Ok, so you were convinced that you must have an author website, you now have one, or will have one soon, and now people start mentioning SEO and how important it is. And maybe you start getting emails telling you how you are missing out on website traffic, that you must purchase their services or you will end up at the bottom of the Google barrel, never found by anyone. Then they mention the dreaded meta tags. The stress level rises. All you wanted to do was write a book.
Relax. It's not as difficult and esoteric as anyone makes it out to be. And you do not need to hire someone on a monthly retainer to constantly “review” your search engine optimization.
What is a Search Engine?
The larger search engines are Google and Bing, and they pretty much work the same way. They index the web and use that index to deliver search results to users. They do this by sending out their “bots” or “spiders” (web analogy), automated search robots, scouring websites to find out what's on them, judge what they find, and then create their indexes. They do not, obviously, do it in real time—when you type in a search term (or keyword) they do not go out and search the web. Rather, they look in their index which is constantly updated. That's how the results come back so quickly.
What's their goal? To deliver relevant and useful results so you will continue to use their search engine. Why? Because their business model is based on them getting advertisers to pay to be on their site and show up in the results. The more people using Google, for example, the more money they can get in advertising. Just like any media.
So how do they return useful results? As I mentioned above, they scour the web, looking at almost all websites. But I also mentioned that they judge the websites and their content. This judgement impacts where a website shows up in the rankings.
Two Primary Factors Influencing Search Results
Obviously content matters. The search engines will go through your website, find all of the content, and create an index based on what they found. So you want to make sure all of the keywords and phrases important to your book(s) and topic occur throughout your site. So, for example, if your books contain information about vegan foods and cooking you want to make sure those words and phrases are well represented throughout your author website. In general, the home page is most important, and also the tops of other pages. One mistake I often see is having a large graphic taking up most of the home page with little or no text. To a search engine, that page is basically blank—prime real estate wasted.
You will most likely never show up high in the search results for common terms like cooking. The competition for common words like that is fierce. So try to be more specific, and always think about what words or phrases you would want to lead people to your site. What words and phrases would your ideal reader be searching for online? Maybe your subject matter focuses on paleo vegan? That's what you should go for then. Make sure terms like “paleo vegan,” “paleo vegan cooking,” “paleo vegan recipes,” are prominent on your home page and throughout your site. You will have a much better chance of appearing high in the rankings for those more specific terms.
Here's some good news: book and author websites usually score pretty well here by nature—your author website will contain book descriptions, excerpts, reviews, maybe interviews, a blog, and recipes, and more, all filled with relevant keywords and phrases. Author websites are rarely want for words.
Meta tags are beyond the scope of this article, but worth a mention. These are text that go in the “head” of your HTML pages (most site builders will have a way to do this). There are three important meta tags you should pay attention to: title, description, and keywords. The title tag is important because it can appear at the top of your browser window. Look up at the top of this window and you may see IngramSpark Self-Publishing Blog | John Burke (all browsers are different and you may not see it). That's the title tag for this page. For description and keywords, what I said above applies here also.
2. Links to Your Site
I mentioned that search engines “judge” your site. Content is important, but why is it that the big sites always appear at the top of the results? Because an important criteria is links—how many other sites link to yours and what quality are they? If a lot of other sites link to yours, and some important sites do, your site is considered valuable and you will rise in the rankings. So if the NY Times, bon appetit, or Cooking Light does an article on paleo vegan and links to your site, you will rise in the rankings. It doesn't have to be so dramatic—it could be a bunch of popular vegan or paleo websites or blogs that link to you. The more people telling the search engine your site is a place they want to reference, means the search engine probably wants to reference your site too.
The amount of traffic is important also, and goes hand-in-hand with links. As you get more links from more and bigger sites, your traffic, and hence your ratings, will rise. That's why you'll see the big cooking sites, like AllRecipes and FoodNetwork, appear high in the rankings for the cooking category—they have high traffic, many links to them, and, of course, lots of relevant content—the recipe for high rankings.