Playtime with Amazon’s Search Engine and Selling Prompts

Amazon CartThis article by Jason Matthews first appeared on The Book Designer.

In 2012, Forrester Research reported that more people use Amazon’s search engine than Google’s when searching for products to buy. That wasn’t a surprise. Google’s search engine was designed to provide information and sell advertising while Amazon’s was designed to sell products. Hearing this news excited me as an indie author selling books. I realized the need to pay more attention to a powerful search engine: Amazon’s.

Consider how readers find books at Amazon. People often shop for specific titles that are recommended to them by friends and family. In those cases, the title or author name is usually known and won’t be difficult for the shopper to find. Sometimes people browse titles and read descriptions, often clicking on Amazon up-sell icons as in the “customers who bought this item also bought” variety. And then some people discover books entirely on their own using search terms. It’s with these cases where authors can have the most influence to help buyers discover their books. Authors accomplish this by employing keywords, individual words or short phrases that can be part of your title, subtitle, categories, KDP dashboard selections and more.

If you feel any dread when it comes to keywords (or metadata), you’re not alone. Many authors have a limited understanding of these digital entities and struggle to add elements to their books to assist with Amazon’s search engine. Fortunately there’s good news for those who recoil when it comes to keyword research; this can be fun. Think of it as a game where you play around and experiment with Amazon’s search engine. (Great video tutorial course with coupon code: KEYWORD7.)

Remember that most of this boils down to one smart question: are readers able to find your book without knowing the exact title or author name? The answer may be a resounding no at first, but these things can be improved upon.

Step 1: Get familiar with Amazon’s search engine.

Select the book department since most people who buy books shop there. Your starting point should look like this:

Amazon search engine

As you probably know, the search engine is the orange highlighted box above where you can type.

Step 2: Recognize the Selling Prompts that appear.

As you type letters into the box, Amazon immediately offers time-saving prompts of what it thinks you might be searching for. (This is my belief of course; the formula for Amazon’s search engine is a secret. I’m speculating the obvious, that these prompts are related to what previous customers have searched for and bought.) For example, start typing the letters T-H and watch the green box of prompts become active below:

Amazon search engine 2

Amazon thinks you might be shopping for bestsellers like The Fault in Our Stars, or The Goldfinch or perhaps A Game of Thrones. Take it two letters further with T-H-E-R for the change in results below:

Amazon search engine 3

Now Amazon prompts you with people, book titles and subjects. It thinks you might be searching for Theresa Caputo (star of Long Island Medium television show), books on therapy or popular titles like Wherever You Go, There You Are. (These prompts change over time, so your results may be different. Amazon likes to sell and recommend what’s hot now.)

Consider how these selling prompts may influence people as they type. Because the prompts are time-savers, people actually looking for those items will often scroll down and click on them. But how many of these prompts influence buyers who were searching for something else? Once the prompt appears a buyer may think, “Hmm, I’d love to know more about Theresa Caputo.” It probably happens frequently with Mrs. Caputo benefitting because she’s already a celebrity and her name begins with the same letters as many titles and subjects: T-H-E-R.

Step 3: Your Turn to Experiment

Now that we’ve chatted about Amazon’s search bar and selling prompts, how might this feature help you sell books? Begin by playing around with multiple search terms related to your book, analyzing the prompts along with their results when clicked. Then you can make incremental changes to your keywords and metadata that will help your book match up with those terms over time. Even though prompts may change in the months ahead, there are still good strategies that come from this.

Let’s discuss some examples. Like any book, yours has a title, possibly a subtitle, categories, keywords and interior text that help both readers and Amazon’s search engine determine the content. (I didn’t mention the description because my experiments have shown Amazon’s search engine does not currently index the words of the description, although Google’s does).

