The Amazon Algorithm Explained
Before we get into the steps, let’s explain the algorithm a little bit. The job of the Amazon algorithm is to best serve Amazon customers (aka readers) who are searching for something, AND to make relevant recommendations to Amazon customers on products they may like.
In order to do it’s job, the Amazon algorithm needs lots of data (called data inputs) about each product (which in your case is a book). The more data about your book the algorithm has, the more it will surface or recommend a product to a customer. When it comes to books, the primary inputs the Amazon algorithm looks for are: Keywords, genres, reviews, sales, downloads, sales rank, and browse activity. To optimize your book on Amazon, you need to optimize all these inputs for the algorithm. In this article we will show you how to do that so you can sell more books on Amazon. Now let’s get started!
1. Write a Comprehensive Book Description
Your book description is an important component in educating the Amazon algorithm (and human readers ) on what your book is about, and who will enjoy reading it. Below are the elements we recommend that every good book description has:
- Accolades – If you or your book have won any awards or distinguishing titles (like bestseller), be sure to mention that in your book description. Anything and everything is worth mentioning. Now is NOT the time to be bashful about your accomplishments.
- Comparables – Language that compares your title to best-selling authors and titles will let fans of those popular authors know that they should check your book out next. The basic construct is “if you like [famous book] then you’ll like [your book], but you’re a writer, mix it up a bit. Here’s an example from Sleeping Giants, where they use “In the tradition of…” to drop a few well-known books and authors into the description.
- Emotional, gripping language – Be sure to use language that is evocative. Make readers feel something by simply reading your description, and leave them yearning for more. One strategy is to use the first few sentences from a particularly gripping scene in your book which tends to work well. However, don’t limit yourself, you can write evocative questions “Will she make it to the volcano in time?” or statements “Find out if Mike is truly her soulmate or if he has an alternate motive”, But don’t limit yourself to cliches; now is a good time to be creative.
- Keywords for your genre – Different genres have different tropes that readers learn to look for. For example, in romance, HEA (happily ever after) stories are popular. If there are keywords that you know readers in your genre are going to be looking (and searching) for, be sure to include those in your description.One thing that you don’t want to do in your book description is to give away the plot. Don’t make it into a spoiler-filled trailer for your book. Instead, tease readers with just enough to make them curious.
2. Research your Categories and Keywords
Both categories and your keywords are important inputs to the algorithm and serve to help new readers discover your book when they are browsing Amazon. You set both your categories and your keywords in your Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) account.
Let’s start with categories. On Amazon your categories are basically your genres, and you can only pick two for each book. When picking a category, be sure to pick the ones that most closely align with the content of your book. In Amazon’s own words:
“A browse category is the section of the Amazon site where users can find your book. Think of the browse category like the sections of a physical bookstore (fiction, history, and so on). You can select up to two browse categories for your book. Precise browse categorization helps readers find your book, so be sure to select the most appropriate categories for your book.”
Why is this important? Well, these categories are the basis for Amazon’s charts. You want the category to match the type of reader you are looking for. If you are writing a spy thriller, don’t pick romance as a category (even if there is a romantic element to your book) because readers browsing the Romance charts are not looking for spy thrillers. In order to see where your book will best fit in, peruse through the top charts for your potential categories, and see where your book would be the best fit. In the example below, we logged into our KDP account (kdp.amazon.com), selected the book we are working on (in our case a Non-Fiction Thanksgiving Cookbook), and scrolled down to the categories section. We then navigated down the categories and checked Seasonal and General under Cooking. This means that our book ranks first in those categories.
Next up: keywords. Optimizing your keywords is a fancy term for picking words you think people are going to search for. Imagine you are a reader, and you go to Amazon to find a book, what will you type in the search box? Get inside the mind of the reader and think about what words to add that will make your book easy to find. You will want to do two sets of research for keywords for your title.
First, you will want to research the main keywords that are associated with your book’s subject matter. These are the words that you will want to use in your title and on your book description page. Keywords that you use in your title will show up in the URL for your book, making it easier for your title to show up in searches for those words. In the example below, when a reader searches for Thriller, the algorithm knows that Hit for Hire is a possible result it can show the reader as Hit for Hire contains “thriller” in the URL, the title and the description.
For example: Let’s say you’re writing a book on How to Make Dog Treats. When you search for related keywords, “Homemade Dog Treats” has almost 10 times the number of searches (aka Search Volume) that “How to Make Dog Treats” does. This means that you will want your title and book description to use the phrase “Homemade Dog Treats”.
Second, you will want to research the Amazon specific keywords that you will enter for your book. You get to choose just seven keywords for your title, so you want to choose them wisely. Dave Chesson over at Kindlepreneur has a fantastic step by step guide on how to research and select keywords that will allow Amazon to sell your book for you.
Amazon also has a useful resource on how to set keywords for your title, and they recommend focusing on five types of terms:
- Setting – for example, “1800’s France”.
- Character types – for example, “single dad” or “veteran”.
