Is SEO for Authors?
A lot of authors think writing a book is the hard part. Now, don’t get us wrong – writing is hard – but at least you are a writer. Once you’ve written, you’re going to have to get found. Or rather, in today’s over-saturated internet climate, you have to actively make people find you. We’ve covered this in several articles already, but it bears repeating that this particular part of the publishing process falls outside many writers’ comfort zones. While we’ve previously discussed how to promote your book, and how to use social media to get the word out. SEO for authors is something we’ve only touched upon briefly however, and in this article we’re going to dive deeper into this particular topic.
Of course, by talking about how to improve your SEO game for the purposes of being discovered as an author, we’re assuming you have a website. By that we mean a proper, working site dedicated to you as an author and the books you have/are planning to publish. While you do have the option to create a “website” as part of the publishing process on our platform, it’s quite an old feature that we implemented in our early days. If you’re serious about creating an online platform for yourself, you’d be better served creating a new one from scratch using a content management system (CMS) like WordPress, Drupal, or SquareSpace. At least until we update that part of our platform.
Now that that’s settled, let’s move on!
What is SEO?
SEO stands for Search Engine Optimization. It revolves around making your website (or individual pages on your website) easier for people to find via search engines like Google. Generally speaking, there are two different types of SEO – technical and content-focused. We’re going to focus more on the content-focused SEO in this article, as it is the most accessible to you as a writer. While it definitely doesn’t hurt to get a bit more tech-savvy, a lot of the basic technical SEO you need can be handled by third-party apps and plugins that are easy to install on your website.
Before we jump into technique however, it’s good to have a basic idea of how search engines like Google actually work. If this sounds worryingly complicated, don’t worry! We’re going to keep it simple.
The Inside of a Search Engine
Essentially, Google has little minions called spiders, or web crawlers, which it sends out to explore the internet. The spiders collect all the information they find, and bring it back to Google. Google then takes this information and puts it in its ever-expanding index, which is essentially a gargantuan library filled with all the web pages of the internet.
Then, curious humans like us come along and decide to type a phrase or word into Google in hopes of finding what we’re looking for. Google then reads our search phrase, and looks through its index to find what it thinks are the best possible answers to whatever it is we were asking. It’s even nice enough to hand us these results in order of relevance and quality! What Google perceives to be less relevant or lower-quality content will be pushed further and further down the list of search results, until it’s confined to obscurity on the second page.
Where to Start
Keyword Research – What is it?
In order to be found by your potential readers, you have to know what they’re actually looking for. This is why all good SEO starts with keyword research. The point of doing keyword research is to find keywords and phrases to create content around. So if you’ve written a thriller, you’re going to want to create content based on the keywords you find that relate to thriller books. Generally speaking, each piece of content you create, be it a page, or a blog post, should be “built” around a single keyword or phrase. This makes it easier for Google to classify the content in its index, and increases the chances of it being placed high on the search engine results page (SERP).
The most basic form of keyword research you can do is simply typing phrases into Google search (and the search fields of other major websites like Youtube or Reddit). As you’re probably aware, Google will spit search suggestions back at you when you do this. These suggestions are the most popular related searches Google can dig up, and as such, they are solid keyword options.
You explore keyword options more in-depth by using a tool like Google Trends, where you can compare the popularity of different search phrases within a certain geographic location. Pretty useful, in other words. This tool can help you make more informed, optimized decisions about your keywords. Answer the Public is another such tool, which can help you discover even more specific search terms, categorized by prepositions.
Now that’s all well and good of course, but what exactly are you supposed to be looking for?
Keyword Research – How to Go About it
Let’s say you’ve written a fantasy book. You might use “fantasy book” as an entry point to your keyword research, and type that into Google search or whatever tool you’ve chosen to use:
Now, that’s a lot of results right off the bat. While you could simply go ahead and write an article about your particular book focused on the term “fantasy book”or “fantasy book series”, it’s a tad vague. There doubtlessly thousands of pages out there that fall under these umbrella terms, and you’re going to have to compete with all of them. So, what you want to do is eliminate as much of the competition as possible, by getting as specific as possible.
