August 20, 2017 by Nathaniel Tower
Authors have a lot on their plates. They have to be writers, editors, and promotional machines. Let’s add one more thing to the author toolbox: SEO.
Before we get too far into things, let’s make it clear what this article is and what it isn’t. It’s meant to be a basic guide to search engine optimization (SEO) for authors. It’s not meant to be an all-encompassing piece to make you an SEO expert. It’s also not meant to teach you how to be an SEO writer (that’s a different thing completely). It’s for authors who want to get a little edge on the internet without adding too much to their already insane schedules.
I’ve been an author for a little over a decade. I’ve been doing SEO both personally and professionally for about five of those years. Even if you know nothing about SEO, there’s a good chance you’re already doing some of the basics.
Really Brief Intro to SEO
That said, let’s talk about SEO and how complex it is. In very simple terms, SEO is the act of optimizing your website for the search engines. But there’s really nothing simple about it. There are hundreds of ranking factors that Google uses to determine the order of search results. Good SEO is hard. But we’re going to skip most of this and break it down to three things: content, links, and technical basics.
Content is everything that’s on your website (words, images, videos, etc). You need high-quality content if you want to rank well. Great content with basic optimization will almost always outrank bad content that’s “perfectly” optimized.
Links are all the other websites out there that link back to yours. Hence why they’re often referred to as backlinks. Google has indicated pretty clearly that content and links are the two most important ranking factors (although links might be losing a little steam). It’s very hard for a website without links pointing back to it to rank well. Links tell the search engines that your content is valuable enough for people to recommend it.
Technical basics are the pieces you need to ensure your website is crawlable and indexable so the search engines can see it, read it, and index it. Without the technical basics, you not only won’t rank well, you may not show up in the search results at all.
Great. So how does all this apply to authors? Well, you need people to find you online. They can’t find you if you aren’t ranking for something. But what exactly do you need to rank for, and how do you go about doing it?
The single most important thing when it comes to SEO for authors is showing up at the top of the search engines when someone searches for your name.
Easier said than done sometimes.
You Have to Rank for Your Author Name
My name isn’t too hard. There aren’t a lot of people named Nathaniel Tower in the world. I was able to grab the domain nathanieltower.com, create a simple website, and boom! I was ranking at the top of search results for my name. But imagine if my name has been Mike Smith. There are a lot of people named Mike Smith. Ranking number one for such a competitive query is not easy no matter how good of an author you are.
Here’s what happens when you dominate the search results for your author name:
But even Nathaniel Tower isn’t as easy as it may seem at first. You see, most people who know me in real life know me as Nate Tower. So if they Google me, that’s what they are probably looking for. They might not even know I’m a writer when they do that. I still should be at the top of search results. The problem with Nate Tower is a little association called NATE – National Association of Tower Erectors. Yeah, it sounds funny at first, but it’s legitimate competition against my name. And you know what? They’re outranking me. Why? Two reasons. One, because it’s an official organization with lots of authority. Second, because I never refer to myself as Nate Tower when I’m talking about being an author. That’s something I need to start doing. I’m missing a big opportunity right now.
No matter what your name is, you need to control the narrative of search. You have to be number one. Here’s how to do it:
Have a Mobile-Friendly Website
Yes, you need a website. No, it doesn’t need to be fancy. You can use a free WordPress template and buy a cheap hosting plan. It can all be done for less than $100 if you really want to go that route. And unless you’re a big time author, there’s really no reason to go much bigger than that. But you definitely need to make sure your website is mobile friendly. That means it has to pass Google’s mobile-friendly test. Why? Well, for starters, over 50% of Google searches take place on mobile devices. So if your author website isn’t mobile friendly, then your visitors are going to have a lousy experience. Mobile-friendly websites also get a ranking boost, and Google is in the process of switching to a mobile-first index. So if you aren’t mobile-friendly, you might as well not have a website (joking, you should still have one). The good news is that most of those free WordPress templates I mentioned a few sentences ago are mobile friendly out of the box.
Use an SEO-Friendly CMS
CMS stands for content management system. It makes managing your content super easy and gives you a lot of power over your website (you don’t have to know any code to maintain it). You want a content management system that takes care of most of the technical SEO stuff for you. You need to spend your time writing, not learning how to be great at SEO. You don’t want to worry too much about canonical tags and robots.txt files and whether or not your website is crawlable and indexable. A CMS like WordPress is your best bet. It takes care of most of the technical SEO stuff right out of the box with just a few simple settings. Canonical tags, AMP, title tags, meta robots, etc. Your website will be crawlable, lean, and technically optimized (for the most part).
