Search engine optimization can sound like a highly complex term with a lot of moving parts, especially for authors who may not have any experience with it. Getting found online is an essential part of driving up book sales, landing author interviews, and even establishing credibility among literary agents, editors, publishers, and the press. Despite how complex and vast SEO might seem to you as an author, I’m going to break down the most important tips for making your author brand or your next book show up higher in search engines.
In this article, we’ll focus on how to build your online presence overall, how to do keyword research for your niche, how to build backlinks for your website, and how you can structure your website to get found more often too.
SEO for Books and Authors is Different
It’s important to understand early on that SEO for books and authors is unique compared to SEO for other industries like retail brands, financial advisors, or software developers. Unlike other more traditional brands, authors could be selling any number of book types in various genres. Also, with each genre being so highly competitive, you have to consider how someone might stumble upon your website without having prior knowledge that you exist as an author.
This is very different than if you were…say…a financial advisor selling very specific types of services that never change. In that case, you could focus on putting content on your website about those specific services that would help you earn higher rankings in Google over time. You could also run search ads for specific terms related to those services to drive potential customers to your site even more.
On the other hand, if you’re an independent fantasy author with a new book on the way, it’s hard to tell what someone might need to search to find your specific book. Even if they were to search for “new indie fantasy fiction releases” on Google, there is so much competition in that genre that you might still have trouble ranking for such a search term even if it’s what you focused extensively on.
So what is the answer? How do you know where to focus your author SEO when there are millions of authors and books and the competition is so vast?
Competitive Analysis for Authors
Yes, the word analysis sounds like a heavy and time-consuming word, but this isn’t going to be either of those. As an author, you probably don’t want to feel like you’re competing with other authors, either. You probably look up to and want to walk in the footsteps of the authors you’re technically competing with. It’s okay. I get it. When it comes to doing competitive analysis as an author for building your SEO and marketing your book online, it’s meant to serve as a research tool and springboard for your SEO—not to compete for book sales with another author.
Don’t Reinvent What’s Already Been Done
Analyzing your competitors (i.e., your favorite genre-related authors) is one of the best ways to build your author SEO strategy without having to become an SEO expert or create a plan from scratch. Think about it. Your favorite authors have done something right to find their success, so if you learn how to emulate their strategies, you can achieve similar results online.
Keep in mind that talent also plays a big role in how many book sales you’ll continue to get after publication, but regardless of how great your book may be, it won’t garner sales if no one knows it exists. By choosing several of the authors most related to your genre, and then researching their SEO and marketing strategies, you will be able to pinpoint essential techniques that you can incorporate into your author and book SEO plan.
Research Your Favorite Author’s Web Presence
To get started with competitive analysis, pick 2 to 5 authors that closely match the expectation you have for your writing career. These could be authors with awards, bestseller credits, large social media audiences, and high ratings on Amazon or Goodreads. After you’ve picked the authors you’ll be analyzing, grab a notebook or open a Google Doc so that you can take notes on what you find during your research.
Initially, you’ll need to do some generalized Google searching to get a solid grasp of a specific author’s online presence. To do this, we’re going to use one of my favorite SEO tools called Ubersuggest. If you’re looking for the easy and affordable route to SEO, you should leverage Ubersuggest because it will help you easily determine your personal website’s SEO score, as well as show you valuable insights into the authors you’re comparing yourself to. You’ll find content ideas, keyword ideas, and backlink ideas all in one mostly free tool!
The primary information you’re looking for within Ubersuggest is the Top Pages by Traffic, the Keywords by Traffic, and the Backlinks Overview. Running the scans in these areas is going to tell you which pages on the author’s website get the most traffic, which keywords they are currently ranking for in Google, and what kind of press marketing they are getting through backlinks.
When scanning author Kristin Hannah’s website for Traffic by Keywords, I can see which keywords or keyphrases she is ranking for, as well as the SEO difficulty for such terms.
When I review her Top Pages by Traffic, I’m able to see which pages on her website are the most popular.
Finally, when I review the Backlinks Overview, I’m able to see who/where Kristin Hannah has collaborated to build her online presence. This backlink data is critical for you when you’re brainstorming an author or book marketing strategy for yourself.
Review Your Favorite Author’s Social Media Strategy
We all know that social media can be great for building your audience, but let’s be honest and admit that it isn’t always easy to grow on certain social platforms. Depending on how well-known you might be as an author, growing on Instagram and Twitter might just happen for you on autopilot. However, if you’re like most small or self-published authors, it can prove to be a challenge.
Spend some time reviewing your competitive authors on social media. Don’t get intimidated by how many followers they have, or how much engagement they get per post. Also, don’t feel compelled to copy them on your personal social media channels. Instead, pay attention to the kinds of content they post, as well as the engagement they might be getting on those posts. Ask yourself how you can create similar content that is aligned with your author brand.
