Unlocking the Search Ranking Gate with Amazon Keywords 

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Amazon keywords: they can be the bane of a writer’s existence. By virtue of the word they seem as though mastering them would unlock the secret to getting your book on the first page of an Amazon search. The cold hard truth is that only high sales can boost your book to the top of the list, but without the proper use of keywords you’re doomed. Knowing what keywords to use and how to use them can boost your unknown, low-sale book from search page 1,000 to search page 15. Screwing up your keywords will leave you mired in the deep dark swamp of other books. The best thing you can do to prevent this is to arm yourself with as much knowledge as possible before committing to these little nuggets of information.

In this post I’ll wade into the dirty waters of picking keywords and how to use them best.

The first thing you should understand is that choosing keywords isn’t a science; it’s an under-appreciated art form, and it’s work. Like every other investment you’ve poured into your book, you’ll need to take the time and do the research.

The second thing to understand is that although they are called “keywords” you should really think of them as “key-phrases”. They are concise, descriptive phrases that a reader would search for when looking for a book like yours.


Although there is a specified field to enter 7 keywords, many authors are unaware that keywords can also be used in the title, subtitle, and description of your book.

Title: Although Amazon claims that the title holds the same amount of weight as your official keywords, there is much evidence to the contrary. If you haven’t named your book yet, choosing a name based on keywords is the surest way to boost your book in the search ranking.

This can take a lot of the poetry out of naming a book. For instance, “Tragic Historical Romance” doesn’t have quite the same ring as “Romeo and Juliet”. Still, you’ll find many authors use the title field to their advantage. If you can do this then you’ll be ahead of the game.

For instance, if you do an Amazon search for “self help” in the Kindle Store, you’ll quickly find this shining example of keyword packing: “Self Help: Ultimate Self Help Guide! – How To Overcome Fear & Anxiety, Stop Being Insecure, Conquer Jealousy, Boost Confidence And Self Esteem, And Build Meaningful Relationships”.

Yes, that is the entire title!

Another fine example is to search for “romance” in the Kindle Store. You’ll see this fun title right away: “Romance: THREESOME: Never Ending Threesome (A Steamy Threesome MMF Bisexual Threesome BBW BWWM Stepbrother Billionaire Menage Romance Collection)”.

What an inspiring title… my guess is that it’s about a threesome.

If you have a non-fiction book, like our above self help example, it’s often easier to place keywords in your title without seeming like a total shmuck. However, as the second example proves, this doesn’t prevent authors from keyword packing fiction titles either. Titles like these ensure that those books are recognized by Amazon’s mystical algorithms and put the book higher in the search ranking than if those same words were used in any other field, including the keyword field.

One thing to remember is that the keywords you use in the Amazon title field have to be part of the actual title of your book.

Your title can’t be “Romeo and Juliet a Tragic Historical Romance” if that’s not the title that appears on your front cover and everywhere else. Not following it is a big risk and a good way to get your book booted out of the marketplace. The “Tragic Historical Romance” part should be left to the subtitle field.

Subtitle: Here’s another place you can effectively add keywords. Many authors are hesitant to pack their title because it looks and sounds like garbage. The subtitle field gives you a chance to throw a few keywords into a high-value position while still maintaining a little integrity. Amazon also seems to be a little more forgiving about the subtitle not being on the cover. “Romeo and Juliet” may be the official title of the book but adding “A Tragic Historical Romance” as the subtitle should boost it in the search rankings. Amazon doesn’t seem to be as strict about ensuring the subtitle of a book also presents on the cover.

Description: Whether keywords in the description do much is the subject of much debate. Many people feel strongly one way or the other, and Amazon isn’t clear on the matter. It’s my feeling that it’s better safe than sorry, so go ahead and throw them in!

