Maximising Visibility on Amazon Using Keywords and Categories

Maximising Visibility on Amazon Using Keywords and Categories

There are two ways for readers to find new books on Amazon if they don’t know a specific title.  They can either enter search terms or click on genre categories.  For an author that means you have to maximise visibility when someone is looking for a new book – but doing it is not simple.  I recently made some minor changes to one of my books by altering some keywords based on the advice from Amazon’s Help section  – only to have my book almost disappear from the Top 100 because my new keywords were counter-productive.  I quickly changed them back to the old ones and saw an immediate bump in sales.

I’ll tell you what I did wrong so you don’t repeat my mistake.

Identify the best categories for your book

It says on Amazon’s KDP authors can use two categories and seven keywords to help readers find their books – but how do you choose from the almost infinite choices?

Suppose you’ve written a book of short stories that have elements of romance and fantasy.  Two of the biggest categories are romance and fantasy – so you use them as your categories.  It makes sense, right?

Yes and no.

Yes – because it fits your book.

No – because those categories are massively overcrowded by really famous authors.

Your book will never get to #1 in romance or fantasy unless it sells a million copies.  It won’t appear top of any customer searches either, which means readers will not accidentally discover you.

You’d be better off narrowing down your book into some sub-categories where it has a better chance of getting into the Top 100.

You can find out the number of books in each category on Amazon by looking at the number of titles listed in each sub-category next to the tick boxes for narrowing a search.  A category like romance will have over a 500,000 titles – but a sub-category like romance>mystery>amateur sleuths will be much smaller.  It will still be quite large, though – a few thousand books – so doing that will make your book a little easier to find.

Since it was a book of short stories, you could choose a sub-category of romance such as romance>short stories.  That would list it under romance and short stories – two categories for the price of one. You could do the same thing with the second category – say fantasy>anthology.  Now you have four categories.  Your book will now be listed under romance>anthologies and fantasy>short stories.

You could go to a really, really, really obscure category – but only if your book is appropriate.  Don’t go to romance>short stories>zombies if your book doesn’t have any zombies.  Readers buying it will soon complain.

Choosing More Effective Keywords

Once you’ve chosen your categories, you can use your keywords in two ways – to add sub-categories or search parameters.  Both can work effectively – but in different ways.

At KDP there is a useful list of keyword modifications in the Help section.  For some categories you can use a keyword to put your book into a sub-category or even a sub-sub-sub-category.  The categories with modifications include romance, teen and adult, science fiction and fantasy, erotica, mystery and suspense, and literary fiction. Each can be narrowed with keywords – but they only do it in the US Amazon store, which is why I made a mistake with my book. I turned my keywords into sub-categories that did not exist on Amazon UK – so readers in the UK could no longer find my book using search words.  What a mistake!  Be careful you don’t make the same error. Don’t use all of your keywords for this purpose – choose only a couple to narrow your book into a sub-category.

Amazon’s information tells you that you should not repeat categories as your keywords as that is redundant – but it does not make it clear that you can use the category name as part of a phrase for a better search result.

For the example book of romantic fantasy short stories here is a list of possible keywords for the book that you could try: romance, fantasy, short stories, romance and fantasy, great new book, (name of another book), (name of another author)

Don’t use those keywords!

That list is seriously flawed for a number of reasons:

  1. romance (wasted because it is one of your categories)
  2. fantasy (again – already used)
  3. short stories (nothing wrong with this one – but very general)
  4. romance and fantasy (unlikely to be searched for)
  5. great new book (hyperbole and not allowed under Amazon’s rules)
  6. (name of another book) (forbidden under the rules)
  7. (name of another author) (forbidden under the rules)

The last three could get your book banned, though more likely those keywords will just be ignored by Amazon’s search algorithms, leaving your book with fewer functional keywords.

Better Keywords

Better keywords are words and phrases that readers search for when browsing – which appear as suggestions as you type words into Amazon’s search box.  The suggested phrases are popular search terms essential to finding a new title without knowing the book’s title or the author’s name.

Visit the UK and US Amazon sites to find keywords popular at both websites. Write down the most common phrases appropriate to your book and have a look at what comes up for each.  Some will produce results that are too general – so your book won’t appear on the first page with those.  Some will be so specific nobody will ever enter the search phrase – but your book would appear if they did.

Here are some better keywords for the example book:

    1. romantic short stories
    2. romantic fantasy short stories
    3. fantasy collection
    4. fantasy love stories
    5. romance short stories
    6. contemporary (a keyword sub-category)
    7. fantasy short stories

There’s a lot of overlap between those keywords – but you want to make sure that popular search phrases will hit your book regardless of what the reader uses as their search criteria.  The problem is popular keywords become too popular.  When that happens, your book will be competing for attention among a vast number of similar titles.  You might need to experiment to find a combination of general and highly specific keywords that will result in your book appearing on the first page of results.  If your book doesn’t appear when you type in your own keywords, you should probably consider picking new ones. However, once a book starts selling it will rise in popularity under those keywords – so if your book became popular your keywords will make it appear at the top of the page.  It’s a tricky problem balancing specific with general phrases.  Good luck choosing them!


Author: John Moralee

John Moralee writes crime, horror and science fiction.

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