Dec 01 2007

Search Engine Optimization for Online Novels

This article describes some remotely technical details of search engine optimization, particularly for authors/novelists.

Search engine optimization, strategically planting terms that your target audience uses when doing Google searches, is extremely important to determining how many people will actually see your site.

Yesterday, one of my writing articles was called “Helping Girls Write Guys.” But women authors searching for advice on writing male characters don’t use words like “guys”, “helping,” or “girls.” My title was a bust. Google Analytics showed that phrases like “writing male characters” and “women creating male characters” were much more popular. I changed the article’s title to “Writing Male Characters.” The article was already one of my most popular pages, so I’m really interested to see if the change affects its traffic. I’ll let you know in a month. [UPDATE: It’s been ~10 days now and the preliminary results are really strong. See more here].

>Understanding who is using which Google queries to get to your page will help you strategize more effectively. For example, I’ve looked through my search queries and I found that phrases related to writing articles (like “writing a superhero novel” or “superhero story structure”) were much more popular than phrases related to reading a story (“superhero story,” “superhero novel”). In the future, I will try to attract Google hits by using reading-related phrases whenever relevant.

In order, these are my most popular search terms. I’ve also included related search terms, just to show where my audience is fragmented. I think that a fragmented audience suggests that I’m being beaten on a really popular parent term but winning on related phrases.

  1. superhero nation (Superhero Nation is #2 on Google. SCREW YOU, TIME!)
  2. superhero novel (Superhero Novel is #6 on Google, up from #11 a month ago).
    1. how to write a superhero novel
    2. writing a superhero novel
    3. superhero novels/super hero novels
    4. guide to writing superhero
  3. superhero novel title (#1 on Google!)
  4. writing male characters (#1 on Google!)
    1. writing the male
    2. guy and girl characters different
    3. female author male narrator
    4. Use of male characters
    5. Write male characters
    6. Women writers creating male characters
  5. superhero stories (not in top #20—I haven’t used the word story much. That kind of explains why this category is so fragmented). I probably have a big opportunity here.
    1. beginning a story about superheroes
    2. superhero short story
    3. superhero story writing
    4. superhero style writing in photoshop
    5. writing a superhero book
    6. plotting a superhero story
    7. structure of a superhero story
    8. writing superhero
    9. writing superhero profiles
    10. writing superhero stories
    11. structure of a superhero
    12. superhero and supervillain stories
  6. naming a superhero (#7 on Google)
    1. superhero names
    2. superhero character names
    3. Superhero name puns
    4. Superhero name basis
    5. Superhero name + words for
    6. Superhero names that start with L/O
    7. Unusual superhero names
    8. Witty superhero names
  7. notre dame (not in top #20… nor will I ever be… I kid you not, I’m at #16 on notre dame superhero)
    1. “getting into notre dame”
  8. novel chapter titles (#6 on Google)
    1. novel chapter titles
    2. novels with character names for titles
    3. how to make effective novel titles
    4. how to name novels
    5. great novel titles
    6. effect of no chapter titles on reader
    7. devising a novel title
    8. good names novel writing
    9. deciding novel title
    10. effective novel titles
    11. names chapter novels
    12. naming novel chapters
    13. titles that sell
    14. why are names important novel

I’ve taken away a few points.

  1. My site performs much better at attracting searches aimed at writing advice than finding a story to read.
    1. To attract more readers, I have to fight harder for reading-related words likenovel,” “story,” “book” and superhero-related variations thereof. I think the most lucrative search queries out there are superhero novel and superhero story, but right now I perform poorly on them. Additionally, I will have to overcome peer competitor novels.
    2. I love writers and enjoy writing articles on writing, but I feel that writers are somewhat less likely to eventually purchase Superhero Nation, which is the point of the website.
  2. So far, “superhero parody” and related searches have been terribly unpopular.
    1. I’m at #26 for the wildly competitive superhero parody. On “superhero parody” I score #20, but you really need to be in the top ten (five, ideally) for the search to be productive.
  3. “effective” is the most popular adjective used by writers in search terms.
    1. writing effective novel titles, effective chapter structure, etc.
    2. “Great” was a distant runner-up.
  4. Searches related to comic books and graphic novels were absolutely a non-factor.

Some specific searches for Superhero Nation… these are interesting because they show that 1) readers are trying to return and 2) which details they find the most memorable. I notice that OSI characters—even minor ones— are mentioned more often than Social Justice Leaguers. If I ever write a sequel, I think that I’ll focus on the OSI, given that the market for liberal heroes is already so competitive and the existing governmental and/or conservative superheroes suck so very badly. (If I can’t beat SHIELD, HATE and Sean Hannity, it’s time to throw away the pens).

I’ll bold OSI characters and underline Justice Leaguers just to emphasize the gap.

  1. Superhero Nation—by far my most popular query, incidentally.
  2. “Superhero Nation” “Jacob Mallow”
  3. Agent OrangeAgent Black mammals [Mammals… hell yeah! The cult is spreading.]
  4. Agent Black Gigas
  5. Superhero agent orange
  6. Neocon lizard [although this search may have been aimed at a different site, I’ll count it as an attempt to find Agent Orange].
  7. Superhero Lash
  8. “Georgia Tech sympathizer” [that was probably me]
  9. Captain carnage cartoon
  10. “Moron Jones”
  11. “here to be assistatory”
  12. OSI “Human Resources”
  13. “empire state strikes back”
  14. The more leaks the better

So, by a count of 7-2, the OSI has clobbered the Social Justice League. Agent Black, a virtually insignificant character, racked up 2 and Orange picked up 3. Even the agency itself gets a nod. But Lash is more or less the main character and he’s picked up only 1, which is very strange and disappointing. It suggests that he’s bland or otherwise just not connecting with readers like the OSI characters are. I suspect that I need to rework, reduce or remove him. I’m not 100% sure that the story needs to have a Leaguer be the main character, actually, and I feel that it’s much easier to be funny and unrestrained with Agent Orange. So many reviewers have mentioned that they don’t understand the politics of the Social Justice League… I see a simple solution here: reduce Lash’s role/prominence and pretty much remove the League’s office politics or just the League altogether.

One response so far

One Response to “Search Engine Optimization for Online Novels”

  1. […] Girls Write Guys” to “Writing Male Characters” (I explained my reasoning here). I think that it’ll take 20 or so more days until I have conclusive information, but so far […]

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