Uncategorized, Writing

Marketing: Be Careful About Your Title

I found out something yesterday, and it made me sad. I’ve recovered, thank you, but I am still not sure what to do about this.

It all started when I was reading through my subscribed blogs and came across a post by Evangeline Holland on her blog, Edwardian Promenade. This is a wonderful and entertaining blog, all about the Edwardian era – fashion, culture, food, manners… it should definitely be on your list if you have an interest in this period.

So yesterday, Evangeline posted a list of Titanic books that she compiled by searching Amazon. I was excited when I saw her post – “Oh boy, my book should be on that list!”

Um… no.

Already being in a fragile state of mind due to other circumstances, I nearly cried. How could my book not come up on a search? “Titanic” is my first keyword!

Such an innocent, I was.

Because of the aforementioned fragile state of mind, I immediately left a response on the post, bemoaning the unfairness of the universe. Evangeline responded with a very kind reply, and she added my book to her list!

That was exciting, and way above the call of duty. I told her so and left her many thanks. A happy ending to that part.

But the experience opened my eyes, for I went to Amazon and did my own search, using the keyword, “Titanic.” Thirty-nine pages into the results… my book still had not shown up.

One problem: All the books that did show up on the search results had “Titanic” in the title. Yeah, mine doesn’t. And while Amazon’s search algorithm might include keywords, words that appear in the title are going to get first ranking. So the 500 or so books with “Titanic” in the title (whether it has anything to do with the ship or not) are all going to trump my book.

So I searched under Thomas Andrews, also one of my keywords. Fewer books, but same problem. Mine did not appear in the first twelve pages, where I stopped looking. What did show up was anything with either “Thomas” or “Andrews” (or Andrew) in any order or combination, or singly, in either the title or author fields.

Sigh. Yeah, mine doesn’t have any of that either.

When I searched for both “Thomas Andrews” AND “Titanic,” ah, then I got lucky. But you know, that’s not a very efficient search term. How many people are going to use those? A few will (I did, when I was doing research for the book), but I think it will be reasonably rare.

From a marketing perspective, this brings up some cautions. One is that search engines are tricky devils, and I don’t have much hope of winning a pitched battle with them. Okay, fine. But the other thing sort of gets my goat.

When I browse for a book online, I’m not looking for a specific title. I’m searching by subject. I think most people do this if they are just looking for something interesting to read. So if I want to read a book about Titanic, then I’ll search under Titanic. There is no way to tell Amazon that I want Titanic fiction only, or worse, Titanic science fiction. This would be useful, as most of what’s out there is, quite naturally, non-fiction.

So I feel cheated, as both an author and a reader, that Amazon does not bring up books whose subject is whatever word I’m searching under, unless that word is in the title. This shouldn’t be impossible. Libraries have cataloged books by subject for centuries. It’s not rocket science.

So authors, add one more item to your list of Things To Do To Sell Your Book:  Make sure your title is searchable. If people are browsing for a book, and yours would meet their criteria, what search term will they use? Figure that out, and make sure that term is in your title. Because using it as a keyword is nearly pointless.

My title is not a good one, in this sense. “Time Travel Journals.” People may search under “time travel,” but there are a million hits for that phrase. Ditto for “time travel journals” because guess what? You get journals in return – as in diaries or even scrapbooks. Oh and “time travel” is a disaster for another reason. You get books on travel, for heaven’s sake.  Or even how to manage your time while traveling.


The rest of my title? “Shipbuilder.” Yeah, you can see the problems with that, starting with why the heck would anyone use it as a search term? Just for the record, “building ships” and “shipbuilding” did not return my book, either.

Terms that did return my book were “time travel” and Titanic” when they were used together. That’s not too farfetched – I can see some people using those terms to find something to read. But it’s awfully specific, so probably not many people will do it.

I don’t know if there’s a way to fix this mistake, which will be compounded when the next book in the series comes out. Time Travel Journals: Bridgebuilders is not going to reach very high in search rankings either.

Live and learn, right?



7 thoughts on “Marketing: Be Careful About Your Title”

  1. Honestly, I wonder how many people search by title. I only ever search by author, because I’ve heard about an author whose work I want to read. I’m guessing that for most readers, they’ve made up their mind whose work(s) they’re going to look at before they hit Amazon. The important bit is to get yourself in those minds before that time. This is why name recognition and branding is all the go. Then, your work starts showing up in the also-boughts and that is how you gain additional sales.

  2. Although I understand your pain, there will never come a day when I pick my titles to better utilise a search algorithm. The title is too important to the book to make it generic and searchable–which is what you’re doing if you’re making it easy to find. I want to stand out, not shout for attention with a bunch of others. I never search for books on any site by subject anyway. I look for authors or books I’ve heard about. If you become one of my favourite authors (which, of course, you in particular already are ::Grin::), I search for your books. If I hear a book is good, I search for that. I’m willing to bet money that’s how most people find their books, outside of non-fiction.

  3. Wow, what an interesting and surprising result. I’ll definitely keep this in mind when I title my future books… although I also agree with Rhonda above in that I’d never title something just for the search hits. The title needs to communicate theme, mood, genre, etc., and to get the perfect title that hits those things is IMHO better than getting one that can easily be searched for.

    That said, I’m sure that Amazon does index your book by the Titanic keyword, but it evidently (and reasonably) prioritizes titles over keywords when it comes to ordering the search.

  4. Okay, I just checked. I searched for “titanic”, then filtered down to Science Fiction and Fantasy books within that list. And your book wasn’t anywhere. That does seem to be a problem. Is there something wrong with your metadata?

    However, if you search “titanic” then go to Romance, your book is on the first page :).

  5. Fill out the meta tag data for your blog and web pages. That should help somewhat. Then create a blog page with a title that has the words that are very search friendly in it. On the newly created blog page, create a link to your book on Amazon. The search friendly blog title should come up in searches. Keep the content short and relevant and get to the link to your book fast.

  6. This is a great point for blog posts, too. I resist titling my posts to make the searches easier, but truth is, we want to drive people to our blogs and books, and we need to make sure our products are easy to find.
    The comments on this post are also super — lots of interesting ideas and suggestions. I’m going to keep an eye on follow-up comments to this thread, since there’s a lot of wisdom here. Thanks to all!

  7. Marlene,
    Sorry to hear about the titling problems. I’d never thought of that stuff until working on SEO for my blog, which I title carefully to attract viewers and provide insight into content. I probably wouldn’t even had made the connection to story titles until reading this.

    Once a story is up, is there a way to re-title it? Would it be worth the effort?

    As for searching by subject, I do this often enough when I’m looking for something historical. For example, I couldn’t remember which book somebody recommended about the Siege of Malta, so I couldn’t search for author or title, and searched for Malta siege on Amazon. I found the book I was looking for, but only because those words were in the title: The Great Siege – Malta 1565 by Ernle Bradford.

    Good luck with this. Hopefully the learning curves grow less steep.

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