Adventures in Amazon Advertising

Intro:

I’ve been playing around with AMS advertisements for a while. Mostly the wrong way. Why? Because I’m a really slow learner who just has to do everything the hard way. It’s a flaw I am well aware of, but it’s not the point of this post. The point is, I wanted to try an ad the “right” way and see how far it would get me. What follows is my full disclosure, total transparency about my results. I’ll leave you to be the judge of my efforts.

 

How AMS ads are supposed to be run:

  1. Select the product you want to advertise
  2. Set your time frame and budget
  3. Write ad copy
  4. Set your keywords (LOTS of them) and bids (per click)
  5. Run ads long-term
  6. Monitor results daily
  7. Adjust keywords/bids often:
    1. No impressions? Increase bid.
    2. Impressions but no clicks? Disable keyword.
    3. Clicks but no purchases? You’re screwed…

In the past, I always ran an ad for about 1 week, with only category, theme and trope keywords that fit the book the best. The first couple of ad runs got me over 100,000 impressions and some clicks, but only 2-3 purchases. I also just set the ad and let it run, without making any adjustments at all. None of this helped my situation, or so I heard.

This time, I was set on following the above rules, which were supposed to be fool-proof, and in the strictest sense, they were. I had guidelines to follow, I followed them to the letter, and got some results (which I will share below).

But there’s always a caveat, isn’t there? And what is the Golden Rule in any endeavor?

Do your homework first.

See, this is the fine print which they share, but which is really hard to grasp until you actually do it live:

  • Your per-click bid is the maximum price you are willing to pay for each click your ad gets. BUT
  • You only pay $0.01 more than the second highest bid for that keyword.

So, in theory, you could set your bid at $50.00, but if the second highest bid is only $0.15, you only pay $0.16 for each click. The higher your bid, the higher you show up in search results for that particular keyword. It then follows that you should bid higher to get more exposure for your ad.

And that is precisely the problem. As time goes on, people raise their bids, which then means you end up paying more and more for your ad. If you’re advertising an eBook, you can only go so far before you price yourself out of the market. If you’re only making $1.00 per sale, for example, and you pay $0.50 per click, you better have very good reason to believe you can get at least one sale for every two clicks, because that’s the minimum you need to get just to break even.

That’s already a lot of math, so let me throw some more at you.

Current marketing wisdom says people need to see something at least 7-8 times before it registers. Let’s say they need to see it 10 times before they click. How many people browse the same category 10 times in one day to see your ad? If you expand those numbers out, it turns out your ad can get tens of thousands of impressions before it starts getting clicks–just clicks, mind you, not sales.

Of those clicks, the rate of sales will depend on how well your book is presented, and here every little thing matters:

  1. Do you have a good cover image and ad copy? If not, people might not even click on your ad to begin with.
  2. Do you have a compelling blurb? If not, people will lose interest.
  3. Do you have enough reviews? I have discovered that this is another major factor in the decision-making process. My ad for a book with 30 reviews did a lot better than the ad for a book with 1 or no reviews.
  4. Is your book priced correctly? I could go off on an ugly tangent on this one, but I won’t.
  5. Is your book available through KU? Apparently, you’re a lot more likely to make money off your ad if people can read your book “for free.” Another tangent I won’t get into.

Execution – Book 1:

Sweetest Kiss was a brand new release, advertised before and through the official release date. It was a fantasy romance novella, priced at $2.99. I used 39 keywords, including other book titles and author names (all of which turned out to be a total bust, by the way). The only thing I lacked was KU availability. My books are published wide, and that’s not going to change.

Here’s what the ad looked like:

And here’s how it ultimately did:

The ad ran continuously until I stopped it, and I stopped it because it literally ran out of steam. The impressions slowed down to nothing, which meant I got no more clicks out of it, and I was dead in the water.

I actually screwed up big with this one when I was adjusting the bids one morning. Instead of setting one at $0.30, I accidentally set it at $30.00. I did get a sale out of it–the only one for this ad–but ultimately ended up paying way more than I made from that sale.