For instance, let’s say you wrote a novel called The Day I Met Dad about a man traveling into the past in attempt to get to know his father, who had died just before his son’s birth. The novel has elements of science-fiction, family relationships and humor. Those genre-related terms may enter your keyword list, but one subject of major importance is time travel. You may consider all sorts of keywords like time machine, time travel, time traveler, time traveling or even versions with the British spelling: travelling. My advice is to begin by typing the word “time” into the search bar. You may also need to start typing the next word to see results relevant to your novel. Here are prompts that arise with T-I-M-E–T:

Amazon search engine 6

Clearly the term “time travel” is a great choice because it’s the first selling prompt. When clicking on that prompt for “time travel” you may notice the book results are different than if you had typed “time travels” into a search. This is why it’s important to experiment with closely related words. I would also choose a keyword like “time travel fiction” over “time travel novel” for the same reason.

Other things to consider are the books that result after clicking the prompt. How many results does Amazon list, shown on the left corner of the screen? More results can make it more challenging to rise to the first page, which is why it helps to optimize each element of your book as I’ll explain later. How many of the titles have “time travel” in them? The title and subtitle carry huge metadata importance to Amazon’s search engine, so if your novel doesn’t have that element in the title, it will be more difficult to rise to the first page of results. In that case a subtitle would help, like The Day I Met Dad: A Time Travel Fiction. I know some authors may find that subtitle unattractive, but it will assist immensely with the search engine offering the book from a subject search. (It’s an option that can always be added later to a KDP book.)

For another example, let’s say you wrote a memoir about overcoming a history of drug abuse. A preliminary list of keywords might include drug abuse, drug abuse memoir, drug addict, drug addiction, drug addiction recovery and more. When playing around with Amazon’s search prompts, some things become apparent by the time these letters are typed: D-R-U-G–A.

Amazon search engine 7

The top three results are all relevant to the story, which would make great keyword choices. When I added a “d” to the end, “drug addiction recovery” was also a good choice.

What about genre? I believe subject matter and genres are less like to change as much over time compared to prompts for people, characters and bestselling titles. Let’s say you wrote a novel that involves elements of historical romance. Type H-I-S-T into the search bar and see these prompts:

Amazon search engine 9

Again, I would choose “historical fiction” and “historical romance” over “historical novel” or “historical novels.”

We could go on all day with analyzing selling-prompts, and you can at home with your own examples. Below are some tips for implementing keyword choices to help Amazon’s search engine connect these terms to your book, along with reminders for how time may change things.

Titles and Subtitles

When possible, adding a keyword or two to titles and subtitles helps immensely with search results. This is easier for nonfiction, but many fiction books can benefit as well by finding ways to get keywords into the title or subtitle, as in the time travel example above. Obviously this is something you’ll want to do only once, and so it makes more sense with genre and subject matter than a term that might be just a trend.

KDP Keywords

Amazon lets you insert seven keywords (or short phrases) into a box in the KDP dashboard. Use all seven choices with some variety, e.g. not just related to time travel. There’s no need to insert your author name, especially if you’ve created a profile at Amazon Author Central. If you published through a press that doesn’t give you access to your KDP dashboard, find out what those keywords are and consider requesting a change if they don’t seem helpful. This is a very quick process and can be changed again any time. You may want to check your keywords in Amazon searches every six months and see the results for both selling prompts and your book in the results. It’s really easy to make alterations when that seems like a wise choice.


Amazon lets you pick two categories and will sometimes assign extras of its own choosing. These categories should be keyword related and often can be linked to special Amazon-recognized keywords as this tutorial explains: Make Your Book More Discoverable with Keywords. This is another area than can be checked over time and easily changed in your KDP dashboard.

Interior Book Text

For paperbacks with the Look Inside feature, Amazon indexes about the first 20% of the book’s text for search terms. You can load up with a dozen or more keywords and add them to the bottom of your copyright page, which generally doesn’t get read by readers but does by Amazon’s search engine. This might be a line like “Subjects include: time travel, time travel fiction, time travel books, science fiction, humorous fiction, family relationships, fathers and sons” and a few more terms you found during research. Remember to place this somewhere that will be read by the search engine but probably not by readers. I make changes to this about once a year, but I’m fairly obsessive about these things.


