ONIX (its bibliographic data relating to the book) as provided by the publisher. Readers tend to use topics or author names for their searches, but improvements in search engines allow people to search by more obscure reasoning. She types, “a feel good book with a brazen heroine.”

Is your metadata up to snuff? StoryFit’s keywords are tailor-made to drive sales on backlist titles as well as the shiny new ones. Learn more → 

Suppose a reader finishes bestselling author Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow and would like to continue their exploration of life in 20th century Moscow, Russian dissidence, the Bolshevik culture and politics, or even the magnificent hotels of Moscow like the Metropol. Type ‘Moscow’ into the Amazon search for example, and A Gentleman in Moscow appears in the top results (because of the title). But books about life in Moscow like NYT’s bestsellers Red Notice (Bill Browder) and Secondhand Time (Svetlana Alexievich) are not found on the top twenty pages. Why is that?

It comes down to the metadata attached to the books.

Just as many of the recommendation engines fail to produce relevant content, so do organic searches of books. The reason—ineffective keywords. The amazing reality is nearly all of publishers’ backlists and some of their frontlists do not have keywords applied or fall far short of effective keywords. We are talking about tens of millions of titles not being discovered or rediscovered by consumers. This is millions in lost revenues. In other words, No Keywords, Know Obscurity.

If you want the reader to discover a book they will like based on their keyword search, you need to know what the best keywords are.  That way, when their results are delivered, your book will be there and they are more likely to buy it. With an ocean of content threatening to drown out your content’s voice, use effective keywords to rise above it and get your content sold.

Here are 5 suggestions to improve your keyword metadata:

1. Better research

Know the trends, the thinking and the language your target audience uses that represents the book or movie you are promoting.

2. Proper thinking

Don’t tell your audience how to think. Learn to think like they do.

3. Test

Test your keywords. Test them again. And then test again. Use feedback, sales data, and even lack of response to corroborate or to change your keywords.

4. Pay attention

Your customers will tell you what they like through reviews and comments. Social media is a goldmine of this information. Respond accordingly.

5. Get help.

Effective keyword selection has become a science with tools and experts emerging in the field. Seek their help. The return on the investment will be well worth it.