What it taught me was that the most effective keywords for my book were simply too expensive for me to afford. In order to get the kind of visibility I needed, I’d have to pay out double my royalties for every click. This is the case for pretty much every popular keyword, which is every keyword that actually worked for me. Titles and author names? Unless they’re trending like mad while you’re running your ad campaign, they don’t seem to do much good. At least they didn’t for me.

Execution – Book 2:

Wolfen was a completely different animal. I was very vigilant with this one. It’s a post-apocalypse dystopia/horror, priced at $6.99. Given the higher price tag, I gave myself a bit more freedom on the bids I set for my keywords. I did 88 of them this time, but eventually whittled it down to 3 which actually got me some activity. This confirmed my original thought that, despite what the advice says, the number of keywords you use doesn’t matter nearly as much as the quality of keywords you use when it comes to getting sales.

I ran the ad for a little over a month, and checked the stats every day. I got one sale the very first day, and then nothing for the following week and a half. But I let it run, because I was getting tens of thousands of impressions (working for exposure here… har har) and only a few clicks that didn’t cost me very much.

But I experimented a lot with the bids. I searched the keywords I’d used to see where my ad showed up in the results, and I raised the bids accordingly. I drew the line at $0.50 per click, though. Even with the higher price tag, that was risky. Especially considering that in my previous ads for this book, the average cost per click (aCPC) was about $0.19. See? Those costs do go up over time. I have several years’ worth of evidence to support it.

Here’s the ad:

And here’s how it did:

 

Even those numbers are misleading. The sales it shows is the list price, multiplied by the number of sales. It doesn’t factor in that, as an author, you only get 35% or 70% of that list price, less any additional fees Amazon tacks on. My actual royalty earnings from the time the ad was active was $129.87 which means I ended up $7.04 in the red. Did it get me new readers? Yes. I even got a couple of fantastic 5-star reviews on it in the process. But in the strictest definitions of “success” this ad failed as a revenue generator. I essentially paid Amazon to get my book read.

Lessons Learned:

1. Build your readership before you run ads (then you might not even need them anymore!)

2. Know your audience, the market, and your book well enough to tailor your ad accordingly (what are shoppers searching for, and how can you relate that to your book?)

3. Time your ad so it will make the greatest impact and run it for at least 3 weeks (it takes 2 weeks for the reporting algorithms to catch up, or so they say)

4. If at all possible, advertise a book in a series where cross-series sales are possible (it is possible, but not guaranteed, just FYI)

5. Be vigilant and keep track of how your keywords perform (if you don’t do this, you’re just wasting your time and money)

6. Understand that ads are a short-term, artificial solution to increasing sales

The theme for these types of ads seems to be that they generally work best for people who don’t need them. In other words, you need to already be well-known, with a solid readership, and lots of reviews to have the clout needed to make ads profitable. New author? Indie author? Unknown author? AMS ads are probably not going to do much for you. But if you somehow manage to beat those odds, please tell me how you did it. 😉

I think if I had known a few years ago what I know now (preferably before the advent of KU), I might have run much more successful ads for a fraction of what it costs these days. But at this point, it’s another boat I missed by a hair, and the math just doesn’t add up for me anymore. Even when I’m winning, getting clicks and sales, I’m actually losing money.

This is not meant as a self-pity whine, just a statement of fact, and a cautionary tale for anyone who wants to advertise through AMS. As always, I am taking what I learned and moving on, adjusting my strategies for the future, constantly reinventing the wheel. And sharing what I can along the way. 🙂

If you found this post helpful, please check out one of the mentioned books:

Sweetest Kiss

Where can a Rebel find the cure for a witch’s evil curse? In the arms of another…

Fantasy erotic romance with generous adult content, set after Snow White’s “happily ever after” available at…

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Other

 

Wolfen

In a world ruled by monsters, the’re only one rule left: adapt or die.

