Keywords vs The Key to Book Marketing

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I noticed some interesting things as I was participating in a recent conversation about keywords. This conversation was (and perhaps still is) taking place in an online forum frequented by indie authors. The question at hand was how to best keyword books to help people find them on Amazon. As different methods of choosing keywords were discussed, and as I learned from what others are doing, I realized that similar conversations take place in other creative communities where I participate, such as Shutterstock (where I earn money from photos) and (where I give away audio recordings). What do people really search for? What's the right approach to choosing keywords? I also noticed, though, that this makes sense for photos and audio files, but it's much less sensible for books. It's not bad to set up proper keywords for a book, to help it be found amid the vast amounts available on Amazon or any other online retailer, but asking "what search strings do readers use" is, in my opinion, the wrong question. There's a more lucrative angle to book marketing than making sure your keywords are the best possible.

At face value, it's obvious that a book is different from a photo or a sound. The differences go beyond the immediately obvious, though. All three creative forms are methods of communicating information, so comparing them is not completely unreasonable. However, the way that a person experiences each one varies substantially. The photo is experienced quickly, and quite possibly temporarily unless a print is being made to hang on a wall. A sound is also experienced quickly, whether that means a few seconds of a special-effect sound or several minutes of music. While both forms of information may engage the mind of the person receiving it, neither demands long-term focus. A book, however, is experienced slowly and often in a way that involves long-term focus and (depending on the book) reader "immersion" in the content. This longer-term and deeper focus on the information has the side effect of eliciting a deeper reaction; there is more to think about, and plenty of time to think about it. Reactions to a photo or sound may be very ephemeral, unlike the reaction to a book. Even getting to the point of having that reaction is different, since the added time and mental focus involves commitment on the part of a reader, far beyond the fleeting moments of attention often spent by the viewer of a photo or listener of a sound.

What difference does this make? It makes a critical difference in where you spend your time, effort, and money when it comes to marketing your books. At the end of the reader's experience, whether that means when the reader finishes the book or abandons it, the reader will have a more durable impression of your book than they will have of a photo they saw or a sound they heard. Not every reader communicates their impressions of books, but you can improve the odds not only of them doing so but also doing so in a favorable manner. That's the long way of saying: You can encourage readers to build "buzz" about your book and promote it, at no cost to you, by recommending it to other people.

Doing everything you can to make your books "buzz-worthy" will be a far better investment of your time, energy, and money than anything else you do to market your work. This starts with the content of your book, whether that means a memorable story for a fiction work or something useful, applicable, or personally interesting for a nonfiction work. Not only must the story or other content be the best you can manage, but it must be packaged in the most reader-friendly way possible, which includes everything from thorough editing and proofreading, to effective and attractive structure, to correct formatting for the reader's chosen way to consume your work (print, e-book, or audio). When there are no problems to distract from your work, and the core of your work is buzz-worthy, you can further increase the odds that readers will favorably recommend your work by making yourself the kind of person your readers will respect and appreciate, which could range from online social activities to offline activities.

I'm not saying that keywords don't matter. If they increase your books' exposure, by all means you should make a reasonable attempt at defining solid keywords for each book. However, do I think you should spend a lot of time, or any money, on this particular facet of your marketing mix? Not really. Defining keywords is one of the checklist items that you should properly handle, just like ensuring that your e-book is formatted in a way that optimizes the reader's experience. If you didn't put much thought into it before, go ahead and return to your existing books and update the keywords more thoughtfully. However, continuing to spend your limited resources on keyword optimization does not seem like the best use of those resources. Focus on writing the next great work to come from your pen or keyboard, not worrying about whether your current keywords are the best fit for the current algorithms used in the search tools made available to buyers.

On a separate "housekeeping" note, I am switching my blog posts to Monday instead of Friday, since Fridays have proven to be challenging time-wise. And I say this knowing that I also missed Monday by a few minutes... :)

About the Author
Stuart J. Whitmore is an author of fiction and nonfiction, as well as a photographer, technology developer, and more. If you enjoy reading his blog posts, you might also enjoy reading his books. Take a look at the books by Stuart J. Whitmore today, and download your copy of one that looks interesting to you!