Amazon does not currently index the book’s description even though their tutorials claim they do. Believe me; I’ve experimented plenty of times with my own titles. However, Google does index the Product Page description, and so Google search results for your description will show up listing the Amazon book. For that reason, and because Amazon could alter their program, it’s worthwhile to include the same “Subjects include:” line discussed above at the very end of your description to help with Google searches, though this is the least effective method outlined here.

Extra Option: Cross-Test at Google Keyword Planner

Since this post is already long and focused on Amazon, I don’t want to over-complicate it. But for those who want to go the extra step, you can cross-test keyword choices at Google’s Keyword Planner to get rough numbers on how many people type your exact keyword choices into Google searches. A similar ratio should exist at Amazon.

Remember that you can experiment with keywords and categories, then give it a few months to a year, and make changes if you don’t see improvements when searching for your book. And you don’t have to be as obsessive as I am to benefit from it. Have fun while making discoveries.


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Bestselling Keywords for Amazon Authors Video Course

keywords for authorsAuthors, are your keywords doing their job? When you type your own book’s keywords into Amazon searches, does your book appear in the results?

If your books aren’t popping up in the results of Amazon searches, it will be hard for potential readers to find it. Some of this is a matter of simply using keywords better. This video explains that and much more using Amazon’s internal search engine and Google’s Keyword Planner in easy to follow steps.

The video course, Bestselling Keywords for Amazon Authors, has just been released at Udemy and other educational retailers. For a very limited time, a free coupon will be available to new students on a first come, first serve basis. Once the coupons are gone, they are gone. Here is the coupon code: AUGUSTKEYWORDS. After they expire, a sale price coupon will be available here: KEYWORD7.

Course description:

Most readers find books at Amazon by typing terms into the search bar. Think of Amazon as a search engine and these terms being keywords, which are misunderstood by many authors. Using keywords wisely in every aspect related to your book makes an enormous different for how many people find your book.

This course is designed for writers about to publish and for authors already selling books on Amazon. It explains everything in an easy to follow method to help you find and implement the best keywords for your book, whether it’s already published or not.

Taught by Jason Matthews, an author, speaker and publishing coach, this course gives your book the advantages it needs to reach a greater audience. Each video lesson shows real-time examples at the sites you’ll be using. All of the videos are between 2 and 5 minutes, making it simple to follow and implement the advice.

Doing better with keywords and Amazon searches leads to good things: more people will find your books, which means more people will buy your books.

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Formatting MS Word for Amazon Kindle

For a limited time this new video course, Formatting MS Word for Amazon Kindle, will be available for free. First come, first serve until the coupons are gone: AugustFormattingExtras. (Once expired, this sale price coupon will still work: FORMAT7.)

The video below is just the Preview. Click here for the course.

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Intrigue Queen, Branding an Indie Author’s no secret indie authors need to market their books, but how many are branding themselves? It’s one thing to pick a genre and produce multiple books–it’s another to intentionally build a brand.

This is why we can learn a few things from Alana Woods, who splits time between the UK and Australia. Besides writing gripping novels (winner of the Australian Fast Books Prize for Best Fiction), she’s a source of great ideas on writing and marketing.

Alana, how does an author brand herself?

Alana WoodsEvery indie author knows that promotion and marketing is our own responsibility.

It isn’t essential, but to focus my mind I made a business plan and it consists of this.

  1. A brand to build exposure—Alana Woods is the Intrigue Queen. I chose this because I write suspenseful thrillers. It’s the central theme around which I market my product.
  2. My target market—The narrow market is book publishing. The wider market is the entertainment industry as books not only compete with other books but also TV, cinema, games etc.
  3. My product—What I write, packaged in books.
  4. Where my product sits in the market—Narrow market: genre. Wider market: books.
  5. Where to place my product—Online and/or physical book stores, direct selling.
  6. My goal—To be the top selling author in my genre.
  7. Strategies to achieve my goal—Promotion and marketing. Currently it revolves around ebooks and paperbacks. Eventually it will include audiobooks and foreign translations.
  8. Hanging on to the apron strings of 7 is the question: are there any circumstances unique to me as an Australian author? I were starting an actual business and wanted a loan my bank would require me to identify the competition. I’d also have to detail my projected growth, i.e., market penetration, number of sales, takings and profit over a given number of years.

