by Steve Weber

#79, 9 October 2006

Using Web 2.0 to Power Your Book Sales

Selling on Amazon

Printer Friendly Article

Recently, Amazon has launched a flurry of new community features enabling booksellers and customers to make it easier for people to find books. The new features depend on user-submitted ideas, something referred to as "Web 2.0" on Amazon and elsewhere.

Two new Amazon features showing the most promise for booksellers are "Search Suggestions" and "tags." Each feature provides a completely new way for buyers to find your books and could make a critical difference in your ability to move highly collectible and scarce or obscure books.

Search Suggestions

Amazon's Search Suggestions feature is a form of "social search," which depends on human intelligence rather than predefined keywords or search-engine formulas. On each book detail page, the link "Make a Search Suggestion" allows users to recommend tying a book to specific keywords and provide an explanation of why the connection is relevant.

This differs from the most common way customers discover your books on Amazon: keywords in the title. The primary path to book discovery on Amazon has always been keyword searches. The customer types part of the title or author name, and Amazon shows books matching the search query.

But what if the customer doesn't know the official title? To give an example from the music world, legions of Beatles fans have always referred to the group's 1968 album with a plain white cover as The White Album. But that's not really the title. [EDITOR'S NOTE: The working title for this album was A Doll's House, derived from a play of the same name written by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. Ultimately, the only text appearing on the album's cover was The Beatles.]

Now, using Search Suggestions, you can help customers find your books using alternative words and expressions than those found in the title or even the full text of the book.

Here's an example of a Search Suggestion that's already in use. For Shakespeare's Macbeth, one Amazon user submitted this search suggestion: "The Scottish Play." Typing these three words into Amazon's search box will now return "Macbeth" as the top result. The relevancy explanation is now shown next to a link to the book in Amazon search results: "Theater superstition dictates that Macbeth is referred to as 'the Scottish play.'"

Another example - searching for "stolen data" now returns the book, I.T. Wars: Managing the Business-Technology Weave in the New Millennium.

Here's an example of how you might use Search Suggestions to boost your own sales: Let's assume you have a 1928 copy of Miniature Boat Building.

Currently, the only way someone can find this book on Amazon is to search for the exact words in the title. But perhaps you know some better search terms: "model boats," "model shipbuilding" or "model boating hobbyist." You can add these search expressions for this book in just a few minutes, making it that much more likely that buyers will discover your book.

Once a Search Suggestion is approved, the book appears in search results, along with the relevancy explanation, when customers search using those keywords.

It will be interesting to see how well Amazon polices this new feature. Its guidelines for prohibited content seem to cover most of the bases:

  1. Profanity, obscenities, or spiteful remarks

  2. Commenting on other search suggestions.

  3. Phone numbers, mail addresses, and URLs.

  4. Availability, price, or alternative ordering/shipping information.

  5. Time-sensitive material.

  6. Suggestions which may be "controversial, politically or otherwise."

 Subscribe in a reader