Amazon has allowed authors to advertise their ebooks for several years, but it was limited to those ebooks enrolled in KDP Select. In December, 2016, though, they opened it to any ebooks.
The AMS (Amazon Marketing Service) ads are the latest addition to options for authors to advertise their books. Like any small business, advertising should be a big part of your budget. The biggest advantage of AMS ads is that you will be advertising on Amazon, the biggest online store for books. That alone makes these ads worthwhile.
The biggest problem is the clunkiness of the program.
Overall, the program runs much like any other PPC — pay per click — advertising platform, except it’s more limited. If you’re confusing at this, look for basic tutorials that explain how a PPC ad works. In AMS Ads, you only pay for clicks, not impressions. Keywords are always a broad match and not an exact match.
Let’s dig into some details of my results and evolving conclusions.
My AMS Ads: From March 1-March 23 – THE RESULTS
36 ads set up, 2 rejected, 34 served
#ads served 3,407,928 times | average of 100,233/ad
#clicks 11,650 clicks | CTR of 0.0034185%
$spent $172.06 | highest spend of $21.60 | lowest spend of $0.00 ( a 2-day old ad)
$ earned: Gross of 581.84
Gross x 70% = approximate net: $407.29
236% return on investment (For every $1 spent, I receive $2.36.)
NOTE: AMS reports gross sales, the money they actually collect. But your ebooks are set at either 35% or 70% payment rates. Therefore, you must adjust the gross to understand your net income from the ad. If most of your ebooks are set at 70%, you can estimate by multiplying the gross by 70%. If most of your sales are paperback, you can estimate by multiplying your gross by 40%. If you have a mix of ebook and paperback sales, you’ll have to decide on an acceptable aCOS.
First, AMS reporting is awful. You don’t know if you have sales for 3 days. Ridiculous. It appears that all other data is reported daily. Apparently, though, ads for products other than books have this same delay in reporting. For Amazon, it must be the norm.
Beyond that, AMS only reports aggregate numbers. Your options are to manually copy data daily, or daily download a .csv file and then figure out a spreadsheet formula to calculate a graph of daily clicks/sales—or something. After doing this diligently for a couple weeks, though, I’ve decided that there’s really only one number you need to track daily and that’s the aCOS%. This is the Advertising Cost of Sales: Amount spent on a campaign divided by total sales during the campaign run dates.
What I care about are sales. If the aCOS% is zero, the ad isn’t selling books, no matter how many clicks it gets. If the aCOS% is under 70%, I’m probably breaking even. If it drops to 10% aCos, I’m making money because that means for every $1 spent, I receive $10. Since sales reports are three days late, you must run an ad a minimum of four days to know if there are any sales. Therefore, on the fourth and fifth days of an ad, I’m watching carefully the aCOS% to see if there are reasonable sales. If it goes three days with no sales, I’ll check the number served and clicks, adjust keywords, etc., or perhaps kill the ad.
Overall, it’s hard to predict which keywords will do well and which won’t. Last month, I tried ads with auto-targeted keywords suggested by Amazon, and they didn’t sell any books. This month, I’ve only tried manual keywords. I haven’t heard a limit on the number of keywords possible for an ad; many people report they use 1000 keywords for each ad. I’ve tried these keyword options: book titles, author names, and keywords about the topic of the book. Overall, book titles do best. However, I can never predict which titles will convert for my books, which is frustrating. It means I have to try a huge range to find the few that work.
Often, out of 500 keywords, only ten are getting clicks. If you put those into a separate ad, they still get clicks. I’m in that 3-day-no-sales-report period, so I don’t know if they will get sales. In other words, single-keyword ads are still a test for me.
And, BTW, is you find some great keywords, work them into your product description. It’s easy to update your descriptions on AuthorCentral.
The suggested starting point for keyword bids is $0.25.
For novels, I’ve found $0.25 works because the actual bids run about $0.15-0.25.
For fiction children’s picture books, I might leave it at $0.25, or so, but usually bids are under $0.10.
But for nonfiction, children’s picture books, I often bid $0.10 and get plenty of impressions at pennies.
