A book’s description on retailer product pages impacts both readers’ purchasing decisions and the book’s discoverability. Not only does it inform potential readers about the book’s content and entice them to buy, but it also helps retailers and search engines like Google know how to index the book. When potential readers search for something relevant online, you want to make sure your book will appear in the search results, and the description can help.
Because an ebook’s retailer description is so important, authors and publishers often effectively craft copy for their new releases that is optimized for both metadata and user experience. But there are thousands of backlist books that may have been released before metadata played such a crucial role in discovery, and these titles could benefit greatly from improved description copy. According to Mike Shatzkin:
The backlist challenge is trickier and the results might not be as obvious. Two of the biggest drivers of ebook sales are discovery in response to search and the amplified effect of existing sales momentum in bestseller lists and retailer recommendations. (“People who bought this, bought that.”) A power law distribution seems inherent in ebook sales. Those that sell develop sales momentum; those that don’t remain hidden and buried.
But a lot of that has to do with metadata. Publishers have been getting better and better at writing the descriptive copy that determines whether search engines identity them as an “answer” to the right queries. That means that as you go back in time, the copy is less and less likely to be useful for the purpose.
When optimizing backlist book descriptions, scale is particularly challenging. Whether you’re an independent author or a publisher, if you have an extensive backlist, overhauling dozens (or even hundreds) of book descriptions is a huge endeavor. So what are the most important elements of a book’s description copy? What are the most impactful changes can you make?
1. Incorporate target keywords
It’s important to get an ebook’s metadata right so readers actively seeking related content will find the book at the top of their search results, whether they’re looking on Google search or an online book retailer.
First, make sure you’ve identified your target audience. Understand which queries your audience enters most often on search engines, and which keywords are less competitive than others. You can learn how to do this here.
Next, create a list of 5–7 important keywords you want to target. The keywords you choose depend on the genre, but some types of keywords might include:
- Plot themes (time travel, murder mystery, coming of age)
- Tone (dystopian, steampunk, romantic comedy)
- Setting (Tudor England, French Revolution)
- Character type (shape shifter, strong female protagonist, single mom)
Once you’ve created a list of keywords, try to include them on the book’s retailer product pages in the following locations:
- Description headline. When adding a description for the book, you can use header stylings. Search engines give headers more weight when determining what a web page is all about, so be sure to include your top keyword term in this space.
- Description. Don’t simply stuff your description with keywords. Instead, weave these terms into the book’s pitch, or include blurbs and endorsements you’ve received that include these terms.
- Keywords. This is separate from the description, but certain retailers also let you enter keywords you want to target. For example, Amazon allows you to enter seven keywords at the Target Your Book to Customers step in the Search Keywords text field, and Google Play allows you to add multiple “subjects” on the Settings tab.
Here are some excellent resources to help you learn more about how to optimize an ebook’s metadata:
- The Metadata Handbook by Digital Book World
- How to Improve Your Amazon Book Description & Metadata
- Metadata is the new most important thing to know about
2. Add accolades and blurbs
BookBub data shows that readers do care about the accolades and blurbs a book has received when making a purchasing decision. We often run split A/B tests to see what book description copy resonates most with our subscribers. To do this, we randomly send a slightly different version of the same BookBub Featured Deal blurb to two groups of our subscribers, leaving everything except the variant exactly the same.
Based on our test results, we’ve found a few things you could add to your description to increase its effectiveness:
- Include blurbs (aka, testimonials). Our tests showed that book descriptions with testimonials got an average of 22.6% higher click-through rates than those without.
- Choose quotes from authors instead of publications. While quotes from both authors and publications increased engagement, descriptions that included a quote from an author got an average 30.4% higher click-through rate than descriptions including a blurb from a publication. Note that in many cases, the authors quoted were big names in the specific genre of the book, so your results will depend on how recognizable the author or publication is in your particular genre. But our data shows that all else being equal, showcasing a quote from an author is a better bet.
- Include author awards. If the author has won an award in the past for any book, including this fact would increase clicks an average of 6.7%, especially if the award signified the genre of the book (for example, the Shamus Award for mysteries).
3. Cater to your audience’s interests
Again, writing your description is not about keyword stuffing — it’s a delicate balance of optimizing for your potential readers, search engines, and retailer algorithms. Once you know enough about your audience to know what kinds of books they’re searching for, you can make references to the genre, sub-genre, or relevant comparables you know they’re interested in.
Our A/B tests showed that catering the copy to your audience’s interests positively influences engagement. Including copy like “If you love thrillers, don’t miss this action-packed read!” instead of “An action-packed read!” increased clicks 15.8% on average. For historical fiction, including the time period in the description increased clicks an average of 25.1%.
The copy you choose greatly depends on your genre. If you write romance, what do your readers love about romance? If you write mysteries, what sort of mysteries do your readers enjoy? Drawing these parallels helps potential readers easily see how your book relates to their tastes.
4. Move the most impactful information to the beginning
Although Amazon’s book description character limit is 4,000 characters, you should move the most important elements of your description to the beginning to capture readers’ attention before they need to click the “Read more” link. The unexpanded space above “Read more” for Kindle books fits about 600 characters if you don’t have any paragraph breaks, and around 400 characters if you start with two short paragraphs.
Also be sure to clean up your formatting. Many book descriptions have extra line breaks between paragraphs, leading to wasted empty space at the beginning of the description. This causes the important text to be pushed down under the “Read more” link.
Because descriptions have a big impact on a book’s discoverability and a reader’s purchasing decision, it’s worth taking the time to make sure these four crucial elements are optimized for all your books, both old and new.
A note to publishers: Since scale is often the biggest hurdle when it comes to revamping hundreds of backlist titles, it could be helpful to get your authors involved in the process. They’re most familiar with their own books and audience, and will most likely be happy to help do what it takes to sell more copies. Send them a list of books that need updating and this post as a guide to getting started, and let them help you write the description for their books.
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