Marketing Your Novel: Intro to SEO

marketing-your-novel

Disclosure: I work for a marketing firm. While I have no formal education in marketing or business and would never claim to be an “expert”, working in online marketing for two companies over the last  four years has taught me a lot. This series will explore the marketing strategies I will use to promote my upcoming novel.

While I am not going to be talking exclusively about SEO in this series, SEO happens to be one of the major facets of Content Marketing, a larger theory and set of strategies of online marketing. Thus, at least a basic introduction to SEO is necessary. So…

What is SEO?

Search Engine Optimization (SEO), is the strategy of using keywords, quality content, and linking to drive traffic to your website (or any online content) in order to maximize your website’s ranking on the search engine results pages (SERP) of search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing.

RedEvolution provides its own, watered-down definition of SEO for any non-marketers out there:

“SEO or Search Engine Optimisation is the name given to activity that attempts to improve search engine rankings.”

Simple enough.

Harking back to our discussion about types of marketing, SEO is a form of indirect marketing, because you are not speaking to your customer directly. You are strategically placing your content across the web hoping someone comes upon it and bites.

Google is the undisputed Emperor of Online Search and uses a highly complex and dynamic algorithm to determine the placement of content on its SERP, so using a variety of SEO strategies will help your webpages rank higher.

Now, why do you want your website to rank higher in search engines? Because that makes it more likely that random internet users will find you, which increases traffic to your site, which leads to your ultimate goal as an author brand: selling more books.

SEO and Keyword Research

In my first marketing post, we talked about branding yourself as an author. In online terms, branding ultimately comes down to what users find when they search for you or your brand. What you want them to find is your web content.

Optimizing your content to rank on SERP means taking the time to actually figure out which keywords to use in headlines and the body of your webpage content (such as a blog post or landing page). This can be done using any number of subscription-based keyword research tools, or you can just search directly in Google. I’ll provide a demonstration of this below, but the standard metrics of keyword research are:

  • Number of Searches: this is how many times per month users search for a specific keyword, such as “fantasy novels”
  • Search Volume: this is how many results for “fantasy novels” appear in SERP for a given keyword. The more results there are, the more competition you have to rank near the top.
  • Key Efficiency Index (KEI): This is actually a formula that most keyword research tools use to rank keywords. KEI is based on a 100-point scale rating number of searches vs. search volume, so the higher KEI you see, the better that keyword will perform for you. (This metric is only relevant if you’re using a keyword research tool that uses KEI to rank keywords.)

And here are some common keyword research tools you can try for a more detailed look into your potential keywords:

  • Google Adwords is used by many companies to find keywords and then pay for ad space on the SERP for those keywords. This can get pricey fast, because Google uses a bidding system for their ad space, meaning you compete with other companies for cost-per-click (CPC, or the amount you pay each time a user clicks on your ad).
  • SEM Rush provides limited data for about 6 searches per session, so you can try spreading out your keyword searches over several days. However, to see comprehensive results, you’ll need to pay a membership fee.
  • Jaaxy.com is another paid keyword research tool. With their free trial, you can get 30 keyword searches, so use them wisely if you don’t want to pay!
  • Keywordtool.io is a free keyword research tool, but it does not provide the advanced data like Number of Searches or KEI.

SEO in Action

Even without KEI, you can compare your potential keywords against each other by looking at each keyword’s number of searches vs. the search volume. Below is an example of simple (and free) keyword research. We’ll test Google’s SERP directly for various keywords to see how our brands rank. The goal is to rank among and diversify the results I am seeing when I search for keywords relevant to my brand.

Ideally, I want the top four or five results to include at least one of my main platforms for promoting or selling my novel, such as RedStringPaperCuts.com, the RSPC Facebook page, or an Amazon product page for my book. If you can’t rank in the top four or five, at least aim for the first page of search engine results for your keywords. Why? Think about the last time you clicked next to the second page of search engine results… Exactly.

Here is a recent SERP for “steven dadamo” in Google:

serp-steven-dadamo

I didn’t include the apostrophe in my name because most users avoid uncommon punctuation like that when typing in a search. A few things to note about my results:

  • There are 125,000 results for “steven dadamo”, which is an extremely low search volume. That means that I have a greater chance of ranking higher in SERP, because I have less competition with other people using that keyword (or with that name).
  • The first two results are social media pages which may or may not belong to me, which is pretty typical when you search for individuals’ names.
  • The third result is Red String PaperCuts, which is awesome, because this site is what I want users, readers, fans, whoever to associate with my name.

