SEO = Search Engine Optimization
The most important thing I’ve learned during my journey to figure out publishing and the promotion of my work is this:
The world is run by search engines.
That’s oversimplified, but it’s true. I hadn’t thought of Amazon as a search engine, but that’s what it is. Sure, it’s an online store, but the engine that drives it is all about the searching.
Google, Bing, AOL, and Yahoo Search are all commonly accepted search engines, but consider for a moment that Youtube, Barnes & Noble, your online library catalog, and many other websites you visit are driven by a search engine.
In the most basic terms, search engines send a digital spider to “crawl” across vast amounts of data—very quickly—looking for the search term (a.k.a. keyword) you put in the box. Search engines do their absolute best to find the right matches for your search, but consider for a moment what a monumental task this is.
For example, a search for “werewolf novels” is going to find a gajillion results. Of all those results, how does Amazon or Google know which ones to serve up first?
What is a keyword?
A keyword is a word or phrase that a user inputs into the search field with the intent of finding information relative to the keyword. It can be one word or several.
How Search Engines Prioritize Results
Complex algorithms that I will never fully understand determine which results rise to the top of the list. The following criteria are the most important to us writers (not in any order):
- How well it matched the user’s keywords (what the user put in the search box)
- How many others have clicked on the result (yes, it’s a popularity contest—why Stephen King always gets top billing)
- Whether or not you’ve paid for primo placement (advertising)
Of those three things, there are two that you can control. Advertising costs money. Matching search terms costs time—and that’s search engine optimization (SEO).
Why You Should Care
Real talk. If no one ever sees your work, they can’t read it. It’s in your best interest to make it as easy as possible for the search engine to match your work to the user’s keywords.
Now for the How
1. Stop and think whenever you put anything out into the digital world either through your website, a blog, a product page, your bio, a Reddit post, a Facebook page, a Youtube video description, and so on… Think for a moment about how a search engine will view that content, then do your best to give search engines a little help.
2. It’s all about word choice.
Some simple rules apply. Remember this: when a search engine spider crawls a database or the Internet, it’s looking for text that matches the user’s query.
- Don’t put important text only in images. The spider can’t see it there.
- Use words that you think a user might input when looking for a work like yours. It’s a guessing game, yes, but you can improve your chances with little effort. You can identify your best keywords in advance and keep a list somewhere for easy reference. Over time, this will become second nature. You may have noticed that some authors always use the same descriptive words and phrases in their promotional content. This is why.
- Don’t get lazy. Add that description or bio to your Youtube video, article, or interview. The title is never enough.
- Don’t just add a list of keywords. Work the keywords into the body of the text. We used to be able to add a long list of keywords, but these days most spiders recognize that it’s not part of the actual content. The one exception is hashtags on sites like Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc. Those are also search engines, and those hashtags are keywords that help them serve up your content to the appropriate viewers.
Here are two versions of the same answer to an interview question.
Where do you get your ideas?
When I’m writing, I’m off in my imaginary world, but I also try to notice the real world around me. Most of my ideas come from the things I see, read, overhear, or even dream.
NOTE: vague terms, not much a search engine spider can latch onto
Where do you get your ideas?
When I’m writing a novel in my werewolf series, the HAIRY TEETH CHRONICLES, I let my hilarious characters and their twisted romance guide me, but the initial creative inspiration for the stories—the ideas—could come from funny dialogue I overhear out in public, the serial killer I read about, or a sexy dream I had.
NOTE: Keywords people might search on and find this:
writing a novel, novel, werewolf series, werewolf novel, novel series, werewolf chronicles, hairy, hairy teeth, hilarious characters, twisted romance, romance, creative inspiration, creative ideas, twisted stories, creative stories, funny, funny dialogue, serial killer, sexy, sexy dream.
This text, which is about twice as long as the previous version has a far-greater chance of attracting a spider.
NOTE-2: Many search engines will take individual words and recombine them to match them to different phrases. For example, “funny dream” isn’t a phrase used here, but anyone searching on it may still see your interview in their results. You don’t have to put in all the keywords with exact phrasing so long as the pieces are all there.
Here are two versions of a book description.
MORNING BREATH is the third book in the HAIRY TEETH CHRONICLES. Jim and Brenda have finally made up with the neighbors and are expecting their first child when the world is turned on its head. Adam is back, and he’s packing.
MORNING BREATH is the fast-paced third novel in the HAIRY TEETH CHRONICLES, a series that follows the romantic misadventures of two suburban werewolves. The sassy main characters ended the feud with their neighbors in the second novel—BLOODSHED IN THE SHED—and learned they’re pregnant. All seems idyllic until the seductive rogue vampire Adam returns for vengeance.
Ultimately, you’re going to be doing what you do best: choose the most descriptive and appropriate words that your reader-soulmates might use when looking for your work.
The world is a search engine. Keep that in the back of your mind whenever writing promotional content. Your fans will thank you!