Everything I Know About Amazon Keywords…

by | December 11, 2020 | Editing Corner | 7 comments

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I learned from Belinda LaPage. Truly, I’ll be forever grateful to her for explaining how to leverage this aspect of Amazon’s algorithms.

In fact, she wrote a post herself that included information about this topic: https://erotica-readers.com/blog/2019/02/11/raising-the-dead-your-story-doesnt-suck-necessarily/

However, in that post she didn’t give the blow-by-blow how-to she shared with me… which I am now going to share with you.

Let’s start out with the goal: getting people to buy your book. Obviously, in order to buy your book, people first need to find it. And hey, there are only fifty million erotica titles on Amazon. Okay, I made that up, but you and I both know that the ‘Zon is dripping in dirty books, with thousands more being added every day.

When you set up a new title on the Amazon KDP site, you’re asked to select up to two categories. However, the available categories are rather broad and limited. (You can find a list of the erotica sub-categories here.)

You can also specify up to seven keywords, which will be used to match search strings entered by potential customers. Smashwords, similarly, asks for keywords (ten in their case). When I first started self-publishing, I’d use the same keywords for both platforms, single words or phrases like “bdsm”, “lesbian”, “dominance and submission”, “anal sex”, “steampunk”, and so on.

I don’t know anything about Smashwords’ algorithms. I learned from Belinda, howver, that Amazon allows up to fifty characters for each “keyword”. Hence you can have multiple different strings in the same keyword slot. Furthermore, the individual words influence each other to create or match ad hoc search categories. Each fifty character “keyword” acts as a “word cloud” and will match against search terms that relate to the core concepts in that cloud – even if the exact words entered for the search aren’t in your keyword set at all.

The best way to understand this is by example. (Warning: dirty words ahead!) Here are the seven keyword strings I used for my recent release, The Pornographer’s Apprentice.


The numbers along the top (suggested by Belinda) help me keep within the 50-character limit for any keyword. I use a mono-spaced font to make sure that the characters of my keywords correspond to these numbers.

Each of the seven lines below the numbers is intended to capture a concept or topic that might be of interest to a certain segment of the market. Line 1 deals with power games, especially femdom, which is featured in several chapters of the book. (I probably should have used “Mistress” rather than “Master” but I didn’t quite have the character count.) Line 2 obviously relates to lesbian activity. There’s little subtlety about line 3; it contains our favorite terms related to anal sex (which is rather prevalent in this story). Line 4 focuses on varieties of multi-partner sex. Line 5 plays to the readers who are looking for MM activity; there’s a bit of this in The Pornographer’s Apprentice, though it’s not the primary focus since the protagonist is a woman. Line 6 celebrates sex toys, the creation of which is the vocation of my heroine and her colleagues. Finally, line 7, which has no dirty words at all, encapsulates the setting and sub-genre. Adding “VICTORIAN” has the advantage of linking the book to genuine Victorian era erotica like The Pearl. In fact this book is currently ranked as #435 in Victorian erotica, on all of Amazon… even though it actually isn’t.

How can I be so explicit in my keywords? you might be wondering. What about the dreaded adult dungeon which awaits books that violate Amazon’s unwritten policies on sexual content?

Amazon, it turns, is severely schizophrenic when it comes to erotica. On the one hand, using a word like “cock” or “fuck” in your title or showing a bit of naked boob on your cover will get you whisked away to the dungeon before you can say “Take me, Master!” On the other hand, it appears there are no standards whatsoever regarding the content of keywords. Of course the keywords are not visible to readers; they’re digested and linked and stored in Amazon’s database (or used to train its AI). But they have (I believe) a lot of influence.

How do I know? Well, of course, none of us know anything certain about Amazon’s mysterious ways. I do know, however, that my Amazon sales have improved noticeably since Belinda gave me her lesson on keywords. It might be that I’m writing better books. However, I’m willing to give the keywords (and Belinda) a significant chunk of the credit.


