Earlier this month I conducted an author metadata audit workshop and the homework was a 30-minute audit. The objective was to help authors understand the role of metadata in selling books by showing how their online public information is used by search engines.
This posts explains the importance of metadata and outlines the steps you can follow to do a simple 30-minute audit. It concludes with meeting notes that share additional insights about how you can build a stronger online presence by building and managing your own author metadata profile.
Why is an author metadata audit important?
It isn’t enough to make sure your book and online store listings are accurate, optimized and fully complete. It’s certainly a first and necessary step, but if you stop there you are missing out on an important opportunity.
Every social network, not to mention every website, provides an opportunity for you to show up in a SERP—a Search Engine Results Page—the listing of results returned by a search engine in response to a keyword query.
Your goal is to dominate those results with information about you and your book, presented with as much relevance and clarity as possible.
Here’s a quick exercise to illustrate this point. Visit Google.com and type in your name, or the name of your favorite author, and study the results. The results will fall into four categories:
- Personal or business website(s) that you control or own.
- Your social media profiles, typically LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and Amazon AuthorCentral.
- Websites with listings that you control. These include stores that sell your book (e.g. Amazon), directories (e.g. trade associations), blogging sites (e.g. Medium)—any websites where you have direct control over how you are presented.
- Independent websites where you have little or no control over how you are presented. Examples include websites for news media and bloggers.
The search engine results you are looking at is your metadata.
Metadata can be defined as information about information. Metadata is data that describes and gives information about other data. Examples include the price of your book, the book dimensions, your Twitter bio, a book title, an ISBN, the name of a blog post, and so on.
Here is your homework assignment
- This article covers the fundamentals of managing author metadata. A version appeared in IBPA magazine and the advice forms the core of everything I recommend: The 7 Habits of Authors Obsessed About Metadata.
- This link brings up all the blog posts I’ve written about metadata. Read what interests you: http://www.authorimprints.com/tag/metadata/.
- Now look up the author metadata audit example I reference below. Since everyone’s metadata differs, I’ve limited this list to just 3 types of online presences that I believe every author already has (or should have), and listings that should show up on the first page of Google when you search for your name, or the name of your website. Download this PDF example from the meeting.
- Print the search results page from Google when you search for your name or website.
- Print or copy down your LinkedIn profile headline text.
- Print or copy down your Twitter bio.
A checklist of what to look for
(These notes will make more sense if you are looking at my PDF download.)
- Assuming you have a website, and LinkedIn and Twitter profiles, do they show up on the first page? One attendee spelled her name differently for her LinkedIn profile so it didn’t show up in her original search. Two people had duplicate profiles (they need to be merged).
- How complete are your listings?
- Is the information consistent?
- Do the listings you control use words or phrases (keywords) that you believe people are looking for? (How to find and select the ideal keywords is beyond the scope of this post. For now, simply choose commonly understood terms unless you know how to use Google Adwords keyword planner tool, or some other keyword tool, to optimize your listings.)
- Is the title tag from your website listing:
- …too long? A length that exceeds about 70 characters will be truncated and show ellipses, three periods. (I say “about” because the fonts are proportional.)
- …too short? Conversely, less than 70 characters could mean you are not using all the available space to include valuable search engine-friendly keywords.
- …uniquely descriptive for this page? You do not want to simply repeat page titles. The idea is to create a short sentence that accurately describes the page in such a way that it matches what people are looking for. If you don’t, and sometimes even if you do, Google will create its own title tag.
- Now look at your website’s description tag and go through the same steps you did with the title tag. The one difference is that the length should be about 156 characters. If you see ellipses, it is too long. If it is missing, Google will show text from the page—often beginning at the top of the page—which may or may not be ideal.The description tag is generally acknowledged as no longer a search ranking factor, but you nevertheless want this to be descriptive. This is what people read to decide whether or not to click your link. Ask your webmaster for help if you do not know how or where to put a page description
- LinkedIn and Twitter supply their own “description tags.” LinkedIn’s is called the headline and it is 120 characters while Twitter shows your 160-character bio to search engines. Clearly you need to optimize your text for each of these platforms by staying within the length limits while remaining consistent, and using descriptive keywords.
10 takeaways from the workshop
With thanks to Lynette Smith for her detailed note taking, here are some highlights from the meeting. Many of these go beyond the author metadata audit itself and touch on related topics. (I deleted feedback that is repetitive with the above checklist.)
- Search-engine optimizing does not last forever because the amount of information and its metadata are always changing. Also, search engines differ. Example: the keyword results on Amazon will differ from those on Google. The lesson: monitor and adjust.
- Interconnect your online presences. Example: connect your blog to your Goodreads author profile and it will help your profile show up in Google searches.
- The distinction between Google AdWords (paid ads) and organic (free) results is that AdWords listings show at the top of the page whereas organic results show up below the paid listings, with the higher rankings showing up first (the Holly Grail!).
- What we’ve heard is true: Google gives “demerits” for websites that are not mobile friendly. Click here to test your website.
- Listing keywords within a web page’s HTML code is not as important as it used to be; today Google favors keywords in the page’s URL and title, and to some extent keywords positioned within the page.
- If you blog, more frequent posting and longer posts (800+ words) are better than sporadic and short (<500 words) posts. The key for search engines, and your readers, is consistency.
- Consider writing/blogging for popular websites that attract readers similar to your audience’s book. Huffington Post and Medium.com are good general interest websites but popular niche websites will probably help you build a stronger author platform in your field(s) of interest.
- The way you approach other websites is also important. One member shared that he started by building a relationship by posting comments from time to time on their blogs. His name became familiar to them and he established credibility. Then he asked if he could write a guest post, or trade posts.
- Select relevant categories on Amazon for your books, within which you have a reasonable chance (with effort) of becoming an Amazon Best Seller. This sometimes means selecting a less popular, but still relevant category that isn’t yet monopolized by a best-selling book.
- While [Amazon] CreateSpace permits only one category, Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) allows two categories. One attendee commented that she felt she needed additional categories for her books and called Amazon about it; they, seeing the sales potential of her listing in even more categories, granted her request.
What did you find when you searched for your author name on Google? Describe your experience and findings below.