Ep. 02: Metadata Matters

No one can read your book if they can’t find it! This is why book metadata is so important. Learn more after listening with our free Title Metadata Guide.

Book metadata is what makes your book appear in online searches and tells retailers and librarians where your book belongs on their shelves. It's your book's behind-the-scenes salesforce and it's free! Ingram’s Director of Digital Products joins us to discuss why book metadata is so important to book discovery and book sales and to offer metadata tips authors can apply to start improving their book's search results today.


Robin Cutler [00:00:08] Hello everyone, welcome to Go Publish Yourself, an IngramSpark podcast. I'm Robin Cutler, the Director of IngramSpark.

Justine Bylo [00:00:16] And I'm Justine Bylo and I manage the Author Acquisitions Program.

Robin Cutler [00:00:21] And I'm so glad you do, Justine, because we have fantastic authors using IngramSpark, authors and publishers.

Justine Bylo [00:00:27] Thanks Robin, I think we do to.

Robin Cutler [00:00:29] Today we're going to be talking about probably the most important subject for authors to really know about, and that's about book metadata. Is it book metadata or metadata?

Justine Bylo [00:00:44] I think it's data, but tomato tomato, Robin.

Robin Cutler [00:00:48] Why is book metadata really important Justine? What do you think?

Justine Bylo [00:00:52] Book metadata is so important because it's how you help readers find your book. And if you have not very good metadata, those readers won't find the wonderful piece of work you've put out into the world.

Robin Cutler [00:01:06] You're talking about finding your book online, like finding your book on an Amazon site, for instance, right?

Justine Bylo [00:01:10] Exactly, Robin, yeah.

Robin Cutler [00:01:12] What are key points of metadata? When we talk about metadata, what exactly are we talking about?

Justine Bylo [00:01:19] It's just a really fancy word for all the information about your book, and that can be the author name, it can be your author bio, just the title of the book, all the way down to your book description. It's just all the information that belongs to your book.

Robin Cutler [00:01:35] You can see, Justine and I know a fair amount about metadata, but we actually have today joining us, who I consider the metadata queen or the guru, especially here at Ingram Content Group, Margaret Harrison. Welcome to our podcast here today Margaret.

Margaret Harrison [00:01:56] Hi guys, thanks so much for having me. Love being here.

Robin Cutler [00:01:59] Tell us exactly how you became the guru, the expert that you are really in the whole industry.

Margaret Harrison [00:02:07] Oh thanks, well so, yeah, I've worked my whole career in publishing and I started out on the ebook side working for OverDrive, a major distributor of ebooks at public libraries, and focusing on ebooks, so much of it is about the metadata, not just getting books into channels but also making sure those books, as Justine said, can be discoverable, can be found, and so I started spending a lot more of my time on metadata, and I'm a curious person so I got to know a lot and here I am

Justine Bylo [00:02:43] If you had to give us your top tips for authors for how they could improve their metadata, what would you tell them?

Margaret Harrison [00:02:52] Great question. There are so many small things that authors can do to make a big impact on their book metadata. The first thing would be your brand, so your name being out there. A big challenge that authors can have is making sure that they are discoverable as an individual. You want your name to be out there and to be found against other authors. You want to make sure that your name is consistent in the way that you're sending it out, so if you have a middle initial you're using make sure you're using that consistently in your metadata. You also want to make sure that your biography is also out there so that people can find information about you as an author, and also can find you through online search.

Robin Cutler [00:03:51] I'm glad that you mentioned about the consistency in the author name. One of the things that drives me crazy and I harp on all the time when I speak to authors, is you'll see their name listed one way like on a site, maybe with an initial, and then you see the cover of their book and it doesn't have that, and it drives me crazy.

Margaret Harrison [00:04:12] Yeah, and actually that's a great tip, Robin, is you want to make sure that all the information that's on the cover of your book, also shows up in your metadata. The way that you're presenting your name on your book cover should also be how you're showing it in your metadata, and similarly your title, you want exactly the title that's on your cover should also be in your metadata.

Robin Cutler [00:04:36] Should match perfectly.

Margaret Harrison [00:04:37] Great tip, yes, yes.

Robin Cutler [00:04:38] Yeah, it drives me crazy.

Justine Bylo [00:04:41] We hear all the time about BISACs and keywords. Now BISAC is kind of an intimidating word and not many people know what it is. Can you tell us how those help your book be discovered?

Margaret Harrison [00:04:55] Yeah, so BISACs are a subject code, a standard set of subject codes, and it's a wonderful tool for authors actually because as we all know, we all have our own way of talking about books and a rich way of describing our books, but what the BISAC subject code schema does is it gives us a vocabulary of how we should be talking about our books. It's a set list of subject codes, and so when you're preparing your metadata for your book it's a list of subjects that you can choose from to describe your book.

