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Authors, especially first-time, undiscovered, and self-published authors, need to do everything in their power to get their books sold. There may be a lot out of your control when it comes to getting more eyes on your books, but what is in your control is getting more traffic to your website.
You need to get your website found. You want people who are already looking for indie authors like you, who are already fans of your genre and subgenre, or people who have read one of your books but would be interested in reading more. How do you direct these people to your website? How do you even let them know you HAVE a website?
Let’s talk about SEO. You might have heard of it, and cringed at the sound of it, but it is one of the most important tools at your disposal when it comes to getting your books sold. Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is optimizing your website by making tweaks, changes, and, of course, optimizations to your site to get it to show up higher in search engine results.
When you think of search engines, you probably think “Google” or “Bing,” but search engines also include Amazon Goodreads, and any site where people can search for something. For this article, we’ll be focusing on optimizing your website, and we’ll be focusing on traditional search engines like Google. Our goal is to get your website and content in front of people who may be interested in buying your books.
Here are four basic areas of SEO that any author can use to drastically improve the visibility and searchability of their website.
1. Keyword Research
Keywords are terms that people search for that you target by optimizing your site or pages for, to try and capture search traffic. Doing your keyword research can pay off in the form of easy traffic, and not doing your research can mean wasted SEO efforts. The ideal keywords are terms that are related to your books, that get high search volumes, and have low competition (difficulty).
(An example of a keyword with high search volume and low difficulty using KWFinder)
You’ll want to pick keywords to target with your main webpages like your homepage, category pages, or book pages. Some examples of keywords you may want to use are: genres, subgenres, topics, and settings. Pick several of these.
The next step will be using keyword tools to research the keywords you’re considering. There are many options for keyword tools; I recommend Google Keyword Planner, KWFinder and/or SEMRush’s Keyword Magic. Each one has their strengths. Google’s has the advantage of having first-hand data, while the others do a great job of gauging competition and related keyword and long-tail keyword ideas. (It is important to note that these search volumes are not exact and will differ from one tool to another.)
While investigating your primary keywords, keep an eye out for good long-tail keywords to use down the road. Long-tail keywords are longer keywords or search strings, such as questions related to your genre. If you’re a sci-fi author that writes Space Operas, some examples are “Books like Leviathan Wakes,” “What is Space Opera,” and “Who wrote the first space opera book”. Capture these with great blog posts; redirect the readers to your book pages or author bio.
2. Basic On-Page SEO
On-Page SEO is a collection of small tweaks to your website, and is the most important actual SEO step. On-Page SEO includes title tags (Literally, the <title> tag in your code), meta descriptions (the short blurb that shows up in the search results under the link to your website), Headers (<H1>, <H2> tags, etc.), and internal links (linking to other parts of your website).
(A search result for “Space Opera Books”. An example of an author using SEO to get on the front page. In blue is the title tag with a long-tail keyword. The text below is taken from the top of the page’s content because he didn’t provide a meta description.)
“Putting your keywords in the title tag tells Google what your site and page are about, and what they should show up for in search engine results,” says Ben Allen of Neon Buffalo, a digital agency that specializes in SEO for small businesses and ebook authors. “If your website is already a year or two old, and has good content, you would be surprised what good title tags can do for your search rankings.”
You’re also going to want to include the keyword, or a variation of it, in the H1 of the page. Ideally, you will have more specific terms related to your keyword in the H2’s and even H3’s.
Write a good meta description for each page. This is what a user sees when weighing their options on the search result page, so make it count. Not only will a good meta description get you more traffic, but the higher your clickthrough rate, the higher your rankings.
Add links to your book pages wherever relevant and to other relevant blog posts where natural. This will improve site flow and is very important for SEO.
3. Content, Copy & Blogging
As an author, you probably don’t need much coaching in this aspect of SEO. Good content is a huge part of how search engines like Google view authority and credibility. It is also another great opportunity to take advantage of SEO.
Sprinkle the keywords you’re targeting for that page into the content, and try to use synonyms and variations of the keyword where natural.
Remember, copywriting differs from writing. You’re going to want to appeal to readers to buy your books whenever possible – this is called the call to action (CTA). Try to put a CTA on every page at least once.
Blogging, as we discussed before, is a great opportunity to not only keep a line of communication open with your readers, but to take advantage of long-tail keywords. Every keyword-related question you can answer, list you compile, or comparison you make of your books to other relevant books, movies, or pop culture will also get potential readers on your site (Writing blog posts about “Books like” related movies or best-selling books are a fantastic way to get to make customers out of fans of the genre).
Blogging is also an excellent way to get more links – the ultimate internet vote of confidence and booster of search rankings.
4. Link Building
External links – links from other high-authority sites, whether they be news sites, publishers, or authorities in the industry – are the most powerful booster of SEO and search rankings.
You may have great content and some fantastic blog posts, but people need to KNOW about that content before they can link to it. You need to conduct outreach, so that people can learn about your content, and link to it if they like it.
Google “books like” one of the more popular books in your genre that your book is similar to again. Let those sites know about your book, or direct them to one of your blog articles about how your book is similar to theirs. Offer to do an interview for a fan site of your genre. Make sure they link to your website. Publish your blog posts to your social media accounts. This will get you links, and links get you rankings.
Don’t Over-Think It
If you’re anything like me when I first started dipping my feet in SEO, you’re probably overwhelmed. Fear not. If you take anything away from this article, let it be these points:
Make a keyword list. Put them in your title tags. Make sure to include your name. Include the keywords in the content when natural. If you’re comfortable, write a meta description for each page.
Try to put out new content when you can. Blogging is a great idea. Link to your book pages when you can too. Don’t forget to sell your books. Like an actor and talk shows, reach out to authority websites and create publicity for your books and links to your website.
If you follow these steps, you’re already ahead of the game. If you’re still lost, consider hiring an SEO agency. If you engage in any marketing or self-promotion, make sure it’s SEO. It’s important.
Perry Moore is the founder and SEO expert at Apache SEO; a search engine optimization company based out of Buffalo, NY that provides services to both local and national clients. Website: ApacheSEO.com. Contact: Perry@ApacheSEO.com.