… I learned from Belinda LaPage. Truly, I’ll be forever grateful to her for explaining how to leverage this aspect of Amazon’s algorithms.
In fact, she wrote a post herself that included information about this topic: https://www.erotica-readers.com/blog/2019/02/11/raising-the-dead-your-story-doesnt-suck-necessarily/
However, in that post she didn’t give the blow-by-blow how-to she shared with me… which I am now going to share with you.
Let’s start out with the goal: getting people to buy your book. Obviously, in order to buy your book, people first need to find it. And hey, there are only fifty million erotica titles on Amazon. Okay, I made that up, but you and I both know that the ‘Zon is dripping in dirty books, with thousands more being added every day.
When you set up a new title on the Amazon KDP site, you’re asked to select up to two categories. However, the available categories are rather broad and limited. (You can find a list of the erotica sub-categories here.)
You can also specify up to seven keywords, which will be used to match search strings entered by potential customers. Smashwords, similarly, asks for keywords (ten in their case). When I first started self-publishing, I’d use the same keywords for both platforms, single words or phrases like “bdsm”, “lesbian”, “dominance and submission”, “anal sex”, “steampunk”, and so on.
I don’t know anything about Smashwords’ algorithms. I learned from Belinda, howver, that Amazon allows up to fifty characters for each “keyword”. Hence you can have multiple different strings in the same keyword slot. Furthermore, the individual words influence each other to create or match ad hoc search categories. Each fifty character “keyword” acts as a “word cloud” and will match against search terms that relate to the core concepts in that cloud – even if the exact words entered for the search aren’t in your keyword set at all.
The best way to understand this is by example. (Warning: dirty words ahead!) Here are the seven keyword strings I used for my recent release, The Pornographer’s Apprentice.
12345678901234567890123456789012345678901234567890 FEMDOM WHIPPING BONDAGE FLOGGER BDSM SLAVE MASTER LESBIAN CUNNILINGUS SAPPHIC CUNT-MUNCH LGBTQ CLIT ANAL SEX PEGGING BUGGERY ASSHOLE PEGGING REAMING THREESOME FOURSOME MENAGE GROUP SEX ORGY GAY BUTT-FUCK HOMOEROTIC BLOWJOB BIG COCK SEX-PLAY SEX TOYS DILDO BUTT-PLUG FLOGGER CROP WHIP CUFFS STEAM PUNK VICTORIAN LONDON ENGLAND ALT-HISTORY
The numbers along the top (suggested by Belinda) help me keep within the 50-character limit for any keyword. I use a mono-spaced font to make sure that the characters of my keywords correspond to these numbers.
Each of the seven lines below the numbers is intended to capture a concept or topic that might be of interest to a certain segment of the market. Line 1 deals with power games, especially femdom, which is featured in several chapters of the book. (I probably should have used “Mistress” rather than “Master” but I didn’t quite have the character count.) Line 2 obviously relates to lesbian activity. There’s little subtlety about line 3; it contains our favorite terms related to anal sex (which is rather prevalent in this story). Line 4 focuses on varieties of multi-partner sex. Line 5 plays to the readers who are looking for MM activity; there’s a bit of this in The Pornographer’s Apprentice, though it’s not the primary focus since the protagonist is a woman. Line 6 celebrates sex toys, the creation of which is the vocation of my heroine and her colleagues. Finally, line 7, which has no dirty words at all, encapsulates the setting and sub-genre. Adding “VICTORIAN” has the advantage of linking the book to genuine Victorian era erotica like The Pearl. In fact this book is currently ranked as #435 in Victorian erotica, on all of Amazon… even though it actually isn’t.
How can I be so explicit in my keywords? you might be wondering. What about the dreaded adult dungeon which awaits books that violate Amazon’s unwritten policies on sexual content?
Amazon, it turns, is severely schizophrenic when it comes to erotica. On the one hand, using a word like “cock” or “fuck” in your title or showing a bit of naked boob on your cover will get you whisked away to the dungeon before you can say “Take me, Master!” On the other hand, it appears there are no standards whatsoever regarding the content of keywords. Of course the keywords are not visible to readers; they’re digested and linked and stored in Amazon’s database (or used to train its AI). But they have (I believe) a lot of influence.
How do I know? Well, of course, none of us know anything certain about Amazon’s mysterious ways. I do know, however, that my Amazon sales have improved noticeably since Belinda gave me her lesson on keywords. It might be that I’m writing better books. However, I’m willing to give the keywords (and Belinda) a significant chunk of the credit.