Official Keyword Field: Here’s where you’ll finally use your chosen keyword phrases. The thing to know about this field is that you don’t need to repeat words you have used in your title or subtitle. If you’ve named your book “Romeo and Juliet: A Tragic Historical Romance” you shouldn’t use any of those words in your keyword field. The same goes for your author name. The back-room dealings of Amazon’s algorithms have already recognized and accounted for these words.


As I mentioned, choosing keywords is an art form. You’ll want to utilize tools like the Amazon search bar and Google Adwords to help you find inspiration. You’ll also want to spend some time thinking outside of the box.

Google AdWords: Use the keyword planner. It’s free and helps you come up with keyword ideas. It’s that simple.

Amazon search bar: It’s not specifically a keyword tool, but it can give you great insight into the keywords most readers are searching for. Type something related to your book into the search bar. The autosuggestions will show you what phrases are the most searched. From these autosuggestions you can start to really understand what readers are looking for.

Think outside the box: Now is the time to really get creative. If you’re selling “Romeo and Juliet: A Tragic Historical Romance” you might want to consider keywords like “14th century”, “character-driven”, “strong female lead”, “suicidal tendencies”, “teen love”, etc… You’re only limited by how many characters Amazon will allow for each keyword phrase.


  • Be creative with your keywords, but don’t go over a cliff. Make sure that the words you use are actually words readers will be searching for. For instance, I highly doubt the keyword phrase “lovestruck kids kill selves” would be searched for when someone is looking for “Romeo and Juliet”.
  • Don’t use your competitors’ names and titles in your keyword fields. It’s against Amazon’s rules.
  • Don’t repeat words anywhere. Although SEO best practices say that you should pack every phrase with repeated words, Amazon doesn’t want the works gummed up with repetitive phrases—and it won’t help you with their algorithms.
  • Cut out words that utilize “stemming” or growing from other words. “romantic” stems from “romance” for instance, and Amazon accounts for this when divining with its all-knowing algorithm.
  • Get rid of words like “best”, “good reviews” and “highly rated”. Listing these are not only irrelevant and subjective, but also against Amazon’s terms of use and can get you kicked out of the marketplace altogether. Of course if you’re a bestseller, or you’re offering your book for free, you’ll want to keep keywords that refer to those types of things, but steer clear of anything that’s not absolutely true.
  • Don’t use spelling variations. For instance, remove “rromance” and “romanse” from your list. Amazon accounts for most misspelled words. The only time you should keep a spelling variation is if you’re positive people search for the wrong term consistently. A good example is my name, M.F. Wahl—people often assume it’s spelled M.F. Wall. Therefore M.F. Wall is one of my keywords.
  • Cut out your categories. Let’s say you have “Romeo & Juliet” in the “Romance” and “Historical Fiction” categories. As a general rule you’ll want to cut out all three of those words. What categories you’ve chosen for your book are extremely important and there’s no need to repeat them here. Since our “Romeo and Juliet” is subtitled “A Tragic Historical Romance” we would want to rethink the subtitle at this time, choosing something that didn’t repeat words or categories.
  • On the subject of categories, there are certain ones for which Amazon requires specific keywords to be used. If you’ve listed your book in one of those categories you should double check that you have those keywords, and use them in the official keyword field. You can find out more info about category requirements here.
  • Combine your keyword phrases the way a reader would search for them. For instance “suicidal teenage love” would work well, while “teenage love suicidal” isn’t as good.
  • Amazon has their own list of dos and don’ts for book listings. You can find that here.

Now you should have a pretty good idea of how keywords work and how to go forward using them. I wish you luck praying at the great algorithm’s gate. May it grant you entry without having to sacrifice a virgin. Finally, it’s worth remembering that if the gatekeeper is displeased, there’s a new virgin born every day. If at first you don’t succeed – try, try again.

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M.F. Wahl is a self-published author and a proud member of the Horror Writer’s Association. She has recently released her first novel DISEASE. M.F. Wahl loves the macabre and both her horror and sci-fi writing delve deeply into darkness. She can be found on Twitter, Facebook, and on her website.

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