Tuesday 16 October 2018

Getting your book keywords right

When you publish at KDP Amazon they ask you to provide keywords. So, do you simply type in what you think people will enter? A five-minute task? If you do, then you are setting yourself up for failure.


According to KDP keywords are optional and 'help readers find your book when they browse the Amazon site'
The term ‘keywords’, or tags as calibre calls them, should really be ‘key-phrases’ because they can be up to 50 characters long. The total length of keywords at Amazon appears to be 400 characters. Prepositions (for, with, from, over, through), articles (a, an, the) and conjunctions (and, or) are optional in the keywords.
You would be foolish to consider keywords as optional. Keywords are essential because they help readers find your book. Specifically, they help readers find your book cover and title.

Keywords choice

Amazon ask you to use no more than seven generic keywords that describe sub-genre, mood, and location. They advise authors to consider using the following types of keywords:
  • Setting (e.g. Colonial Africa)
  • Character types (e.g. single mum, divorcee)
  • Character roles (e.g. powerful witch)
  • Plot themes (e.g. coming of age, revenge)
  • Story tone (e.g. dystopian, conspiracy)
Use phrases you think people would use to find your book content as a starting point. There are some words Amazon say you should not use in keywords:
  • Information covered elsewhere in your book's metadata (title, contributors, etc.)
  • Subjective claims about quality (e.g. ‘best novel ever’)
  • Time-sensitive statements (‘new’, ‘on sale’, ‘available now’ and ‘FREE’ – Amazon assumes that such a book will not always be free)
  • Information common to most items in the category ("book")
  • Deliberate spelling errors. (‘sycology’)
  • Variants of spacing, punctuation, capitalization, and pluralization (‘80GB’ and ‘80 GB’, ‘computer’ and ‘computers’, etc.). Exception: Words translated in more than one way (e.g. ‘Mao Zedong’ or ‘Mao Tse-tung’, ‘Hanukkah’ or ‘Chanukah
  • Anything misrepresentative like the name of an author not associated with your book. Kindle Direct Publishing has a zero-tolerance policy for metadata that is meant to advertise, promote, or mislead
  • Quotation marks in search terms. Single words work better than phrases, and specific words work better than general ones. If you enter “complex suspenseful whodunit”, only people who type all of those words in that order will find your book. For better results, enter this: complex suspenseful whodunit. Customers can search for any of those words and find your book
  • Amazon program names like as ‘Kindle Unlimited’ or ‘KDP Select
People won’t look for words that relate only to your book unless they already know about it.
Don’t over use the keywords because this can look like “keyword stuffing,” a spammy practice that can get you dropped in ranks.
At Amazon, find out if your selected book genres have keyword requirements and make sure you use those keywords. You’ll find these at http://bit.ly/keywdcat
Don’t use your book title as a keyword. That would waste the slot since Amazon already searches titles and subtitles. If you would like to have more than seven keywords an easy way of using extra keywords is to use them in a book subtitle.
Enter your key phrases in a manner that readers would search for. For example, readers are more likely to search for ‘paranormal romance’ than ‘romance paranormal’. If you use them in the wrong order your book may still be found but it will have a lower rank in the search results.

Let’s look at two examples of finding keywords.

Example 1 - Raging Storm by Shelia Chapman

Back in 2013 when I first published my wife's book 'Raging Storm' I used the 'five minute task' method Although it got fantastic five star reviews, its sales were slow. Downloads for this series starter book were not exactly stellar. I decided to return to this book and see what I could do to increase sales by working with its keywords. The keywords I had chosen in 2013 were:
  • Paranormal romance.
  • A Vested Interest - chosen because this book has a following series of this title.
  • Romance - Not a good choice since it is a huge Amazon genre.
  • Telepathy – The book features mind reading.
  • Native American – A protagonist was a member of a ‘Navajo’ clan.
  • Mind-reading
  • Romantic suspense
When I looked at these keywords again, I thought first of the genre or theme of the book. I chose Amazon’s genre Fiction >Romance > Paranormal. Amazon tell you not to type in the genre but to type in words in the order people expect. So, I didn’t enter ‘Romance Paranormal’ and instead chose 'Paranormal romance' as my keyword. Here's what happens when I type the first letter in an incognito browser Amazon search window. I use ‘incognito’ because I don’t want the results to be influenced by previous searches I’ve done. 

