SEO for Book Publishers: Five-Step Tune Up by Jeff Posey

My brother is an electrical engineer for a company that specializes in listening for the echoes of explosions. They make a big noise, sound waves travel into the earth, are reflected by various layers, and faint echoes travel back to an array of geophones on the surface. That’s how modern humans search for increasingly smaller deposits of oil and gas. It’s also how SEO for book publishers works.

Two things are crucial: Hearing and a bang.

There’s an interesting axiom in operation here: The better your hearing, the smaller bang you need—or inversely, the more (data) return you get from a big bang.

Put another way, if your passive tool is really good, your bang-making tool doesn’t need as much energy.

As the owner of a small publishing business, this is how I think about marketing. The better my passive marketing, the greater return I get from my active marketing (aka promotion). And before I make any noise, my passive marketing system had better be in place first, so I miss as few return echoes as possible when I do start promotion efforts.

For small business owners, the Internet is the motherlode of passive marketing—which means mostly Search Engine Optimization, or SEO. It’s a complex field, and I’ve studied it more than most (from the perspective of small publishers), but not nearly as much as legions of experts over the last decades.

Step One: Brand Survey

Start with the two most-enduring brands you will have: Your name, and the titles of your books.

Now look up your brands on all the search engines: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.

Repeat with the major online bookstores: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Apple, Createspace, AbeBooks, etc.

Repeat with reader sites: Goodreads, LibraryThing, Shelfari, etc.

Step Two: Prioritize Sites

We can do nothing about sites over which we have no control. So ignore them. Think only about sites where you, as an author, as a business owner, can go in and control your own information.

You have the most control over: Your website and social media pages, your product and publisher listings on the retailer sites, and your author/book pages on reader sites.

Your ranking will look something like this:

  1. Amazon
  2. Barnes & Noble
  3. Createspace (if POD)
  4. Smashwords
  5. Kobo
  6. Goodreads author pages
  7. your website
  8. your Facebook
  9. Shelfari (will it go away now?)
  10. your Twitter

Don’t do a lot of research to make this accurate or precise. Your gut will usually tell you close enough to warrant action.

Step Three: Make List of Search Terms and Test

Think like a fan. After they read your latest book and like it—what do they say to their friends? What will those friends remember well enough to take to their computers or smartphones to search for your book? (Never forget: Word of mouth among fans is always the most effective marketing for you and your body of work.)

This is far easier if you resist the temptation to over-think. Your list will look something like this:

  1. Author name
  2. Book title
  3. Key setting
  4. Key character (especially if recurring in a series)
  5. Key theme
  6. Key (especially if unusual) tools/creatures/powers
  7. Genre
  8. Subgenre
  9. Sub-subgenre
  10. Other

Notice the top two are your key brands. I also tend to rank standard genre low—how many of your friends have said, “Hey, I just read this great fantasy book!” No, they say, “Man, I just read this great book about flying wizards with explosive saliva!”

Any clues what good search terms are for this book? Yep: “flying wizard” and “explosive saliva.”

Check your search terms:

  1. Google AdWords Tool. Note: There have been 6,600 monthly global searches lately for “flying wizard.” The more searches for your terms, the better. Especially if your competition is “low” or “medium,” which the AdWords tool tells you.
  2. Google Trends. See if use of your search term is rising or falling over time. Note: The term “flying wizard” looks like an enduring search term that’s been at roughly similar usage levels for nearly a decade. I’m sure we have JK Rowling to thank for that.

Reprioritize your list.

Step Four: Load Brand and Search Terms into Priority Sites

For all your book-selling sites, this is your metadata. At the ones where you have direct accounts—Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords—you can manage this on your dashboards, with these guidelines:

  • Focus on your top-level brand words (author name, title of books or series or enduring theme) everywhere you can place information that is not tied only to a single book title. Meaning author pages or bios, mainly.
  • Per title, focus on all but your top brand words (because they’re automatically featured), in search fields. Make them the same across all platforms.

For retail sites where you have no account and no control, the metadata embedded in your ebook file and/or filed with your ISBN will play a more important role. That’s beyond the scope of this discussion. New titles are easiest to work with. Existing titles will have to be modified and resubmitted.

For reader sites, such as Goodreads, fully exploit your author pages and what you can control. (Tip: If you have physical books published within the last six months, the Goodreads Giveaway program is an effective promotion.)

  • Focus on your top brand words

Step Five: Website and Social Media

For your website and social media, insert your top brand and search words where you can.

  • Use an SEO optimization tool on your website or blog (such as WordPress SEO by Yoast) and set it up correctly. There is a lot of help out there on the Internet for how to best set up your chosen SEO plugin.
  • Use #hashtag search strings for your brand words on Twitter.
  • Make very sure your Facebook and Twitter and G+ accounts are updated with a bio and description that features your brand words.

If you blog and do social media, keep it up. Being active and engaged is important. You can set up automatic Facebook and Twitter plugins on your website to help. I recommend HootSuite to manage several social media streams (example: You can schedule messages ahead of time to go out on Twitter, Facebook, and/or LinkedIn). Tweet Adder is not free, but it has the very interesting feature of being able to automatically follow anyone on Twitter who mentions your brand words. Imagine saying “flying wizard” and having the author of a story about flying wizards follow you back. Good social media activity strengthens any SEO program.

I also highly recommend installing a mobile plugin that allows people with mobile devices to see a simplified version of your website. Modern search engines prefer mobile-ready web pages.

How Long Will it Take?

Every job is custom, of course, when you’re dealing with something as subtle as intellectual property licensed for entertainment (you know, a novel). But it will look something like this:

  1. Step One: Brand Survey. About 1 hour.
  2. Step Two: Prioritize Sites. About 1 hour.
  3. Step Three: Make List of Search Terms and Test. About 2 hours. If you fall into over-think, it’ll be more like 17 hours.
  4. Step Four: Load Brand and Search Terms into Priority Sites. Highly variable, but plan about 2 hours per title.
  5. Step Five: Website and Social Media. Highly customized. At least 2 hours.

Total time invested: About 8 hours.

Return on investment: Your geophones will pick up every little tremor generated by fan actions and your promotional activities. That means more sales per bang and fewer frustrated potential readers who can’t find you work.

What Works for You?

Did I leave anything out? What SEO for book publishers has worked in your publishing practice?

Note: This is reprinted by permission from Jeff Posey. It originally appeared on April 26, 2013, here:  “SEO for Book Publishers: Five-Step Tune Up.”