Laura Howard: Understanding Metadata for Authors


Understanding Metadata for Authors

So many of us here in the social media world are scrambling to figure things out, sometimes it can be downright overwhelming. Well, here's my go-to lady who knows her stuff about Relationship Marketing and the Self-Publishing world-at-large. 
Rachel Thompson has published two of her own best-selling indie titles and is a Social Media Consultant that makes this whole publishing thing look like hop-scotch. Welcome to Finding Bliss Rachel!

Many authors (self or traditional) are thrilled when that moment arrives to upload their book to Amazon (and elsewhere). As we should be! The journey to this point is never easy.

Of course we want our books to sell bunches of copies, right? So how do you ensure you’re starting off in the best possible position?

By understanding the importance of metadata (literally ‘data about data’).

There’s no question that metadata helps sell your book, but what does it mean to self-published authors? To traditional? How about to readers?

The easy answer: reviews, rankings, description, awards, etc.

The more difficult answer is what I’m discussing today.

To optimize the chances of your book selling well on that platform (though you can certainly extrapolate for other sales channels), you want to make sure you’ve done everything possible to make that happen, right? 

However, I find too many times authors rush through choosing their categories (you’re only allowed two), are afraid to change them, and are uninformed as to the critical importance of tags.

I’ll also touch on reviews, which is what many authors are concerned about.

(Here, I’ll focus on the eBook or digital side, the fastest growing segment of the industry.)

Let’s review.

1. Categories: As I said above, you have two categories for your book. If you already have a KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) account, you can start researching them in your Bookshelf section. If not, research here. They are BISAC categories (a basic industry standard for headings and subheadings). (On a side note, here’s an interesting article from Digital Book World regarding metadata.)

For example, for my bestselling second releaseThe Mancode: Exposed, here are the two categories I went with:

FAMILY & RELATIONSHIPS > Family Relationships
HUMOR > Topic > Marriage & Family

Keep in mind that the categories are not set in stone. I change mine frequently based on rankings and sales. As I write this, Mancode is ranked on Parenting & Families and Family Relationships. This is what that looks like:

Amazon Best Sellers Rank: See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store) #11,644 overall

(Remember, rankings are updated hourly.)

You can see that I’m ranked in the categories I've chosen…a good thing!

2. Keywords: On that same KDP page, you’re allowed to enter up to seven keywords or key phrases. These are words that best describe your book, genre, and work. Many times I see authors choose keywords that are not ‘searchable’ meaning, they pick words or phrases that a typical reader will not search for, i.e., Cranky Babies. A more effective keyword could be ‘Children’ or ‘Parenting,’ in this purely hypothetical example.

Though Amazon’s algorithm for keywords, tags, visibility, sales, and traffic is a closely guarded secret, it has been rumored that the seven keywords (or keyword phrases) we use can create better visibility for our books. This is important because of point number three.

3. Tags: Once you’ve uploaded your book, chosen your categories and keywords etc., you need to write your landing page (or product page) copy. It’s a good idea to incorporate these keywords into your copy as well.

Your seven keywords (phrases) should be used as your tags also – but you must manually enter them (they used to just port over, but no longer). On the product page, you have up to fifteen tags for your book. It’s not necessary to use ALL of them, but there is one trick I’d like to share with you on how to choose them in the first place:

Tag Cloud: Amazon provides tags as a way for readers to find us. They have a ‘tag cloud’ that is useful for us to determine what tags readers are most utilizing for books. Here is the cloud (to find it yourself, scroll down any book product page to where you see tags – near the bottom – and to the right in very light blue is a clickable link “See Most Popular Tags” to the tag cloud).

Here’s what it says: Welcome to the tag cloud. Tags are labels customers can use to classify a product. More frequently used tags are larger and more recently used tags will appear darker.

Even if your book doesn’t apply to any of these tags (and it should), you know what readers (who use tags to find books) are most interested in. According to Amazon, most customers use tags to find books. Tags are editable. You can also trade tags with other authors, or ask fans/followers to click and hit Agree (so important or it doesn’t register) on the tags you specify. There’s even a meme #TagItTuesday, where you can tag other authors’ books, provide their link, and ask (politely) for tags in return.

