With more than $100,000 spent on Amazon Ads, I’ve learned a thing or two about how to get the most out of them, because, let’s face it, Amazon Ads are a tricky beast to tame.
So, today, I’m going to share the 5 biggest insights I’ve discovered running Amazon Ads for my wife’s fantasy novels, but also, Amazon Ads for other self-published authors, in genres such as crime, romance, thrillers, mysteries and more.
Without a doubt, I have “wasted” money on Amazon Ads, but over time, I’ve adapted my mindset around the concept of advertising…
I used to see advertising as an expense. Today, I see it as an investment.
And I now see this “wasted” money I’ve spent on Amazon Ads is what taught me the biggest lessons.
As I mentioned earlier, a lot of my experience came from advertising my wife’s Fantasy Fiction series, The Ancestors Saga, (a series of 4 books, plus 1 companion novel), which now earns $15,000 – $17,000 per month in Royalties.
It wasn’t always this way though…
Back when we first launched Lori’s books (April 2020), we made just over $100 that month and were spending around $10 per day on advertising.
So, we’ve come a long way, taken a few hits along the journey, learned a LOT and, to be honest, we’re still learning a lot today as the market changes, Ad platforms change and strategies that once worked like gangbusters seem to simply stop working.
As a self-published author, you need to roll with the punches, adapt and evolve to see success, whatever success looks like for you.
Anyway, enough about my story, let’s dive into the 5 biggest Amazon Ads insights I’ve discovered spending more than $100,000 on Amazon Ads…
Insight #1: Less Is More
Believe it or not, you don’t need hundreds of Campaigns to be successful with Amazon Ads.
At any one time, the maximum number of Campaigns I’ll have actively running is 20 (as you can see in the screenshot below, in November 2022, for example, I had 12 active Campaigns)
I’ve managed Amazon Ads Accounts with 300-400+ active Campaigns, which, I can tell you from first-hand experience, is an absolute nightmare to manage on a daily and weekly basis.
The irony is that of those 300-400 Campaigns, only around 15%-20% of them are actually generating Sales and/or Page Reads.
So, the fewer Campaigns you have running, the less time you need to spend managing your Amazon Ads, looking at data and making decisions on that data (meaning you can get back to writing!).
Typically, I’ll spend between 60-90 minutes per week managing an Amazon Ads Account; compare that to the time spent when I started running Amazon Ads, where I was spending anywhere from 2-4 hours per day on them!
I’m sure you don’t have 2-4 hours per day to spend on Amazon Ads! And even if you did, you probably wouldn’t want to, especially if you knew much of that time was wasted.
The other benefit of having fewer Campaigns is that your budget won’t be spread across a multitude of Campaigns that are doing little to nothing for your bottom line.
You’ll be able to focus your budget on the 20% of Campaigns that are driving 80% of your results (also known as the 80/20 Rule or Pareto’s Principle, which is the principle I use in all aspects of my life).
I’ll be covering the 80/20 Rule later on in this article, so there’s more to come…
Insight #2: Harness Amazon’s Algorithm
Amazon’s algorithm is immensely powerful and you’d be missing a trick if you weren’t to take advantage of it.
There are 2 types of Amazon Ads Campaigns that leverage Amazon’s algorithm the most:
- Automatic Targeting Campaigns
- Category Targeting Campaigns
Now, these Campaigns often get a bad rap.
The truth is though, that they downright work. Extremely well.
They can drive a ton of visibility, Sales and Page Reads, as well as help you discover new Keywords and ASINs that you can target manually and scale up.
Reader behavior changes all the time, new books are released every single day. Granted, not all new releases will be books within your genre, but many could be.
Automatic and Category Targeting Campaigns keep up with all of these new changes, so you don’t have to.
Manually keeping up to date with new releases would be a full-time job in itself! Fortunately, these campaigns can do it on your behalf.
A few other benefits of these Campaigns…
- Quick to setup
- Easily scaled
- Optimization is relatively straightforward
- Can run for months, if not years, like a well-oiled machine
- Cast a wide net
- Your books get a lot of exposure for free (you only pay for clicks with Amazon Ads, not Impressions)
- Relatively cheap to run (generally have the cheapest CPCs compared to other Amazon Ads targeting)
- Quick to setup and launch
- Optimization is quick and simple
- Can be scaled easily, providing you are able to optimize regularly (at least weekly)
And finally, another benefit of these Campaigns is that they can work with budgets large and small.
