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Demystifying Keywords, Categories, and Themes For Amazon Indie Authors

a snapshot of categories on Amazon; can be seen at the bottom of any e-book page

Our guest today is Penny C. Sansevieri [1], Founder and CEO Author Marketing Experts, Inc. Penny is a best-selling author and internationally recognized book marketing and media relations expert. She is an Adjunct Professor teaching Self-Publishing for NYU. Her company is one of the leaders in the publishing industry and has developed some of the most innovative Social Media/Internet book marketing campaigns. She is the author of fourteen books, including How to Sell Your Books by the Truckload [2] on Amazon and Red Hot Internet Publicity [3]which has been called the “leading guide to everything Internet.”

I think every indie author should empower themselves with Amazon knowledge, and so I’ve made it my mission to help them decipher the site. I teach about Amazon, I write about it, and I’m passionately committed to helping authors succeed!

To learn more about Penny’s books or her promotional services, you can visit her web site at www.amarketingexpert.com [4]. You can also connect with Penny on Facebook [5], Twitter [6], and on her blog [7].

Demystifying Keywords, Categories, and Themes For Amazon Indie Authors

To most indie authors, Amazon is really confusing. There seems to never be a clear path to success and once there is some clarity, the path changes yet again. If you feel like this, take heart. Though Amazon is tricky, it’s not a total mystery.

Let me start by presenting Amazon to you in a different light: Among all of the other things that Amazon does for us as consumers and authors, Amazon is a search engine.  When you start looking at Amazon that way, a lot of the information in this article will start to make more sense.

When I view categories for my Kindle book, I see both “Books” and “Kindle Store” categories. Which categories matter most?

That’s a great question, but let’s look at this a bit differently. If you’ve explored the categories in print at all, you’ll likely see that they are vastly different from the eBook categories. That’s because the print categories are based on an industry standard of categorizing and sorting books — a standard used by e-stores and brick-and-mortar stores alike–called BISAC. Kindle store categories, on the other hand, are based on the things Amazon has learned we are looking for — years of data collected by Amazon’s search engine. Both are important, but they may not line up. Additionally, BISAC categories are limited while eBook categories offer greater variety and specificity of category. For that reason, I would stick with eBook categories as your primary focus.

It’s not a bad thing to have different book categories in both “Books” and the “Kindle Store,” by the way. It’s sort of like the old saying: The rising tide floats all boats. If you end up getting a lot of eyes on your book through a Kindle Store category, that can raise the exposure of your books in categories across the board.

PRO TIP: Amazon is really two websites in one.

Wait, what? Yes, it’s true. When it comes to books, there are two entirely different sides to Amazon. There is the print side and an eBook side. The eBook side has a bigger variety of options when it comes to categories. How you get there is by going to Amazon.com. Highlight “Kindle Store” in the search bar and (leaving the search bar blank) hit “go” – now you can peruse new categories and find one that’s an exact right match for your book.

Can I change categories after publication?

Absolutely! I play with categories all the time until I find one that jives with my book. (Note: Changes are generally reflected on Amazon.com within 24 hours.)

Nothing I do in my KDP dashboard changes the categories to what I want on my book page. What should I do?

My recommendation is to contact Amazon directly through your Author Central page. Just click on help and send them an email, for some things it’s better to get it in writing, though if you wanted they could call you, too. The Author Central folks are super helpful and can assist you with just about anything you need. Email them the two categories you want and they’ll make the change for you!

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After I make a category change, should I keep an eye on that category?

The short answer to that is YES you should and here’s why: There are a flood of books on Amazon and each day around 4,500 new books are added.

That’s per day.

Categories often get weighed down, especially if a new trend takes over your particular category. I work on Amazon Optimization for authors and recently discovered a recommended category had become flooded with odd books – like “I’m in love with my stepbrother” odd. So I emailed my authors and told them to switch to a different category because the flood had pushed all other search results to the bottom of the barrel.

I heard some other authors discussing Amazon’s “themes” but wasn’t sure what that was about. Can you explain?

