Keywords: Your Secret Weapon

“Pound for pound, keywords are probably the most powerful Amazon tactic you’ve got, with the possible exception of price drops. You have the ability to control how your book is seen by their search engine.” — Peter McCarthy (director/consumer insights, Ingram)

I agree with this. Keywords are essential for discoverability and visibility. Why? Because they are key (see what I did there) to helping readers find the books that they’re searching for. Our task as authors when choosing keywords is to think like a reader.

Try to imagine a reader who has never heard of you going to the Kindle Store to look for her next read. She knows she wants to read a certain kind of story, but she’s read everything by her one-click authors already. So instead of typing in a name or title in the search bar, she types in a trope she loves (“friends to lovers romance”). Or a type of character she feels like spending time with (“bad boy romance”). Or a setting she wants to be in (“small town romance”). Or even a feeling (“angsty romance with cheating”). Or even how she likes to consume her books (“sweet romance kindle unlimited”).

By using keywords that emulate how a READER searches for her next book, we make it easy for her to find us.

Now, Amazon gives us seven keyword slots. Should you cram as many words as possible into each slot?

Nope.

Smart people have researched this. Turns out, it’s best to give your superstar keywords their own stage. Think trope, character, feels. If you have five solid, popular keyword phrases, put those in their own box. With the leftovers, you can play around with wordier terms.

For example, here are my keywords for MAKE ME YOURS.

Technically, it is silly of me to keep repeating “romance” because it’s already in the romance category and once in the keywords is plenty. But that is a mental thing on my end. You can ignore it.

Now, in addition to those seven slots in the metadata, the other place you want to hit your BIG keywords is in your blurb. Hit the tropes here for sure (those are always the clickiest selling points), and if you can manage it, hit them in the first four lines. Take a look at how I did this with MAKE ME YOURS.

Within the first two lines, I have already communicated two tropes: brother’s best friend and single dad. “Next door” hints at small town (which is also in the subtitle, although Amazon doesn’t like those kinds of subtitles and my guess is they’re going to start prohibiting them). And with that third line about the accidental sext, I have communicated that this will be a light, fun read (tone). The cover photo also reinforces this (hi, smiley guy. hi).

Of course, I had to deliver on ALL those things. If this book was actually an angsty dark romance with a dominant alpha bully hero, readers are gonna be really pissed off–and they’re going to tell me about it in reviews. Know who’s listening? AMAZON.

The thing about keywords is that they can’t just be good at luring readers in, they must convert to sales/downloads and reviews.

McCarthy says, “If you get a lot of clicks and page views, but nobody buys the thing, your book is going to sink in the search rankings. If you get a lot of clicks and page views and a lot of people buy it—and by the way a lot of people review it and give 4 or 5 stars—you are likely to rise in the search rankings, for a lot of different [keyword] terms. Keeping this ratio in mind at all times is really critical to Amazon SEO. At the end of the day, this is the equation that Amazon cares about.”

McCarthy also believes that this engine will be even more powerful in the future, overriding author-supplied keywords.

So you must prove to Amazon that your book deserves to surface on top when someone searches those terms. This will organically help your rank and lead to more discoverability and visibility. So choose them wisely and use them honestly.

“But Melanie, isn’t it all pay to play?”

Sort of. It is definitely true that AMS ads make a difference in your book getting seen at the top of search results. My advice is to invest in a tool like Publisher Rocket if you can afford it, learn what the popular keyword searches are, how competitive they are, and which ones might make sense for you. For example, I used Publisher Rocket to research some keywords/tropes last year before starting the Bellamy Creek Series. Then I put the data in a Google sheet for reference:

Granted, I am not a new author and have built a nice readership. This book was solidly in my lane. And I fully admit to spending a lot of money on ads at this point in my career.

But good keyword strategy is FREE, and it CAN deliver. I spent less on MAKE ME YOURS than I did for some other books, and it went to #1 in the store a week after release. It stayed in the Top 10 for nearly a month. It stayed in the Top 100 for 10 weeks, long after I drastically reduced my ad budget.

Is this because it’s the best book I’ve ever written? Is it because it was better than anything else in the store? Is it because this story was totally original and different?

LOLOLOLOLLLLLLLL. Not. Even. Close.

I truly believe this was because I stayed in my lane, I packaged the book right, and I marketed smart (relying heavily on tropes).

“But Melanie, I don’t write tropes. My books are totally original and cannot be described in such plebeian ways!”

Fair enough. But when no one can find you, my friend, that is why. If you want to be found, tell them where to look.