To recap briefly, Amazon now allows anyone who has ever bought a product at the store in question to apply 'tags' to any book on sale there. Potential buyers can click on the tags associated with a book to see a list of other titles which have had the same tag applied (and which presumably they might therefore be interested in as well).
Tagging may also be used by Amazon to inform their 'You might also like...' recommendations, and so forth. All this makes it potentially a very powerful promotional tool.
In recent weeks I've been paying much more attention to tagging on Amazon - not only of my own books, but those of other writers as well. It strikes me that the system is poorly understood, and also sadly under-utilized by authors and publishers. It is also, unfortunately, open to abuse.
In my travels across the Amazon (LOL) I've seen plenty of examples of bad and even ugly use of tagging. Let's start with an example of the latter. Here are the tags for Dead and Alive, Book 3 in Dean Koontz's Modern Frankenstein series...
As you can see, these tags appear to have been applied by one disgruntled reader who has taken the opportunity to protest at what he considers an unreasonable delay in releasing the book. (In fact, if you read the reviews, you will see that Dean and his publishers had a very good reason for delaying this New Orleans-set title.)
I call this ugly tagging, because it is simply one person (ab)using the system to make derogatory comments. It's very easy to see how this sort of thing could get out of hand. Amazon might then have to introduce an approval system before any tags are applied (or, more likely, scrap the system altogether).
Fortunately 'ugly' tagging isn't too widespread, but there are lots of examples of 'bad' or pointless tagging. Here are the tags of a randomly chosen example from Amazon.co.uk, The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger...
Among the tags applied to this best-selling novel, you will see book, books, drama, fiction and other terms which are so vague that they are unlikely to be any help at all in telling people whether they might like the book in question. Some of the other tags, such as overrated, probably fall into the 'ugly' category.
What seems clear is that many people are confused by tagging and its purpose. Only a relatively small number of people apply tags, and an even more minuscule number do it in a worthwhile, sensible way. Paradoxically, however, this makes it a particularly powerful tool for authors and publishers, due to the general lack of competition. (Personally I see no objection to authors and publishers tagging their books, as done properly it helps readers understand the content of the book and whether or not it would appeal to them.)
So what tags should you apply to your book to help boost its sales? First and foremost, they should be specifically relevant to the book. If your novel is set in the sixties, for example, '1960s' could be a good, specific tag to apply. Your book will then appear any time someone clicks on the '1960s' tag on the pages of any other books which also have this tag. If a reader is interested in another book set in the sixties, there must be a good chance that yours will appeal to them as well.
To create such a benefit, your tags should of course be shared by other, related titles. Producing unique tags will not generate any immediate benefits for you, although it might do if people apply the tag to other books subsequently.
Ideally, of course, what you want is for your book to be linked to other, top-selling titles whose Amazon pages attract a lot of visitors. Tagging gives you an effective (and legitimate) way to achieve this, albeit at one step removed. Give your book some of the same tags to a best-selling one, and as long as the tags are specific enough to sound interesting, you will get a proportion of readers clicking on them to see related titles. Hey presto! Your own book will then appear.
Suppose that none of the tags currently on the book page you want to attract potential buyers from is relevant to your book, though? No problem! Just apply an appropriate tag to both your book and the top-selling title. Because of the small number of tags which have been applied so far, this technique currently works well even with best-sellers.
Finally, if you want to get multiple tags for your books, you could do a lot worse than join the co-operative tagging service called Tag My Book on Amazon. Members of TMBOA tag one another's books to help boost their positions (the more times a particular tag is used on a book, the higher up the list it is displayed for that tag). The TMBOA website has separate pages for Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. See also my earlier blog post about this site.
Good luck, and happy tagging!