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Demystifying SEO for Self-Published Authors

seo for authors

In a book fair in NY a couple of years back, I came across a self-published author, Jessica who shared with me her success story. When Jessica published her book her sales languished for a long time and she averaged about one book every few months. However, with some simple SEO tweaks to her blog which serves as her author platform, she was able to exponentially increase her book sales. The fact that SEO worked as a miracle medicine for Jessica may surprise many self-published authors and bloggers. In this post I have shared some practical tips related to SEO which you can use to revitalize your book sales and experience first-hand the power of this “miracle medicine”.

Let’s get some real scoop on SEO which is one of the most confusing topics for self-published authors and book bloggers. SEO and digital marketing are intertwined terms. We shall examine them both. Just a quick warning. This is not a short fluffy read. My goal in writing this post is to give you a clear, but very comprehensive view of this exotic term, SEO. I have included actionable information in this post, which you can start using immediately. Read on!

A Quick Look at SEO in Relation to Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is the term for promoting your books, websites and other products using the power of internet, ads on Facebook and other digital tools. Some of the most important elements of Digital marketing are: Direct email marketing, paid advertisements to get leads for your marketing funnel and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). Of these many elements of digital marketing, SEO is probably the most important. SEO stands for search engine optimization; in simple terms SEO means making your product or website easy to find.

Why is SEO Considered an Important Component of Digital Marketing? The goal of SEO is to get your product (e.g. book or website) ranked high on search results. Wouldn’t it be awesome if someone searches for watercolor on Google, and your book on watercolor painting shows up at the top of the search results?

People are more likely to click on things at the top results in Google, and if your book shows up there, you will have all these people streaming in to look at your book. Working hard to make your book show up at the top pays off. This is because you get to show your book to people without paying for ads! And people have more trust in organic search results than in paid ads. That is why it is said, that SEO is the bedrock of digital marketing.

Demystifying SEO (Search Engine Optimization) Concepts

Search engine optimization (SEO) refers to the action of making your blogs, websites, illustrations, books easy to find on search engines like Google and Bing. This also refers to the act of making your products easy to find on search engines of market places like Amazon, YouTube and Etsy.

To achieve SEO (search engine optimization) you got to do two complementary but distinct set of activities: On page SEO and Off page SEO.

#1: On page SEO – This means that you optimize your own web property (e.g. website, YouTube Videos, Etsy postings, Amazon listings or blogs) such that they are easy to find by the respective search engines. For on page SEO the focus is on keywords.

#2: Off page SEO – This means that you promote your web property on other websites. For off page SEO the focus is on link building . If say, Forbes has an article mentioning your book with a link to your Amazon page, you will get a huge SEO boost. Not only will you get millions of readers of this top magazine being redirected to you after reading their article, search engines will give your Amazon page (or any other website) a very high rating since an authoritative source is linking to you. Even more so, all this will result in an increased traffic to your web property and you will further get a high ranking in search engines like Google or Amazon’s search engine.

Let’s talk about keywords and link-building. What are keywords? Keyword is a very simple concept. Keywords are the words (or groups of words) your customer type in Google (or other search engines) to search for things you want to sell them.

Imagine that you write books on Italian Cooking. Ask yourself what your potential customer would be searching for on Google. Wouldn’t it be amazing that when a person types in “Italian Cooking” in Google, your book shows up at the top?

This is the aim of search engine optimization – to make your product or website show up when people search for topics related to your product. In an ideal scenario you want to optimize your website for a group of keywords related to your niche of Italian cooking. As an example, you would want your book to show up not only if a person searches for “Italian cooking” but also if a person is searching for “cooking in Italy” and, “Italian food recipes”.

Hot Keywords vs Long Tail Keywords. The words which most people use to search most often are regarded as hot keywords. One of the goals of SEO experts is to find those hot keywords which are relevant to your product and then optimize your site such that it shows up when people search using those “hot” keywords.

Obviously many other people all over the world would also be producing products or books similar to yours. As an example many other self-published authors would be writing books about Italian Cooking – and they would all be optimizing their sites for keywords such as “Italian Cooking”.

As you can imagine, the competition is fierce for “hot” keywords. That’s where “long tailed” keywords come in. Long tailed keywords are keywords which are related to your book or business or product – but don’t have that much search volume. As an example, using a keyword analysis tool we find that every day about 1600 people search for the word, “italian cooking”, but only about 880 per day search for “italian cookbook”. Even better, only 10 people search for “italian cooking 101” every day. So we say that “italian cooking 101”, is a long tail keyword. It is at the end of the tail of keywords which means it is not being used much on Google. So obviously the competition is lowest for “italian cooking 101”.

If the competition for a keyword is low then it means that with some easy tweaking, your website can be made to rank high on Google or other search engines for that keyword. As an example if you write a really good post on your blog titled, “Italian Cooking 101”, and mention the keyword (italian cooking 101) in that post a few times, it is quite likely that, that Google will show that post when people search for that keyword (italian cooking 101). It is of course possible that someone else had the same idea as you, and he or she has optimized his or her website for this long tail keyword. However it is more likely that the top companies and brands have optimized their websites for hot keywords than for the long tail keywords.