You'll notice as soon as you start typing, Amazon starts making suggestions based on what other people are looking for. Nothing useful so far (I’m curious about the ‘Pepper spray’ though.) I continued typing.
By the time I'd entered five letters I started to get results.
It found ‘paranormal romance’ and ‘paranormal activity’ with ‘paranormal romance’ showing in Kindle and books. That indicates my keyword wasn’t a bad choice and was popular.
You can use the same method to get suggestions from a Google Search. Again, I suggest you do this in an incognito browser window to avoid previous searches influencing the results.
Doing the same with my original keyword choices I got:
A Vested Interest – finally found after typing in ‘A Vested I’. This isn’t a good keyword since few people will use it unless they are looking for another of the books in that series.
Romance – ‘rom’ found ‘romance books’; ‘roma’ found ‘free romance kindle books’(Free and Kindle are forbidden keywords); ‘romanc’ found ‘romance novels’.
Telepathy – ‘telepa’ found ‘telepathy books’, ‘telepathy’ and ‘telepath hive mind
Native American – ‘native a’ found ‘native American’ and ‘native American books’. Experimenting I also found ‘native American fiction
Mind-reading – ‘mind-read’ found ‘mind-reading’ and continuing to type I found ‘mind-reading sci-fi
Romantic suspense – ‘romant’ found ‘romantic suspense kindle books’    
That gave me some ‘starter’ keywords to work with:
·         Paranormal romance
·         Paranormal fiction
·         Romance books
·         Romance novels
·         Telepathy fiction
·         Native American fiction
·         Mind-reading science fiction
Since the words in keywords are better not repeated and ‘books’ is a keyword to avoid since so many people search for it, these became:
·         Paranormal romance
·         Romantic stories
·         Romance novels
·         Telepathy fiction
·         Native American ebooks
·         Mind-reading Sci-Fi
That’s only six keywords so I followed Amazon’s advice and added the locations the book was set in and its theme:
·         Louisiana and Arizona coming of age
Next, I use two keyword research tools which are free to use online. One searches for Amazon keywords, the other searches for Google keywords. Both sets of results can be used but there’s a big difference how these Internet behemoths do a search. Google uses an intelligent search which tries to interpret the meaning of what you are looking for. If you enter ‘great paranormal romance’ it will look for popular paranormal romance also. Amazon’s search is just plain dumb. What words you enter must appear in the search results.

Step by step guide to finding better keywords

Here's the process I use to update the keywords. I start by using Google, not Amazon! Google is great at interpreting what you mean when you search and may well find better keywords you have not considered.
Step 1. Use Google’s keyword tool. Find it at
You’ll need to log-on using a Google Adwords account. If you haven’t got one – they are easy and free to create. Once you’ve logged on return to the keyword tool using the Tools menu. Enter your keywords separated by commas. Then click ‘GET STARTED’.

The Google keyword tool is quick and in a matter of moments suggested 2780 possible keywords. Not all of these will be relevant but it’s worth downloading them as a csv file.
At this point it may be worth going through the keywords found to see if Google has made some better suggestions. I picked out:
·         mental telepathy between lovers
·         soulmate romance
·         tragic love story
That gives me 10 keywords – but that’s not a problem.
Step 2 – I used the Scientific Seller keyword tool at http://app.scientificseller.com/keywordtool and entered my keywords one per line. You’ll need to create an account there but using the keyword tool is free. You’ll find it best to do the search during the night. Leave your computer logged on at the page overnight.

Once you click to start the keyword search you wait – it warns you it will be slow.
Scientific Seller will find lots of keywords for your books but it will also find what it calls ‘stuff’ words. Those stuff words can make a huge difference to how readers find your books. Let me explain further. Look at these two keyword searches and notice how many items are found.