This is where sub-genres come in handy. No matter what genre you’re writing in, it’s probably part of a particular sub-genre as well, and the fans of that particular sub-genre are doubtlessly very picky readers hungering for more of that particular type of story. So let’s say your fantasy book is actually a dark fantasy book, examining the less flattering aspects of human nature and society. Your Google search suggestions are going to look quite different:
These search terms are already more specific, and hence, less competitive than the previous ones. Now, for the sake of this example, let’s say your dark fantasy book also happens to feature a female protagonist. You’re in luck; it’s one of the most popular search terms relating to dark fantasy, as you can see in the image above. Is your book meant for adults? If so, that’s another popular search term you can spot in the picture. For a more detailed overview of popular searches, you can plug your keyword into Answer the Public:
Explore other SEO tools
The process of exploring keywords outlined above is not the only way to go about it. In fact, we highly recommend using several different SEO tools to research and optimize your keywords. One particular tool which works similarly to Answer the Public, for instance, is Google Trends. Like most Google services, it is completely free to use. Using Google Trends, you can easily compare several different keywords in terms of their search volume. You’ll also get other juicy nuggets of data, like where the search is most popular and similar searches that have been made. Looking at the screenshot below, you’ll notice that the data you get from Google trends gives you a different picture than AtP did for the same keyword:
Due to the fact that these two SEO tools use different methods to provide you with results, it’s definitely worth taking both into consideration. Google Trends can give you an interesting bird’s eye view of several search terms, but AtP provides you with much more detailed information about each query, for instance. It’s up to you to distill this information and use it to your advantage when marketing your book. Luckily, there’re tools that can help with that too. One of the more popular ones is Ubersuggest.
Much like AtP, Ubersuggest lets you plug in keywords and phrases you want to analyze. With Ubersuggest you’ll get different information than you would with Google Trends or AtP however. One of the most useful features is its extensive overview of the current state of the keyword you’re interested in. This overview includes the average search volume, the competitiveness of the keyword, similar keywords you might want to consider, as well as the current top-ranking pages for the keyword you’re looking at. It’s a wealth of useful information if you’re looking to carve out a niche for your book online.
So which SEO tool is the best for authors?
All of them. No, seriously, this isn’t some different strokes for different folks cliché we’re peddling, it’s just the way it is. As a self-published author, you’re already the underdog by default. You’re going to want to utilize every single tool at your disposal to gain a competitive edge. All of the aforementioned tools are going to give you snapshots of the big picture, so you need to get as many pieces of the puzzle as you can. Experiment with different keywords, and try out the different suggestions these SEO tools give you. A few months down the line you can use Ubersuggest to analyze your own content, and see if your SEO efforts have been effective.
Before you can do that however, you need to create some content to optimize:
Most of the key phrases in the images above are solid choices to create content for. You might write a blog post detailing how you came to decide on writing a dark fantasy book with a female protagonist, and what implications it has for the genre. You could also create a page detailing the world your dark fantasy book for adults takes place in, including its history, geography, and culture.
When writing these pages and articles, make sure to include the key phrase you’re trying to be found through in the text itself, especially in headings. Don’t overdo it however! A good rule of thumb is that if it reads oddly to you as a human due to the amount of times a certain keyword is repeated, you’re trying too hard. You should always strive to make texts as reader-friendly and engaging as possible. By doing so, people will spend more time on your site, which is a glowing recommendation to Google. If you’re using WordPress to build your website, the Yoast SEO plugin is an excellent tool to make sure you’re on the right track.
Try to create as much content as you can for as many relevant keywords as you can. Just remember that the shorter and more general the keyword, the more competition you’ll have. Also, make sure that the content you create accurately reflects the keyword you use to describe it. Google penalizes sites that are misleading, so your SEO efforts might have the opposite of the intended effect if you’re not transparent!
Make Sure Your Pages Work
Once you’ve created some pages for your website, you want to double-check that they’re all working as intended. Depending on the size of your website, this task comes in varying degrees of difficulty. Essentially, you have to make sure that there are no broken links or pages that readers can encounter when clicking through your site. This is of course important for the readers themselves (few things are more annoying than clicking on an interesting link and getting to an error 404 page), but also for Google.
This is because Google has a so-called “crawling budget” for each site. That means that spiders will only spend so much time crawling your site, which means there’s only so much information they’ll bring back for the Google index. So, this means that every broken link or dead-end will eat up that crawl budget without giving you anything in return. That’s why it’s really important to maintain your website to make sure all the pages work.
Be Generous with Internal Links
Furthermore, adding a bunch of internal links will allow spiders to take shortcuts when crawling, making the process much more efficient. As such, you should link to related pages and blog posts on your website within as much of your content as possible! For instance, if you have an “About the Author” page, you’ll probably mention why you got into writing dark fantasy books for adults. In that case, you’re going to want to link to the page you wrote based on the key phrase “dark fantasy books for adults”. Internal links help both readers and spiders navigate your site more easily, which is good for SEO.
Invite People in
Once you’ve got your content ready and ranking, you want to make sure that people who see your site listed on Google are tempted to enter it. The most important factor here is your meta-description. The meta description is the snippet of preview text you see when Google lists your search results:
This meta description from Goodreads is actually pretty bad. It’s too long, which causes Google to cut it off mid-sentence for one thing. Furthermore, the copy is bland and boring. If it wasn’t for the fact that this is Goodreads, which everyone knows and trusts, it’s doubtful whether anyone would be terribly tempted to click on it, assuming they had other options.
