How to Optimize Your Amazon Search Keywords

How to Optimize Your Amazon Search Keywords

You probably know that when you add your book to the Amazon Kindle store, you’re allowed to choose up to seven search keywords to help people find your book. It sounds like a great tool, but how do you make sure the keywords you’ve chosen are going to bring traffic and sales to your book?

I’m here to help! I’ve been through the process of Amazon search keyword optimization with my own books and I’d like to pass along what I’ve learned in this comprehensive article.

We’ll look at what search keywords are so you can understand how they work. I’ll show you a process for checking out your existing keywords to decide if they are performing well for your book. Finally, we’ll look at how you can choose great keywords. Let’s jump in!

What Are Search Keywords For?

It’s pretty easy to understand the reason for search keywords. They are, quite simply, a way to tell Amazon’s search engine what words are relevant to your book. Put another way, you are telling Amazon which words your book relates to so that it knows which search results your book belongs in.

Let me stop right here for a moment and give you a very important piece of information: If you’ve been thinking about Amazon as a giant bookstore, you need to adjust your thinking! Amazon has several features that make it seem like a bookstore on the surface, such as a display of promoted books, top 100 lists, and categories for browsing. But what sets Amazon apart from a brick-and-mortar bookstore is its search engine. Amazon is basically Google for finding what you want to buy.

Obviously, with that in mind, you want to make sure your book is prominently displayed in as many search results as possible. And that’s where great keywords can help you out. If your keywords are optimized, you can increase your chances of showing up for many searches.

There are a few keys that will help your book perform better in Amazon’s search results. These three things will help you determine if your book’s keywords are optimal:

  1. Relevance to your book. If a keyword doesn’t really relate to your book, it’s not going to generate sales for you. For example, even if the term romance gets more search traffic than mystery, you don’t want to put romance as one of your search keywords. It’s not relevant, so nobody’s going to click on your book if it shows up in that search.
  2. Number of search results. You’re looking for a search keyword that doesn’t bring up a massive crowd of other books. For example, if you search the Kindle store for romance, you’ll get over 650,000 results! It’s nearly impossible to get noticed in that jumble. You want to find  targeted keywords for your book that increase your visibility by lowering the number of search results.
  3. Similar books are selling. For each keyword you consider, you’ll want to look at the Amazon Bestseller Rank for several books that show up in the results for that search. You’re checking to see if those books are actually moving copies. A good rule of thumb is if the book is within the top 100,000 books on Amazon and it’s within the top 100 books in the category, the book is selling. Remember, if the books in the search results aren’t performing, nobody is searching for this keyword.

Your Real Search Keyword Focus

And now it’s time to take another timeout for a important piece of this puzzle: Keywords is actually a misnomer. Your focus should be on key phrases.

What’s a key phrase? It’s simply more than one word that describes your book. For example, mystery is a keyword. Cozy mystery is a key phrase. Just that one extra word adds additional relevance to your search keyword. You’ve told Amazon that your mystery book isn’t for all mystery lovers—you’re targeting the cozy mystery genre. We’re not done yet, though. This can go even deeper. If you search for cozy mystery on the Kindle store, you’ll get over 13,000 results as of this writing. But get even more targeted with your search key phrase and you can significantly narrow that down. Let’s say your cozy mystery book involves a dog as a main character or plot point, so you can try the phrase cozy mystery with dogs. Now there are only about 1,000 results! You can see how it’s much easier to stand out in that smaller crowd, and you’ve also narrowed your focus to target readers who want books specifically like yours!

Those are the basics for choosing some great search keywords or key phrases for your book. The next step is to take these principles and use them to evaluate your book’s current search keywords.

Evaluating Your Book’s Amazon Search Keywords

Let’s do an exercise to help you determine how well you’ve optimized your book’s keywords. This process shouldn’t take much more than twenty minutes for each book. To show you how it works, I’ll give you an example using the keywords from my book Finding the Core of Your Story before I optimized them.

First, go to your KDP dashboard and edit your book’s details. Scroll down to the section where you can enter search keywords. Copy the keywords that are already there and paste them into another document where you can make some notes. Here’s what I had:

  • logline
  • amazon description
  • marketing
  • authorship
  • self-publishing
  • promotion
  • pitching

Let’s look at how to evaluate your keywords and figure out how well they are performing. To do this, go to the Amazon store and change the search box to search only the Kindle store. We’re going to use Amazon’s search engine to gather a bunch of data about these keywords.

To start with, type one of your keywords into the search box slowly. Why slowly? Amazon will begin to suggest search terms as you type, so watch carefully. See if Amazon suggests the keyword you’re typing. If it does, that means people are actually searching for it—a good thing! Even if your keywords are well-targeted, they won’t do you much good if nobody is searching for those words. Make a mental note if Amazon suggests the keyword you’re typing, then run the search.

Now check the total number of results for the keyword. For example, when I typed authorship into Amazon’s search, there were 4,998 results. Remember that the fewer search results, the more visible your book will be for that keyword. In this example, my book would need to stand out among nearly 5,000 other books. I might want to try to find a less crowded keyword.