Also, avoid creating an account on too many social media platforms. You indeed win at what you focus on, so if you don’t feel like you can be consistent on certain platforms, avoid them until you can. Instead, choose maybe one or two platforms that you know you enjoy and can consistently post on. Which platforms are your competitive authors using? Which ones have the most followers and engagement? Based on what you find, you may end up making an unexpected decision about which platforms are best for you as an author.
When it comes to social media, the most important element to analyze and consider is the engagement strategy being used by that competitive author. Engagement is essential for building your online presence because it means your fans are talking about you and sharing your website or book links online.
For example, if you type in Kristin Hannah on YouTube, you’ll find quite a few video interviews and book reviews by large channels. These videos are most certainly driving up traffic to her website, as well as increasing overall awareness and sales for Kristin. If these channels are willing to do interviews or book reviews within the genre you’re in, then you should consider reaching out to them yourself to get an interview or book review.
The more times you can get people to mention, link, and share your author brand or books online, the more your online presence will grow. And that, my friends, is a huge part of how effective author search engine optimization works!
Keyword Research for Authors
Understanding the keywords and search terms related to your genre as a writer is a great way to determine the best website pages and content you should have on your author website. Not only that, but it can help you make better decisions about the kind of media collaborations that will most impact the growth of your online presence.
As someone who has been working with technical SEO best practices for the last 8 years, I want you to know that keywords on your website are not going to play the same role that they do for a traditional business entity. The world of books is highly competitive so, depending on your genre, it could be impossible for you to rank number one on Google for targeted keywords. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t show up number one for your book title, your author name, etc.
For example, if you’re a mystery writer looking to drive more traffic to your website for any search terms related to mystery novels, you’re looking at a real challenge.
Remember that people who enjoy mystery novels and who are looking for something new to read, may not know who you are yet. So to grab their attention, you may think it’s a good idea to stuff your website with keywords related to this genre. I’m here to tell you that’s not a good idea, nor how you should use keyword research as an author. Scrambling to rank for such broad genre terms is a race to the bottom as an author. You’ll simply never move fast enough to stay on top.
So how can you use keyword research as an author to boost your SEO? First, if you review the results for our keyword scan on Kristin Hannah’s website, you’ll notice that she ranks number one for her name, as well as for her book titles. She has an individual web page created for each book. Having individual book pages on your website is a great idea for your author website because it gives your collaborators a direct link to a specific book. Also, keep in mind that there may be other authors with the same name, so you want to make sure that it is easy for people to find you and learn about other books you’ve written if they need to.
Ideally, your author website should be the first search result someone sees if they search your book title or your name. This should be your top focus when it comes to SEO as an author. As for the rest, check out the next point about backlink strategy.
Backlink Strategy for Authors
Building high-quality backlinks as an author is perhaps the most important SEO tactic you can use to build your SEO and credibility as an author. What’s a backlink? You can think of a backlink as a “mention,” and it’s whenever someone links back to your website from somewhere else online. The more times someone “mentions” your website, the more SEO authority Google will give to your site. The more SEO authority your website has, the higher it will appear in search results.
As you build your brand and SEO as an author, it’s critical to enlist others with helping you increase awareness about your books. You can do this by reaching out directly to book reviewers on YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and other similar platforms. You can also use Ubersuggest to pinpoint the places your competitor authors have been backlinked from, then reach out to see if they would be interested in interviewing you as well.
These media websites and influencers already have an audience and the SEO authority to help you sell more books. It makes far more sense to let them do the heavy lifting when it comes to building your SEO and brand awareness, while you focus on making sure your author website has the same content/pages that your competitive authors have. You can review the Traffic by Keyword and Top Pages by Traffic sections of Ubersuggest to help you determine the essential pages for your author website.
Put It Into Practice
While author SEO is critical to your success as a writer, it’s certainly unique compared to traditional business types. As an author, your goal should be to show up online through positive engagement from book reviewers, press, and readers. Building a backlink strategy that’s specific to your genre is critical, and you can do that by analyzing other authors in your niche. Take note of all the places those authors show up online, then start taking steps to get yourself mentioned there as well.
You can leverage tools like Ubersuggest to get a better understanding of what kind of content you should have on your website, and how you might begin ranking for your book titles and author name. Search engine optimization is a complex beast, but it doesn’t have to be for authors if you can learn to tap into the audiences of others through collaborations, interviews, and book reviews.
We hope this guide to author SEO helped you. Good luck out there!
Mel Beasley has a bachelor’s in creative writing and journalism from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. He brings 9+ years of digital marketing and writing experience to the table by writing for publications such as Lumina News and Encore Magazine. He spent 2 years as a college-level writing tutor, and is a certified writing tutor through the CRLA, which is a prestigious cert recognized by the Association for the Coaching & Tutoring Profession. He is a professional SEO blogger with experience writing for brands such as Boardworks Education and The Greater Wilmington Business Journal. One of his latest website and marketing projects has been building the website for the now New York Times Bestselling author, Nina de Gramont.