Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. April’s winner was Caleb Woodbridge who writes about SEO dos and don’ts for publishers.
For many, search engine optimisation seems a dark art, where SEO consultants chant incantations over webpages. They offer up ritual sacrifices of keywords to the algorithmic gods of Google and Amazon, praying for virality and number 1 rankings.
But far from being a dark art, good SEO is a natural extension of how a good publisher thinks anyway. A key element of publishing is helping the right people connect with the right content. A publisher aims to select, distribute and publicise quality content so that it connects with audiences who will value it. Similarly, SEO is helping the right people connect with the right content through online search. It’s the same old task of connecting with audience, just through a particular digital lens.
Don’t chase rankings
There’s no point ranking number 1 for something that isn’t relevant to your book or website. And there’s no point being top ranked for a keyword no-one searches for, even if it is relevant to your content. Rankings only matter if they are for terms or categories that connect with your audience.
Do put yourself in your audience’s shoes
What need or desire is your book meeting? If you were looking for something like this, how would you go about it? Provide metadata that is both descriptive (so it matches generic search terms readers might be looking for, or follow genre conventions) and distinctive (titles and other elements are unique enough so that your particular book will be found easily). Make sure you’re targeting the categories your readers will be looking in with appropriate BIC, BISAC and/or Thema categories.
Don’t obsess over keywords
“How many SEO experts does it take to change a lightbulb, light bulb, light, bulb, switch, lamp, light source, source of illumination…?” Once search engines were dumb enough to be fooled by this kind of keyword soup. But with updates to Google’s search algorithm such as 2011’s Panda update, Google is more likely to treat overuse of keywords as a sign of spam than of relevance, though careful use of relevant keywords can still help on Amazon.
Do speak your audience’s language
Instead, make sure that you are speaking the same language as your readers. Keyword research is a useful tool but terrible master. Is a term like “middle grade”, “dieselpunk” or “new weird” something people are looking for, or is it industry jargon? A good editor will know the difference, be familiar with the terrain of their genre or subject area, and speak the local lingo – applying that knowledge makes for good SEO too.
Don’t publish for the algorithm
Trying to fiddle the algorithms is a mug’s game. Do you want to make the success of your book dependent on a software quirk that Amazon or Google can fix with their next invisible update? Worse, chasing SEO often makes for boring content, jumping on already popular trends rather than doing what’s new and original.
Do publish amazing content
Good content is the basic fuel both of publishing and of SEO. Publish books worth finding, with stories that thrill and ideas that inspire. Publish great content online that deserves to be found, and make it easy for the people who’ll love it to find it!
Caleb Woodbridge is an editor and digital publisher who has worked at Scripture Union Publishing, Hodder & Stoughton and Seren Books. In a previous life he was an SEO Marketing Consultant for a web design agency creating digital strategies for a range of clients. He is currently available for freelance digital and editorial work. You can find him on Twitter @CalebWoodbridge or at www.calebwoodbridge.com.