But if the traffic is low for a keyword what’s the value of getting ranked higher for it? If you optimize your site for a long tail keyword which about 10 people search for daily, you still get 10 real and interested people per day coming to the website, which is huge achievement. Even more so as Google sees traffic coming to your website, it will start ranking you higher even for hot keywords.

How can You Boost Ranking with Paid Ads like Facebook Ads and Google AdWords? When you search in Google using the words, say “Italian Cooking”, the top three or four search results would have the label “Ad” – which means someone has paid Google to show their website at the top, when a person searches using those words.

A paid search advertisement program like Facebook Ads and Google AdWords allows you to choose a keyword or a set of keywords. It will also ask you choose the price, and the payment option (per-click or per-impression) for those keywords.

As an example, say, in Google Adword settings you choose the keyword “Italian Cooking”. Then the Google Adword setting will ask you the price you are willing to bid for that keyword.

Now Google will show your site (or Ad) in the search results at the top when another person types the keywords, “Italian cooking”. However it’s possible, you may not get shown frequently, or at all. Why is that?
Remember, you also had to specify the price you are willing to pay for the keyword?

Say you had chosen the keyword “Italian cooking” and you are willing to bid a price of $0.50 and then chose the “pay per-click” option. This means that if Google shows your website when someone searches for “Italian cooking” and that person clicks on your link, you will pay Google $0.50.

Obviously large companies may also be selling the product related to “Italian cooking” and they may bid a higher price for that keyword. Then in that case, Google will show their Ads when someone searches for that keyword. Obviously your Ad will not get shown then.

That’s a real simple view of paid searches.

What’s Organic Traffic – How is it Different from Paid Traffic? Paid traffic is from people who came in to your website by clicking on your ad. Organic traffic to your website is from visitors who come in to your site by finding it on Google or other search engine. This usually refers to unpaid searches.

Organic traffic is great for business since it is free – you did not pay for the search engine to display your site in its results. Organic search results also carry a higher credibility. So if a visitor finds your book on your website or Amazon book page via organic traffic, then they are more likely to buy.

What is Link Building? Link building refers to getting other blogs and websites to feature your works (e.g. books and products), and link to your site. If a large number of reputable sites have pages with links to your site then your site is automatically considered a reputable site. Then your site will feature high on search results when people search in Google or other search engines. Link building is considered the best way to rank high on search results.

How to Incorporate Keywords in Your Link Building Strategy? We have spoken a lot about keywords and paid searches – keyword research is important in link building too. When an external website includes a link to your your site its own page, make sure that the “Anchor Text” that that site uses is the keyword you want to rank for. E.g. if you are interested in the keyword, “italian cooking” then the anchor text in the external website should say “italian cooking”, not “your site name”.

Anchor Text is the visible, clickable text in a hyperlink. It is the phrase or word used when linking to your site’s internal pages or pages from other websites. Targeted keywords are used as anchor texts for link building from other websites to help your site or certain pages in your site rank on search engines. You can use this strategy of targeted keywords for internal linking also. Internal linking is when you yourself link from one page of your site to another page of your site.

Don’t Over Optimize Keywords! Over optimization is stuffing your keyword of choice (e.g. Italian cooking) throughout your site and in every external or internal anchor text. Ideally you should have some main keywords, plus some secondary keywords (i.e. long tail keywords), in the various places in your text on your site, and in anchor texts of external links pointing to your site. The same considerations apply for internal links from one page of your site to another page.

SEO Can Have a Dramatic Effect on Your Book Sales

While, digital marketing is a broad concept and refers to the act of using the power of internet and technology for book publicity, SEO is just one part of the Digital Marketing Strategy for book promotions. But it is a very critical aspect of digital marketing and author promotion. In today’s world we spend a lot of time online searching. We search for books, videos and people. We search online just as we used to channel surf in the old days of television. As such it is crucial that your book or product (e.g. online course) shows up when a person is searching for topics related to your book. This is why SEO is crucial for authors. Search engine optimization (SEO) can have an incredibly huge effect on your book sales. With some simple tweaks, your author platform can start pulling in readers without a dollar spent on advertising.

A Curation of SEO Related Best Practices for Authors

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) for Different Platforms – Google, YouTube Bing, Amazon, Etsy, eBay

As an author you may be selling books on Amazon. But you could also be selling your digital products or other merchandise on other platforms. And then, we search everywhere. We search on Google, but we also search on YouTube and Amazon and so many other places. All these various platforms like Etsy and eBay and Amazon have their own search engines. While the concepts we have discussed above apply to all the different platforms, as a creator selling books or other creative products you need to be also aware of the search algorithm quirks of each specific platform.

How to Rank High on Google? Google search algorithm is called PageRank (PR). Very simply put, PageRank (PR) works by counting the number of links to a page to determine a website’s importance. If you have a lot of important external sites (e.g. magazines, blogs) linking to your website, your website will show up higher in Google search results. Google uses many different algorithm, but PageRank continues to be considered most important by experts. Everything that we have spoken in this post about keywords, link-building and other aspects of SEO apply to Google.