Lots of clicks doesn’t always mean a sale. If a book isn’t selling in spite of lots of clicks, I look to see if there’s a keyword getting lots of clicks, but no sales, and kill that keyword. For example, the keyword “children’s book” might be getting all the clicks, but it’s too generic to specifically target my title.
For a couple books, I’m getting good clicks, but few sales in spite of tweaking keywords. I need to reevaluate their sales pages, work on getting more reviews, reevaluate covers, and so on.
Tweaking an Ongoing Ad
The only thing you can change in an ongoing ad is the keywords. You can add more, pause keywords, or change bids for individual keywords.
Pause Keywords. Sometimes, I’ll kill a keyword that gets lots of clicks but produces no sales, such as the generic “Children’s book.”
Add keywords. If I suddenly had a thought about new keywords, sometimes I’ll put it into an existing ad. The best thing would probably to start a new ad, but sometimes, I’m lazy and add to an existing ad.
Change keyword bids. I have played with changing bids, especially bidding higher for well-performing keywords. This rarely has any kind of noticeable impact. The bids remain pretty consistent within just one or two cents. Changing the bid seems to have no effect.
What Books Work Best
Does this work for bestsellers, backlist titles, midlist titles? What books will benefit? My front list titles do best; however, the midlist and backlist titles are finding new life with the advertising program.
Surprise – Sell in All Formats
I only have a couple books in audio: The Aliens, Inc series, Saucy and Bubba (novel), and The Girl, the Gypsy and the Gargoyle (novel). They sell zero. As in zero.
During the time period of this report, they’ve had 8 sales. That was a nice surprise. It’s not a big chunk of money, but it was something.
In other words, it doesn’t matter what version of a book you advertise; on Amazon, people will buy their preferred format. Advertising will move books across all formats. For adult books, it moves ebooks the most. For children’s books, it moves paperbacks the most. Across the board, though, books sell in all formats.
Surprise – Teach Amazon How to Sell My Book
Another surprise has been the overall effect on a book’s sales. I had a nonfiction picture book, targeted at a small niche market, and it wasn’t selling. Before I started advertising it, I checked its sales page. All the copy was good, the cover is good, but there were no sales. On the page, there were no Also-Boughts shown, at all.
I targeted books in its niche and ran ads. Within a week or so, the book’s page started to show Also-Boughts. I interpret that to mean that Amazon’s algorithms had finally categorized it correctly. In spite of putting the book into appropriate categories and using appropriate keywords, it wasn’t getting shown by Amazon. The sales copy, categories and keywords weren’t enough to tell Amazon how to sell the book. However, the ads were “teaching” the algorithms where to show the book to get sales. Sales have been good (not spectacular, but good) on the book since running ads.
As Mark Dawson, the indie publisher guru on advertising for books, said, the problem with AMS is scaling. He’d love to spend $500/day, or maybe more. But he can’t get Amazon to spend the dollars and show the ads.
He solved it by setting up ads at $1/day and has over 200 going at any one time.
My results aren’t supporting that kind of ad, yet. When I set the daily limit to $3, I get fewer impressions (ads served). If I set it at $1, I am afraid it will be even less. Further, it seems that the ads with a $20 daily limit are shown more, which results in more sales. They still don’t spend the daily limit, but they spend more than those with lower daily limits. It’s not easy to figure out, but my best guess (for my books in the month of March!) is to use a higher daily limit. I’m going to try more of these.
Further, right now, I have three ads for one book running. One has become dominate and churns out sales. The other two are barely being served. They do get impressions, but not as many. However, they all have similar keywords. The next thing for me to try is low $/day, and each ad has unique keywords. If I can get three ads working, instead of one, it might increase sales. As always, it’s a matter of testing.
Overall, AMS has quickly become a strong tool for generating sales for my books. Even when there are few sales, if an ad gets an average of 100,000 impressions, the exposure can’t hurt. I suspect that AMS Ads will become an ongoing experiment to get things right because there are so many factors: different times of year, different titles, book cover, reviews, etc. But even with the volatility of the ad platform, it sells books. And I’m loving it.
Have you tried AMS Ads for your books? Any tips to share?