Next, scroll through the list of search results on the first page or two and see how relevant these titles are to your book. You might discover that the word you’re using is generally a keyword for something completely different. When I typed in pitching from my keyword list, all the results were books about baseball, not about pitching stories. Oops!

Finally, click on five to ten relevant books in the results. Scroll down to each book’s product details and check the Amazon Bestseller Rank. (Remember that a lower number here means it’s selling more copies—#1 is first place.) Notice the overall rank and also the rank the book holds in each category. A rank of 100 or better in a category means the book is on that category’s Top 100 Bestseller list, which means it’s easier to find in the Kindle store. If most of the books you clicked are on the bestseller lists, the keyword is probably getting a lot of searches that lead to sales.

Jot down a few notes on your findings, then move on to your next keyword. After you’ve done this process with all seven of your keywords, you should have something like this list:

  • logline — 8 results. Way too small. My book also has a better rank than the other results, so it’s doing the best for this search.
  • amazon description — 3,764 results. Most of these books aren’t relevant to my book’s topic.
  • marketing — 40,187 results. Most of these titles aren’t relevant to book marketing.
  • authorship — 4,998 results. Relevant results with decent bestseller rankings. Somewhat crowded keyword.
  • self-publishing — 29,219 results. Too crowded. Not targeted to my book’s topic.
  • promotion — 9,433 results. Not relevant to my book’s topic.
  • pitching — 307 results. Not relevant to my book’s topic. About baseball!

Look back over your list and evaluate. Which of your keywords are performing well for your book? Which ones could be better targeted using a key phrase? Which ones are completely irrelevant? Note the keywords that are already working for you, then let’s look at how to find great keywords to replace the ones that aren’t performing.

Finding Optimized Search Keywords

It’s time to choose some keywords that will perform well for your book. First, remember that these can actually be key phrases—you can use a phrase that describes your book instead of just a single word. This is crucial to choosing targeted search keywords. As much as you can, think of more words to add to your key phrase that will target a specific audience.

To find great keywords, start by looking at your list of current keywords and see if you have a keyword that brings up relevant search results but is a very crowded search. Let’s try to make this keyword more targeted. What we’re going to do is jump off of this relevant keyword and target it by adding more keywords to build a key phrase.

Let me show you how this works with my short romance story A Purple and Gold Afghan. One of my relevant search keywords was sweet romance. That search term brings up over 12,000 results in the Kindle store. Simply chaining the words short story onto the phrase (making it sweet romance short story) brought the number of results down to about 2,600. Much better! You can use this approach to narrow the focus of some of your broad keywords.

As you brainstorm key phrases, you should try typing them into the Amazon search box like you did before when you evaluated your existing keywords. Again, type slowly so that Amazon has a chance to suggest phrases. If it suggests the phrase you’re typing, people are searching for it, which means more opportunity for your book to appear in the results. And sometimes, Amazon will suggest something relevant that you hadn’t thought of.

In fact, if you’re running short of ideas for words to chain onto a broader keyword, you can even use Amazon’s search feature to help you out! Try this trick: Slowly type one of your broad keywords into the Amazon search box, then start going through the alphabet. For example, you could type “science fiction a”, “science fiction b”, “science fiction c”, and so on to see what key phrases Amazon suggests. If you see anything promising, run the search and gather data to evaluate the phrase.

Now, what if you don’t have any good keywords on your list to chain off of? The best way forward is to begin by thinking of as many jumping-off points as you can. If you’re writing fiction, this is simple. Try these four categories to help you brainstorm keywords for fiction:

  • Setting, such as Medieval Europe
  • Character types or roles, such as stay-at-home mom, preschool boy, tough detective
  • Plot themes, such as friendship
  • Story tone, such as fun or disturbing

Another place to look for keyword ideas is in Amazon’s own KDP help documents. Amazon has certain sub-categories that depend on search keywords—if your book has the keyword, Amazon’s system puts you in the category. Check the list to see if your book qualifies for any of these keywords. And remember that you still want to evaluate each keyword to make sure it will perform well for your book.

Wrapping Things Up

At this point, you should have a list of more keywords and key phrases than you can possibly use: Amazon only lets you have up to seven. Now you can review what you’ve come up with. Here are four criteria that make a great Amazon search key phrase:

  • Relevant to your book.
  • Not crowded with results—less is more.
  • Books in the search results have a good Bestseller Rank.
  • Suggested by Amazon when you type the keyword slowly into the search box.

Evaluate the options on your list of options with those criteria in mind. Choose the best seven keywords and replace your search keywords with those. You might want to save the rest of your ideas just in case you decide to try changing your keywords later. Then you’ll already have a starting point.

Let me close by saying that these new, optimized keywords may take time to bear fruit. Your book needs to be purchased a number of times before Amazon will move it closer to the top of the results. You can potentially speed up this process with a well-promoted sale or free offer—and this is an instance where I would encourage you to pay for a feature on a deal site. The goal is to increase your sales so that Amazon’s system will see that your book is popular and relevant, so the more traffic you can send to your book after you optimize its keywords, the better. Spending $5 on a promotion could give you the boost you need.

I hope this has given you the tools to confidently choose search keywords and key phrases that will perform well for your book. Good luck!

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