There’s an online audience for every book. That’s a nice thought, right? If only connecting those booklovers with your content, the content they want and may not yet be aware of, was as simple as knowing they exist.
For example, a romance publisher creates a page on their author’s website thanking fans for their ongoing support of a series. They include links to an Amazon page where similar books can be purchased.
How do they know if that tactic is working? Are there places that can be tweaked to improve engagement?
For publishers and book marketers alike looking to drive online book sales, a little insight into how certain online platforms steer the customer journey, reveal authors and titles, and enable discoverability and purchases, can make a world of difference.
In this series of blog posts, we’ll be dropping some online book marketing knowledge designed to help publishers turn “ifs” and “buts” into actionable data they can use to optimize messaging, build their online audience, improve their marketing results, and grow sales.
In this post, we’ll start with a straightforward presentation of how search, social media, and retail platforms like Google, Facebook, and Amazon assess online content to ensure users get the best results. Once we’ve laid that foundation, future entries will take a closer look at:
- The analytics driving each platform
- How publishers can get more from their data
- How to create meaningful marketing content that engages the right audience
Algorithms: The Great Gatekeepers
So much of our time is spent online. And why not? For many, the internet has become hands down the easiest and most convenient place to find information, create connections, and shop for goods and services.
When performing those actions most people tend to start off at a few core platforms, several of which are particularly relevant to books—namely Google, Facebook, and Amazon.
Depending on what device they’re using, most web users can be found on these sites and in these apps.
There’s a lot of content on the web, and not all of it is incredibly useful. To ensure only the top quality and most relevant content—high value content—makes its way to the user, each core platform is governed by sets of rules or algorithms.
Making sure your marketing content is high-value isn’t about tricking the gatekeeper or finding shortcuts around these rules. It’s about understanding why the gatekeepers exist and what elements are being analyzed, measured, and scored.
The Anatomy of an Algorithm
So we know why a search engine like Google is constantly tweaking their algorithm, but that doesn’t tell us how they decide what’s important or the elements there within.
When content is measured and indexed by a platform’s algorithm it produces boatloads of data. These data points help the platform know what is important to a user, and what is not. They include things like:
- Search terms
- Click-through rates
- Number of times content is liked, shared, commented on
- Ads clicked
By taking a closer look at the elements measured and analyzed by each platform—search (Google), social media (Facebook), and retail (Amazon)—we can begin to understand how to market your book most effectively and increase brand awareness.
Search algorithms are designed to provide users with results (organic/paid ads, and listings) that best fit their query.
Keywords: Search platforms (and most other platforms) first look at the most relevant terms people are searching. Generally speaking, the more they see people searching for a term the higher the value and the greater the competition to “rank” for that given term—that is, to appear toward the top of a results page.
It’s important to note that for search engines, these are keywords used in the copy that appears on a given page.
Visitor Engagement: Often measured in terms of a bounce rate, this is a measurement of time spent on a web page before leaving. If you walk into a restaurant and never get served, you are likely to “bounce.”
History: Does this web page have consistently high levels of traffic? Are other reputable and related web pages linking back to it?
Ease-of-Access: Mobile responsive, fast loading, secure, intuitive navigation. If it’s easy for the search engine to “crawl” then it is assumed a user can easily navigate the web page or site as well.
Social algorithms determine when, where, and how posts/ads appear on a users’ feed.
Engagement: Likes, comments, shares—all these elements fall into the engagement category. Engaging, sharable content often gets first dibs in a social feed.
Relevance: Timely, trending, and targeted posts that people care about are often engaging so following the logic of engagement we can see how this works in our favor.
Trust: Is your brand reputable? Are you sharing content from reputable sources with strong followings? Does this look like clickbait?
History: What is your relation to the people viewing the content? Have they engaged with your content before? Are they likely to engage again?
Paid: Most platforms offer some kind of pay-per ad or sponsored content service. This promoted content can be targeted at audiences who are likely to engage. Not organic, but still a valuable measurement.
Retail algorithms highlight the products users are most likely to purchase and determine which products should be cross-sold on the product detail and cart pages.
Keywords: These keywords (book specific) live in areas like your book titles, subtitles, descriptions, and categories. Amazon provides a non-user-facing keywords field specific to their search engine that helps connect users with relevant products.
Clicks: What links, ads, and products pages are people clicking on? What clicks are converting to sale?
Books similar to those that are performing well in this metric will show up more often in a retail search, until they prove otherwise. Algorithms adjust constantly.
Images: Retail platforms understand people are visual. The more information provided, including images, the more likely we are to show interest. For these reasons retail platforms value products that come with a display images, especially those that support the algorithm. Think the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.
Price: Competitively priced in relation to similar books. A mystery book priced too high or too low in comparison to other mystery books of the same quality are likely to score low on this metric.
Brand: Is the brand—in the case of books, the author or “authoring entity” such as a travel publisher—associated with the product frequently searched with a detailed brand (author bio) page?
Reviews: Any feedback provided by consumers and reviewers—negative or positive—will support a product listing. Words and phrases used in book reviews also help support keyword rankings.
Special Promotions: Like a paid ad on Facebook, in the realm of online book sales, products eligible/enrolled in programs like Prime, Kindle Unlimited, and Audible are given a special boost.
Places Algorithms Hang Out
Now that you know what a search, social, and retail algorithm is looking for, you need to know where they are looking and what tactics marketers can use to most effectively reach their audience on these platforms.
- Title metadata
- Websites and profiles like: author web sites, pages on Goodreads, Amazon, and Wikipedia
- Content marketing—blog posts, videos, landing pages, etc.
- Search and display ads—paid and organic
- Organic/original posts and content from your own website or blog space
- Shared content, reposts from relevant news sources, posts from authors or influencers, etc.
- Influencer marketing and publicity
- Targeted paid ads
- Title metadata, including title/subtitle, descriptive copy, keywords, and BISAC categories
- Promotions and pricing
- Coop placements
- Advertising and marketing services
This first entry covered a decent amount of info with some pretty broad strokes. You should have a pretty decent grasp on why platforms use algorithms, the elements they deem important, and where they are looking.
Armed with these insights and the data each of these metrics provides, you can start optimizing your book marketing strategy with high-value content that will increase the chances of discovery and conversion.
Next we’ll begin our deep dive into some of the nitty-gritty of developing a strong online book marketing strategy, how to dominate each of these platforms, provide booklovers with high-value content that works like marketing, and build valuable relationships that lead to more online book sales.