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Is Amazon the new Google? On SEOed book titles

amazon seo1 Is Amazon the new Google? On SEOed book titles

A few years ago I reviewed a book whose title was simply a number. Preparing the review was a pain because my Google searches for the books cover and purchasing information brought up huge amounts of unrelated material. I remember wondering at the time why anyone would give a book an unGoogleable title.

But the thought was simply a passing one, and I didnt give much weight to it until recently when browsing through Amazon, and I was struck by the thought that Amazon has become the pre-Panda Google: just like Googles results were being diluted by all sorts of spammy keyword-heavy garbage, Amazon search is being gamed using all manner of SEO tricks.

The astonishing growth in ebooks as well as the proliferation of digitally oriented small presses and self-published authors means that the number of titles on Amazon has increased at such a rate that sifting through them is nigh on impossible. Im personally terrified to search or browse the Kindle store because not only is there just so much material out there, but so much of what comes up is the result of careful SEO gaming of the systemand I know that it will be irrelevant to my search results.

The few times I have dipped a toe into the Kindle store, Ive noticed a few different things going on that make me wonder whether Amazon is the next Googleand whether it needs a Panda update to streamline its search results.

SEOed book titles

These are most obvious in a couple of genres: namely non-fiction and erotica. The non-fiction titles generally resemble the sort of search strings that SEO marketers once would have prepared for Google before Googles rewriting of its search algorithm: 10 steps to achieve X, How to do X and so on. One interesting one I came across was a series of genealogy titles spanning thousands of namesAmazon ego-searching is apparently the new ego-Googling (yes, Im guilty!). Erotica is obviously another prime target for SEOed titles: given how many internet searches are for porn, it only makes sense that similar patterns would follow on Amazon. Needless to say, there are plenty such titles to be found in the top Kindle books section of Amazon. The readily pseudonymous nature of Amazon means that author names, too, can be used for SEO purposes.

Piggybacking on another authors success

Im seeing this happen in several ways. The first is the use of a similar cover design and layout to that used by a currently popular authordo a quick search for YA paranormal romance and check out all of those girls in frocks cover images. The second is to use a carefully crafted title that mimics a currently popular book title so that the first book shows up in the search results for the popular title. (One can only imagine, for example, what showing up in the search results for The Hunger Games'would do for ones sales.) Another is to reference the names of currently popular authors or books in the descriptive material in the hopes that this will help a given title rise in the search results when a search for a popular author is performed. Yet another is to assume a pseudonym that closely resembles that of a popular author.

People who bought X.

Finally, Im also finding my search results and recommendations hugely impacted by my purchasing history, and those of others, but not in the way that I would have imagined. Where purchasing a mystery novel might have led to recommendations for other mystery novels, it can now lead to recommendations for anything from a book about shampoo to a reissue of the Gettysburg Address. This is because Kindle readers are purchasing widely and readily anything thats free or cheap, which affects their book recommendations and by extension mine.

As such, not only is the Amazon search function becoming all but useless, but so is their book recommendation algorithm. When a user has to result to browsing by category (remember Altavista and Yahoo!?) rather than being able to rely on search, somethings gone terribly wrong.


  1. I agree. I dont use Amazons suggestion at all I get all my suggestions from fellow-bloggers and other readers that I know in the real and virtual world.
    Publishers are only now waking up to the SEO reality for book titles, so this is probably going to get a lot worse before it (hopefully) gets better.

  2. Stephanie /

    The suggestion system used to be fine before I got my Kindle, but since downloading a few freebie classics its gone mad with other self-published freebie suggestions.

    I agree with you about the light of the tunnel being far off!

  3. My brother-in-law and I had a discussion recently on qualifying search results, something not everyone is able to do, and so those people are preyed upon. That you understand your search results to be irrelevant is a leg up. Imagine my surprise upon entering law school and discovering that not only did lawyers have their own database of information but the search options were completely different as well. Learning how to by-pass irrelevant information took an entire class!

    • Stephanie /

      So true, Jami. I think the fact that information cant necessarily be trusted and needs to be assessed by the user is something new to many people, and it can require some involved research, and youre right, awareness of the need to do so.

      Good point about different areas requiring different research and assessment approaches, too. I approach both Google and Amazon very cynically now.

  4. Barb /

    I too have noticed that Amazons results have gotten worse.
    As a librarian, teaching people to sift through and evaluate resources has become increasingly important. Its now easy to find stuff; harder to identify the right stuff.

    • Stephanie /

      Very true, Barb. And with everything changing and shifting so frequently, and with information being exploited for profit, it can be very hard for people not only to find the results they need, but also to evaluate their worth. Its a huge problem, I think.

  5. Awareness of the problem is definitely a key to sifting through data and evaluating its usefulness. Hopefully, at some point this means they industry curbs its attempts to throw spaghetti on the walls and hope it sticks. But I think you are right, that is a long time coming.

  6. RT @readinasitting: Vintage RIASS post: Is Amazon the new Google? On SEOed book titles

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