Justine Bylo [00:05:32] If you walked into a bookstore and you saw the Romance Historical section, that's done by BISAC's, right?

Margaret Harrison [00:05:41] That's exactly right, yes. In the US that's exactly how it's done. All of those names of categories on the physical shelves in a bookstore, those exactly map back to the BISAC subject codes.

Robin Cutler [00:05:54] I tell authors when they're thinking, even before they finish writing their book they should think about where it would be placed on a shelf in a bookstore or in a library, and really go and look at those books like where exactly you think your book would be shelved.

Margaret Harrison [00:06:11] That's exactly right and you can envision it. It translates 100% to the online search environment, as well. What you want to think about doing is you want to choose the most specific subject code that you can, because if you are choosing, for example, if you're a fiction writer and you choose a general fiction code, you are marketing or positioning your book against hundreds of thousands of other fiction titles out there, whereas if you choose a more specific category you are competing against a much smaller number of titles. And one of the ways you can find out the competition is to go online to an Amazon or a Barnes & Noble and if you are doing some research in each of those categories you can drill down into a specific genre. If you're looking at thriller mysteries or women's literature you can drill into those categories and just look at the search page or the list of books, and you can see about how many titles are listed in each category.

Robin Cutler [00:07:21] In IngramSpark, our authors can choose three different BISAC codes. How does that work and what should they be doing to use all three?

Margaret Harrison [00:07:32] I love that. First of all, A+ for including three subject codes, that's wonderful, because yes, you do want to choose more. Now you want to be careful because you want to choose the subject categories that are relevant to your book, but we always talk here at Ingram about, we have so many wonderful librarians who are excellent at categorizing books into the specific category that's relevant to their title, but it is also a marketing play as well, and so you want to think about connecting with your audience. Where are they going to be looking for your content? What kinds of categories or topics are they interested in, and how can you reach them? So if you do want to choose at least two, three, if you're an overachiever.

Robin Cutler [00:08:13] I say three.

Margaret Harrison [00:08:17] Pick those three categories, and you can go across subjects as well. Obviously, for a fiction you're choosing fiction subjects but if you're a non-fiction writer you can, for example, cross merchandise. If you're writing a political book that maybe has a religious overtone you can choose a religious category, as well as, a political subject category. You can cross merchandise in different subjects. And that has been proven to actually be really effective as well.

Robin Cutler [00:08:53] Yeah, we've seen that in our own authors.

Justine Bylo [00:08:56] We really have. Choosing the three BISACs definitely helps. The other thing that we tell authors that helps their book is keywords. A lot of authors and publishers don't fill out the keywords. Tell us why it's so deeply important to have some keywords in there.

Margaret Harrison [00:09:15] Oh, that's great. Yes, keywords are a great tool that you have in your toolkit as an author, and so we actually, the approach that I always talk about when I talk about keywords is I call it a 360 approach to keywords, and what I mean by that is you want to choose, and we'll talk in a moment about how to choose those keywords, how to identify the ones that will be most relevant, but so you want to choose a few words or phrases that apply to your book and that customer, your readers would use in searching for your title. You want to include those in the keyword field but you also want to look at how do I incorporate those into my description, as well. Because as you incorporate that keyword more and more it's sort of increasing that footprint of that keyword in your metadata and making it more discoverable. The strategy for identifying the keyword that will be most relevant is again, to think about how your readers might be talking about your book. It could be a word as I said, or a phrase. It might be a character, so if you have a novel, maybe a character from your book.

Justine Bylo [00:10:30] If I am searching for a book on Amazon about cats and I put in the words "children's book about cats," what would you suggest as some keywords for that?

Margaret Harrison [00:10:44] A children's book about cats. Again, if there's an identifiable character you could pull that out, but you might, "kid's cat book" might be one keyword that you could use.

Justine Bylo [00:10:57] So you can use phrases too.

Margaret Harrison [00:10:58] You can use phrases too. And one way to see, there are a few ways that you can do keyword research. One is to go to Google or to go to Amazon and start typing in, so for your children's book about cats, so you might type in "children's cat book," and then as you type that in there will actually be a sort of drop down menu in your search bar and that will give you, those aren't random searches. Those are actually the most popular searches that are associated with those keywords, and you can do the same thing at Amazon, and you can do it at the sort of Amazon level or you can choose the book category and that will actually give you searches that are most relevant to the book category and not just across Amazon as a whole, but those are going to give you some of the searches that readers are entering when they're looking for books, say, for children about cats, yes.