Another practical tip to keep in mind is that you should highlight the anchor text so it jumps out to visitors as a clickable link.

Here is a tip. When you ask people to create links to your site, make sure they use keywords you want to rank for as the anchor text of the hyperlink. For finding keywords type in any keyword you can think of and then scroll down to related searches by Google. Then put each of these related searches keywords in Google Trends. Pick those which are neither very hot nor very bottom of the trend. You don’t want to pick hot since a lot of people are picking those and you will have big competition. There you have it! With a combination of Google related searches and Google Trends you have a list of keywords. Now use them everywhere and try to optimize your site and your links (both internal and external) using these keywords. No need for fancy tools!

How to Rank High on Bing? Generally speaking, the SEO concepts which apply to Google also apply to Bing.

How to Rank High on Amazon? If you publish books on Amazon (esp. Kindle) – you need to be aware of Amazon’s search algorithm which is called A9. To make your books show up higher on Amazon there are three main considerations – keywords in your book title, how many reviews you have and how many books got sold. To find hot keywords in your book on Amazon, you can look at the suggestions which Amazon gives you as you start typing a book name. I also find that generally speaking, Amazon ranks newer books higher than older. Choosing a good description with keywords and selecting the right category to list your books are other important things to keep in mind. Amazon KDP Select, Listmania! lists, Amazon Author Blogs are some easy ways and free ways to start promoting your self-published book on Amazon.

How to Rank High on Etsy? Etsy help center says that the following are important for making your listing rank higher: Keywords in the tags, Etsy shop title, Etsy shop sections, item/listing titles and descriptions. Some sellers recommend that the keywords in the tags for the listing should match the title.

How to Rank High on YouTube? The general principles of Google search optimization apply to YouTube – however there are some YouTube specific nuances to be aware of. The post, The Ultimate Guide: YouTube SEO Tutorial for Vloggers explains how you can optimize your videos to show up on top of the search results.

How to Rank high on eBay? When a person searches for something on eBay, I notice that by default eBay prioritizes my listing if I have a shop and if my account is local to the person who is searching. However, there are several ways you can optimize your shop and/or listing to rank high even if you are not local to the ‘searcher’ or if you don’t have an eBay store.

  • Include keywords in your store name, store description and “About Me” page. Put a link to your store in the “About Me” page.
  • Include keywords in your listing title. Make sure your listing description is at least 200 words long. Make sure to fully complete the item specifics as far as possible.
  • Write eBay guides related to your niche or business, create a blog and link to your store and use proper eBay categories for your store and listing.

We see from the above discussion that there are some common elements in SEO for all platforms. Social signals (e.g. how many times your post is shared), back-links (quality and authority of external incoming links to your site), brand recognition (where are you featured online), relevant and quality content in your website and on-page technical (e.g. keywords in content) factors play a big role in getting your site ranked high.

Optimizing Your Author Platform (e.g., website/blog/vlog) vs Tweaking External Platforms

It is important that you don’t carried away by the idea that you can do magic at the external platforms. You have absolutely no control over their algorithms. They optimize their algorithms for their benefit not yours. To be a successful seller on any platform whether it is Amazon Kindle or Etsy, you need to drive your customers there. At best, these online marketplaces can only serve as fulfillment channels for you. I would never suggest to my client that he or she spend a lot of time or money on advertisements specific to these platforms.

Focus on making your own author platform visible on the internet, collect email addresses of sympathetic readers and customers and create content which is shareable – these common sense ideas seem bookish but those are the things which actually work in real life.

To be a successful seller on the online marketplaces (e.g. Etsy, eBay and Amazon) YOU need to drive your customers to your shop! The successful sellers on eBay and Etsy or Amazon are those who are engaged with their prospective customers through many channels – YouTube videos, local in-person workshops and charity events. My experience is that on-page technical optimizations in EBay or Etsy or Amazon listings only bring marginal benefits.

80% to 90% of your customers would come in via your own blog, workshop, YouTube channel or local in-person engagements that you do.

Creating great shareable content on your blog, creating videos in which you share fun facts about your creative journey, getting featured in respectable journals and TV shows (e.g. Oprah, Ted Talks etc.) and partnering with other social media influencers (e.g., people with high number of YouTube subscribers) will have a much higher effect on your sales than spending all your time tinkering with the external platforms over which you have little control.


If you have made it so far, you know more than 99% of self-published authors, bloggers and illustrators about SEO. I hope you now understand what SEO for authors actually is, and what you can do about it

As a self-published author you are not only a writer but also a marketer. You have to focus on writing as well as selling your books. Book marketing is obviously much more than just SEO. Here’s an article which provides some great ideas for you to infuse new blood into your book marketing campaigns: Book Marketing Strategies : Quick Start Guide for Self Published Authors

The following video is a great summary of marketing strategies: Marketing Plan on the Back of Napkin for Self-Published Authors.

Getting a thoughtful analysis and review of your book, website, art or other creative products is another great way to improve your SEO and get visibility. Checkout the links in the post “How to Request Reviews (Book Reviews, Artist Spotlights and Entrepreneur Interviews)” to get featured on

Happy selling!!!