41 Replies to “How To (Ethically) Hack Amazon Categories”

  1. Thanks for this post. Excellent supplement to Let’s Get Digital and Amazon Decoded. I’m in the midst of picking categories and keywords, so it was perfectly timed. One question, do I only choose keywords that connect with a category or does one add some relevant keywords that are not keyed to categories (i.e. not listed on the Categories with keywords list or hacking guesses thereof)? I guess I’m wondering if there are search advantages to adding relevant words (after choosing all the relevant ones that are keyed to drilling down in categories) even though they do nothing category-wise. Or does that screw things up or add nothing useful?

    1. My favorite answer: it depends! I think expanding your visibility footprint is so important and you need to be strategic here. Getting into granular sub-categories is crucial. But you don’t need all your keywords to do that and should apportion some to rope in readers using search to find books. But what you are writing will affect the balance you go for there. For example, if you are writing non-fiction, appearing in search is much more important – which makes sense if you think of how readers search for books. If you are learning basket weaving or Mandarin, I guess books are a little more fungible maybe? Whatever the reason, this is a definite reader trend – search is much more of a discovery tool for non-fiction readers. Less so for fiction, and in that case you might lean more to expanding categories.

      1. Thanks. That clarifies it. I think I’ll certainly have “extra” spots beyond all the needed keywords for categories. I do write fiction–historical fantasy–so probably not something people are going to go searching for so much, but I’ll consider if there are a couple keywords for my niche to catch all those peculiar souls who want fantasy set in the Bronze Age…

        1. Don’t forget you can enter more than one word in each of the seven keyword boxes – I think the permitted limit is 50 characters.

        2. I am feeling overwhelmed with how complex the process of getting my book up on Amazon. I am so glad for all the helpful information others share. It is hard to figure out, and it feels like if you get off to a bad start, that it may doom your book. I think keywords are the trickiest part for me. I tend to prefer long-tail keywords when developing websites, so thinking of individual keywords is more difficult for me. Your comment “Don’t forget you can enter more than one word in each of the seven keyword boxes – I think the permitted limit is 50 characters.” is a huge help, David.

  2. I have a rather detailed question: In order to get into one of those coveted sub-categories (where I want to be is “Dragons”) do I have to devote one keyword slot to that? In other words, must it be “dragons” and only “dragons”?

    Or can I stuff more into that one slot like “good, friendly, intelligent dragons”?

    1. We should let David weigh in here, but I’ve asked this question in various forums. The answer was that you can use a keyword phrase, and the individual words will still ‘score’ as well. You can’t include commas like you are proposing, it will delete everything after the first comma. So “good friendly intelligent dragons” is a valid phrase, and the word “dragons” will score by itself.

      I’ve also seen discussions that imply that Amazon’s algorithm will pick out common phrases within the keyword phrase. So “young adult female protagonist” should score for “young adult” and “female protagonist”. Has anyone confirmed this?

      David, what are your thoughts?

      1. You can put as many seperate words in each of the seven keywords slots as you like, up to a maximum of, I think, 50 characters. So you could, for example, do “young adult epic dragon fantasy” as one of your seven keywords (ditch the commas as Tom suggests).

        And yes, as Tom also suggests, that will count as a search trigger for all variations of that, so you should appear – somewhere – for “young adult” “dragon” “epic fantasy” and “young adult epic fantasy.”

        1. Thank you both! I’ve started playing with the keywords, and I will go back and check again. Since my books are practically invisible at the moment, I have a “good” baseline to measure against. *laughs*

          Love your blog, David!

  3. It’s been a while since I tried the keyword hack on my non-fiction. When I played around with it two years back, my keywords never added categories for me. Has any of this changed or does this only work with certain top level categories?

    Also, I have noticed that my non-fiction books (health and fitness) land in weird categories that I’ve never put them in (like Food Counters, whatever that is). I’ve never chosen this category, and it goes in and out. I rank in that category periodically, then weeks later I’m not even in it anymore. Yet, it wasn’t me. I made zero changes.

    It makes me wonder if sometimes Amazon plops books in and out of categories that their algorithms think are a good fit.