For the sake of comparison, let’s next use a keyword that will inevitably have high search volume, but is relevant to our discussion. Let’s try searching for “new fantasy novels”:

serp-new-fantasy-novels

  • 3.39 million results, with Amazon.com as the top website result. Just below that, cropped out of the image, is GoodReads. We won’t be competing with those giants of e-publishing and e-commerce any time soon, so we’ll need to get more specific.
  • Also note the shopping results at the top from Google Play. It’s unlikely that any of us will be competing with the likes of Tolkien, George R.R. Martin, or Patrick Rothfuss for online searches, so it’s best to avoid such broad sweeping keyword terms.

Keyword research takes some time and dedication, because results on SERP can and will change over the course of several weeks or months. So before you start implanting the first keyword you find into all of your web content, ensure that you have a variety of keywords to use, thus increasing the chances of a new user finding you.

In the meantime, some basic SEO techniques you can employ today include:

  • Tagging (through WordPress) – WordPress’s built-in tag feature allows you to specify keywords that are relevant to your content. You’ll notice that every one of my posts is tagged with “Steve D”, my byline, because that is the easiest way for a reader to find all of my content.
  • Back-links – The more websites that link back to your own, the higher your pages will rank in search engines. So how do you get back-links? Create content worth sharing!
  • Research yourself: What results do you get when you search for your author name, or the title of a book you are promoting? I recommend turning off cookies in your own browser, as these can skew your results. In Google Chrome, press ‘CTRL+Shift+N’ to go “incognito” and see results unaffected by your search history.

Please do not hesitate to leave comments or questions. There is a lot of information here, and we are just scratching the surface. SEO is an industry unto itself, but again, it is just one channel for you to use as part of your greater marketing strategy.

Do you have any specific questions about SEO? Or do you have any SEO tips you like to use when gathering your keywords?

References and Other Resources

If you want to read a more comprehensive guide to SEO strategy, check out Moz. Their “Beginner’s Guide to SEO” is free to access and is divided into 10 chapters. This is the one resource my supervisor required me to read when I first took over managing a start-up’s blog in 2012: https://moz.com/beginners-guide-to-seo

BusinessDictionary – “What is search engine optimization?”  http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/search-engine-optimization.html

RedEvolution – “What is SEO?” https://www.redevolution.com/what-is-seo

Search Engine Watch – “How to completely dominate Google’s first page,” https://searchenginewatch.com/sew/how-to/2438200/how-to-completely-dominate-googles-first-page

WordTracker – “Keyword Effectiveness Index,” https://www.wordtracker.com/academy/learn-seo/getting-started/keyword-research-kei

Steve D

4 thoughts on “Marketing Your Novel: Intro to SEO”

    1. There is definitely a lot of info out there about SEO, but sticking to the main principles will help keep you on track. I’ll definitely be talking more about this subject in future posts in this series, so I hope you can find more use out of them!

  1. So here’s where I’m just completely weak sauce! I’m on WordPress, and I’m good at tagging. In the military, we put keywords in the metadata of our images all the time to make them easier. But….is there a way to work on a book blurb or description or other content which will increase it? I guess an even better question is if I have keywords I know will get linked to my book, where do I put them OTHER than in the keywords area of WordPress? You’re a freaking Yoda, Steve! This is great info, and I’m so grateful you’re doing this!

    1. Ah, I didn’t go into too much detail on this, so thank you for pointing it out. With blog posts in particular, linking keywords that you know will perform well in SERP to your pages will help index your content. WordPress also has the Meta Description section below the body section for a draft post. That meta description is what shows up in SERP underneath the link, and that information is also indexed. Now, Google will punish your content if you just spam keywords in the meta description, like “Fantasy novel, speculative fiction, MLS Weech, fantasy author”… that’s not its intended use. But if you include a 1 or 2-sentence description of your website or the content that includes your relevant keywords, then that should help. Google’s optimal meta description is just 80-160 characters, so use the space wisely. So, beyond just peppering your headlines and body content with keyword phrases, linking and meta descriptions are easiest. I think I know what my next post will be!

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