Identifying the competition is one thing but projections … I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t pulling figures out of the air. Fortunately I don’t have to satisfy the bank.

“So what does Brand Alana Woods do?”

Steps 1 to 4 of the business plan: Writing is Paramount

First and foremost I write. I need a product to promote and market.

Publishers and others in the game will advise sticking to one genre and becoming known in it. But as an indie I can cast a wider net.

Alana Woods imbroglio cover Alana Woods automaton cover Alana Woods 25 tips covers Alana Woods Tapestries cover

Principally I’m a thriller fiction writer. Imbroglio and Automaton.

But because editing is my profession and I’ve done quite a bit of work with other authors, I’ve also produced a writing guide. 25 Essential Writing Tips: Guide to Writing Good Fiction.

Then there’s my book of short stories. Most authors have a collection they’ve written over the years and I’m no exception. Tapestries and Other Short Stories.’m currently working on a third thriller (Dragline) and considering an editing guide to add to my how-to’s.

I have another string to my bow. I’m an editor. I consider the expertise this experience gives me is invaluable in making me a better writer because in honing someone else’s manuscript I’m honing my own writing skills. A spin-off is that if the authors I’ve worked with like the results they may promote me, which could lead to more readers seeking my books.

Step 5: Product Placement

I’ve done both direct selling of hard copies and online selling through Amazon exclusively to date. Direct selling for me consists of bookshops, speaking engagements, book shows, libraries, book clubs and weekend markets.

Promotional material is essential when direct selling: a poster or two and business cards especially, but bookmarks are also handy and well-received.

Steps 6 and 7: Goals and Strategies

I’m continually striving to achieve my goal and there is a continuing learning curve.

I have used social media in every way recommended by already successful authors. To begin with I flung a very wide net but soon learned to be discriminating. I focus now on Facebook, Twitter and Goodreads and to a lesser extent Google+ and LinkedIn. I have a presence in Pinterest. (click icons below for Alana’s links)

icon Facebook 2 icon Goodreads icon Twitter icon Google Plus icon linkedin 2

I engage with core groups on Facebook, those like Jason’s that have members committed to helping others as well as themselves. I also belong to several Goodreads groups.

I post regularly on my website-blog, featuring articles targeting authors with writing, editing and other writing-skewed information and readers with book reviews and author interviews.

I chase book reviews but am not anal about it. I believe they’re important because the more reviews a book has the more widely read and desirable it will appear to potential buyers.

As for family and friends. I don’t pester them. I request a shout out for a new book and after that if they’re willing to help they’ll do so spontaneously. Those who have helped have made a big difference by finding bookshops to stock my books, lining up book-club engagements and buying dozens of copies to give as presents for birthdays, Christmas etc. You can’t beat word of mouth.

I accept invitations for guest blog articles and author interviews because all they cost me is a little time and they help spread the word.

To date I’ve succumbed only once to paying for advertising or promotion. I’ve just joined BOTM (the Venture Galleries Book of the Moment Club) and paid $49.99 per book for a one-week feature for my two thrillers. The books then remain in the BOTM catalogue. It’s a new venture so I don’t have feedback yet.

Babelcube logoTranslations are now looking possible with the appearance of a new translation service—Babelcube. It operates like ACX, offering translations into other languages for a royalty split instead of an up-front fee. I’ll be giving this a go.

Step 8: Unique Circumstances for International Authors

As an Australian author if I wanted to use the traditional publishing route my publisher would decide where my book would be sold: within Australia only or also overseas. Until WWII the UK had a stranglehold on the English-language global book market. The US split off after the war. If you’re interested in a bit of detail, here’s a link.

