Crack the Amazon best-seller code by balancing popularity and competition with your categories and keywords
Part of self-publishing a book on Amazon is putting together a page, picking categories for your book and helping the ecommerce giant understand your book by selecting keywords that relate to the content.
These decisions all seem like they should be obvious and easy. Simply selecting the most appropriate category and describing your book a little.
If it seems easy, then you’re probably not doing it right!
Picking the right categories can mean the difference between your book ranking consistently and making sales or just being another of the four million books available on Kindle.
Yeah, it’s that important.
You’re allowed to pick two categories in which your book will rank to show when people browse on Amazon. Of my 10 books, so 20 categories, I rank on the first page consistently in 14 of those categories.
Keywords are also hugely important in all this because it’s how readers find your book when searching on Amazon and Google.
I’m going to show you my process for picking perfect categories and then how you can find undiscovered keywords that will lead people straight to your book.
How to Win the Amazon Book Category Game
When you’re doing a Google search or browsing a category on Amazon, how often do you click past the first page of results?
Never? Maybe rarely?
In self-publishing as it is in a lot of things, if you’re not in that first group of books recommended, you’re not going to be successful.
There are 32 top-level categories for books on Amazon, as many as a couple dozen sub-categories within each and a few tertiary categories even within each of these sub-categories.
When someone is looking for a book to read, they either do a keyword search or they’ll just start browsing categories. Sometimes, even if they start with a keyword search, they’ll end up clicking through in the left-side menu and start browsing categories.
The problem is that even some of the sub-categories on Amazon are extremely difficult to rank your book consistently in the top 10 or 20, that first page.
Tony Robbins’ Money Master the Game has over 2,600 reviews with an average 4 ½ stars ranking. It’s ranked #10,800 on Kindle right now which means he’s probably selling around 25 to 30 a day minimum…and it’s ranked sixty-ninth in the Motivational sub-category of self-help.
Tony Robbins, motivational guru that sells out stadiums for his seminars is stuck on the third page of Amazon in his category.
The lesson, don’t stick your book in the Motivational sub-category!
There is a game you have to play here. You need to find a category that is appropriate to your book. No sense showing a self-help book to people browsing in art history, right? But you also need to find a category in which you can actually rank on the first page. No sense in having your book buried on the third page if nobody is going to see it.
So there’s a trade-off here, finding a sub-category for your book that will show it to targeted readers but is not so competitive that they never see it while browsing.
How to Pick an Amazon Category for Your Self-Published Book
Amazon used to make it easier to pick a category for your book. In the past, browsing through the categories, you could see displayed next to the category how many books were published in each. This would give you an idea of how competitive each category was going to be.
Amazon took those numbers away so now you have to go a little deeper to find your perfect book category.
The first thing you will do is select Kindle Store in the drop-down search menu and click the magnifying glass. This will show you only Kindle books and you can browse through the list of categories in the left-side menu.
Note down which of the 32 categories even remotely have anything to do with your book. Then click through each and do the same within the sub-categories. You’re going to be creating something like a pyramid chart with the relevant categories on top then lines down from each of those to the sub-categories relevant to your book and lines down from each of those to the tertiary categories.
You want to find every possible category path where you could realistically put your book in to show it to targeted readers.
For example, I started doing this for a motivational book. Among the top-level categories, it might fit in Health, Fitness & Dating or Business & Money or Parenting & Relationships. Click through the Business & Money category and it might fit in the Management & Leadership or the Entrepreneurship sub-category. Clicking through those, you see that it might fit in the Leadership, Management or the Motivational tertiary categories.
You do that for every category through sub-category in the list.
If you click all the way through to the final point in each path, to a sub-category or tertiary level and then scroll down, you will see a number count for how many books are in that group. So for the Leadership group of the Management & Leadership sub-category, we see that there are 34,937 books competing for ranking in this space…tough.
Do this for all the paths in your chart, noting how many books are in that group. We see that there are only 5,816 books in the Men’s Health group of the Health & Fitness category so that might be an idea.
We’re not quite done yet though.
As you’re working through each category path and you scroll down to see how many books are in that category, click through the top 10 books in each. So now you’re on a book page and you want to scroll down to where it says Product Details.
Write down the Amazon Best-Sellers Rank for each of the top ten books. Add them all up and then divide by 10 for the average. You should also note the rank of the tenth book in the category to see where you will need to rank to break that top ten spot.
The best-sellers rank is determined by how many copies of a book are sold each month. So we can get a rough estimate for how competitive a category is, how hard it will be to rank your book in the top ten.