I’m glad youpic 2 asked! Themes are Amazon’s new niche categories. If you click on any genre fiction area–mystery, romance, etc..–you’ll notice “Themes” down the left-hand side. These are actually niche categories that Amazon has assessed are popular within your genre. So, for example, for romance you’ll see something like the picture at left. Amazon has begun using themes like “Highlanders” and “Beaches” because it knows — based on its data as a search engine–that readers often search for these words in particular while looking for romance novels.

Find the themes that correspond with your book to help you dig deeper into a particular category.

One other thing. Take a look at that image again. See the numbers to the right of each Theme? Those indicate the number of books in each sub-category. While your first impulse might be to put your book into a big category (like the “wealthy” category in our picture), competition for that theme is high. Be creative, and try for a theme with less competition but high validity for your book. The narrower the category the easier it can be for a book’s sales to cause it to zip up that category’s list, which can help to trigger Amazon’s internal algorithm and help with that book’s overall visibility.

Amazon also allows me to choose keywords for my Kindle books. How are keywords different from categories, and how do I find the best keywords?

Let’s start here: You should never, ever use a single/lone keyword in anything. Why? Because consumers don’t surf that way. We don’t hop onto Google or Amazon and type in the word “mystery” and hope for the best. We type in specific keyword strings/phrases to find the books we want to read (e.g. “mystery in Rome, Italy”).

If you’re reading this and thinking “I already use keyword strings,” let me say, as nicely as I can, that they are probably wrong. Here’s why: When we’re picking keyword strings, we often use the ones that seem most intuitive to us, but on Amazon, keyword string should be checked against sales rank. Let me give you an example.

Let’s say you’ve written a mystery and when you pop onto Amazon you see that within the Mystery, Thriller & Suspense markets there are four subcategories (see graphic below). You click “Crime Fiction” because that’s what your book is about. When you do, you see narrowed categories (e.g. heist, vigilante justice, etc…).

pic 1

Once you click one of those sub-sub categories you’re about as far down the category rabbit hole as you can go.

Now you can start doing keyword research.

Using Amazon’s search bar, type in your genre–let’s use “mystery”–then include the word “and.” Doing that will bring up some suggestions from Amazon, as in the picture below. This might give you a clue as to what people are searching for and how you might tap into that demand and refine your keywords. Using the below example, you might want to use the keyword strong “mystery and romance kindle books,” if your book fits that niche.

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But wait. Before you make that change, you’ll need to click on the keyword string to see how well these books are doing. Let’s try another example and illustrate the point.

Say you have a mystery series. You type in “mystery series” and when you do this, you’ll see one of the suggestions is “boxed sets.”

pic 1

Now, knowing the popularity of boxed sets, you click on that to see what comes up, then check the rankings on the top offerings. In this particular case, the sales rankings are high. (The lower the sales rank, the better! You are aiming for #1, after all.)Untitled

That likely does not bode well for that keyword string, so don’t use it.

Another strategy for finding good keywords is to use Ubersuggest.org [8].

What is Ubersuggest.org [8]?

It’s a site that scrapes Google every day for the things consumers are searching for. It shows you what searches are popular and gives you some new ideas for possibilities within your market. Keep in mind that searches on Google and Amazon may vary so whatever you find there, head on over to Amazon to see how the searches actually do there via the sales rank.

http://www.amazon.com/How-Sell-Books-Truckload-Amazon-com-ebook/dp/B00IOB92SS/ref=writrunbo-20 [9]How many keyword strings should I use?

The KDP dashboard allows you to use seven, but ideally you should have fifteen keyword strings. Why? Because you’ll want to have enough so you can swap them out and experiment. And while you can obviously use your keywords and keyword strings in the KDP dashboard, there are other options for you to consider as well. You can use keywords in your subtitle (if you don’t already have one), and in the book description published on Amazon, too.


Unraveling the Amazon optimization mystery does take time and effort, but it’s necessary if you want to see your books succeed. Knowing how consumers search and where your book will best be served is a huge part of the book discovery battle.

I welcome more questions and insights in the comments. Thank you for reading!

WU’ers do you have questions for Penny? The floor is yours!