Book Marketing, Browsing, and SEO – Does Amazon Search Change Everything?

Fremont, California, where I live now has no significant book stores. It used to have both a Barnes & Noble, and a Borders. Now, both have closed. I buy my books on Amazon.com, I buy them for the Kindle… like so many others these days. How does the death of the book store change book marketing? What is SEO and how does it impact books and book marketing? Notes for my talk in San Francisco at the Northern California Book Publicity and Marketing Association, February 29, 2012.

By Jason McDonald
Senior SEO Instructor – JM Internet Group
Posted: February 29, 2012

Browsing for Books

In 2000, Robert Putnam published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community, a book about how our society had changed and how the way that we bowled (if we bowled at all) reflected these changes. We might title this blog post, Browsing for Books: The Collapse and Revival of Book Selling in America, as we stand at a watershed moment in how books are browsed, in how people find books.

Here are some things to think about –

Browsing vs. Searching: Why Titles Matter More than Ever

Let’s leave fiction aside for a moment, and talk just about non-fiction. When books were sold in book stores, people browsed. They walked into Barnes & Noble, Borders, Cody’s or whatever local book store they liked… They walked around… They checked out the end tables, and roamed the isles. They browsed. They might see an interesting cover, or chit chat with their girlfriend, wife, or date and "discover" books through browsing.

The marketing war was, therefore, all about: shelf space.

Today, in contrast, many books are identified through searching, which is a very different procedure than browsing. Like all of Web search, searching depends on keywords, and getting to the top of an Amazon.com search or a Google search depends on how the marketer first identifies the target keywords and secondly, weaves a web of good SEO (or Amazon marketing) to get that book to the top of search results.

Conclusion: Titles matter, especially for non-fiction; they must contain the target keywords!

Conclusion: SEO matters, as marketers must learn the new tips and tricks of the SEO trade, whether for Google or for Amazon, and manipulate the levers of SEO to get their books to the top of those searches.

The marketing war, today, therefore is all about a) good keyword-heavy TITLE selections (relatively easy), and b) good SEO / Amazon SEO, to get the books to the top of searches (mysterious).

Note: fiction is a bit different than non-fiction, as fiction does not have the search – keyword dynamic to nearly the same extent as non-fiction.

Recommendations and Reviews Never Die – Not in Book Marketing, At Least

But not everybody just searches for books of course; and even in the old days, not everyone purchased books based on just browsing into a bookstore, and selecting books that happened to be strategically placed on the end caps or faced front outwards on the shelves. Product placement was important, but recommendations mattered a lot. Did Oprah recommend this book? Is it featured in the New York Times, LA Times, or perhaps the New York Review of Books? Having powerful people recommend a book was (and is) a key part of book marketing.

Drilling down a bit… we wanted (and still want) not just powerful people but powerful people in a community (weddings, art, literature, personal finance) to read (and recommend) our new books to their followers.

Fortunately, this has not died with the transition online to e-books and e-marketing. But it has been a bit tranformed. How? By the review marketing phenomenon. Whereas once reviews were consolidated, the territory of the powerful, today, anyone can review books – on Amazon, on their own blog, even on Facebook – but especially on Amazon. Amazon allows anyone to become a book reviewer (myself included) and by reviewing more and more books inside a genre, to become more and more powerful. Whereas once we had a consolidated review ecosystem, today we have many small ecosystems. I, you, your associates – can become a mini-New York Times reviewer of books with a little effort, and a little knowledge of how to game the Amazon review system.

So recommendations still matter, but SEO-friendly recommendations on the Web, and on Amazon matter more.

The marketing war, today, becomes to understand the new rules of (book) review marketing – how to get good reviews, and how to leverage those reviews to help on the SEO side of Google and Amazon search.

Browsing Reborn: SEO meet Review Marketing, Review Marketing Meet SEO

Amazon Kindle and all the major online booksellers have a browse feature. They also have a top sellers feature, a way for users to see what’s selling. What this does is create a virtuous circle opportunity –

  1. Define a TITLE with the target keywords – keywords that are hot, that people are actively searching for.
  2. Get powerful reviewers (not just those from the old "real world" but those from the "new" world of Amazon reviews.
  3. Rinse & Repeat: use reviews to drive sales, use reviews to get buzz and more reviews, use reviews to climb higher on search results.

In this way, knowing the SEO rules of the game (good book titles, strong SEO both on Amazon and on the web vs the target keywords) and leveraging powerful reviews brings book marketing full circle. Shelf space? Gone in the real world. Mind space? Eyeball space? The power to dominate an Amazon browse window on Kindle? Coming soon to a virtual bookstore near you…

Simple SEO To Do’s For Book Marketing

I love practical knowledge. Real things that real marketers can do to succeed. So the takeaways from this blog post are – (for non-fiction books) –

  1. Keyword research – identify popular keyword words and phrases that real customers use when searching for a book on a topic of interest. Keyword heavy titles are IN; catchy, weird titles are OUT. (Use the Google Keyword Tool to research keyword search volume).
  2. TITLE tag – in SEO, the most powerful tag is the <TITLE> tag. Make sure that the HTML blog pages of the author’s website contain keyword heavy <TITLE> tags (Read the official Google SEO Guide for pointers).
  3. Reviews. Get reviews! Lots of them, especially on Amazon and especially by people who review lots of books. Check out Jason McDonald’s Profile on Amazon as an example of a reviewer with a focus (SEO / Social Media) and begin to identify reviewers that matter for your own keyword targets.