Sales per day needed to rank on best-seller list:
- < 10,000 26 sales daily or about 390 a month
- 10,000 to 25,000 10 sales or about 157 a month
- 25,000 to 50,000 5 sales or about 76 a month
- 50,000 to 100,000 2 sales a day or about 35 per month
Now these aren’t exact numbers but the result of many, many authors sharing their sales and ranking information so it’s a good rule of thumb.
Notice multiplying daily sales needed for rank is more than that needed in a month. This is because Amazon weights recent sales more than monthly sales so if you can promote your book and get a few days of consistently high sales then can boost your rank. Amazon does use monthly sales though so longer-term sales is important and you can’t just have a quick burst of sales followed by nothing.
Selling more than five books a day may not sound too difficult but it is. Besides a marketing strategy with Amazon ads, you’re going to need some major traffic from your own website to break into the top 25,000 books.
Your sweet spot for a category is if you can find one where the tenth book is ranked between 50,000 to 100,000 on the best-sellers list. This is doable and you should be able to sell enough books consistently to rank well in this category.
Now if you’re name is Oprah (first off, Hi Oprah – big fan) then you’ll have a shot at the much more competitive categories because you can rank in that top 10,000 consistently. For the rest of us, be realistic about how many books you can sell each month and what kind of rank you can hold.
A note here, you can change your category after the book is published so this isn’t set in stone. Check your category ranking every few months for that first year after publication. Change to a more less competitive category if you aren’t holding your own or maybe even to a more popular category if you find you can compete at a higher level.
Beyond just the objective research for each category, check out the Amazon pages for each book in the top ten within potential categories. Read through the descriptions and reviews. Look at the covers. Can you beat them? Can you write compelling descriptions and is your cover something that is going to stand out?
Watch out for the number of reviews for each book in the top ten or twenty. If most of the books ranking on the first page of a category have hundreds or even thousands of reviews, how are you going to beat that?
One last note here, when you’re doing your category research, books priced at $0.99 are probably on promotion so may not be representative of the top-ranking books in the category. These books might have gotten a quick boost but might not stay in the rankings.
Finding Secret Categories for Your Self-Published Book
Beyond the categories you can choose for your book when you upload the files into Kindle Direct Publishing, there are some secret categories for which you can rank if they are appropriate to your book.
These secret categories are ones for which you have to contact Amazon for inclusion and you need to have specific keywords in your description or title to qualify. I guess Amazon has gotten tired of people trying to cram their book into these categories so it requires this second-level of verification.
Amazon lists these categories, along with the secret categories we’ll get to, on its KDP help topics page ‘Selecting Browse Categories’.
Why would you want to go through the trouble of getting added to one of these categories? Because they are much less competitive than the easier ones to select.
Click through to each of the categories that might be relevant to your book and you’ll see sub-categories and the relevant keywords that must be included.
It’s a little more difficult researching these categories because they don’t show in the left-side menu of Amazon automatically. You have to find a book in the category and then click through in the Product Details section to browse the list of books. Then you can see how well the books in the category do and whether you might have a chance to compete.
If you want to try one of these secret categories, first add the relevant keywords as one of your seven keywords when you create the book in the Kindle Direct Publishing platform. You can change your keywords so don’t worry if you created your book with different keywords.
Then it’s just a matter of contacting Amazon to request your book be put in the category.
Go to the contact-us page in your Author Central account. On the contact form, select My Books and Update Information About a Book within the details drop-down menu. Select Browse Categories and “I want to browse categories in the Product Details section in the last drop-down menu.
Provide your book’s ASIN number which is the ten-digit number in your book URL on Amazon or also available in the product details section. Also provide the browsing path to the restricted category, starting with Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>…
Amazon is usually quick to respond within 24 hours and will change your book’s category.
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Why are Keywords Important for Your Amazon Book?
Choosing the right keywords is an important process in self-publishing your book on Amazon. Missing this part is one of the biggest mistakes new publishers make so it's best to keep this in mind. When formatting books, keywords should be given careful attention since keywords are the words you assign to your book to make them easily searchable in the search algorithm of Amazon.
Choosing the right keywords is very important because of course, who doesn't want their book to easily show up when searched, right? Having the right keywords will help you in building your traffic that in turn will bring more sales and consistent exposure.
When you create your book in Kindle Direct Publishing, you are allowed to pick up to seven keywords or phrases for which your book will rank when people search. These are not the only keywords for which your book will rank but this is telling Amazon that these phrases are especially relevant and your book should show when someone is looking for them.
Like Google, Amazon is a search engine. Millions of people use it to search for books every day and millions more come from Google search directly to books because of the keywords they use.