    1. There’s a link in the post above to (what purports to be) a comprehensive list of the keyword triggers for various subcategories. However, it’s not 100% accurate or comprehensive and you often have to do a little testing. I think you can accidentally plop yourself into a sub-category by inadvertently choosing its corresponding trigger word but I think this is much more of a problem on the non-fiction side, with incredibly broad categories like “Reference” – that’s not as big of a problem with Fiction. Actually, this was one defense that stuffers had for “accidentally” putting their books into inappropriate categories like Fairy Tales or whatever, when in actual fact, choosing the respective keyword trigger will only work if you have also selected the parent category as one of your two in the KDP Dashboard. It’s not something you can really stumble into (unlike non-fiction with those super broad categories).

      1. Yes, I already have the book in my Kindle library and I’m receiving your emails. I’ve been using BookBub ads for a while now, clinging to your “low hanging fruit” principle, and seeing some results, but my learning curve isn’t that steep; it’s taking a while.

  4. If you drill down through Kindle Store>Kindle eBooks>Science Fiction & Fantasy>Science Fiction (and any further sub-categories) there are two lists that show up in the left-hand column– Characters and Genre. If I wanted my science fiction novel to show up in the Characters filter results for AIs, Clones, Corporations and Mutants (for examples) would I need to include those as keywords in the seven category keyword phrases? Or are those lists filtering on something else?

    1. I’ve only done very limited testing on those filters (as they aren’t as valuable as getting in an extra sub-category with its own Best Seller list etc.) but I think guessing at the keywords might work there too.

  5. 1. How do I view the sub-category level Best Seller lists? Under Popular in Kindle when I click on “best sellers & more” I can only find the top 20 books overall (sold or read), not categories or subcategories. This is probably eminently obvious and I’m being dimwitted, but I cannot find it for the life of me. I want to see what is best selling in the various categories I’m choosing between. 2. Related failure to find–I want to see if the books in a particular category are more or less competitive (your good advice in Let’s Get); however, I’m missing the how to view each book’s rank (which may be solved when I get to the Best Seller lists…)

  6. Hi, David. Apologies for the Monty Python quotation, but… my brain hurts! I’m struggling to get my head around the difference between categories and keywords and the whys and whatnows.

    My new book is a crime thriller/police procedural set in the UK. On KDP, I selected the categories:
    • Fiction>Mystery & Detective>Police Procedural
    • Fiction>Thrillers>Crime

    The seven keywords (all true to the content) are:
    • british detective
    • murder
    • serial killer
    • disturbing
    • small town
    • police
    • dark

    The AISN search (B07FSFMKXX) shows it as listed under:
    • Crime, Thriller & Mystery>Mystery
    • Crime, Thriller & Mystery>Mystery>Police Procedurals
    • Crime, Thriller & Mystery>Thrillers
    • Crime, Thriller & Mystery>Thrillers>Crime
    • Literature & Fiction

    A few of these seem a bit generic to me. (Literature & Fiction?)

    What should I be doing to improve visibility?

    Thank you!

    1. Hey Andrew, when I search for your ASIN on Amazon US I see these categories for your book:

      1. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Mystery > Police Procedurals
      2. Mystery, Thriller & Suspense > Thrillers > Crime

      Those seem a good fit, but you also have room to add a few more with smart keyword choices which will increase your visibility footprint. But before I get into that, the discrepancy between what I’m seeing and what you’re seeing is down to you searching on Amazon UK (I’m guessing).

      All the international stores are localized to a certain extent, which means they all have their own quirks. Your general “Literature & Fiction” category is an artifact of that, is my guess, so just ignore it. The other UK categories are a little less granular because those sub-categories don’t exist yet in the UK store.

      You will see that the UK has specific sub-categories based on reader tastes/expectations and this is the list to trigger inclusion in same: https://kdp.amazon.com/en_US/help/topic/G201276790#uk

      (If you scroll up on that page, you will see the respective US list also.)

      You can incorporate any useful ones in your current keyword set without losing any existing keywords because each keyword slot can take multiple terms up to a maximum of 50 characters. For example, instead of using up one keyword slot with just “murder” you can have “dark disturbing murder” instead and now you have two free slots to play with.

      Play around wiht it and try to max out the possibilities here – just keep it relevant.

