Can Search Engine Optimization Help You Sell More Books?

A fellow writer asked me what SEO was the other week and it made me realize that some people are still learning the basics about online marketing. Search Engine Optimization is one of those key areas you have to know about otherwise you will waste time and energy on your author platform. I started a post on the subject but fantasy author Lindsay Buroker already had this great one for you, so I am very pleased to introduce it to you today.

Whether you’re self-publishing or pursuing the traditional route, you’re probably on your own for marketing, and much of that marketing is done online these days. You’re expected to get involved with social media and to have a blog. It’s part of “building a platform,” as they say.

But what if only three people a month visit your blog? No matter how cool your site is, it’s not doing you any good if it doesn’t get any traffic.

That’s where search engine optimization can help.

I know, search engine optimization or “SEO” isn’t the most riveting topic. (I did it for my day job for years before switching to writing full-time, and I never did manage to keep dinner guests entertained by talking about it). It is something, however, that’s worth knowing a little about since it can help bring more visitors to your blog via the search engines. And, yes, some of those visitors might like what they see and go on to buy your books (especially if you have them displayed prominently on your site, eh?). Though I’m a nobody-special, self-published fantasy author, not too may days pass without someone buying at least one of my books through my blog.

Okay, you’re intrigued now, but…

What is SEO anyway?

Search Engine Optimization is the art of convincing Google and other search engines that your website/blog is particularly useful and important in your niche, thus meaning it should rank more highly in the search engine results than the sites of your competitors. (In other words, if someone types in “fantasy author” or “fantasy novels,” I want Google to list my site before the sites of all those other fantasy authors out there.)

When people use a site like Google, they enter search terms or “keywords” (single words or combinations of words). The search engine attempts to deliver the most relevant results by looking at numerous factors, such as…

  • How often those keywords are used on a webpage or blog post (you get more “points” if the keywords are used in the title, text, and the web address).
  • The overall age, popularity, and “authority” of a site (it’s easier for older, more established sites to rank well on Google).
  • The number and quality of links pointing to a page from outside sites, especially links that use those keywords in the “anchor text” (the link-text you click).

Still awake? Dozing off? Go ahead and get a latte if you need one. I’ll wait.

Back? Good. I know this can be eyes-glazing-over stuff, so let’s focus on the basics.

The Basics

The main thing you want to do is start thinking about what terms people may type into a search engine to find your site. For example, if you write medical thrillers, you might find out people look up things like “best medical thrillers” or “medical thriller authors” or even just “medical thrillers.”

You can play around with the Adwords Keyword Tool to get an idea for the popular keywords in your niche or genre. Once you decide which phrases would be applicable to you, consider making an effort to use them on your blog (just focus on one keyword per post, and make sure to use the term in the title as well as the body).

As an example, I have a free fantasy short story that I turned into an ebook for promotional purposes. By tinkering with the Adwords tool, I learned that more people were looking up “free fantasy ebooks” than short stories, and since I’d made ebook files for the story, I figured that counted. I put the information for that story up on my blog, then named the page “Free Fantasy Ebook – Ice Cracker II” (the latter, of course, being the title of the story). If you type “free fantasy ebook” into Google, you’ll find my page.

I don’t get a lot of traffic that way (it’s not a hugely popular search term, in the grand scheme of things, but I do get some, and some of those people go on to download the ebook (and check out my non-free ebooks as a result!).

Simply researching and using the popular keywords in your niche or genre will put you ahead of lots of other authors.

Setting up your site so it’s “SEO friendly”

Now that you what SEO and keywords are, you’re ready for some more advanced stuff.

Keywords in the Web Address

If you haven’t chosen a domain name (a yourauthorname.com address) yet, you may want to work your main keyword into it, especially if your name is already taken. An example might be ToddSmithThrillers.com or JaneSmithMysteryNovels.com.

Don’t go crazy with the keywords or choose anything too long as you want fans to be able to remember your web address.

