Metadata: SEO for your Book

Metadata is what drives search engine optimization (SEO) and enables web designers to get their websites to rank higher in search results. But metadata isn’t only for website and blogs, it’s also for books. Like SEO, metadata is text written specifically to aid computer systems and search engines. In an era where online shopping is the norm, an absence of metadata (or poorly written metadata) means a book won’t show up in the search results when shoppers are perusing the digital shelves of their favorite online marketplace.

Book metadata helps sell books by using keywords and phrases that make it easy for readers to find them. Because of this, it’s vital that indie publishers include metadata creation as part of their book promotion strategy. So what exactly is metadata?

Metadata is data about data. It summarizes basic information and categorizes the content search engines use when indexing pages. Think of it as a spider web that connects books to genres, authors, other books in the same series, and more. Basically, it’s an invisible set of instructions that keeps online storefronts running smoothly.

Not all metadata is create equal. Some metadata is objective: publication date, ISBN, shipping weight, etc. Other metadata is subjective, such as book description and keywords, which can vary greatly in effectiveness.

 Common Metadata

Every online marketplace is different, but all are likely to request metadata that falls into a few basis categories: story information, author information, publisher information, cataloguing information, and book specifications. This information must be consistent and accurate. Below is a list of some of the essential types of metadata that will be requested when upload files to be printed, applying for an ISBN, connecting with cover designers, and more:

Story Information

  • Book Title and Subtitle. Capitalization, spelling, punctuation, and proper names must be consistent, along with the use of symbols, such as using an ampersand instead of the word “and.”
  • Series or Volume
  • Book Description. In most instances the back cover blurb will suffice as a description. However, some platforms will ask for both short (a few hundred words) and long (a few thousand words) descriptions. Keep all descriptions together and use them consistently across publishing platforms, including ebook sites.
  • Table of Contents

Author/Contributor Information

  • Author Name. Always identify yourself the same way, regardless of whether that includes the use of initials or nickname and include anyone else whose name should appear on the sales page.
  • Author Biography

Publisher Information

  • Publishing House/Imprint
  • Publication Date. This is the date the book will be available for sale.
  • Copyright

Cataloguing Information

  • ISBNs. Books are identified with a 13-digit International Standard Book Number (ISBN). Get this from Bowker. Each type of book (hardback, paperback, ebook, and audio book) requires a separate ISBN.
  • LCCN/CIP Data. A Library of Congress Control Number (LCCN) is not required, but should be record if one has been granted. There is no charge to register books with the Library of Congress, however, if registered, the publisher is required to send a copy to the Library of Congress once the book is published. Indie publishers are not eligible to apply for Catalogue-in-Publication data from the library of Congress until they have published at least three books.
  • Target Audience. Adult trade is common for novels and nonfiction, but other categories such as young adult or new adult may be appropriate. For Amazon KDP, there are also metadata fields for age range and United States grade range.
  • BISACs Code. Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) codes were created by the nonprofit Book Industry Study Group and are standard across the entire publishing industry. These 9-character alphanumeric codes identify a book’s subject, reading level and genre. Every book retailer uses BISAC codes and expects them to be included in the metadata. These codes directly impact whether or not your target audience can find your book.
  • Primary Subject/Genre Category. This is the path that tells search engines how to find a book. Many self-publishers choose a category that’s too broad. Readers are savvy and know how to search for exactly the kind of books they want. Search results are prioritized according to relevance, so a book categorized FICTION > General will always be at the bottom of the list when readers are searching for contemporary romance, historical fiction, paranormal horror, etc.
  • Keywords are words and short phrases readers might enter into a search engine when looking for a book. Avoid redundant keywords, such as those that already appear in the category field.

Book Specs.

  • Type of Book (hardback, paperback, ebook, audio book)
  • Cover Files and Description. Each type of book will need its own specifically sized file.
  • Language
  • Font Style and Size
  • Paper Weight and Color
  • Number of Pages (this is the total number of pages, including front and back matter, not just the numbered pages.)
  • Number of Illustrations
  • Product Dimensions (trim size, spine width, and shipping weight.)
  • Printing Cost and Suggested Retail Price.

In addition to the items listed above, compound objects can also be included in metadata. An example of this is the star ratings that appear on Amazon, GoodReads, and other book review sites.

Download a metadata worksheet here: Book Metadata

Metadata enables indie publishers and authors to sell their books online by making them searchable. Complete and effective metadata actually attracts readers by placing the book in competitive clusters of similar books. This ensures the book gets in front of the readers most likely to buy it.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you will only fill out the “important” information and leave the rest blank. All this data exists for a reason. Size and style of font may seem like a silly thing to categorize, but a significant portion of the population specifically seeks out books listed as large print. Think product dimensions are unimportant? They determines if a book needs to be shelved with oversized items or if it can go on the shelf with the rest of the books. Just remember, every blank field is a missed sales opportunity.

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