The keywords you select for your book are important not only for these seven spots but you’re also going to want to use them within your book description and sub-title. That is going to help your book show up on Google search and on Amazon.
So you’ve got another trade-off here with your keywords. You can write down something like ‘Making Money’ which gets hundreds of thousands of searches a month but for which you’ll probably never rank in the top ten or 20 books. You can select something like ‘making money on Mars’ which has just four books ranking for the keyword…but probably even fewer people looking for it.
How to Find the Best Keywords for Your Book
Finding the best keywords for your book is a lot like the keyword research you’ll do if you want to rank a blog post on Google. I’m going to show you a process for finding keywords that will bring lots of traffic to your book but with less competition.
A note first about some keywords you don’t want to use.
- Your title should be your main target keyword but you don’t have to include that in the seven you choose in KDP. Your book will automatically rank for the words in your title because Amazon assumes that’s what it’s about.
- Don’t include qualifiers like ‘best’ or ‘top’ in your keywords
- Don’t include price information or adjectives like ‘new’ or ‘sale’ in your keywords
Using adjectives like ‘best’ in your keywords to rank a blog post on Google is a good idea but won’t help you on Amazon.
First, brainstorm a general list of keyword phrases that relate to your book. You should be able to put together a list of 10 to 20 words that relate to your book’s topic. Just put yourself in the reader’s shoes. What search terms would you use if you were trying to solve the problems addressed in your book?
With this list, go to the Amazon search bar. Change the department to Kindle and start searching for your list of ideas, one-by-one.
Notice that Amazon auto-populates your search with suggestions in the drop-down. For example, if I start typing ‘Making Money’ then it starts suggesting searches like ‘making money online’ and ‘making money from home’.
These are searches related to what you are typing in their order of popularity. It’s a great way of finding keywords related to a major idea but maybe that aren’t as competitive.
Since you don’t want search suggestions based on your past behavior, you want to turn these off by using incognito mode so Amazon will just suggest searches based on traffic.
Add to your list, all the search suggestions you get from Amazon for each of your first list.
Then use this same process on Google. When you search on Google, it will not only start suggesting searches but will also tell you what other searches people used if you scroll down to the bottom of the page.
A super-sneaky way to find great keywords is to steal them from other websites. Search for a few of your keywords in Google and copy the web address for the first two or three results.
Then go to Ahrefs.com and paste one of the addresses in the search bar for its site explorer. Click on ‘Organic Keywords’ in the left-side menu and you’ll see all the keywords for which that page ranks.
Filter this page for ranking from zero to 20 and then export them into a spreadsheet. You’ll need a subscription to do this but the site offers a 14-day free trial and you can get everything done before having to pay.
After you’ve done this with a few pages that rank highly for your keyword ideas, combine all the spreadsheets. You’ll see a column labeled ‘Volume’ and another one labeled KD or keyword difficulty. This KD is an estimate of how difficult it is to rank on Google for that keyword.
Put in an equation in a new column dividing volume by KD to give you a measure of how difficult it is to rank keywords with the highest volume of monthly searches. You can sort the spreadsheet for this column, from largest to smallest, to find the easiest keywords with the highest search popularity.
You can also plug your other keyword ideas into the Ahrefs’ keyword explorer to find search volume and difficulty to add to your list.
Now Google search isn’t exactly the same as Amazon search traffic but they’re pretty close. Keywords that get a lot of traffic on Google are also likely to get a lot on Amazon.
Just from those few steps, you should have a list of keyword ideas approaching 100 from which to choose seven. Search on Amazon for each and note how many books show up in the search, this is given in the upper-left side of the screen.
Narrow the list down a little, say to 50 potential keyword ideas, and find the average best-seller rank of the top ten books. Check out the number of reviews and quality of the book covers.
Take your time because reader searches are a huge driver of traffic on Amazon. You want to pick the very best keywords for which you can rank. Balancing between search volume and competition with books in the search, measured by best-seller rank and other factors, will help you find your seven perfect keywords.
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Picking categories and keywords for your self-published books on Amazon is more important than most authors understand and will go a long way to helping push consistent monthly sales. It can be a long process of research but it’s all part of the business of using Amazon to sell your books. Remember, Amazon is just a computer so it runs on rules. Learn how to take advantage of these rules and your book will be an instant success.
Read the Entire Self-Publishing Series
- How to Format a Book for Self-Publishing and Kindle
- Can You Still Make Money Self-Publishing on Amazon?
- How I Make $2,137 Passive Income Every Month with Amazon Self-Publishing
- 10 Self-Publishing Mistakes Every New Author Makes
- How to Edit a Book for Self-Publishing Success