As you can see adding the word ‘great’ has a dramatic effect on the number of items found. It changes that 50,000+ to 129. The word ‘great’ is a stuff word. You normally shouldn’t use these words in your keywords but do use them in your titles, subtitles and book description.
According to Scientific Seller, Amazon makes little use of the product description when it searches for keywords. However Scientific Seller is designed for non-book retailers. Such products offer a bulleted list of product features which are searched for keywords. Books don’t offer this bulleted list (although you can add one if you know HTML) The descriptions for books are searched for keywords and are a good place to include ‘stuff’ words. Google searches book descriptions too so you should use the ‘stuff’ words there.

Stage 3 – Look at the reviews and descriptions of books with a similar theme. See if you can pick out any keywords from these. If your book already has reviews, then go through those too. I picked out:
·         unique people, extraordinary situation
·         beautiful but sad story
·         force of destiny and fate
·         endless romance
·         laugh, smile, cry and love
·         love at first sight
·         mystery, love, jealousy, and sadness
·         combining romance and paranormal
·         adventure, suspense, and romance
That gives me 19 keywords; a lot more than Amazon’s allowance of seven but that’s not a problem yet.

Example 2 - Choosing Keywords for a non-fiction book

For my book 'An Illustrated Guide to Getting Published' I thought of ‘publishing guide’ but ‘guide’ is already in the title, so I looked for alternatives. ‘Manual’ is in the subtitle. Keeping it simple the keyword became ‘publishing a book’. Next, I chose ‘making an ebook’, ‘editing and formatting’, ‘creating a print-on-demand non-fiction or novel’ …and there I got stuck. On to the next step.
I used an incognito browser window to search Amazon for the top ebooks found by my first keyword. I used an incognito browser so that previous searches didn’t influence my results. I made a record of the book ASIN (Amazon Standard Identification Number), the overall book rank and the genres and rank in those genres. I also noted the ebook price. This is probably easier to do for non-fiction books like this one but can still be done for fiction. Here’s the top four I found in August 2017.

Book ASIN/Price
Overall rank
Genre rank & genre
(Successful Self-Publishing by Joanna Penn)

#1 in Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Fiction
#1 in Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Nonfiction
#1 in Business & Money > Skills > Business Writing
(Self-Publishing Success by Christine John)

#8 in Computers & Technology > Graphic Design
#13 in Business & Money > Skills > Business Writing
#25 in Kindle Short Reads (22-32 pages) > Computers & Technology
(Book Launch Formula by Justin Ledford)

#5 in Crafts, Hobbies & Home > Crafts & Hobbies > Reference
#9 in Business & Money > Skills > Business Writing
#15 in Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Publishing & Books > Authorship
(How to Publish a Book by Sam Kerns)

#7 in Business & Money > Marketing & Sales > Advertising > Writing Skills
#8 in Reference > Writing, Research & Publishing Guides > Nonfiction
#20 in Business & Money > Skills > Business Writing
Looking at the book descriptions of each I picked out the following additional keywords (key phrases):
self-publishing success
Write, edit, publish and promote
become a best-selling author
step-by-step approach to publication
promote your ebook
market my book
making book covers
effective book descriptions
selecting book keywords
choosing a genre
sell my book
create best-selling books on Amazon
I needed to select the best of these phrases so returned to an incognito browser window and went to Amazon.com. I started typing in each of the phrases in turn. Typing slowly, you’ll find Amazon tries to predict your search based on what people have been searching for. By the time I got to ‘’Publis’ I had some keywords I could use:

I added ‘publishing for profit’ and ‘publishing 101’ to my list of keywords. Continuing to type, I got ‘publishing a book at amazon’ and ‘publishing a book for dummies’ before I eventually got to ‘publishing a book’.
Testing the other keywords in the same way I ended up with this list as the best choices:
·         publishing an ebook
·         editing a novel
·         self-publishing 101
·         become a best-selling author
·         promote your book
·         marketing books
·         book cover design
I also picked out a number of other useful keywords which I could use in the meta tags of an EPUB ebook.
I used the Scientific Seller and Google keyword tool also.

