Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.
There is one aspect of search engine optimization (SEO) that doesn’t get nearly as much play in the publishing business as it does elsewhere: understanding searchers’ intentions and aligning marketing content with their queries, usually by crafting landing pages.
In this post, I’ll look at how book publishers and authors can better reach readers through a better understanding of intent.
Getting the Fundamentals Right
Naturally, to enable basic discovery, one needs to nail the SEO for the title of your book and the name of your author—the “branded terms” in SEO-speak. Author sites are a critical element here, and they’re far more important than they’re often believed to be. Why? Because you own them. They are not leased presences with landlords like Mark Zuckerberg (who reads and seems like a decent dude, but still…).
The good news: it’s hard to build an author site and fail to rank for that author’s name and his or her titles. Solid technical SEO, such as building in WordPress, being mobile responsive, using proper off-page coding, etc. will typically ensure that this occurs.
The only issue is that stopping at this point means settling with only those searchers who are already aware of and looking for you or your books.
They know you because they’re your core.
Growth Outside the Core Comes from Understanding Intent
The harder, subtler thing to do is to understand more specifically what people are looking for, relate their intent to what you have and create marketing content (landing pages) that demonstrate that you have it.
That requires finding queries that fall in the middle of the curve in terms of search volume but indicate in an understandable way what the searcher is after. These are generally easier to rank for and, when one ranks, more meaningful traffic will ensue.
Here’s how to visualize the concept:
So Who Are We Looking for to Drive Growth?
The answer is people who are not aware of you or your books but are seeking what you have and will be delighted to find you.
That’s where the new audience is.
That’s where the growth is.
Here’s an imperfect but illustrative example: Say you believe your book appeals to fans of Gone Girl.
One way to approach such a title is to “answer the answerable.”
For instance, from Google auto-prompting we can see that people search for “books like gone girl.”
(Keep in mind we’re looking outside of Amazon right now—Amazon is a bit of a “bloody ocean” filled with books. Indeed, there are keys to rank in that environment, and ranking in Google is essential to driving highly qualified traffic to Amazon detail pages, but that’s about a separate question.)
Let’s Go to the SERPs…
Here’s the search engine results page (SERP) people see when they perform that search:
It appears Barnes & Noble has crafted a lovely landing page for Gone Girl and ranks No. 1 for the effort. And Goodreads crowdsources the answer quite nicely, clocking in at No. 2.
Beneath those are a handful of roundups by book-content and magazine sites, which is great if your book happens to appear in those listicles but less helpful if not.
In any case, you don’t “own” that real estate. Any of it.
No disrespect to the Hennepin County Library or the owner of that personal Pinterest board, but when I see results like those, I see pages that are easily beatable with more relevant content coming from domains like an author’s or publisher’s site, both of which Google will see as more authoritative on the books and author nodes.
I also see no exact match titles—nothing called “Books like Gone Girl” or “Looking for Books Like Gone Girl, Check out X.”
A nicely constructed landing page placed on a solid site—one that satisfies the precise query then puts the seeker on a mission to research you further, buy your book, etc.—will grow your audience. Virtually every time.
About 4,000 people search for that specific phrase in Google per month. They also search for a number of phrases that ask the same question in different ways:
what to read next if you liked gone girl
what to read after gone girl
what books are like gone girl
books similar to gone girl
All of these are high-intent, medium-volume terms, and the sum of that volume is meaningful. With top results on page one garnering the vast majority of clicks, there is growth potential here.
In other words, this is a good search phrase with which to align your own book, as long as it is indeed like Gone Girl or may well be a good next read for someone who liked Gone Girl.
Audience-Centricity and Research Underlie It All
Best practices abound here—some related to copy, many to the underlying tech, garnering inbound links, and so on. But a lot of that will (or should) be in place prior to creating landing pages. After that, your job is to research audiences to better understand them and thus align what you have with what they want.
And as we’ve seen, that research all starts with running a simple search, like any of these (all real) examples:
authors similar to gillian flynn
best books about decluttering
books like the duff
books on losing weight after 40
best novels set in paris
best thrillers set in venice
house of cards books to read
The next step isn’t much more difficult. Creating a landing page called “The Perfect Book to Read if You Love ‘House of Cards’” would, in that last case, be a good start.
Even simple research like this can inform other efforts. The “House of Cards” tie-in could easily inform advertising segments and the tactical use of other earned media efforts like hashtags to capture that audience’s attention. The beauty is that you can arrive at that hypothesis merely by researching one behavior and later compare it with demographics and then beliefs. But more on that in another post.
The takeaway is, first, that there is a core audience distinct from the many other potential audiences for your content and, second, that each of them look, believe and behave differently despite their shared interested in what you have on offer.
For publishers, finding that sweet spot that puts the next right book in the interested reader’s hand is a win for both. And if the book’s any good (at least for the purposes of the reader you’ve directed to it), that’s how positive word-of-mouth spreads outside the core.