Guest Post by Rick Daley
Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is critical in modern marketing. Any author trying to sell books should be familiar with its basic concepts, whether you have been published by a Big Six publisher, a small press, or (especially) if you are an indie author. So how do you leverage the greater power of the Internet to help get your platform in front of the right person at the right time?
First things first: Relax. You don’t need to be a technical wizard to understand SEO, it’s really pretty simple at heart. Here’s a Q&A to get you started. I’ll get into the tech stuff later.
Q: I’ve heard about SEO, but I have no idea what it actually is. How does SEO work?
A: SEO works like this: you type keywords into a Google search, and Google lists the pages on the Internet that are most relevant to your keywords. (Or the pages the Chinese government says are okay for you to view. It depends on your location.) The most relevant page is listed first. SEO increases your site’s relevance in Google’s eyes.
And as a point of note, I keep referring to Google, but all this also applies to Bing, Yahoo, Ask.com, and other search engines. Except for that crack about China, that’s mainly Google.
Q: How do you measure SEO?
A: You measure SEO according to your ranking in the search results. You don’t want to be buried on page 100, or even page three. The best ranking is the first link on the first page, but anywhere on the first page is excellent.
Q: Hey, that’s just an ad at the top of the Google search results!
A: That’s not a question, but I’ll humor you. Yes, Google does put a few paid links at the top of the search results, and there are also paid ads on the sidebar. The ads are placed based on keyword relevance, and they can be effective. They can also be expensive.
But SEO isn’t about paid ads; it’s more organic…it’s about showing up because you belong there.
Q: I just searched for my name and my book title, and I’m on the first page of the results. Does that mean I have great SEO?
A: Not really. Chances are, if someone enters a specific search for your name, and you have any kind of web presence, they will find you. Unless you share a name with somebody famous. For example, if you search for my full name, Richard Daley, Chicago politics dominates the results because I happen to share a name with two past mayors. But search for Rick Daley and Chicago goes away (not literally!) and I have several links appearing on page 1.
I just searched for my book’s title, The Man in the Cinder Clouds, and I have all ten spots on the first page right now. That doesn’t really mean anything, though, because there aren’t that many pages relevant to so specific a term. Winning isn’t special when there’s no competition.
Q: So if I don’t use SEO for my name or book title, what do I use it for?
A: SEO is best geared toward keywords relevant to your book. For example, my book is an origins-of-Santa story. The keywords/phrases I chose for SEO are Christmas book for kids, history of Santa Claus, Christmas gift idea, Kindle Christmas Book, Nook Christmas Book, etc. I’m trying to think like my target audience and determine what they are likely to search for. I want to show up first when they go looking online. That’s SEO.
Q: Are the keywords I choose for SEO similar to the tags I use at Amazon.com?
A: Yes! Tags work within Amazon’s site, and SEO is for the Internet at large.
Q: What are tags at Amazon.com?
A: Sorry. If you go to you book’s page on Amazon.com, scroll down below the reviews (have you ever done that? 😉 and you’ll find a section for tags. Anyone can tag your book. The tags are just keywords, but having them increases your book’s visibility. Use them.
Q: How does Google determine if my page is relevant to the keywords?
A: Google and the other search engines have proprietary technologies to determine ranking. Here’s the way I understand it: Google designed special programs with cool names like bots and spiders, and these programs scour the internet looking for things like links, contextual text, page titles, and META tags. They report it back to home base and Google sprinkles the data with faerie dust and voila, search results.
A: Just kidding. Let’s take it a step at a time.
Links (i.e. hyperlinks) should be used on your targeted keywords, and they should go to your site(s) when clicked.
Q: Like when you talk about your new Christmas book for kids?
A: Now you’re getting it! One other thing about links…the more the merrier. You want your links pointing back to you from all directions, not just a bunch on one site. The Google values diversity.
Q: What about that other stuff you mentioned?
A: Contextual text is similar in nature to the links…basically, it’s your keywords in the copy on your site or content of your blog post, just without hyperlinks.
In the old days, Google ranked pages based on word frequency with no contextual basis. People figured that out, then started creating pages with big blocks of text with nothing but the same keyword over and over (they put that text out of the way, like way down at the bottom of the page). It worked, but that’s cheating so The Google changed its secret sauce.
The keywords should be relevant to the surrounding text. Make sure you include your keywords in your promotional posts and website copy, and try to make it natural. It can be a fun writing exercise if you approach it with a positive mindset.
Page titles are displayed in the top bar of your browser window when you visit a website, or on the tab, depending on your browser’s settings. For your website’s SEO, you want to avoid general page titles, like “Home Page”, in favor of something more specific, like “The Man in the Cinder Clouds- A Christmas Book”. (But you should use your book’s title.)
META tags are in the HTML code of a web page, buy they are not visible on the page. It’s just a list of your keywords, separated by commas, with some basic HTML formatting around it.
Many website development platforms have point-and-click interfaces to add/update your page titles and META tags. If you have a webmaster who maintains your site for you, he or she should be able to update them for you.
Q: Is that all?
A: For now, grasshopper. That is all for now.
The Man in the Cinder Clouds
By Rick Daley
A young boy and his scientist father made an incredible discovery at the North Pole—an ancient book embedded deep within an ice core. Even more incredible is the story the book tells: the long-lost history of Santa Claus you never knew…and will never forget.
This origins-of-Santa story is a great holiday read for the whole family. Its mix of action, humor, and Christmas spirit keeps younger readers turning the pages, but The Man in the Cinder Clouds is not just a kids’ book.
As one Amazon.com reviewer puts it, “THE MAN IN THE CINDER CLOUDS is one of those middle grade books that the grown-ups get sucked into along with their kids. You think you bought if for your young reader but after you browse chapter one you just sort of… can’t stop.”
This story-within-a-story reveals the origins of our most familiar Christmas traditions: from Christmas trees, stockings, and lumps of coal to jingle bells, the North Pole, and flying reindeer. Highly original and thoroughly entertaining, The Man in the Cinder Clouds will show you how Kris Kringle came to be known as Santa Claus. It wasn’t easy.
About the Author
Rick Daley has been writing professionally for over 15 years. His experience includes marketing copy for print and web, press releases, business proposals, training and technical manuals, and whitepapers. His essays, ranging from family life during the holidays to his first skydiving experience, have been featured in The Columbus Dispatch.
Rick lives in Lewis Center, Ohio with his wife and two sons (and a neurotic schnauzer).