Readers of my blog will no doubt be aware of the importance of the categories and keywords your book uses. From using Amazon categories to increase your rankings to the perils of using keywords like Free, Bestseller, and Kindle, they can be used to optimize your book page. But, as I often say, book marketing is like building on quicksand: everything changes every other month.
No, it’s not that keywords are suddenly any less important — in fact, quite the contrary. It’s just that the way Amazon uses them to identify which books to display when a reader searches for a book to read seems to have changed lately.
Amazon Keywords, The Old Way…
As David Kudler of The Book Designer explains, it used to be that you could use natural-sounding phrases of two to five words for your keywords, especially those which returned between two hundred and a thousand titles on an Amazon search. If you did this, you had a high probability of being able to reach the first page of search results.
The “natural-sounding phrases of two to five words” bit was very important, since (particularly on Amazon’s KDP) the phrases you put in on the back end seemed to have to be either perfect or very close matches to the actual searches for your ebook to show up in results.
That is why David originally used the following keyphrases for his book, White Robes:
- teen assassin,
- strong female protagonist,
- historical japanese women,
- japan adventure,
- female assassin fiction,
- historical heroines,
- seasons of the sword
And the New One
So, what has changed? Rather than using the KDP keywords as natural-language phrases, Amazon’s search engine now seems to simply look at all of the keywords entered.
To illustrate the difference, let’s see what David now uses as keywords:
- teen assassin killer warrior swordmaiden kunoichi
- historical japanese women girls lady action sword
- female assassin fiction short stories quick reads
- seasons of the sword series companion tales
- strong female protagonist lead heroine girl woman
- japan adventure true war story prequel risuko
- historical heroines kickass broads babes fun
Yes, you guessed it: he now uses almost 50 words in here, not bothering with whether they’re making sense as a phrase or not. Essentially, he has taken these 7 fields and stuffed them with 49 keywords!
In David’s own words, “You’ll see that I kept the initial phrases intact — I’d spent some time trying to find them, after all! I then riffed on a number of words that seemed like likely searches that would lead a reader to White Robes — and make them likely to want to purchase it once they’d found it.”
Does it Work?
Here is Amazon’s ranking for White Robes, taken from David’s Author Central pages. He implemented the change on August 22 and did nothing else to boost the title’s sales (we can safely discard the downward slope on August 27, as that’s when he took the screenshot):
So What? Big Deal
Well, actually it is a big deal. Clearly, Amazon now uses individual words rather than whole phrases. This has two major consequences:
- First, it’s no longer necessary to limit yourself to phrases that a potential reader is actually likely to enter. Even if natural phrases are still given greater weight, each keyword field can take up to 50 letters (including spaces). So, it suddenly becomes much more advantageous to add as many relevant words as you can. By increasing the number of words you’ve entered, you’ve literally made your target larger — and easier to hit. In short, you’ve increased your discoverability, which is the name of the game in book marketing!
- Second, since Amazon searches for the occurrence of a word in any keyword field, it makes no sense to repeat any words. Having said that, since David assumes that natural phrases are still going to show up as more relevant, he suggests prioritizing the most likely ones and keeping them together when possible.
Additionally, David had run a quick BookBub ad for the same title on July 27. You will notice that the Ad’s effect was slowly wearing off, leading to the slow downward trend in the rankings from July 28 to August 22. Note that by increasing the number of keywords, he managed a greater impact than a paid ad, at no cost.
David also reminds us of a few caveats, putting things in perspective:
- The first places Amazon will look for a match to a customer’s search are the title and subtitle, the author’s name, and the description — and only then will it check the keywords. So, you still need to optimize your book’s page on Amazon: don’t forget the importance of a well-placed subtitle.
- Avoid keyword stuffing — that is, just randomly dumping in words you’d like to show up in searches for. However, it is a good idea to include relevant words in ALL of your metadata, not just the keywords. David often has a parenthetical line at the bottom of the title’s description that includes highly relevant genre/sub-genre/style keywords.
- Stick to truly relevant words: it does no good for your book to show up in a search if it’s not actually a book someone doing that search would want to buy.
- Since Amazon seems to check for misspellings and (to a certain extent) variations, don’t worry about that: for example, there’s no need to put prequel, pre-quel, and prequel as separate entries.
Next on My To-Do List:
I’ll be trying out David’s approach for all of my books. Specifically, the following 3-step process he suggests:
- Use the whole of each keyword field (all 50 characters)
- Continue to experiment, seeing which kinds of keywords increase or decrease your discoverability (as reflected in your sales)
You can read the entire post on thebookdesigner.com.
Now that my book is reaching publication stage, I know I will have to pay more attention to keywords and metadata. I have a primer on my desktop and will have to add your post to that. Thanks for this valuable info, Nicholas!
I wish you every luck with the launch and hope my posts will help in a small way in your book’s success 🙂
I guess I know what I’m going to be doing this afternoon. 🙂 Great post, Nicholas. Thanks for sharing and giving examples.
Lol–thank you, D. I just finished updating my books. Now, to see if it makes any difference!
Thanks so much Nicholas. Just what I wanted to know. I shall spend sometime in the next week updating keywords. I suppose this means in paperback editions as well since Amazon won’t share from the ebook version? Also, any changes we make to our books and hit ‘save’ Amazon tells us in our dashboards the book will be updated soon.Am I right in saying that the book still remains visibly for sale while the changes are being implemented?
Yes, the book remains visible. One caveat with paperbacks: when you import them from Createspace, they don’t get checked by KDP but when you change something and republish, they do. I changed my keywords for Smile and now it won’t let me publish until I fix the bleeds!
Nicholas, Thank you so much for Revisiting KDP’s Keyword List, because it is new News for me! I am going to revisit my Key Word List!
Thanks! I’m so glad you found it useful 😀
I’m anxious to see how you do and how you apply this with your books. There seems to always be another angle or strategy to make Amazon’s system work for us. I’m all ears.
I updated several books today. I, too, am curious to see what effect that will have, if any.
Great info! I’m going to get started on it today.
I wish you smooth sailing 🙂
Thanks as always for passing on those great tips, Nicholas.
Best wishes, Pete.
Thank you, Pete! I think you’ll enjoy Wednesday’s post on Izzy more, though 🙂