Yes that’s the Amazon search engine and yes, I had to blur out a NSFW result.

Amazon is the largest product search engine in the world and according to statistics over 54% of product searches now take place on Amazon. So SEO is important if you want your book to rank for organic traffic. I know what you’re thinking, Rachelisn’t organic traffic dead? Ah no, and despite what the marketing gurus are saying, you don’t have to pay for ads just to be seen in the search engine. Yes, things have changed on Amazon and I won’t lie, it is more complicated to rank well for important keywords but it’s not impossible. Today, I’ll show you best practices but first, let me start with what doesn’t work…

Keyword Stuffing: What Doesn’t Work

Years ago, it was okay to put keywords everywhere including your title, the book’s description, and pretty much anywhere you could in order to manipulate the search engine’s algorithm. And it worked, but then shady marketers began putting completely unrelated keywords in product titles and descriptions. So if you were searching Amazon for a t-shirt, a frying pan might pop up in those results. And of course, shoppers complained when the search engine was serving up irrelevant results and so Amazon took action. This is why today, there are rules about how many keywords you can use and where.   

From a marketing perspective, keyword stuffing is a bad idea because it can confuse the algorithm and hurt your book’s ranking. Today, it’s quality, not quantity that matters with SEO.

Below are two examples of bad keyword stuffing in a book’s title:

The reason why this type of keyword stuffing is bad because Amazon’s rules clearly state:

The title field should contain only the actual title of your book as it appears on your book cover. Customers pay special attention to errors in titles and won’t recognize the authenticity of your book if it has corrupted special characters, superfluous words, bad formatting, extra descriptive content, etc. 

If you want to learn more about Amazon’s guidelines you can find them here.  Now that we’re clear on what’s not going to work, let’s talk about what does…

Keyword Stuffing That Works

So does this mean that you can’t put keywords in the title at all?  No, not at all, as long as you include those keywords on the book’s cover.  Below are some examples of publishers who put a lot of keywords in their book titles and are compliant:  

This title is chock-full of keywords and it follows Amazon’s rules however, the execution is poor. SEO is an art as well as a science that means you’re not just writing for machines, you’re writing for customers as well. If you want to make this title a little better, instead of adding only the keywords: “Ballerinas, fairies, princesses, and more!” Change the title and subtitle to include actual sentences like: “The Pretty Pink Activity Book with; Ballerinas, Fairies, and Princesses Complete with; Coloring Pages, Mazes, Dot-to-Dots, Puzzles, and More” 

Take note that I left out the age and gender restrictions because what if a boy or an adult wants to use the book?   


Now here’s a book by Gary Vaynerchuk:  

By the looks of the book’s cover, it was created with the search engine in mind. Notice all those keywords, and even though the marketers could’ve added them all to this title, they didn’t. In fact, they went in the opposite direction and left most of them out. The main title includes the keywords; entrepreneur, leadership, social media, and self-awareness which was more than enough for the search engine. 

Now I know what you’re saying, Rachel, you didn’t cover adult fiction.  Don’t worry, I got you covered, here’s an example of a historical novel.   

The keywords here are; Dachau, World War 2, and historical novel and yes, they are on the cover page at the very bottom. You’ll probably have to squint to see it, but it’s there. 

 Here’s a fantasy novel:

This includes the keywords; God, novel and Ancient Egypt. 

Categorizing Your Book:  What Doesn’t Work

Another area authors struggle with is categorizing their books on Amazon. They’ve been told there are secrets that can send your book straight to the bestseller’s list. The only thing you need to do is find categories that are so small there’s no competition. And what some authors did was categorize their books in categories that were small but completely unrelated to their book. Do you remember that mermaid coloring book I showed earlier? Well, it’s ranked in the Canadian travel category.

And if you scroll down, you’ll see this isn’t a mistake, it’s intentional.

This is called blackhat SEO and keep in mind, trying to trick or manipulate Amazon’s algorithm, can get your book taken down or even get your account suspended. The strange irony is that the majority of people who utilize these methods aren’t succeeding. Sure, they make their way to the top of the search engine in irrelevant categories but their books rarely become bestsellers and that’s what they’re gunning for. The ultimate goal is to get the bestseller label like this book below:

Categorizing Your Book: What Works

Marketers believe a best seller label in a small, uncompetitive category will nudge the algorithm into promoting their book because you don’t have to sell much.  And sometimes it works, albeit temporarily, but no book can stay at the top without a real marketing plan and most of these people didn’t bother with that.  They just learned a few hacks in order to make a quick buck.  But you know who didn’t do that? The marketers of The Moonlight Child, because it’s ranking number one in Domestic Thrillers, and Kidnapping Thrillers. 

Ranking as of July 18th 2021

And if you research the Domestic Thrillers category, it’s a smaller one which only brings back 2,000 results in the search engine. 

And Kidnapping Thrillers brings back 10,000 results. 

That’s easier to rank in than the thrillers & suspense category which brings back 60,000 results. For those of you who don’t know, the bigger the results, the more competition there is which is why the marketers of The Moonlight Child chose the smaller categories. 

Now what constitutes a low ranking keyword, has been debated by marketers who argue results under 1,000 are low ranking keywords. I have no rules here, because not every genre is the same. Some genres are more competitive than others, so what’s small in one genre may be big in another.  

So How Do You Pick Good Categories?        

If you’re lost and don’t know which keywords to use, try cruising Amazon’s category list here. Study the main categories and subcategories then, make a list of the ones that resonate with your book. Later on, you can experiment and see which ones work for your book. Yes, this will take time but it’s the tried and true method for ranking well in the Amazon search engine.

If you don’t have time for that, there are tools you can use like:

*Not affiliated with the products mentioned*

Product Descriptions: What Doesn’t Work

Another point that many authors agonize over is the product (book) description. And one of the biggest problems I see are descriptions that are way too long. For example:

I’m sure you’re wondering, what’s wrong with a long description? Readers like to read, right? True, but keep in mind the average online shopper spends less than 10 seconds making a purchase decision. There is nothing in that description catering to that.  

Another mistake I see is HTML code as well as bad English and here’s an example of both:

Product Descriptions That Work:

Authors and publishers are so bad at writing sales copy that businesses have sprung up specializing in product descriptions. Author Bryan Cohen is an example of someone who teaches and writes copy for authors so here’s his description for his book The Dark Souls:

Notice a big difference?  It’s short, and to the point plus, there’s no HTML code or bad grammar in the description.  

Here’s one more example of good copy from Mark Dawson’s book The Cleaner:

Wrapping It Up

I hope this post helped dispel the myths and bad advice circling the publishing community about basic Amazon SEO. As you can see, none of this is easy, it takes time and practice to learn good SEO tactics. However, if done correctly, SEO should bring free, organic traffic to your book. This should boost your other marketing efforts like advertising, social media, blogging, etc. It’s this synergy that helps propel a book to the best-seller’s list, not the shady hacks.

Anyway, if you found this post helpful please like and share.