The following meta description from Book Riot is much better. It’s short, snappy, and tells the reader exactly what they can expect to find when clicking the link. However, the problem with this meta description is that the title is too long, and thus gets cut off:
Nevertheless, both of these meta descriptions have included the keyword (dark fantasy books, as seen in bold) in both their titles and the descriptions themselves – that’s a very important takeaway. People are much more likely to click on a search result if it contains the term they searched for. It’s also something Google takes into account when ranking search results.
But how does one edit the meta description? Well, that depends on which CMS you’re using to create your website. In WordPress and Drupal (the most commonly used ones), you’ll find the option at the bottom of your screen when creating a new page or post.
Try to Secure Backlinks
Once your website is ready to be visited by prospective readers, it’s time to be proactive. A major factor Google takes into account when ranking websites is how often they’re being linked to by third parties. This shows Google that the content of a website is good enough to recommend to others. As such, getting other people to link to your website is a great SEO strategy, if you can pull it off. This is probably the most difficult and labour-intensive approach however. Most website owners and bloggers are well aware of the value of a link, so you have to be prepared to be able to offer something of value to their audiences as well.
Choose prospective partners carefully. Make sure that you have content that is relevant to them. Think book bloggers and sites that specialise in indie fantasy books (building on our previous example of the fantasy book you wrote). Maybe they’d be interested in reviewing your book, or perhaps the premise of your book is unique enough to warrant an article? If they’re open to it, you could potentially write a post for them as a guest blogger on a subject you’re familiar with (such as how to go about writing and self-publishing a dark fantasy book with a female protagonist, in this case).
Whatever you end up doing, make sure there’s a link to your own website somewhere in the content you’ve agreed on – that’s the whole point, after all.
Support Your Efforts with Social Media
While social media doesn’t give you any direct benefits when it comes to SEO, it plays an important supportive role in the grand scheme of things. Because while a big part of SEO is making your content as Google-friendly as possible, it’s even more important to make content people actually like. If you just make content with Google in mind, then you risk losing sight of the end goal: getting people to engage with your site (and buy your book). While you may get them on your site with good SEO, you also have to make them stay, and ideally, share your content. That’s why SEO is just as much about creating quality content as it is finding the right keywords for said content.
This is where social media comes in. While it has no direct effect on your Google ranking, social media provides you with a shortcut to your target audience by allowing you to find and engage with your particular target group. In the case of your hypothetical dark fantasy book, examples of these shortcuts would be Facebook groups, subreddits, and hashtags aimed at fantasy fans. By joining and engaging with these groups as an author, you can stimulate traffic to your author website.
As the people you’ll be engaging with are already part of your target demographic, they are far more likely to become readers of yours. Assuming they like your book enough, they may also become voluntary ambassadors of your book. This is the ideal outcome, as it means an independent third party will be sharing links to your site, talking about your book, and stimulating even more traffic on your behalf.
As a side note: If you’ve published your book at Mybestseller, we can provide you with free customisable widgets for your social media page. These will take any interested visitors directly to your book’s store page. Nevertheless, in order to make clicking that “buy” button tempting, you’re going to have to maintain whatever social media profile you’re using with quality content as well. Luckily, you can just re-use the things you post on your website for this most of the time. We have an article on how to promote your book on social media if you’re interested in learning more.
Whichever social media channels you decide to use, remember to be transparent in your communication! These are your future readers we’re talking about, so building a friendly, trusting relationship with them is paramount.
While the bottom line is that good content is at the core of good SEO, there is more to it than that. Finding the right people and figuring out what they’re looking for and how their looking for it is also vital. Once you’ve figured out what keywords to try for, writing good content based on said keywords is your next step. With your content written, it’s time to be proactive and get that content in front of the right people, while your site slowly rises through the ranks organically. Use social media to reach out directly to your readers with the aim of having them spreading the word through their own network.
This is a fairly rudimentary overview of SEO, but it’ll serve to get you started and will make a difference if done right. Should you wish to dive deeper into the subject and maximize the visibility of your website in search engines, we recommend heading over to Moz’s SEO Learning Center. The Yoast blog also offers some solid advice on the topic.
If you want more general tips on how you can market your book, check out our book promotion guide. If you’d prefer to get your tips from a fellow self-published author, you can read this guest article on how to promote your book online.
We hope you enjoyed this article! If you have anything to add or criticise, or if you have any questions, please leave a comment below or send us an email. Also, if you happen to have learned something, please consider sharing this article with your other writer friends!