Last month, I described how the Book Industry Study Group is working to align Onix with the way search engines look for information on Web pages. The work is important, but publishers looking to make their content more visible need not wait until the committee recommendations are released. Best practices in making content discoverable on the Web extend well beyond the use of rich, linked metadata. These practices include the following:
● making sure content can be indexed;
● providing crawlable link structures;
● using keywords effectively;
● writing good tag descriptions;
● creating informative URL structures.
To improve discovery, publishers should ensure that their content can be consistently indexed by search engines. Providing so-called alt text to describe images is an easy way to allow those engines to associate the title of a book with its cover image; so, too, is offering a text transcript of video and audio content. That great interview with an up-and-coming author is invisible without the transcript.
Because many publishers’ sites are targeted at wholesalers or retailers, they rely on search boxes to help trading partners find what they want. That approach won’t attract consumers, since most readers are still unlikely to search for ISBNs or similar identifiers.
Publishers who rely on search boxes often think less about how search engines might navigate from a landing page to title-specific pages on a site. If a site lacks crawlable link structures, search engines will miss some (or much) of the descriptive content elsewhere on the site.
Use Keywords Effectively
Keywords should be the terms consumers are likely to use when searching for an answer or book. The challenge with keywords is as much selection as presentation. It can be helpful to use tools such as Google Adwords to understand what readers are looking for.
Publishers sometimes default to author names and book titles as keywords. These can be effective when consumers know what they want to find: To Kill a Mockingbird, or Harper Lee, for example.But other terms can be very effective tools for publishers, whose lists include titles that offer unique content to targeted audiences. A cookbook featuring Cajun cuisine or an appetizer for a Mardi Gras party might find that jambalaya and Louisiana crab dip (as well as Mardi Gras appetizers) work well. The number of users who search for each of these terms might be smaller than the one searching for Harper Lee, but the conversion rate (the share of visitors to a Web page who buy something from that page) can be higher among those who find pages using targeted keywords.
The order, spelling, punctuation, and capitalization of keywords all matter. This is true anywhere the keywords appear, including page fields that present the title, body text, or metadata about a book.
Keywords can help a book’s Web page rank highly in search results. So-called keyword stuffing (repeatedly using certain terms in page descriptions with the hope of boosting the page’s ranking) is controversial and for the most part does not deliver the results publishers need. Instead, try to use keywords as follows:
● early in the title tag, but just once;
● once prominently near the top of a page;
● up to three times in body copy (more is allowed if the text is extensive);
● smartly, at least once in the alt text description of an image;
● once in the page URL.
Good Tag Descriptions
Both title tags and metatags give publishers opportunities to aid discovery. Title tags describe the content of a website. Ideally, the length of the tag would fall between 65 and 75 characters, with the most important keywords featured early. If there’s a brand—a series, for example—the title tag should end with it.
The title tag should be readable—an effective description of the content of the page. The more effective tags convey emotion, something tied to the content of the page. Too often, publishers miss this opportunity to bring aspects of a book to the immediate attention of those searching the Web.
Metatags essentially provide the promotional copy that appears when search results are returned. The best metatags run fewer than 160 characters. Once a page is found, metatags give publishers a chance to describe what’s on the page in their own words. It’s important to complete metatags because without a tag, search engines will create something based on the page.
The structure of URLs is another underused opportunity for publishers. The best URLs help you figure out what’s there before you click. As with most aids to discovery on the Web, shorter is better, but be smart about it. Refer back to your keywords and try to include them where they make sense. And make sure the URL is something humans can read. Numbers and other characters can make for a unique Web address, but they don’t appeal to readers.
Paying attention to indexing, link structures, keywords, tags, and URLs won’t solve every problem publishers have in making their content discoverable, but they provide a solid foundation.