Crash Course in SEO for Authors
Indie authors promoting self-published works and writing-related blog content have probably learned that SEO (Search Engine Optimization) isn’t exactly a science—but it’s certainly not intuitive, either. It’s that perfect blend of human behavior, algorithms, good choices, and luck that gets Google’s attention.
Even with top-notch keyword choice and placement, you’re unlikely to rocket to the number one search result. SEO strategy isn’t a fast-paced game, it’s The Tortoise and the Hare: Slow and steady, logical choices, and taking time to build your best strategy rather than rushing to the finish line and assuming you’ve won. Authors: to get noticed by Google, consider these three easy SEO tips—then tweak and update your strategy as you see what works for you.
1) Do Your Keyword Research—the Right Way.
Sure, an average of 8,000 people search for ‘self publishing’ each month—but if your post is about your indie-published romance novel rather than the self-publishing process itself, you won’t get any traction there. The results that dominate in that area are—and always will be—self-publishing companies, resources, and paid ads. High search volume means there’s interest around the topic, but search engines are designed to send the right traffic to the right content, not the content that uses the keyword most.
A picture book about a superhero squirrel needs keywords as suited for the job as that furry rodent is to their job. If, somehow (chances = slim), someone ends up finding your squirrel masterpiece via a search for ‘self-publishing,’ they’re going to bounce. They’ll hit that back button as quickly as one can say ‘Superhero Squirrels Saving Someone,’ and that sends a signal to Google: Nope, my mistake, this is not the information I am looking for.
Instead, reward searchers with content that matches their query. Rather than targeting the keyword with the most average monthly searches, focus on what you do, what you offer, and for whom.
Do this with the dynamic SEO duo: Product listings and content. While the options are only as limited as your imagination, check out these examples to get you started.
- Create a shop page with detailed, relevant product listings (and links for purchase, if not on your website!) for any books or companion products.
- Give readers a sneak peek at the art from your graphic novels.
- Offer up a list of favorite indie bookshops that carry your debut YA Fantasy novel.
- Include reviews to show that readers have enjoyed your books.
- Allow moderated comments on your blog posts—and engage with posters—to gain traction via user-generated content.
- Give a video play-by-play and accompanying transcript of how you plotted your heart-pounding thriller, from notecards to final draft.
- Create evergreen content about the writing craft to draw traffic year-round.
So you’ve found the keyword phrases and content made to draw the traffic you want to attract. Once you get them to your site, give them a reason to stay. How? Do what you do best:
2) Write for People, Not Robots.
You’re an author. You totally know what synonyms are. And, here’s the good news: They’re awesome for SEO. One might even say they’re great, fantastic, helpful, or excellent. They’re also off-putting (read the previous sentence as an example). But that doesn’t mean you can’t use them: Synonyms are often useful for working in additional keywords. Just don’t overdo it, and everyone’s happy. Synonyms help you avoid ‘keyword stuffing,’ or cramming your keywords in for the sake of including them.
There’s some outdated SEO info that’s still floating around: Use the target keyword a specific number of times in your copy. Forget that, it’s not what Google wants. The point of search engines is to return the most relevant information. Search engines do this in a combination of ways, but ensuring you’ve used the exact keyword phrase “fantasy with dragon-based lore” seven times isn’t one of them.
The goal is to create content people want to read, reference, and share—not to find keywords and trick people into thinking it’s the content they need. While keyword research has a place in content planning, you’re probably stressing yourself out more than necessary when trying to weave keywords into your copy. Write content first, then include keywords where it feels natural.
Bonus tip: Spiders—the little bots that crawl the web looking for delicious morsels of content—hunt down keywords to get an idea of what each page is all about. Want to help the bots figure it out? Schema markup for creative works is your friend.
3) Lasting Content Matters.
Merriam-Webster defines evergreen as “[…]universally and continually relevant.” Creating evergreen content for your blog gives people a path to your website. Google and other search engines look for the best answer to users’ queries. Providing a clear, thoughtful—and accurate—answer is one way to gain traction. To attract organic traffic (the kind you’re not paying for!), provide relevant information, then hook your audience from there. While the most sensational news and gossip can bring a few visits, the best practice is to provide long-lasting content about topics that will be as relevant in three years as it is today.
Instead of only posting about new releases or book tour events, include industry-specific content with some staying power to build authority in the topic—and boost your Google ranking. Try book reviews, author interviews, novel plotting templates or worksheets, self-paced learning guides, or tips for productivity techniques for authors.
While we’re talking content: Organization matters. Make your site easy to navigate, so people can access it regardless of assistive technology, preferred device, or browsing style. Link with intent, build your navigation menu for people instead of bots, and create a linking strategy that includes properly formatted internal links within evergreen content.
SEO Next Steps
Keywords? Check. Product copy and content? Check. Easily accessible? Check. What now? Check out Google Search Console (it’s a free SEO tool with plenty of documentation!) and Google Analytics to keep an eye on what’s working well, what needs improvement, and to spot any trends, then adjust your SEO strategy as necessary.
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