Verify Your Website
Having a website is great, but you also need maximum control over it. You need to verify your website in Google Search Console and Bing Webmaster Tools. Why? So you have control of your properties and you can let the search engines know about your site. You can use these tools to submit sitemaps, ensure your site is indexed, and much more. You can also see what people are searching for to get to your site, and you can even see things like impressions and click-through rates. Even if you aren’t a data junkie, you have to do it. Luckily, it’s super easy. Just create your account and follow a few simple directions. If you’re using WordPress, it’s a simple copy and paste job.
Optimize Your Online Profiles
As an author, you have to be present everywhere. And you need to optimize your online profiles everywhere. Amazon, Goodreads, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus (yes, even Google Plus; but don’t worry about Google Authorship—that’s long dead). And there are tons more for writers. Find them all, claim them all, and add your bio, photo, and link back to your website. That last part is key. As mentioned before, you need links to your website. Your author profiles are great links to have. Just make sure information is consistent across all channels.
Do Some Guest Posting
Speaking of links, give guest blog posting a try. You’re a writer, so this should be easy. Yes, I know that Google has said that guest posting is dead and that you shouldn’t be guest posting for links. But they are talking about spammy stuff. I’m talking about legitimate stuff. Write guest posts for quality websites. Submittable, The Review Review, LitReactor, etc. These are not only great links from an SEO standpoint (after all, they’re coming from high-authority websites), but they are also great places for other people to discover you and gain respect for you. Even if they didn’t help your SEO, they would bring more traffic to your website and increase your book sales and readership.
Find websites that feature author interviews and do them. Again, these are great link-building opportunities. Interviews are also great exposure. They let you show your personality. People like personality. If you can relate to your potential readers, you’re going to end up with more readers. Do interviews. They’re easy, they’re rewarding, and they’re even fun.
Content Creation and Blogging
You need great content. As they say, content is king. How do you make great content? Have an excellent blog filled with writing tips, helpful resources, and other topics that will genuinely benefit and interest people. Content brings people to your site. It helps build more links. It can also help sell your books.
Your blog posts should be good. They should be frequent. They should have great headings and great titles. They shouldn’t be junk that you slapped together in five minutes (although the occasional quick list can drive a lot of traffic). Data shows that longer content gets more links, gets shared more often, and gets more actual reads. Make your blog posts useful and long, but never long for the sake of being long. This post right here could have been ten times longer, but it’s meant as just an overview and would have been overwhelming if it had been much longer.
Obviously your website should also have a good about page with links to your online profiles and your books. Having separate pages for each of your books is a great idea and can help you really dominate the search results when people are searching for your stuff.
Have an Internal Linking Strategy
You need well-placed links throughout your website. Your navigation should be easy to follow. Your pages should be linked together skillfully. Put links in your blog posts to other content on your website. Make sure everything flows together and give people quick and easy access to other relevant content. If there’s an opportunity somewhere on a page to link to another page, do it.
Know Your Audience
You can’t just target other writers. While writers are more likely to read more than the average person, writers have tons of friends who are writers, and they can’t buy every book by a writer. You need to branch out and create content that isn’t just for writers. Find out what your readers like, and write about these topics. But don’t have a blog of infinite topics and infinite voices. There needs to be some sense of consistency throughout.
Back in the heyday of SEO, blog comments were a huge thing. You could build links and rank better by commenting on blog posts all over the web, even if they had nothing to do with your content. Now, these links don’t help you at all from an SEO perspective. Every platform under the sun automatically adds a “nofollow” tag to all blog comments. That means no link equity will be passed to your website (these links have no value in the eyes of the search engines). But that doesn’t mean that commenting on other writing blogs is a worthless exercise. It’s actually a great way to get your voice out there and be part of the discussion. People get to know you that way. And when it comes to comments on your own blog posts, allow them and respond to as many as possible. This helps build relationships.
We’ve only covered a few essential SEO topics here, and we covered them pretty quickly. You aren’t an SEO expert because you read this article. If you want to become great at SEO, do that instead of being an author. You will probably make a lot more money.
Great SEO is hard. But no one is asking you to be great at SEO. Your job as an author is to have the basics in place so you can perform well in the search results. You also have to be realistic. You aren’t going to rank at the top of Google for “books” or “writer.” If you have a specific niche, maybe you can rank well on that. But your first priority is to rank at the top for your own name. Once that’s accomplished, then you can start casting wider nets and bringing more traffic to your author website.
Have questions about SEO? Fire away in the comments or send me an email and I’ll help you out as best I can.