      1. “Your general “Literature & Fiction” category is an artifact of that, is my guess, so just ignore it. ”

        ‘Literature & Fiction’ is an odd category. Starting in Books, then using the lists in the left column to drill down – Literature & Fiction>Action & Adventure gets you to a list that includes Science Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense, and some of the other main categories. It’s a re-shuffling of those categories, but placed under ‘Literature & Fiction’. This feels like it’s an artifact from the legacy publishing system that Amazon is trying to accommodate.

  7. David,

    There’s something wrong. I put my email address in to get Amazon Decoded, and follow the instructions, but I never get it.

    Beyond that, great article. The publisher I’m working with is now checking all the categories and tags. I showed him the article, and he was fascinated by it. We’d not known how it all worked.

    Wayne

    1. Hey Wayne, something must have gone wrong during the sign up process as it says you signed up in 1970. Which would be quite forward thinking of you, as it was before I was born! Anyway, I’ve emailed you so that you can get your book, but please let me know if you don’t get future emails (usually every Friday but sometimes I’m a day late!).

    2. FYI that email bounced back to me. I’m getting this error: Your message wasn’t delivered to [the email you inserted when making this comment and signing up to my list] because the address couldn’t be found, or is unable to receive mail.

      I’d say the best thing to do is to email me from the address you wish to be signed up under: https://davidgaughran.com/contactfaq/

      We’ll take it from there!

      1. Oh crud. I have two email addresses, an ‘urgent’ one, and a ‘whenever’ one and I mixed up the two of them ???

        Check it now.

        I could have signed up in 1970 – I was fourteen then, and writing some of the worst prose ever, some of which I still have. I didn’t understand characters back then. Heck, I didn’t understand much about writing, I just knew I wanted to be the next Roger Zelazny!

  8. I really like your post as it covers a lot of the steps and thinking process invovled in choosing a good category. I recently release a tool that aggregates information about all 10 000 kindle categories to allow authors to choose the least competitive category to hit that sweet spot you are talking about.

    Give it a go, I would love your feedback: https://www.kindleranker.com
    For each category, Kindle Ranker displays the number of sales needed to get to the front page, the average price, % of indie releases, % of new releases, etc.

    Of course you can search through this data using advanced queries like: List categories where book title contain”Love affair” and “Romance”, etc.

    Cheers,

  9. Yo! David!

    How are you??

    Thanks for this masterpiece!! Four years later i know how to check where my books are!

    I would like to know….

    If my books are on english categories (i write spanish fiction), this could be loss visibility for my books?

    Thanks !!

  10. Greetings David,

    Quick question: Do you always pick the “parent” category, even if a sub-category is available? So if I wanted to be in “Fiction>Coming of Age”, I should choose “Fiction”? Of the categories under “Fiction”, only eight have sub-categories that go further than one level deep.

    So following the advice of picking the parent, most would select “Fiction” and stop.

    Am I understanding you correctly?

    With thanks,
    Lee

    1. Sorry, I meant the opposite. You should choose the deepest sub-category selectable in the KDP interface when publishing. In this case, if Fiction > Coming of Age is selectable, then choose that. You will automatically be in the parent category also.

      That phrase you are referring to is with regard to keyword categories. If you are trying to access sub-categories which are not selectable from the KDP Dashboard, you can get into them by choosing certain keywords. All I’m saying is that you can’t, for example, get into Romance sub-categories if your two chosen categories in KDP are Literary Fiction and Historical Fiction. Your keyword choices will only trigger entry into sub-categories below your chosen “parent” categories.

      Does that make sense?

  11. I checked the subcategories through the popularity link as you suggest above and to my surprise my book is listed in only one category and the subcategories for that one are broad. How can that be when at the very least there should be two main categories?

    1. Could be a few possible reasons, for example you may have selected something that doesn’t actually exist in the Kindle Store (I call them ghost cats). Which categories did you choose?

  12. Hi David, thanks for another amazingly helpful article. My problem is this: my book released yesterday and today the categories show on its product page. Wrong ones. But your search as you suggest there comes up with nothing. I went into Store-Kindle Ebooks- pasted my ASIN. result: my book alone, yes, but no categories to the left. the entire sidebar is empty apart from ads. I’d attach a screenshot if i could. Or did I search in the wrong place? Thank you for all the time and effort you put in to help the dumber folk 😉

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