Top tips for optimizing book discoverability
We’re fortunate to have so many book discovery tools and techniques available to us, but leveraging them effectively can be challenging. In this post I’ll share some insights on working strategies, drawn from experience building search and recommendation engines, and from helping publishers connect with readers through keywords.
Know Your Readers
Knowledge of a book’s readership is at the heart of book discoverability. To connect with an audience, you first need to understand who they are.
This sounds obvious. But a review of thousands of books has illustrated a common disconnect between a book’s metadata, and the interests of it’s most engaged readers. It’s surprising how often metadata doesn’t align with the topics and terms expressed by its readers. This is especially true for granular elements like categories and keywords.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
A book’s metadata has a huge impact on discoverability. It’s the foundation of a book’s online presence and is directly consumed by search and recommendation engines who determine who will see the book online. Metadata is also a digital promise to readers of what to expect from a book. It’s the place where they’re convinced to take a chance and make the purchase, once they’ve landed on a product page. Poorly crafted or incomplete metadata is likely to impede the effectiveness of other discovery initiatives.
Book discoverability isn’t a meritocracy. The most popular books sell the most copies, and receive the most visibility in search and other areas of retailer websites. It’s much easier to sell copies of a book that is already successful.
Popularity-driven discoverability might be out of your control, but demonstrating popularity is important for your book. Social proof influences buying behaviour, which means a book with many customer reviews and a positive average star rating, has a higher chance of selling. Low social proof decreases the likelihood of converting a searcher or browser to a buyer (except for certain cases such as a new release by a well-known author).
It’s wise to focus on obtaining a base of positive reader reviews before investing in traffic generating activities.
Don’t Game The System
Give readers credit and be authentic. Don’t try to game the system with misleading keywords or inaccurate descriptions designed to boost traffic. Assuming the book doesn’t get penalized by the retailer, any short term sales will be offset by poor reviews, which become part of the book’s permanent record.
Optimize for Reader Satisfaction Over Downloads
Deals lists and give aways can be effective tools, but they’re blunt instruments. A free download of a book that isn’t read, generates a pretty statistic but little value to publisher or reader. An organic word-of-mouth recommendation from a trusted source is the strongest influencer of book buying. Optimizing for reader satisfaction over device downloads leads to better connections with more readers (and increased sales) over the long term.
There are many opportunities to boost the visibility of a book to readers online, and this list covers a few of the fundamentals. What approach have you had success with?