Do You Need Keywords to Get Into Certain Book Categories?

Every once in a while I will still come across someone who asks, do I need to use keywords in KDP to rank for a category?

You see, when you upload a book to Amazon, you only get to select two categories, but these are actually not the same as Amazon categories. They're BISAC categories, which stands for Book Industry Standards and Communications.

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For example, say you wanted to be in the Arthurian category, but there’s no Arthurian BISAC category available when you upload your book to KDP. Should you include a keyword that says something like “Arthurian Novel” to your keywords in the hopes that you will rank for that keyword?

There’s a lot of confusion about this, and even some of the mainstream publishing websites have some of the wrong information, so I’m here to set the record straight.

The short answer is, no, you do not need keywords to rank for categories. 

Read on to learn why.

In this article, you will learn:
  1. How the relationship between KDP keywords and categories used to work
  2. How to add categories today
  3. How to best make use of your keywords today
  4. Additional restrictions to categories

How it Used to Work

Back in the day, selecting the Book Industry Standards and Communications (BISAC) categories in KDP was the only control that you had over book categories.

All you could do was select the two categories that you wanted (and BISAC categories tend to be very broad), and that was it. You had no more specific control over the categories that your book would show up under.

So instead, you would use keywords.

Amazon would take the seven keywords that you imputed into KDP and use that as clues on what other categories to rank your book for.

So if you put “Arthurian Romance” down as a keyword, you might have seen that book show up under an Arthurian category, and possibly a Romance category.

But BISAC definitely doesn’t niche down as well as we’d like, so Amazon actually had a list of keywords that you could use to get your books into separate categories.

That page no longer exists, but you can still get a glimpse of it using the Way Back Machine here. That page now looks like this.

The Way Back Machine just shows what that page used to like, but you can’t see any keyword lists because they’re hidden in some drop-down menus. Here’s an image showing a list of some of these keywords that would get your book listed in a specific category.

list of keywords that used to get your book into certain categories

As you can see, if I wanted to get into the Arthurian category, all I had to type in was “Arthurian” for one of my keywords.

But there are literally thousands of categories, and several just for Arthurian-related topics. So how do you get into those categories?

Well, it used to be that if you didn’t get into a category, after you’ve done the work of selecting the right keywords and BISACs, then…tough.

You were out of luck. Until….

Amazon Added the Change Categories Feature

There was originally no way to change your category status apart from selecting BISACs and keywords, and of the thousands of categories out there, it seemed a shame that we couldn’t target all the categories that made sense for the book.

So around 2018 (the exact date is unclear), Amazon began rolling out a roundabout way to request certain categories. Here’s a screenshot of what that looked like:

the way requesting categories on Amazon used to look

Overall, this worked, but Amazon still used keywords to rank for categories, or at least to provide context to add additional categories.

However, it was a step in the right direction. I even created a video on how to add or change categories. That video is no longer publicly available, since I’ve updated it recently, but this was a big milestone for authors.

That said, the form you fill out has changed a lot since then, as have the use of keywords. So let’s dig into that.

How it Works Today

Today, the process of getting your book added/removed to a category is much simpler.

All you have to do is:

  1. Select the category you want to rank for (copy the full string)
  2. Visit this Help/Contact Page for Author Central and sign into your KDP account
  3. Under “How We Can Help” select “Amazon Book Page”
  4. Then select “Update Amazon Categories”
  5. Fill in the information, and you’re good to go!

We’ve got a whole post on this topic that you should definitely check out if you want a full walkthrough of how to add your book to different categories. Or you can check out this video:

Want more videos like this? Then click HERE to subscribe to my YouTube channel.

This method of requesting categories is now the standard method that Amazon uses to allow authors to select their categories.

They also changed their Category FAQ page to remove mention of the keywords and give more information about being able to change your categories. 

But what does this mean for selecting your seven keywords?

It means exactly this: You don’t need to target categories in your keywords. Period.

Think of it this way, even if Amazon did use your keywords as category clues, you can still adjust your categories using their online form. And if you can do that, then why would you want to waste your keywords on categories when you could, instead, use them for other purposes?

How You Should Use Your Keywords

Keywords are best used to target search terms that a reader will type in on Amazon.

To do this, you want to select specific, unique keywords that readers are likely to search for with the intent to buy.

There’s a lot that can be said about selecting your keywords, but it comes down to this: choose something long-tail, meaning you use a phrase that is more specific, and therefore means that a reader is more likely to buy, if they are typing in that phrase. 

To continue with our Arthurian example, if I just put “Arthurian Books” as a keyword, that might be too broad. That could refer to Arthurian fiction novels, Arthurian reference books, scholarly books, other forms of non-fiction. 

And that’s not to mention all the different fiction genres that might have Arthurian elements, everything from epic fantasy to romance to comedy.

Instead, something like: “King Arthur for Kids” might yield better results, assuming it accurately describes your book.

How to Find Keywords with Publisher Rocket

Rocket is a great piece of software that will help you find these target keywords. You can see that here it gives me the competition score for “Arthurian Book”, and it’s a little bit competitive:

an example of a bad keyword in Publisher Rocket

Whereas, my keyword for “King Arthur for Kids” is much less competitive, yet still has more estimated searches each month.

an example of a good keyword in Publisher Rocket

“King Arthur for Kids” is also a more actionable keyword, because a reader who types that in knows what they want, and are likely to buy what they find. You’ll notice that the average monthly earnings is also higher.

Since you no longer have to use keywords for selecting categories, it makes sense to use a tool like Publisher Rocket to focus completely on a reader’s search intent.

And you can do this by selecting the best keywords.

Check out Publisher Rocket Today!

Special Category Requirements

Now it’s worth pointing out that not all categories can be selected using the Amazon online form. There are a few categories that are better monitored, or have additional restrictions, than others. Including the following:

  1. Children’s Books
  2. Erotica
  3. Series

Usually this applies to categories that involve age-appropriate content.

For example, Amazon cares a lot about children’s books, so if you want to select a category for children’s books in their online form, you have to prove that your book fits.

The simplest way to do this is in your Book Details page, under Age and Grade Range. Make sure you select the appropriate age range when uploading your book to KDP.

This also goes for adult content. Any erotica books should select the appropriate age as 18+ to make it clear to Amazon that you’re publishing a book with adult content. 

Having an erotica book will also limit the number of categories you’ll be allowed to target. Amazon wouldn’t allow you to place it in “Clean and Wholesome Romance” for example.

Additionally, series pages do have categories, but currently Amazon does not allow authors to request new categories, though that could change in the future.

To Sum Up

In short, you do not need to worry about selecting categories when you input your keywords into the KDP dashboard.

Instead, you should do two things:

  1. Use the Amazon online form to select your categories
  2. Use the keywords section to target long-tail, specific keywords that readers are likely to search for

If you can do this, you’ll not only have all the categories you need, but you’ll also be targeting keywords that are more likely to find a reader ready to buy. 

Or in other words, you’re more likely to sell more books.

More Keywords and Categories:

If you're interested in more articles like this one, check out our hubs for how to choose the best keywords and categories, as well as our overview of Publisher Rocket.

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