E-publishing has demolished that wall. Authors in every nook and cranny of the world can now publish our own books wherever we please. Ebooks and paperbacks, that is.

ACX Amazon Audio BooksBut unless you’re in the US and UK, audiobooks are still out of reach. Amazon’s ACX is available in those countries only. Amazon holds out hope that this will change. (See my audiobook production articles for more on this.) And as far as I’ve been able to ascertain, Amazon has the market cornered; there are no alternatives.

Another factor—that I’ll only touch on today because this article is already long enough—is parochialism. Believe it or not, in this digital publishing age, my two thrillers have been criticised for being parochial. In the 1960s, when Australian artists and writers were deserting the country like rats abandoning a sinking ship, their reason for doing so was because Australia was a cultural wasteland no-one was interested in. I thought that thinking was well and truly behind us. Apparently not!


Am I achieving my goals? You’ll be the first to know when I’ve made my first million and maybe I’ll see you in the winner’s circle—we can have a celebratory drink and toast our successes! (Yes, we will–I’ll get the bubbly on ice.)

Questions or comments for Alana Woods? Please share them in the section below or by clicking here.

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My Babelcube Experience, Author Seeks Translators (part 1)

Babelcube logoWhat author wouldn’t love to have her/his books translated into other languages? Babelcube could be your dream come true. I see you’re reading the Danish version of my latest… hope you enjoy…

The concept of Babelcube is genius; they put authors and translators together to create foreign versions of the author’s book. Additionally, they distribute those books to retailers and offer a fine royalty to both author and translator. For authors,  it’s free to sign up with minimal effort, and the royalties increase as sales do plus you have a translator with vested interest in selling books.

(also see part 2 of My Babelcube Experience)

Too good to be true?

Maybe, maybe not. Definitely deserves a test run.

I found the upload process user-friendly. Just sign up (for free), fill out a profile and add books. The standard stuff goes there including title, cover image, description, genre, 2000 max character sample and more. They only accept books already listed on Amazon. You’re asked to briefly write about existing sales/rankings plus give website links, social media, Goodreads and more to show your commitment to author platform and marketing. This is a good thing IMO, something perspective translators probably appreciate. (Here’s an example of an author’s Babelcube page:

After filling out that info, you wait. Within a few days two offers came in for two of my books, one for an Italian translation and the other for Spanish. The translators wrote in perfect English, which gave me some peace of mind (see below), and you can research them as well. Along with the offers came sample translations of the first page or two so I could check with foreign friends who read Italian and Spanish before moving on to the next stage.

(Save 92% Sell Ebooks on Amazon and Major Retailers)

Stage 2 is sending your entire book minus any of the front or back matter. The translators work on the first 10 pages and return it. Then you go back to your foreign friends and see if those 10 pages read well. At this point you can still cancel the deal. Otherwise, if you like it and want to move forward, you agree to the full translation and go from there. (I’m waiting on the first 10 pages from both translators and will follow-up as this continues and link them here. *Update: the Italian version has been approved and is due for full translation by Sept. 16th.*)

Peace of mind?

One obvious concern is if a translator has a high-end translation software and uses that instead of doing an actual human translation; the results might pass my tests but upset a foreign reader. Do I really know enough people who read fluently and can identify a high-end software translation versus a human one? That remains to be seen, and Babelcube’s FAQ section is fairly limited in this regard. I emailed their support with this question and received no response to date. Bummer.

Payments – The Bottom Line

The translators make the most when the book generates less than $2000 in royalties, and the author does better as more books are sold. Babelcube’s cut is 15% across the board. Remember the translator is doing all the initial work and has the most at risk. Good for authors as the translator wants to sell books when they are published.

Babelcube royalties chartWhat about distribution partners and retailers? These are all the biggies with more probably entering the picture soon.

Babelcube retail partners

I’m an optimist and am going for it, but it wouldn’t surprise me if people have concerns about piracy, rights, length of terms, professionalism and more.

(also see part 2 of My Babelcube Experience)

Any comments, please leave them below or click here for the comments section.

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