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Optimizing Book Cover Copy for SEO

In our experience, authors think more about their book cover design than they do their book marketing cover copy. While it’s true that a great cover design helps your book sell – the reality is that in the world of the ‘dot com’ bookstore, your book’s cover copy is at least (if not more) important. Great book marketing cover copy must also be great SEO copy.

SEO stands for ‘search engine optimization’ and generally means the methods used to make a search engine (like Bing or Google) find website content, understand that content, and then list the content in search results. The goal of SEO is to get content ranked higher (meaning closer to the #1 position) in search results. Many of the methods used to write good SEO website content apply to writing book cover copy. Why? Because in many ways Amazon and B&N or any ‘dot com’ bookstore act just like a search engine. When someone comes to the site, they search for something – an author, a topic, a genre. And it is the book cover copy that will ‘tell’ these sites exactly what is between the covers.

More often than not the book marketing copy that will be used on Barnes&Noble. com, Amazon.com and all the other ‘dot com’ bookstores is the cover copy. It’s a potential customer’s first introduction to the book – and it should be a great experience for the reader. Below is a quick outline of my thoughts on how an author self publishing their book can create a strong back cover.

Book back cover copy / book marketing copy quicklist

The tag line must be prominent and compelling. A tag line must be compelling to the reader. Communicate clearly to readers why they want to buy the book. To make a tag line good SEO, make sure the keyword or key phrase is included. If the book title is well crafted (and is set up as good SEO – see my article here on book title SEO) try and take the opportunity to give readers additional information. A great question to ask is if the tag line addresses the core reason potential readers want to buy the book. Remember, readers buy books (including fiction titles) from self published authors for the simple reason that the book fills a ‘need’ in their lives. Most authors who are self publishing DON’T have name recognition to drive sales.

Readers won’t really read all the back cover copy. At least not at first. I can’t remember when I last read an entire back cover (or book marketing copy) if I wasn’t quickly engaged – usually by the tag line. Copy should be short and direct – often the hardest part of writing a book is creating a good synopsis, but it’s truly a critical exercise. Get the most important details (or ‘hooks’ if it’s a fiction title) on the cover – and leave the redundant details alone. In a fiction title, often what ISN’T said is just as important as what IS. If it’s non-fiction, often a bulleted lists communicate better.

Keep it simple and attractive. Nothing makes a book’s back cover LESS effective than a busy and complex design. At most add an author photo – but really only if it adds to the message the cover is trying to communicate. The back cover should be a showcase for communicating the primary messages to readers – not a showcase for author egos. Remember that complexity equals confusion. Remember that readers have very short attention spans – and if they must work to just understand the message, they are gone. In the retail world covers might get one second to grab attention… on the web it’s slightly more (since they’ve gone to the effort of finding the book) but not much. This doesn’t really apply in the SEO part of the web – except for the fact that the exercise of keeping  copy short and sweet will benefit a book’s ‘searchability’ to a tremendous degree.

Keep the important ‘stuff’ on the top. If there is a list, if there is  something important to say in a call-out or box, if the bio / photo is critical – then put it on the right side of the cover. This applies to tag lines, bulleted lists, benefit statements, etc. In addition to placing these things on the top and right, be sure to effectively ‘prioritize’ messages – what do readers need to see and read first?

Keep benefit statements clear and concise. The tag line, the lists, the book marketing copy – all of it should work together to communicate very clearly what the reader will get when they buy the book. Readers typically buy fiction books to create an ‘experience’ and purchase non-fiction to solve a problem. If the cover copy doesn’t begin to create the experience or clearly identify how to solve their problem, it won’t garner a customer.

SEO begins (and ends) with cover copy. Keywords or key phrases should be liberally used in book marketing copy. This helps Google and other search engines understand what the book is about… as well as the search systems at the dot com bookstores. Using keywords and phrases also reinforces to the reader the main thrust of the book.

Give readers additional ways to find out more. Every author should have a web site or at least a blog/ Facebook / Twitter account… preferably all of the above. Make sure book cover copy includes the web address. Maybe the reader wants more information before making a purchase – give them a way to reach out and discover how much they need what only this specific book can offer.

Ray Robinson
Ray Robinson

When Ray first entered the publishing industry, authors relied on “vanity presses” to produce their work – many of whom would charge $15,000 or more and leave the author’s garage filled with hundreds of books. Ray, along with coworker Alan Harris, joined forces with Miles Nelson to create Dog Ear Publishing to provide the author community a self-publisher with a heart. The group’s application of new technologies and publishing on demand reduced the cost of publishing a book to a fraction of what it had been for previous generations; authors now have the ability to publish a book in as little as six weeks and print as few as a single copy.