How to Use Keyword Research to Sell More Books

To get your book noticed by potential shoppers, you have to learn what kind of phrases customers search for on Amazon when they’re shopping. 

Luckily, there are easy ways to get this data. In their search box, Amazon has created a function that guesses what you’re typing; their suggestion is based on the popularity of what other shoppers type when they shop–the autofill function. 

Today, we’ll look at how you can use this free feature and a few free tools–along with a trusty notepad and pen–to gather your keywords and, ultimately, promote and sell more books

In this article, you’ll learn:

  1. How to find keywords for your book.
  2. What free tool you can use to pick out ‘buyer keywords.’
  3. How to tell competitive keywords from uncompetitive ones.

Part One: Find Your Keywords

Prepare Your Browser

The first step is a short and very important one. I made this its own step to ensure you wouldn’t miss it. 

When you go to do keyword research, you need to put your browser on incognito mode, or private mode, depending on what browser you use. Here is a quick video on how to set your browser to private mode. 

We use incognito mode because, on your regular browser, your search history is used to match your search results to your needs. That’s great for everyday use, but when doing keyword research, you want the results to be as objective as possible. 

Visit Amazon and Start Searching

Before you start typing anything into the search bar, make sure that you’ve selected the ‘Kindle Store’ from the list of browsing categories in the drop down menu on the search bar. Or, if you’re looking for hard copies, you’d select ‘Books.’ That way, you’ll know that any result that comes up is relevant to books and not other products on Amazon.

Now, get out your notepad and pen. 

Start typing phrases into the Amazon search bar that are related to your genre and to your book. Note down what Amazon instantly pre-populates in the search box. The goal in this step is to narrow your search down to specific examples. So, rather than generic phrases like ‘how to write’ or even ‘how to write a book,’ you’ll want highly targeted phrases like, ‘how to write a horror novel’ or ‘how to write a good business book.’ Write down all the potential keywords that suit your book. 

You can add a single letter to the end of each phrase and note the auto-fill results, as well. For example, ‘how to write an a,’ ‘how to write a b,’ ‘how to write a c,’ and so on.

I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by what Amazon gives you as a suggestion. Keep in mind, it’s important that you don’t choose keywords that violate any of Amazon’s Keyword requirements (it’s under the “Keywords to Avoid” section). 

Part Two: Honing Your Search

Now that you’ve got your keywords, let’s zero in on which of those keywords are selling books. There could be popular searches that won’t bring as many sales as you’d like. 

To discover which keywords are ‘buyer’ keywords, search for that phrase on Amazon–again, using incognito mode–and open the top three results. From there, you’ll need the book’s ABSR–the Amazon Best Seller Rank. Basically, the ABSR is a store-wide ranking that updates hourly. It takes into account the amount of sales and borrows that a book has had in the past day and the current one. The better the rank, the more books it has sold. 

To figure out how many copies of a book have been sold, you can use my free Kindle Calculator. All you need to do is copy and paste the ABSR into the calculator and it’ll do the rest. 

For example, if the book has an ABSR of 23452, it’s sold approximately 12 copies per day. If it’s in Kindle Unlimited, this number counts the borrows, as well.  

Calculate the average number of books sold for the top three results for your keyword. You’ll want a keyword that is selling something, but that isn’t too competitive. If you happen upon a keyword that’s hardly selling any books, one of two things is happening:

  1. Not many people are looking for that keyword.
  2. All the book results for that keyword aren’t relevant, so searchers aren’t buying the books because they don’t match expectations. You can use your judgment to decide if this is the case or not (more on that in the next step). 

Do this same process for all of your keywords. It will take time, but it will be worth it in the end. 

Part Three: Figure out How Competitive Your Keywords Are

You want to get your book to the top of the search page for your Amazon keyword. Around 25% of clicks on a page give you the top position. The percentage drops for every place on the search result; so the second place gets more clicks than third, third gets more than fourth, and so on. 

As shoppers ourselves, we assume the first results are the best results. If what we want isn’t at the top of page one, we’re more likely to search for a similar phrase than we are to search through all the results and hope we find a diamond in the rough on page four. 

So, we want to be at the top of our keyword. To make sure we’re targeting keywords where we can get to the top, here are some elements you need to look at for each of the top books. 

  • The Book’s Title and Subtitle: Don’t skip over this important piece of a book. If the top books in a keyword search use that exact keyword, they have already targeted the keyword. This isn’t always a bad thing, but it means that you’ll have some competition.
  • Book Covers: Book cover design is very important when it comes to competitiveness, and many self-publishers miss this. Usually, a great book cover directly results in sales. If the top book is selling well and has a crummy cover, that is a very good sign. The market is just waiting for a better solution to their search. 
  • Book Reviews: We all know that book reviews are a key factor that leads to sales. So, check out the book reviews for competing books. If you feel you can get better reviews than the top-selling books for a keyword, that’s a good sign. Some things you’ll want to look at are the age of the reviews, if the reviews are verified or not, and the book rating.
  • Book Description: Your book description is your biggest sales tool. If readers don’t like your description, they won’t buy. Good news is, you can optimize your description with the keywords you’ve researched. Check to see if your competitor’s book description is well written. If they’ve just slapped a basic description together and are getting sales, you can compete.
  • The Age of the Book: New books are more than likely getting a boost from ad-spend and whatnot, so this isn’t always super-helpful. However, if there are old books at the top of the results page that still sell well, it’s a good idea to stay away. 
  • Author’s Popularity: In short, you’ll probably know the popular authors in your genre. If you’re writing a children’s fantasy and Harry Potter is the top result, maybe start looking for the next keyword… However, you may not always know the other authors you’re competing against. You can check out their Amazon Author Pages and get a basic idea about their books, along with their author rank. 

Once you’ve checked how competitive your favorite keywords are, you’ll be able to make an informed choice on what words to target with your book. 

Use your most competitive keywords in your metadata, your Amazon Advertising campaigns, your subtitle, book title, and as your Kindle keywords. 

Final Thoughts

Time is money, and if you’re looking to save time on keyword research, there are tools like my Publisher Rocket that you can use for more data and faster results. But the manual method does work; and with it, you can find keywords, use them, and ultimately gain more visibility and sell more books. 



Dave Chesson is the founder of and creator of Publisher Rocket, a software that helps authors market their books more effectively.




Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

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