- Character roles – for example, “female sleuth”
- Plot themes – for example, “coming of age” or “family saga”
- Story tone – for example, “dystopian”
When your book is categorized under the correct genres and supplemented by the correct keywords, Amazon will do a better job of getting it in front of the right readers.
3. Get Reviews
We spoke above about how adding a review to your book description can help make your description more engaging to readers. More broadly, having many book reviews gives readers confidence in the quality of your work which will result in more readers purchasing your book. Book reviews are an important input to the algorithm, so this is another area where it’s worthwhile to focus. In our research, we found that the number of reviews is more important than the overall average review rating (as long as your average rating is over 3.5 stars). This means having 25 reviews with an average rating of 4.0 is better than having 5 reviews with an average rating of 5.0 stars. There are two key strategies for getting reviews for your titles:
- Ask Your Readers – Do you have a mailing list? You should. If you don’t read our article about email marketing for authors. When your book comes out, email your readers and ask them to help you build reviews. Additionally, always include a link in the back of your book that asks readers to leave a review.
- ARC (advance reader copy) Reviews – If you really want to make the most of reviews, try to get them before your book comes out on Amazon. How? Reach out to your most engaged readers and ask them to leave a review in return for an ARC. An ARC is a copy of the book you provide to readers BEFORE the book is actually published. This way, you are lining up reviews that can be posted to your Amazon book page on the day your book launches, and you don’t have to wait days, weeks, or even months, before gaining enough reviews to make a difference.
4. Update your Author Page
Once you have your book listing squared away with a good description, appropriate keywords, and favorable reviews, it’s time to take a look at your Author Page. Amazon gives authors the opportunity to set up a page that acts as a central location for all of their titles on Amazon. You can set up your author page through Author Central. The author page provides more valuable information to the algorithm: which readers follow your author page, which readers browse your author page, which other titles are in your catalog. On your author page you want to have:
- A compelling biography – Tell your story in an engaging way. Why do you write? How long have you been at it? What is your inspiration? Do you have a pet, is it cute, and what is its name? These are all questions to which readers want to know the answer.
- A professional author photo – It is worth getting professional headshots done so you can have a professional grade photo to feature around the web, It lets readers know that you take your writing, and the business of writing, seriously. Do a google search for local photographers in your area and plan on paying about $100 for a professional portrait. It may seem expensive, but it’s worth it.
- All of Your Books – If you have all of your titles linked to your page, then it is much easier for readers who have found and enjoyed one of your titles, to find more!
- Book Trailers or Other Promotional Videos – Amazon lets you link in all sorts of content. If you’ve paid to have a book trailer produced, be sure to feature it here.
- Feed to Your Blog Posts – If you have a blog, be sure to sync it up with your author page. This way readers who discover you through Amazon can then discover your blog and all of its fun book news as they peruse your books on Amazon.
- +Follow Button – If readers are “following” you on Amazon, then they get an automated alert every time you publish a new book. That’s nifty.
- Social Media and Website Information – Be sure to link to your other presences around the web so that readers can follow you there as well and see what all you’re up to!
- Customize your URL – Make sure that your URL has your author name in it, so that your Amazon page shows up when people search for you on the web.
5. Drive Sales and Downloads of Your Book
The final step to sell more books on Amazon is to generate the data inputs for sales, downloads, and sales rank. To achieve this you will need to market and promote your book. The goal of promoting your book is to:
- Drive sales of your book – Good marketing will help drive sales / KU borrows of your book, or free downloads if your book is free. The algorithm is more likely to recommend books that are being downloaded or purchased by readers.
- Make your book start showing up in also-boughts. – On every page on Amazon there is a section that says “customers who bought this also bought”. When you promote your title, your book will start showing up in this section on other book’s pages, increasing the numbers of readers who will discover your title. If you do not have enough readers browsing your page, then the algorithm won’t know which similar products to link with your book.
- Make your book start showing up on the top charts – Amazon ranks the eBooks they sell according to popularity. When a title is downloaded by a large quantity of people, it will show up on the Amazon Best Seller chart. Many readers come to these charts to discover new books, so if you’re ranking here, you’ll be getting in front of plenty of new readers. Getting in front of new readers means that more people will buy your book, which means that ranking on the charts will help increase your sales rank, which is another input for the algorithm. You can wait for your book naturally to get on the Best Seller chart, but after working with thousands of authors, we’ve found concerted marketing is the best way to get on these charts.
At Written Word Media, we’re huge proponents of running price promotions. It’s one of the things we do best, and we know it works. We recommend running a price promotion and promoting your title to our large audiences of new readers. With over 600,000 readers across Freebooksy, Bargain Booksy, Red Feather Romance, and NewInBooks, running a promotion on one of our sites will be sure to get your title into the hands of readers.
It requires time and effort to optimize your Amazon presence. We understand that for authors, time not spent writing can be difficult to find. However, this is an investment worth making. Amazon is one of the most important places to sell your book, and if you follow these five steps you will have taken the first steps to sell more books on Amazon.