Google has scanned more than 30 million titles for its Google Books project, and will scan more than 130+ million in coming years.
That is a ton of content. More importantly, that’s a ton of high quality, unique, expert content. For any other giant treasure trove of content (and links!) – SEOs and website owners are all over it. I know I’ve written guides to using content treasure troves like Wikipedia, Reddit and others for SEO & content marketing before. Surely there has to be a way to use Google Books for SEO and content marketing, right?
The problem with books, though, is that they are…books. And before Google Books, books were hard to search through. And even with Google Books, they are still hard to scrape & search relative to HTML.
But Google has made it easy enough that, with a few tricks, Google Books can be an invaluable tool for your SEO and content marketing strategy. Here’s how to use Google Books for SEO (specifically link building & keyword research) and content marketing.
Using Google Books for Link Building
Whether you are trying to build broken links, find key influencers, or just find resource lists to pitch, you need to have a “thread” to follow.
Either way, the best threads are quality URLs that lead to more quality URLs and then jump into a whole web of amazing link opportunities.
For example, if you can find a buried government resources page, then you can not only pitch for a link on that page, you can also pitch all the websites that link to and are linked from the government resources page. The key is to find that otherwise buried government resources page.
Google Books can help you find those threads to follow. Links mentioned in books are sort of like Wikipedia links. They aren’t “counted” or followed by search engines. But since they are visible in a highly trusted source…they tend to get links from other people researching the topic.
Your primary opportunity for link building with Google Books will be to find the websites linking to a link mentioned in a book, then do outreach to the author of the webpage.
To mine Google Books, you need to know a few search parameters & operators.
- &tbm=bks – this parameter tells Google Search that you only want results from Books.
- subject:[keyword] – this defines the subject of your book. It can help define searches where your keyword appears in a range of genres.
- intext:www – this tells Google to look in the text for www. I use this because if you use http:// then Google will count the book url – http://books.google.com/ etc as an occurrence.
- You can also play around with operators to look for other “footprints” like /links /resources etc – whatever footprint you can dream up.
For example, if you are looking for websites linking to water sites, I’d try:
That query will find history books on water that cite online resources.
Once you have a results, the manual sorting begins.
There is no fast way to copy, paste or scrape Google Books for hundreds or thousands of links because they are displayed in image format.
It is technically feasible with the right image scraper and OCR software…but right now it’s a task that is best for either quick judgement or outsourcing (think Upwork, Amazon Mechanical Turk, or your new intern :/ ).
The main takeaway for Google Books & link building is that it can be an incredible tool for industries where links are very hard to come by.
It’s also a good resource to go off the beaten path or find those golden nugget links (like .gov or .edu links). However, Google Books shouldn’t be your first stop for scaling a link campaign – just another arrow in your quiver.
Using Google Books for Keyword Research
Keyword research is foundational for good SEO. But unless you are already fluent in an industry, it can be very difficult to surface really interesting keyword opportunities, especially since Google’s Keyword Planner does not go out of its way to help you.
The go-to strategy among SEOs is to “hack” Google’s Keyword Planner by placing webpages similar or complementary to yours into Keyword Planner’s “Your Landing Page” option.
Add Google Books to that list as well to surface great keywords that you would not have known about.
Start by crafting a query (see above in the link building section) that gives you a list of books that are relevant to your site.
Now get the book’s URL. This URL is different that the one shown in the SERPs. The SERPs show a URL by ISBN number. You want the one with the ?ID parameter. It looks like:
You can get it by clicking through the result. Or, if you prefer to do things in a scraping kind of way, just use Scrape Similar to get the destination URLs into Google Docs, then strip away excess parameters.
That ISBN link will be worthless in Keyword Planner.
Here’s a worthy result. So, go to that URL and scroll on the main ID page to check out all the HTML wonderfulness that Keyword Planner will parse.
Now, take the “ID” URLs and drop them into Keyword Planner. Keyword Planner does not parse the entire book.
But, it does parse all the rich meta data and text associated with that book (scroll on the book page and look at all the wonderful markup and tags). This approach always gives me some very interesting keywords to work with. Rinse and repeat.
Using Google Books for Content Marketing
Think about the differences between publishing a book and publishing a blog post. Too many to count, right?
Which one is almost always the higher quality, more unique, more well-organized? A book, right?
When planning that perfect webpage, resource or blog post, what if you could have instant access to professionally edited, fact-checked, and expertly written content for research and guidance?
That is Google Books. If you want to be 10x better than your competition and truly different with your content, you should be using it. The best content is in books.
It is way too easy to cite and cycle through the same content online. And yet, defaulting to easy is one reason your website probably isn’t getting any traffic. You’re just one of a million results talking about and citing the same information. As Rand Fishkin of Moz shows, “good, unique content” is simply not good enough anymore.
If you want to be different and truly 10x unique, try using Google Books for your next research project instead of Google Search and/or Wikipedia.
It works particularly well in industries where the best stuff is still in print (think industrial water engineering), but also works in fully digitized industries like marketing where everyone is writing and citing the same stuff over and over. Props to all my industry colleagues who started out reading the print book Art of SEO, which gives the authoritative introduction to learning SEO as a skill.
NB: That bit about marketing is why I started a newsletter that curates all the fluff and finds the good stuff.
Google Books can be a pain to research sometimes due to Previews and copyright restrictions, but with Google search operators, you can get around most of them. And those same barriers to entry for you apply to your competitors. If you can figure out some tricks that work for you, that’s a huge research advantage that you have.
I don’t have a specific process, but here’s a few tips:
- Look at the Table of Contents for ideas on structuring your content.
- Mine books for illustrations and examples.
- Don’t plagiarize, but do build your own ideas off those in authoritative books. Use the digital medium to provide freshness and the books to provide the foundation.
- Cross-reference Google Books with Amazon reviews and look for content gaps.
- Find authoritative industry books that haven’t been updated in a while and look for content gaps.
- For technical or boring industries, use the content as reference to produce cornerstone content.
- Use it to fact-check and bust online myths.
If you are looking for new and unused tools for link building, keyword research and content marketing, check out Google Books. And use a few search operators with advanced search to narrow your search and get the information you need.