Robin Cutler [00:11:57] You mentioned a description and make sure that you include your keywords in your description. What other tips can you give our listeners about the look and feel of your description? How you can improve how it even looks on a site?

Margaret Harrison [00:12:13] Yeah, great question. Description has always been one of the most important metadata fields because it tells your reader what he or she is going to get when she or he buys your book. It's your elevator pitch to say what's inside, what's inside the pages. But there are some very practical things that you can do to your description. The first things is, I've been recommending to authors, to our IngramSpark authors that we include a, what we call a headline at the beginning of the description. What that looks like is it's one or two sentences that just is really your elevator pitch for your book. It's what draws them in, and ideally you're including one or two keywords in that headline as well, and it should be bolded. And that's for a few reasons. One is that when a reader goes to see, look at your book online, it's just drawing their eye to what is the most important part of your marketing copy, but the other reason is that search engines such as Amazon and Google are actually picking up on the formatting in your description and they know that is an important tool to drive more sales and to get readers to buy more books, and so they actually will give you, it's a small marker, but it might give you actually a little bit of an advantage in your search results so that when you are searching for a children's book about cats your title might go up one, or two, or three, or more spots in the search results than it would otherwise without that formatting. You can, again, bold that headline

Margaret Harrison [00:14:00] in your description and make sure you're including that one or two sentences. The other thing is to make sure that you are formatting your description, and what I mean by that is to just be breaking it out so it's more readable to the eye. Including paragraph breaks, not just one big block of text.

Robin Cutler [00:14:19] Yeah.

Justine Bylo [00:14:19] Yeah.

Margaret Harrison [00:14:20] 'Cause that big block of text can be intimidating.

Justine Bylo [00:14:22] That's right.

Robin Cutler [00:14:22] And it's boring.

Justine Bylo [00:14:24] It is, yeah.

Margaret Harrison [00:14:25] And again, those search engines are smart. Amazon and others, they know that that's a more enjoyable experience for a reader, and so, again, they're giving a little bit of an edge to those titles in the search results.

Justine Bylo [00:14:38] And you want to be one of those titles with an edge.

Margaret Harrison [00:14:40] Yes, of course.

Robin Cutler [00:14:41] And just to add to that, so for our listeners that are already using IngramSpark, there's an editing tool that's right on top of the description field, and that's how you can actually very easily bold the text that Margaret's talking about or put in those line breaks that she's talking about too.

Margaret Harrison [00:15:01] That's wonderful.

Justine Bylo [00:15:02] It's just like a Word document.

Robin Cutler [00:15:04] Yeah, it's very easy and handy to do.

Margaret Harrison [00:15:06] Oh, that's great.

Robin Cutler [00:15:07] We're close to running out of time here, so what's like one last thing you want to send us off with, a good tip that we can do?

Margaret Harrison [00:15:16] Well yeah, we've covered some great stuff. We've covered keywords, we've covered subjects, we've covered descriptions. I would say that one last thing when it comes to your metadata, is to think about the trend in how people are buying books, and that is that they are shopping for books on a mobile device. And so one of the things that you can think about, I think all the tips that we've given today definitely help with the search and discoverability, but one last thing would be to look at, do some research, look at how your book is presented on a mobile device like a phone or a tablet, and just sort of see what that experience looks like. And you may want to think about if you haven't yet published your book and you're thinking about what to do that means a shorter title, so you want a title that is 80 characters or less, including the subtitle, and the reason we say that is really because of that mobile optimization, so you want to make sure that when a reader is searching for a book on a phone they can see your entire title or as much as possible on a mobile device. Again, that's about discoverability but it's also just understanding the market and really understanding the behavior and the way that readers are looking for books.

Robin Cutler [00:16:35] 80 characters for a title.

Margaret Harrison [00:16:37] 80 characters or less.

Robin Cutler [00:16:37] That's really good. I love that.

Justine Bylo [00:16:40] Less than a tweet.

Robin Cutler [00:16:42] Yeah. So this has been fantastic Margaret and Justine. This has been great to spend time with you this afternoon. Did we decide on metadata or metadata?

Margaret Harrison [00:16:53] Well, I say metadata but I do think that if you say metadata you might sound a little bit smarter.

Justine Bylo [00:16:59] And there we have it, the words of the expert.

Robin Cutler [00:17:02] I want to invite our listeners to visit us on IngramSpark.com. Sign up for our blog. I think our blog is one of the best in the industry.

Justine Bylo [00:17:14] It's pretty fantastic. We've had some great industry experts, including Margaret, do a blog post for us.

Robin Cutler [00:17:20] Yeah, so please visit us and we will talk to you next time.

Justine Bylo [00:17:24] See you next time.

Margaret Harrison [00:17:26] Hey, thanks for having me.


Title Metadata Guide