Other methods of selecting keywords

1. Steal them

A good way to learn about keywords is to find some examples of their use in successful ebooks. The problem is they are not listed on book pages at Amazon. One method is to get them using the calibre ebook management program. Unfortunately, this method only works for books which were submitted to Amazon as EPUB files.
1.       In calibre, create a blank e-book - that's the add book dropdown > empty book. Create. Don't add any details.
2.       Find your genre in Amazon and look for the bestsellers in it. If you can, pick out a book with a similar style to your own. Go to its product section and copy the entire line starting ASIN...
3.       In calibre go to your empty book and choose Edit metadata. In the section IDs paste in the ASIN line you copied at Amazon then click 'Download Metadata'.
You'll get the keywords (Tags) and description of a successful book which you can examine and adapt. I suggest you do this with several successful books to see what they have in common. You can delete these dummy e-books once you've examined them.
Pay attention to how the keywords appear in the description and in the preview of the book you can download at Amazon. You might notice some use more than the seven keywords allowed by Amazon. That’s because the author submitted an EPUB file to Amazon and they can have more than seven keywords.

2. Get them from Smashwords

If the book is available there, you can see the keywords used on the book’s page there. You can also download a sample EPUB file and import that into calibre. The keywords (tags) will be displayed when the book is selected.       

3. Use Answer The Public

Answer the Public (https://answerthepublic.com/) gives you a diagram of questions and search terms that people use relevant to the word or phrase you use as a trigger. There’s a ‘Pro’ version that allows language and location to impact the results so you can, if you wish, make the search more relevant to your location. Initial results are provided as a diagram but you can download a csv file of the results. It works surprisingly quickly.

4. Use Quora.com

Quora (https://quora.com) is a site where you can ask and answer questions. If you look at the top right though you’ll find a search box where you can enter a keyword. It will come up with a list of relevant questions people have asked. These questions can be used as keywords. You can display your expertise in this area by answering questions but beware of directing users away from the site to your books or blog. That is likely to get you in trouble with the moderators. You can put a link to your web pages on your profile there and can usually get away with a ‘Find more details/information at …’ link.

5. Use the keyword explorer at Moz.com

You’ll need to create an account first. Then go to:
You’ll find a free tool there where you can enter a trigger keyword to find more keywords. This is a great place to find possible keywords you have missed. For example, for the book ‘Immortality Gene’ I discovered people were looking for ‘What is immortality?’ and ‘Immortality definition’. I added both keywords to my website pages for this book.

Where To Use Keywords

·         Enter the seven keywords you think people are most likely to type in the book details keyword section at Amazon.
·         Use the keywords in your book description.
·         Use keywords in the book’s subtitle if it has one.
·         Use keywords in the first chapters of the book.
·         Enter up to 20 keywords in the meta ‘tags’ section when you add your book to calibre. An epub file does not have the seven keywords limit of KDP and may be used as the source file at KDP.
·         Use the keywords in the book’s webpage. Don't forget the meta tags of these pages, pretty technical stuff that needs its own separate blog post - see Author - How easy is it to find your book
·         Use the keywords in social media posts about the book

If this post has helped you  will you help me? Download a FREE copy of books 'Immortality Gene' from http://smarturl.it/avi or/and Raging Storm http://smarturl.it/botr
Even if you never read them (but I hope you will) - it will help our rankings.

Got any other keyword ideas? Want to comment?
Look - a FREE e-book


  1. Great list of helpful tools! Some I hadn't even heard of before. I tell people that keywords are the "bane of my existence." I need all the help I can get! :)

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  2. Yes, thank you for the very grounded specific advice.

  3. Excellent idea, i really like this resources, thanks

  4. Great Post! Thank you.
    Know more about other strategies here Stratergies

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  7. Can you give people keywords on Twitter or Emil and ask them to look that way.

  8. Really helpful, for new authors like me...

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