Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Understanding The Difference Between Search Categories & Book Tags @ Amazon (& Other On-Line Book Sites)

There seems to be quite a bit of misinformation and certainly many authors get mixed up when trying to find the right way to "categorize" a book. Amazon perfectionists will remind you over and over again to make sure you "create tags" for your book. (This by the way is used on other sites as well.) The tagging system while important, may not be as critical as they make it sound at times. So in this post I am going to try and explain and show the differences between a Category, Search Keywords and Book Tags, without mixing you up too much and the purpose of each.

I should mention this all came about because of a mistake I made and then discovered a bit late, but better late than never. It also made me further my research into this "muddy" area, which seems to be a matter of debate. This post is not to belittle those who think tags are critical and important and ask everyone to check their tags. It is to explain the difference between Categories-Search Keywords and Tags.

Both these systems are created to allow people to find your book in an easier manner. Yet both work in entirely different manners, and certainly the "Category" system and its sub-system of "Search Keywords" on Amazon (of 5 search categories in Print and 7 in Kindle books) is vastly more important and demands much more thought than your "tags" and getting people to click on them and agree with them. Amazon has some gotcha's which I am not sure many authors and certainly the readers in search of a book will know about. It also can be confusing without being given real life examples so I will provide one here. If you just replace the category and tag I am going to give in this example, ("Passover"), with your own, it should be simple to grasp the differences. 

My first short story collection, "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" contains 1 story with a very clear Passover motif among other things. This book is available in Kindle (and other formats) and in Print. I also released some of the stories within "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" in singular Ebook format, in other words 1 short story per Ebook, and the story with the Passover motif, was released singularly as well. This story is called "Elijah's Coins".

Now since Passover is coming up, I went ahead and in both the Paperback and Kindle version of "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" put a "tag" of Passover. I did the same thing with the single Ebook of "Elijah's Coins". What are these tags? Let me show you.

Though the above is not totally clear, I wanted to give you a full screen. On top you can see check boxes with tags. But it does not show all the tags on the book (each person can add or check off to agree). You also can see all the tags by clicking on the "See All XX Tags". You can also "Search Products Tagged With:". It is fairly comprehensive. So one may think that tagging your product as I did with the word "passover" will cause it to show up in search when someone logs in to Amazon and types "Passover" in books. Right? Very, very wrong!

What happens is as follows:

When you tag a book if someone clicks on a tag from another book that you also have, or does a search for a specific tag, in this case "Passover" they will get your book. As follows:

As you can see from the above clicking on the tag "Passover" brings us to a screen where "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" is listed as #10. Now that should make anyone happy, right? Well hold on a second, because even though Amazon experts use tags, most people looking for a book do not. They go about it a whole different way.

Now, before I go on, I will say that adding a tag to your book is basically instantaneous. It may take a couple of hours for the system to regurgitate your tag, but it is fast both in Kindle and Print. 

Still you have not solved the problem of how to get "normal readers" to see your book. And let me again show you why.

I placed a red box around the Search Parameter. That says "Products Tagged With". However, if you are a customer or you simply go into Amazon with the idea of finding a book you are not going to see in that drop-down list -  "Products Tagged With"! Nearest I can tell is the only way to get to it is to first click on a tag in any book then that option of  "Products Tagged With" will appear. Otherwise it is impossible to get to.

So say you are a customer looking for books on Passover. You are not an Amazon expert. You call up Amazon on your screen, you go to the Search Books and you type in "Passover". Guess what? That search does not work on tags. It works on Categories & Keywords. And if you do not have a Search Keyword of Passover but just a tag, your book tagged "Passover" will never ever show up for that customer in Search. And how do you think most customers search for books?

Okay. Now you say, what do I do? Well this takes a little long range planning because changing categories on a Print book or even a Kindle book takes time. In Kindle you will have to go into the screen of publishing and change a Keyword and actually do the whole "review" and "Publishing" routine which will take anywhere from 12-24 hours usually. In Print books you have to change the category and be patient 24-48  hours is the norm. I will show you where to do it.

In Kindle go to your Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing Page under Bookshelf. Click on your book. On the first page you should see this as #3.

Now the Category above is a clear category established not by Amazon but by the Print Industry. The "Search Keywords" is where you have some leeway. These are the keywords that are used in the normal search by the normal customer. So these are the keywords that will cause your book to appear in any search. You have a maximum of 7 keywords here. You can make them very specific or very general. BUT every time you change them you will have to re-publish and wait 12-24 hours for the effects to be seen on the site. As you can see I put Passover in place of another keyword. This will be temporary until the holiday passes. But now what happens? Let me show you again.

As you can see the search term on top is for the Kindle Store and "Passover" and ugh! now instead of being #10 and showing on the first page "Ancient Tales, Modern Legends" is at 75 in Kindle. Not fair! But fair or not, that is how normal customers are usually going to find your book - not with the tagging system.

Now for the print version assuming you used CreateSpace. Log In to your CS account. Click on the book. You should see something like below.

We need the Distribute option specifically the "Description". So click on that.

The BISAC Category once again is not specific to Amazon. But the Search Keywords are for you to add and you have in this case 5 options. I obviously placed the word Passover there, and then I had to Save, and then it takes 24-48 hours for it to go live. Usually 48. 

My mistake was that I did not do this soon enough before Passover, so the book really had no chance to be in the "Passover" Category. But let us now see what happens when I go to Search Books and type Passover, then click on Literature & Fiction.

And Viola. there you have it. Search Literature & Fiction ---> Passover and both books appear in all formats. 

So Lessons To Be Learned:
  1. Tags are important. However, most normal Amazon users will just search and not use the tags to find books. Indeed, you cannot use tags initially to find a book unless you get to the box "Search for products with tags".
  2. Search Categories and Categorization determine how and where your book shows up in "normal search" in Amazon and most other sites Thus the Categories and Search Keywords are critical to your public finding you.
  3. Plan in advance. Tags are immediate. Categories and Search Keywords take time. 
  4. Spend some time thinking how much you wish to drill down or keep it general with Search Keywords. Too deep in a tree and a buyer may never type the whole thing in. Too general and you will never be found.
  5. You need to plan keywords and test them. Go to Amazon type in a keyword you wish to use and see how many hits there are on it. If you are getting in the gazillions you are too general. If you are getting 100 hits, my guess is you drilled too deep down into the category. This takes time and patience. It is not immediate.
  6. You like tags? Go for them after all you do have 15 of them. 
  7. Make sure you get the keywords as best as you can. In print you only have 1 Major BISAC Category & 5 "search keywords". In electronic you have 2 Major Categories & 7 search keywords So use them with wisdom.
  8. When all else fails "never sweat the little stuff".
Hope all this helped. 

Books by Ted William Gross

If you wish to purchase the books at Smashwords click here.


Angela McConnell said...

This is an awesome post...and really helpful. I think a lot of folks are confused about the importance of tags and how to use them (including moi). Thank you for this! :)

Matthew Rowe said...

Yeah, I have never ever used tags in a search. I always know what I'm looking for on Amazon and just search for the title or author.

T.R.Heinan said...

This is really a great post, very, very helpful