SEO for Author Websites and The Amazon Effect
Search optimisation or SEO is the process of making the content on your website more visible to major search engines and therefore “findable” by your potential audience and customers. This is achieved partially by describing the content for the search engines using specific tags that are hidden in the html code of your website. So far, so boring. Boring but essential.
As there are roughly 200 factors involved in how Google ranks your site, for the purposes of this article we will limit the scope to just the basics of SEO meta tags, keywords, urls and on-page content.
Search engine optimisation for author websites is a little bit different than for products and services. Thinking like a librarian is the way forward here. Don’t be afraid to categorise broadly even if your cover blurb includes the words “defies categorisation” or “genre bending”!
Make sure you list all pseudonyms or variations of your name that may have been in the public eye at any point. Meta tags should contain your book title on appropriate pages and the main translations of your book titles as well as ISBN numbers.
It’s important that each book has it’s own page/url with individual meta tags and descriptions in order to get the maximum benefit from any SEO on your site. Your book title should be a key component of the page url as this will help establish authority for the site.
Authors should consider ranking for character names and placenames. If a specific location is a major “character” in your book then make sure you include that in the keywords e.g. - “sci-fi romance set in the Shetland Islands”.
It’s difficult to rank for broad search terms so you’ll need to be as specific as possible and work with the unique combinations of keywords that are specific to your book alone. Make sure to include the book publisher, genre, age and audience sector in the overall mix.
Try to find the unique descriptive phrases that will lead readers to your site. If your work includes a series then make sure that each individual title is properly represented and again that each book has it’s own page.
People won’t always search by author name, maybe they heard a snippet of a radio interview or half-remembered a conversation with a friend - they will search based on the scraps of information they have e.g. - “book about a man with two heads working as a bus driver in post-war Lichtenstein”.
These are called long-tail keywords and they are becoming more important as the search engine algorithms become more sophisticated.
While meta tags have been around as long as html itself a relatively new method of indexing web pages is Schema Tags. This is a standard developed by the biggest search engines, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo and Yandex to structure data in such a way that it can be logically organised, searched categorised and related to similar data. Yes, the boring meter has just gone off the charts! Again this is valid for all sites but there are specific schema for books which will help boost your search engine rankings if applied correctly.
Adding schema tags should be fairly simple depending on the content management system that your site employs. However it should be noted that some of the cheap hosted platforms do not allow schema tags natively and require third-party services to implement these changes.
Above I mentioned that to properly index your site for search engines you should think like a librarian. Perhaps the modern day equivalent is to think like an Amazon search algorithm….which leads me neatly to….
THE AMAZON EFFECT
Up to now our focus has been on browser-based text search which is still the majority share of all search. But all of the tech giants now see voice as the future of search with machine-learning developing at an extraordinary pace in the area of natural language processing.
Apple introduced Siri in 2011 and while initially it was more of a gimmick than a serious tool it was rapidly developed and expanded to more and more applications and devices. Apple’s competitors also saw the importance of natural language voice-based search and entered the market, Microsoft with Cortana and Google with Google Assistant.
While Google is still the dominant player in all things related to web search arguably the most important driver of voice search is Amazon.The retail behemoth was the first to develop consumer hardware specifically for voice-based search. Launched in late 2015 Amazon’s Echo device has quickly become the reference point for voice search with even Google struggling to catch up.
For authors it’s hard to overestimate how significant it is that the main player in voice search is a company that has literally revolutionised publishing over the last decade and is arguably the main force behind the rise of electronic books.
This is a company with seemingly bottomless pockets that innovates continuously using their huge data processing power. Amazon simply owns all of the bases from natural language search through ALL OF THE WORDS in all of the books to the final purchase and delivery mechanism.
Amazon also has massive amounts of data on HOW books are read as their Kindle devices are capable of looking up dictionary words so this will give them the ability to crunch all of that data to determine such as abstract concepts as the “readability” or complexity of a book.
And as each Kindle is registered to a user account and associated purchase and browsing history that is not limited to just books there is another layer of relatable data that Amazon can use not just to sell more books but to actually select which ones are eventually published.
As Mike Shatzkin discovered Amazon are using their vast tranches of data to define and promote certain books and “search-based” genres in the real word in their bricks and mortar bookstore.
As with most tech companies Amazon guards it’s proprietary algorithms and methodologies jealously and very few are privy to the inner workings of it’s book recommendation voodoo.
But we can safely assume that a company that is self-admittedly entirely driven by data will use every shred, bit or byte of information that it can gather to improve the process of matching readers with books that they want to buy.
How or if voice-based search and devices such as Amazon’s Echo will affect SEO for author websites is not yet clear but it’s worth watching closely.
So how should you describe and tag your books for search engines, think like a librarian, think like an Amazon algorithm or think like a human being that likes to read books?
It’s actually a combination of all three. For meta keyword tags think librarian, short sharp descriptive phrases, genres and categories. For meta descriptions use concise and detail-rich short paragraphs much like an Amazon product description or back cover blurb.
And for your on-page text use natural language, descriptive prose and write for humans…. because for the foreseeable future it will probably be just humans that read books for pleasure. Probably!