*It’s also important to note that anyone can tag your book with any (non-offensive) term, but they can only do it once per email account. The more clicks you can garner on the tags you have, the greater your chances of visibility, which hopefully translates to increased sales.

There is a lot more information available on categorizing and tagging your books on the Kindle Boards or simply doing a Google search. I’ve learned through my own experience and that of my BadRedhead Media clients, and I now offer optimizing your Amazon page as a service.

4. Reviews. Authors are usually quite concerned when they receive a negative review – will it impact sales? What do I do? Can I fix it? No, not much, and no.

Okay, well that’s only partially true. I do encourage you to look at the bigger picture from a metadata perspective. How many reviews do you have? How many likes? The more people have reviewed your book (whether positive or negative), the greater your overall number of reviews at the top – which is usually about as far as many buyers go. Sure, they’ll see the average if they look closely, but many times it’s the overall number that they look for.

Think about it: do you buy a book with zero reviews? Not usually. How about ten? Maybe. How about a few hundred? Sure.

While you can’t guarantee that people will enjoy your book (assuming you’ve gone the extra mile to have professionals edit, proofread, format, and design), you can call on your social media following to help like and tag it, which again, can help increase your visibility.

Just know that correctly categorizing, key-wording, tagging, and increasing likes of your book is worth the time and research to help give it the best possible chance of exposure and sales. And metadata is but one small, though critical, part of your overall author platform (ads, an optimized website/blog, pricing, social media, and more) all count toward your book’s sales.

There’s no guarantee, but understanding how the system works and spending the time to work with it will certainly give you a better shot.


I hope you've learned as much as I have! If you want more of Rachel, be sure to look her up on her blog Rachel in the OC or check out her Social Media Consultancy website Bad Redhead Media!


  1. I know that when I published my first book, I didn't have a clue what I was doing. I think this is very useful information for newbies! ;o) Thanks so much for sharing.

    Suzan T.

  2. It looks like this can apply to blogs and anything else you might post. Thank you very much for posting this.

  3. Thanks for your kind comments, Suzan and Dee!

    Absolutely, it's a process. I didn't know much of anything 'net' related when I started my blog over four years ago. Through much trial and error, I've developed a formula that has worked. Metadata is just one small part of it, but clearly a very important one.


  4. Very helpful. I learned about tagging at Amazon's Writer's Cafe and participate in a very active group of authors who support each other by bumping up the tag counts on our books. But I somehow missed the tag cloud - relieved to see each of my 3 books is on target. Categories are another issue. I've often thought about experimenting with categories but haven't had the courage so far - I think I'm going to give it a try with one of my books to test things out. Thanks!

    1. Hi Marquita -- it's great that you learned about tagging from AWC. It's a super way to support other authors and garner support for your own books. As for the tag cloud, it's RIGHT THERE and yet, almost impossible to find. But once you!

      As for categories, if you're ranked in a category and making sales, leave it. I find that testing one category change at a time is the best move.

      Good luck!

  5. As always, well thought out, well worded pearls of wisdom.....thanks for sharing!


    1. Thank you, Barb. There's so much to any kind of metadata, but I find authors are much more successful when they know/understand the Amazon process.


  6. Great post. I'm still learning all about tags, meta data and SEO. So much to learn!

    1. Hi Doreen. It's not a one-step process. I attended webinars, read articles, played with my own books as test subjects, and now help others through my company, BadRedhead Media. It's definitely a process.

      There are lots of people who know more than I do about it. I don't claim to be an expert. I simply share what I've learned and read and hope it helps others.

      Thanks again.

  7. Great stuff, Laura and Rachel ..... Am printing this out for a reference! And yes, this publishing journey is a marathon, isn't it? Always something new to learn. Thank you for sharing what's worked for you, Rachel!

    xx, Lauren

  8. You're quite welcome, Lauren. It's an experience, for sure.

    I love it, but there's no question that it's difficult work. When I hear authors discuss that self-publishing is the 'easy' way out (or in), I laugh.




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