Post-apocalyptic dystopia/horror with elements of science fiction and hints of romance, available at…

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Scribd | Other

 

 

More information about my other books can be found on my author website: AlianneDonnelly.com

Do you have advertising stories of your own to share?
Leave a comment below. I’m always eager to learn. 
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5 thoughts on “Adventures in Amazon Advertising

  1. Okay a few of those I had to read a few times and that’s ONLY because I am extremely exhausted right now, lol. There is such good information here. I always appreciate the time you take to write these posts up. That was one of the things I’d considered–mostly because Amazon tends to push it for those of us who publish with them, lol–but now I’m seeing some results. Obviously I could do worse, or better, depending on my own books, genres, readership, blah, blah, blah, but this really gives a great amount of information to think on. It’s interesting that in this case a popular keyword does better than not. I can see why considering it’s probably searched a lot, but usually that makes them a detriment. Good to see that in this case, they work.

    I’ve definitely also considered that ads work best for people who can throw money away to advertise. Because even if they don’t earn you money at the time, having that book in front of someone’s face for that amount of time will register in their brain and one day eventually it may just click for them to go buy. But then that goes back to just how even a friend mentioning said book will have the same effect. It’s just another layer of having the book in front of someone’s face in general. In that regard just us mentioning the book holds the same achievement. And we don’t have to pay, lol.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Kim,

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂 With regard to popular keywords, I think in this case you want them to be as popular as possible, because that gets you eyeballs on the ad. 🙂 I was really torn on these ads. I was really happy when I just got impressions, because of the exposure, and I was ecstatic when I started getting sales, but the in-between of clicks and no sales was painful. I think if I ran it again, with just those 3 keywords, the results would be better. I might do that as a follow-up to see if my theory is correct lol

      As for word of mouth, I agree. Talking about the books is always a great way to engage readers, but it’s just exhausting having to do that all day every day. I can’t seem to do both promo and writing at the same time. It’s either one or the other, so when I’m writing, I get quiet on social media, and when I’m sharing/posting a lot, it usually means I’m blocked. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’d be interested to see the difference in just popular keywords. Maybe the same, who knows.

        Agreed. That’s why I meant it in terms of natural. Never forced. You and I’ve discussed that’s the marketing preference for me too though. After having done far too many of what’s “popular” for other folks, I still do this method. Natural marketing mentions would be that I’m doing a word count post and that alone puts the name in front of someone. I write a blog post. Or I mention one as a way to explain something. Or when we share an image from a quote picture we make. Forcing never works and I feel that when we do, others pick up on that, and there’s a push back inside of them. That’s how it was with my Avon days too. I just enjoyed certain products and would talk about them (NOT with the intention to sell at all, but because I had them at home, used them, enjoyed them) and that was actually what got me those sales. It was natural on my end, and natural on the receiver’s end to be interested from curiosity.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I suffer from chronic quietness so even natural mentions are difficult for me, especially in person. For the last year, I had automated promo posts going on Facebook and Twitter. I can tell you that the response on those has been about zero, so you may be right about that resistance. I might go back to reader-centric blog posts, too. I kind of stopped doing those when I started this site. There’s so much I know I COULD be doing, but I’d have to clone myself 4 times to get it all done.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. In person I rarely talk about my books so I completely understand. Took me a while to get over that online and it still feels a bit weird. Feels like I’m the one inside the mind of a person going, “that’s not a real job,” so when I mention writing to anyone offline especially, I’m all . . . erm, yeah. lol I totally understand how you feel in that regard. Especially in terms of how much I COULD be doing. When I’m stressed, my energy goes poof, so even now, I constantly think I’m getting further behind from just not having the energy to deal with anything much right now. Exhausts me to even think about it. But on the other hand, I feel that writers like us who’re in it for the long haul do better with that quieter nature. We’re not pushing others, or ourselves, so it’s the slow growth model. Lasts longer once it does get going.

            Liked by 1 person

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