Lisabet Sarai

Sex and writing. I think I've always been fascinated by both. Freud was right. I definitely remember feelings that I now recognize as sexual, long before I reached puberty. I was horny before I knew what that meant. My teens and twenties I spent in a hormone-induced haze, perpetually "in love" with someone (sometimes more than one someone). I still recall the moment of enlightenment, in high school, when I realized that I could say "yes" to sexual exploration, even though society told me to say no. Despite being a shy egghead with world-class myopia who thought she was fat, I had managed to accumulate a pretty wide range of sexual experience by the time I got married. And I'm happy to report that, thanks to my husband's open mind and naughty imagination, my sexual adventures didn't end at that point! Meanwhile, I was born writing. Okay, that's a bit of an exaggeration, though according to family apocrypha, I was talking at six months. Certainly, I started writing as soon as I learned how to form the letters. I penned my first poem when I was seven. While I was in elementary school I wrote more poetry, stories, at least two plays (one about the Beatles and one about the Goldwater-Johnson presidential contest, believe it or not), and a survival manual for Martians (really). I continued to write my way through high school, college, and grad school, mostly angst-ridden poems about love and desire, although I also remember working on a ghost story/romance novel (wish I could find that now). I've written song lyrics, meeting minutes, marketing copy, software manuals, research reports, a cookbook, a self-help book, and a five hundred page dissertation. For years, I wrote erotic stories and kinky fantasies for myself and for lovers' entertainment. I never considered trying to publish my work until I picked up a copy of Portia da Costa's Black Lace classic Gemini Heat while sojourning in Istanbul. My first reaction was "Wow!". It was possibly the most arousing thing I'd ever read, intelligent, articulate, diverse and wonderfully transgressive. My second reaction was, "I'll bet I could write a book like that." I wrote the first three chapters of Raw Silk and submitted a proposal to Black Lace, almost on a lark. I was astonished when they accepted it. The book was published in April 1999, and all at once, I was an official erotic author. A lot has changed since my Black Lace days. But I still get a thrill from writing erotica. It's a never-ending challenge, trying to capture the emotional complexities of a sexual encounter. I'm far less interested in what happens to my characters' bodies than in what goes on in their heads.


  1. Rose

    I think anyone, who can follow all that and figure it out. *deserves* to make a million bucks, no matter what they write. It’s a good thing I’m not interested in publishing, because you lost me after “algorithm,” and the long string of numbers made my brain go *fffffzzzzzttttt*.

    More power to you, Lisabet, and to all of you, who do publish.

    Rose 😉

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Rose,

      Oh dear! If you think this is complicated, then I guess I have not explained it well.

      The numbers just indicate character positions. Like tab stops on a typewriter. (I know you understand those LOL!)

      • Rose

        Lisabet, I’m absolutely positive you’ve explained it well. But you know how when you put a nice, neat sheet of paper into a shredder and it becomes just a mess of bits? That’s what happens inside my head, when I read what I perceive to be complicated directions. It’s perception. On the upside, I didn’t now what the string of numbers actually represented, so now I get what you did there. (You might now understand why one of my favourite words in school (mostly to myself, but occasionally aloud) was, “Huh?”

        Thanks for the additional info re the tab stops. Those, I understand.

        Rose 😉

  2. Larry Archer

    Great article Lisabet and a lot of fine points. Thanks to you and Belinda for helping us get our stories to the unwashed masses.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Thanks, Larry!

      I’m really a marketing neophyte, though. Belinda has taught me a lot.

  3. Delores swallows

    Hi Lisabet

    Like you, I’ve been fortunate enough to have Belinda explain this to me, and I’ve definitely benefitted from her advice. If I’d been told this five years earlier, I could have had two cups of coffee a week !!

    I have to admit I laughed at some of your keywords. Cunt-munch ??
    I’m definitely going to pinch that. And maybe I’ll try some new ones… Cock-snaffle and Cum-guzzle might help sales 🙂

    Just to prove I can be a picky bastard even when reading keywords, you duplicated two of yours (Flogger is in lines 2 and 6, and Pegging is in line 4 twice !).
    In your shortest line (which includes ‘Threesome’, ‘Ménage’ and ‘Foursome’), you could also show what types they are with MFM, FMF, MMFM etc. Lots of info for just a few characters by using those terms.

    Rather than writing out 1234567890 five times and using single spaces, I just do them in a Word doc and use the Word Count tool in the Review page. That gives number of characters including spaces, and allows me a quick way to see which two words I can exchange if I have one line with 52 characters and another with 48. Then I copy and paste them into the Amazon online form.

    I agree with you. Belinda has a wealth of smut-selling knowledge, and we’re lucky to have her in the group.

    • Lisabet Sarai

      Hello, Del,

      Thanks for your comments.

      And please let your picky bastard know that I deliberately duplicated those keywords since they’re associated with different concepts. However, maybe that’s a bad idea.

      Good suggestion about the MFM etc.

      I did NOT make up “cunt-munch”….

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