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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Amazon Tagging: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

I've written about tagging on Amazon a few times on this blog. Here's a link to my original post which explains what it is and how authors with books for sale on Amazon can benefit from it.

To recap briefly, Amazon now allows anyone who has ever bought a product at the store in question to apply 'tags' to any book on sale there. Potential buyers can click on the tags associated with a book to see a list of other titles which have had the same tag applied (and which presumably they might therefore be interested in as well).

Tagging may also be used by Amazon to inform their 'You might also like...' recommendations, and so forth. All this makes it potentially a very powerful promotional tool.

In recent weeks I've been paying much more attention to tagging on Amazon - not only of my own books, but those of other writers as well. It strikes me that the system is poorly understood, and also sadly under-utilized by authors and publishers. It is also, unfortunately, open to abuse.

In my travels across the Amazon (LOL) I've seen plenty of examples of bad and even ugly use of tagging. Let's start with an example of the latter. Here are the tags for Dead and Alive, Book 3 in Dean Koontz's Modern Frankenstein series...

As you can see, these tags appear to have been applied by one disgruntled reader who has taken the opportunity to protest at what he considers an unreasonable delay in releasing the book. (In fact, if you read the reviews, you will see that Dean and his publishers had a very good reason for delaying this New Orleans-set title.)

I call this ugly tagging, because it is simply one person (ab)using the system to make derogatory comments. It's very easy to see how this sort of thing could get out of hand. Amazon might then have to introduce an approval system before any tags are applied (or, more likely, scrap the system altogether).

Fortunately 'ugly' tagging isn't too widespread, but there are lots of examples of 'bad' or pointless tagging. Here are the tags of a randomly chosen example from, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger...

Among the tags applied to this best-selling novel, you will see book, books, drama, fiction and other terms which are so vague that they are unlikely to be any help at all in telling people whether they might like the book in question. Some of the other tags, such as overrated, probably fall into the 'ugly' category.

What seems clear is that many people are confused by tagging and its purpose. Only a relatively small number of people apply tags, and an even more minuscule number do it in a worthwhile, sensible way. Paradoxically, however, this makes it a particularly powerful tool for authors and publishers, due to the general lack of competition. (Personally I see no objection to authors and publishers tagging their books, as done properly it helps readers understand the content of the book and whether or not it would appeal to them.)

So what tags should you apply to your book to help boost its sales? First and foremost, they should be specifically relevant to the book. If your novel is set in the sixties, for example, '1960s' could be a good, specific tag to apply. Your book will then appear any time someone clicks on the '1960s' tag on the pages of any other books which also have this tag. If a reader is interested in another book set in the sixties, there must be a good chance that yours will appeal to them as well.

To create such a benefit, your tags should of course be shared by other, related titles. Producing unique tags will not generate any immediate benefits for you, although it might do if people apply the tag to other books subsequently.

Ideally, of course, what you want is for your book to be linked to other, top-selling titles whose Amazon pages attract a lot of visitors. Tagging gives you an effective (and legitimate) way to achieve this, albeit at one step removed. Give your book some of the same tags to a best-selling one, and as long as the tags are specific enough to sound interesting, you will get a proportion of readers clicking on them to see related titles. Hey presto! Your own book will then appear.

Suppose that none of the tags currently on the book page you want to attract potential buyers from is relevant to your book, though? No problem! Just apply an appropriate tag to both your book and the top-selling title. Because of the small number of tags which have been applied so far, this technique currently works well even with best-sellers.

Finally, if you want to get multiple tags for your books, you could do a lot worse than join the co-operative tagging service called Tag My Book on Amazon. Members of TMBOA tag one another's books to help boost their positions (the more times a particular tag is used on a book, the higher up the list it is displayed for that tag). The TMBOA website has separate pages for and See also my earlier blog post about this site.

Good luck, and happy tagging!

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Anonymous Leah Carson said...

Thanks, Nick. Your blog post came up in a Google search about "tagging book on Amazon."
Previous references to "tagging" at various forums have left me baffled, but now I think I get it. I'll try this technique to promote my brand new Kindle ebook, "Arts & Crap: A Spoofletter on Arts and Crafts." Thanks again for your clear and helpful blog entry.
Leah Carson

9:51 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thank you, Leah. I'm glad you found my post helpful.

10:23 PM  
Anonymous Dr Robert E McGinnis said...

I am not satisfied that tag trading and that promoting large scale un-previewed book tagging is really ethical. Tag mine and I will tag yours, give me five stars and I will give you five, review my book and give me a good review and I will do one for you etc, etc, etc. This doesn't tell me how good the book is, why I should read it and how readers actually enjoyed the book. This just doesn't give credibility to the system of promotion. Promoting or selling a bad product can offer a disadvantage to future causes. There is nothing wrong with tagging, reviewing and then promoting someone's book if you feel it is good, as a matter of fact, I encourage that process, but generally, that is not the implied offer in most cases. If self published authors are going to become a success, they will have to work hard, write good material, make a lot of connections and show the world that what they write has honest merit.

2:24 PM  
Blogger Nick said...

Thank you for your thoughtful comments, Robert, which in general I agree with. I certainly agree that first and foremost, writers need to produce excellent books. The challenge, then, is to get them noticed in this highly competitive publishing environment. And this applies all the more so when they are competing with 'big name' authors, whose publishers pour large sums into promoting them.

In my view, tagging is a low-cost method self-published authors can use to level the playing field a bit. Properly used, tags are value-neutral. Tagging a book "paranormal", for example, simply helps readers identify the type of book it is, and increases the chance that the book will appear in searches for that genre.

For the record, I do not endorse the practice of giving reciprocal five-star reviews, although I understand that it goes on. This kind of thing is likely to be counter-productive for independent authors in the longer term, as it is likely to bring them into disrepute. Personally, I am always rather suspicious of titles that have five-star reviews and nothing else1

8:35 AM  

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