That is the question.
'Tis nobler to suffer the finger cramps of furious clicking
And the wasted time of promoting others
Or stand against the waves of popular wisdom
And proclaim a tag free strategy?
So, I'm very obviously not Shakespeare. (On the off chance that being female, a novelist, and alive didn't already tip you off to that.) But I do think I know something about tagging on Amazon and would like to pass it along.
For those of you out of the loop, tags are those little notes you can attach to any product on Amazon to make it easier to find. Products usually have some tags already, and if you agree with them, you can click on them driving the tag numbers up, or you can add your own.
If you click on the box below, you'll get to my book. Scroll down past the publisher info, blurb, and reviews, and you'll find the tags. I've got over 200 votes on my most popular tags. I got them by the fairly common technique among writers whereby we swap tags. You tag mine, I'll tag yours, and we're all happy in the end. I have spent, literally, over an entire day tagging other people's books so they would tag mine.
Now, Amazon has requested on the CreateSpace page that authors not swap tags. That they do not approve of gaming the system. I can understand that. After all, the tags are supposed to be for the customers to help them find things other customers thought fit in certain categories.
I know this is bothering some writers, but I'm supremely non-plussed. (And not just because I've already got a lot of tags.) See, I've come to the conclusion that tags are not a wildly useful way to spend your promotional time.
Why? Well, first off let's talk about what a tag isn't. They aren't keywords. They also aren't a way to boost your book higher on the main search page. If you go to Amazon's main page, and type in a search term, the first zillion items are ones that have that term in the title.
If you refine your search by going to the advanced search options, you can search by keywords. You cannot search by tags. If you search by keyword, what pops up are books that have the keyword in question. Having a lot of tags can help a bit here, but not in a direct way. If the person doing the keyword search clicks on an item, and then scrolls all the way down to the bottom of the product page, items with similar tags will pop up.
If you want to search by tag, you have to click on a product, scroll down to where the tags are, and then click on the search by tag feature.
So, we'll start off with the fact that tags are not the most easily accessible search tool on Amazon. And, because of that, they are likely also not the most used search feature on Amazon. People who know and regularly shop on Amazon may use them, but the casual user is unlikely to be finding your book by it's tags.
Then, there's also the fact that tagging takes time. If you want a lot of tags, you've got to give a lot of tags. Given how handy and easy to use tags are for the average person searching for your book, I'd say there are a lot of better ways to use your promotional time. My 200+ tag votes took me at least thirty hours of tagging other people to get. At this point in my career I've got the number one book for Justice, Fate, number two for True Love, and similarly high numbers for most of my other tags. I'm not burning up the bestseller list, and having done a very quick audit of the other books at the tops of those categories with me, neither are they.
So, thirty hours spent dominating categories no one is searching... or thirty hours spent getting to know people online, reading books to review, tweeting, posting on the blog, or any other promotional opportunity? I know for a fact people have bought my book because of time I spent engaging with them online and writing blog posts. I don't know that anyone besides me has even seen my book based on it's tags, let along bought it. And judging by the sales numbers of the other books at the tops of the tag heaps I checked, it's not helping them either.
I'm not saying tags are useless. I am saying that if you've got any other way you can spend that time that might attract readers to you, do it instead.