Keywords in the Title

You’ll want to use your main keyword in the title of your site as well. (The title is what shows up at the top of someone’s browser bar). Instead of something like, “A random writer’s musings…” your blog might be called “Todd Smith Medical Thrillers.”

On the main page of my author blog, the title is “Lindsay Buroker — Fantasy Author,” and, when I have free time (yes, there’s already a lot for authors to do and free time is hard to come by!), I’m working on getting my site onto the first page of results for that term. These things take time, so you have to be patient. (I always have to remind myself of that! Though I make decent money from my books, and even write up tips on my self-publishing blog, I’ve actually been at this for less than a year.)

Note, I didn’t use my keywords in my domain name (since I have a fairly unique name, the .com address wasn’t taken yet). I’d have an easier time ranking for “fantasy author” if I had, but I thought that’d be too much of a mouthful with my name. The final decision is up to you. Do what you feel makes sense and looks good to you.

Getting links to your site

While it’s good to be SEO friendly, what you do on your site is only part of the battle.

In the early days of the internet, you could fill a page with lots and lots of instances of a keyword in order to rank more highly for it. And that actually worked.

The search engines are much smarter these days.

They figure that links to a site count as votes of confidence, so they are factored into how well a site ranks for its keywords. People usually link to things that are useful, so the more links there are pointing to a site, the more likely search engines will consider it an authority (AKA a site worthy of doing well in their results). Also, links from older, more established sites count for more than links from new sites with few visitors of their own.

Try to get people to link to your main page and also some of your individual blog posts.

Remember how I said I was working on improving my site’s positioning on “fantasy author?” That’s part of why I’m writing guest posts (like this one) for other people’s blogs. You’ll notice that I snuck a link to my site in up above (and my self-publishing blog too!), and I made sure to use keywords related to my site for the link text.

Eventually, if you maintain a useful blog (or you’re a great author!), these links will come naturally, but it’s tough getting noticed in the beginning (as with selling books, huh?). Guest posting is a good way to get links. (Click that link to read an article I wrote on the topic.)

How long does this SEO stuff take?

If you start employing some of the techniques I’ve discussed here, you’ll be way ahead of the game, since most authors don’t know anything about this stuff.

It does, however, take time for you to start seeing significant traffic from the search engines. Plan to post to your blog regularly and work on getting links to your site (even if you just blog once or twice a week and try to get one link a week, you’ll be doing great) for the next six to twelve months before things really start kicking in.

I know that sounds like eons, but if you’re an author planning to build a career out of writing, you should be prepared to think long-term. The good thing about SEO is that the things you do today (especially link building) will pay off in the future as well. Five years down the road, someone might find your site on Google, thanks to an SEO-friendly article you wrote today.

Do you use SEO as a writer? Do you have any tips you can share?

Lindsay Buroker has been writing fantasy novels and short stories since she was seven. She’s been finishing them since… well, that’s a more recent development. Originally from Seattle, she’s currently traveling the world and writing from the road. If you’re a fantasy fan, you can check out her free fantasy ebook, Ice Cracker II. (Yes, she even SEOs her author bio!)

Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Jake Bouma

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Comments

  1. says

    Good post, and it’s worth understanding. A couple of years back, a Halloween costume company sought advertising on my site (www.hauntedcomputer.com), probably because of the word “haunted,” as I didn’t have much about Halloween or costumes on my site. Then other companies began approaching me because of that ad showing up in searches, so I sold short text ads on my home page. Many of those ads were for six months to a year but it more than covered my website costs. So that came entirely from SEO and entirely by accident. If you apply yourself, who knows the potential?

    • says

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Scott! Too funny about the Halloween costume ads. But, hey, who’s going to refuse a little extra cash for one’s blogging efforts? ;)

  2. says

    Thank you for this, Lindsay and Joanna. Very useful to know. I started applying some of these on my website when I first heard of it, and am already seeing traffic increased significantly, though I’m not selling anything so nothing in terms of cash :) Great learning.

