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Indie Author's Guide to SEO (Part 2)

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Indie Author's Guide to Search Engine Optimization: An Interview with Dr. Kevin W. Tharp
Photo of Dr. Kevin Tharp
June 18, 2018
(Part 2)

Welcome to the second installment of the Indie Author's Guide to SEO. On June 5, 2018, I had the real joy of interviewing Dr. Kevin W. Tharp, Associate Professor of Digital Marketing Technology at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.

In the first installment, we covered the question of how to find an audience and what the implications of that process are on social media choices.

In this section, we're going to cover handling reviews, including the meaning of that ubiquitous marketing term: brand.

Marta: I hear the term "brand" a lot in marketing materials, but since I'm not natively a marketing person, I'm not really sure what it means.

Dr. T: Okay, your brand. Here's a 2018 definition--the perception people have of your product. There may be multiple brands out there. Our current president is an example of multiple brands around the same person: his own, his supporters, his opponents. His overall brand is the combination of all of those. That's challenging, but that's the world that we live in.

Brand has a lot changed in the last 10-15 years. It used to be that a company would put out a product and control that product's brand from a single point out to all the multiple points of its users. But the internet is multipoint-to-multipoint, not point-to-multipoint like in the old days when that was most of the interaction.

With the internet, you don't control your brand. You feed your brand, but the feedback from your audience is really the part of your brand that people trust the most. Whatever you say about your brand has some credibility. But take reviews, for example. Reviews are a huge part of indie marketing. People trust reviews more than they trust the author him or herself.

For example, there's a new Dresden Files book coming out. My friend posted about it and we had a little conversation about it. It's in those little channels that a brand really takes hold.

The number one rule is: You have to have a good product. You write your book, so you have a good product, then what you have to start doing is seeing how people respond to your product, or how people are branding your brand. Is their perception of your work similar or different than your own perception of it? You have to consider any differences: Should I appropriate the branding message my readers have or should I go down my own line? How do I work with the people who are putting energy into my product and my brand? That's part of the process.

Question Mark Image

Marta: You alluded to reviews earlier, when you discussed you and your friend talking about Jim Butcher's new Dresden Files book. What does an indie author need to know about handling reviews at Amazon or further afield?

Dr. T: Sure, let's use the analogy of a restaurant. Say there's a restaurant, somebody did a Yelp review, gave it three stars. That same night, the manager was knocking on their door and calling their house to try to figure out why that person had given it three stars. That's the outlier example of how NOT to handle reviews, going after the folks who give you low ratings.

You've got to think about how that kind of exchange would look in a public space. There's a level of professionalism that needs to happen. You don't want to fight the folks who are contributing to your brand. You don't want to get into a pissing contest on social media. Your fans will see aggression or pettiness in the people who've read your book and reviewed it negatively. And they'll ignore it. But they won't ignore your aggression or pettiness if you fight back. You really have to reach for the higher ground.

You can do a lot of things to encourage positive reviews, but you're going to have to expect some negative reviews because not everybody's not going to like everything all the time. A bad review can increase your credibility because then it's clear that you're not planting or seeding for all good reviews.

It's something I talk to my clients about: How will you handle a negative review? If you're going to be pissed and rant, then you are going to lose your credibility. You will become a problem author. So, you plan for some negative reviews. You have to have a strategy for how you'll handle that crisis before it happens.

Marta: There's a lot of confusing and mutually contradictory information out there for indie authors about how Amazon handles reviews. Any advice on sifting through the pile?

Dr. T: I'd say the amount of chatter you hear is probably reflecting the reality of the importance of reviews. Beyond that, knowing how the data industry operates, Amazon or any book site has predictive algorithms based on how similar books to yours have performed. So they have an expectation of how many reviews you should have and about what they should look like.

Going back to the restaurant analogy: If you've been open six months and have two reviews, then a rush, Yelp, or Amazon, will consider the new reviews suspect. Amazon does put more weight on Verified Purchase reviews--gives them more level of trust, features them.

Reviews are ever more important, both top reviews and low reviews. Because everything's going to have a one-star review, it's important to think about what those one-star reviews are reflecting: Technical problems? Quality of content? Lack of engagement? Does the book leave me hanging?

Most of all, make sure you read your reviews, especially if you're planning a second book!

Marta: Stay tuned for the next installment of the Indie Author's Guide to Search Engine Optimization, when we'll talk about what to look for in a web-hosting company.
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