  3. says

    Definitely, Gretchen!

    One of the easiest things to change is to switch your blog posts so they automatically use the category and title (which should have your important keywords) as a basis for creating the page address. I.e. instead of lindsayburoker.com/?p384 my url might be http://www.lindsayburoker.com/fantasy-novels/flash-gold-a-steampunk-novella/ — that would help with searches for steampunk, and maybe fantasy and novellas too.

    I see you’ve already done that for your blog, so you’re head of the game. :)

  4. says

    Lindsay, I got really into learning SEO and then, for some reason, just sort-of stopped caring about a year ago. It was kind of painful to keep reading about – even though I know it’s important. But I read this entire post quickly. I hadn’t thought of SEO in terms of selling fiction and I’m not sure how it never occurred to me. Great post! Thanks!

    • says

      Thanks, Bryan! It’s definitely not the most scintillating subject, but it’s one of those things where if you just know (and apply) a little bit in a field where hardly anyone has heard of SEO, you’ll be way ahead of the game. :)

  5. says

    Great post, Lindsay. I started my blog in January, but didn’t get it up to snuff until late May.
    My page views jumped from next-to-nothing to a not-bad number in July when I changed my blog title and tagline and simultaneously began my Life List Club (a group of writers writing about achieving goals and guest posting for each other). But I’m not sure what really good page view numbers are for a 6-mo old blog; 2000/month or shoould it be 10,000/month?
    There is so much conflicting information about what a not-yet-published writer should blog about and how the blog should be titled. I write historical fiction focusing on the 20th century. So my blog is in the process of being refined to contain posts that more closely relate to my fiction writing. My tagline is ‘Sexy. Smart. From The Heart.’ which relates to my past post topics. So, should I change my topics, my tagline or my key words? Wish it wasn’t so complicated.

    • says

      Hi Marcia,

      It definitely can be a challenge to figure out what you’re supposed to blog about as an author. I experimented with my author blog and found that I’m more interested in writing about self-publishing and marketing than I am about discussing fantasy (even though that’s the genre I write in!), so I do a mix of about-my-books posts (excerpts and fun tidbits for the fans) and self-publishing posts. Sometimes you just have to experiment and see what works for you.

      I’m not quite sure what to suggest for your blog. I took a look and, while it’s neat and clean, it wasn’t apparent to me at first glance what the blog is about. I checked on your categories, and they’re all over the map. It seems that what you have right now is more of a personal blog or journal than anything that’s meant to attract a historical-fiction-loving audience.

      What you might want to do is leave that as a personal blog (judging by the frequency with which you post, it certainly seems like you enjoy blogging there!) and start up something new that’s devoted to historical fiction and where most of the posts fall into that category. You’d have a much easier time doing search engine optimization at that point too.

      Either way, good luck!

    • says

      Hi Marcia, I’ve had a look at your blog too & I’m not sure the tagline works because it’s not clear what your niche is for the blog. The words & the colours indicate more of a lifestyle blog to me rather than a writing one. Your last post and your Life List Club looks more like a “boomer” blog aimed at that market (which is GREAT! if that’s what you want it to be as this is a huge market)

      There are no rules on what you should blog about but the most important thing is deciding what you want to achieve with it. I would spend some time thinking about your blogging goals and your specific audience before you go further with changing things. Your historical fiction could just be a sideline to the blog itself i.e. you could focus more on lifestyle & then just as aspect of your personality is the writing? Just as idea anyway – the most important thing is that the blog should be a) fun & rewarding for you or b) making money – ideally both :) If you’re trying to cram your ideas into what you think you should write, it just won’t be fun! I hope that helps.

  6. says

    What is a poor soul that takes blind automatic advertising that has little to do with the site, the Webmaster spent no time finding out whom that advertiser was, and you are told to sell no links to anyone else? A Google Adsense Webfarm Affiliate!

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