I recommend all authors who are new to Amazon Ads to start with these 2 Campaigns because they are so effective at getting traction quickly.
Even if you have $5-$10 per day to spend, these Campaigns are what I would start with.
I’ve also had Automatic and Category Targeting Campaigns that are spending upwards of $100-$200 per day; they can be scaled that high.
Insight #3: Relevance Matters
Similar to Insight #1, above, where less is more with Campaigns; the same is also true for individual targets (i.e. Keywords and ASINs).
When I first got started with Amazon Ads, I was targeting 500-1,000 keywords in a single Campaign.
This sounds like a great idea, in theory, but in reality, all you’re doing is throwing spaghetti at the wall!
Out of those hundreds of keywords or ASINs you’re targeting, Amazon is very likely to give any meaningful budget to just 10%-20% of them.
The other 80%-90% of keywords or ASINs will receive the dregs of your budget; Amazon will essentially ignore them, meaning that they’ll never have the chance to prove themselves to you as worthy keywords or ASINs that generate Sales and/or Page Reads for you.
On top of this, Amazon’s algorithm rewards relevance.
If you’re targeting 974 keywords, for example, there’s no way every single one of those keywords is relevant to your advertised book.
Even if they are all relevant, some of them will be only tenuously relevant!
You’re far better off targeting 10-15 keywords or ASINs (maximum) inside a single campaign.
And, a little bonus tip here…
Use separate Campaigns for each of the three Keyword Match Types. For example, if you wanted to test a list of 10 Keywords in each of the three Match Types, here’s how I would set that up:
- 1 x Campaign for Broad Match
- 1 x Campaign for Phrase Match
- 1 x Campaign for Exact Match
Each Keyword Match Type performs very differently and they have different purposes, so I’ve found that I get much cleaner, more useable data when I separate the Match Types out into their own Campaigns.
Insight #4: Variance Is OK
I one hundred percent guarantee that the results of your Amazon Ads will vary from day to day.
One day, you’ll sell a ton of books, the next, no sales. Then up again, up a bit more, then down again. And yet, you’re doing nothing in your Amazon Ads Account to affect the performance of your Ads this much.
So, why all the ups and downs? Why is there no consistency or stability?
It all comes down to this…
Just look at my Amazon Ads for November 2022 and how many ups and downs there were. This is perfectly natural, but over the course of the month, overall (i.e. Total Royalties vs Total Ad Spend), we had about a 2x return on investment.
Every author on the planet can relate to this and I’ve got good news and bad news for you…
The bad news is there’s (almost) nothing you can do about it!
Your Ads are being seen by hundreds, if not thousands of people every day and different people react differently to different books. Some will resonate with your books, others won’t.
If one day, you have a bump in sales and/or Page Reads, that’s going to have a bigger (positive) impact on the bestseller rank of your books, therefore providing you with a boost in organic visibility, sales, and page reads.
The next day, a different pocket of people will see your Ads, and perhaps you’ll have fewer Sales and/or Page Reads that day, meaning your bestseller rank won’t be as high, leading to less organic visibility and fewer organic Sales and Page Reads.
The other factor to consider is that advertising is a simple supply-and-demand business model.
Amazon only has a limited amount of inventory (i.e. places on their website where they are prepared to show Ads). The more advertisers there are competing for that inventory, the higher the CPCs (Cost-Per-Clicks) of your Ads will be.
New books are also launched every day, promotions happen every day, and advertisers increase their budgets every day. All of this is outside your control; so don’t try and control it!
That’s the bad news…
The good news is that the simple solution to Ad Variance is…
To increase volume (i.e. increase the number of people who are seeing your Ads).
Here are a few ideas for how to achieve this:
- Increase budgets
- Increase bids
- Target search terms with more search volume
- Target ASINs that are ranked higher in the Kindle/Books Store
- Start advertising another book in your catalog
- Begin advertising in another country
From all the Amazon Ads I’ve run, I’ve found that increasing volume increases stability, which makes a lot of sense to me…
If you’re showing your Ads to more people, you have more opportunities to make Sales.
The other piece of good news about Ad Variance is that there is one mindset shift you can make…
Don’t worry about it!
Easier said than done, I know. But try this…
Instead of looking at your Ads and overall performance on a day-to-day basis, look at your results over an extended period of time (at least 7 days, but I prefer 30 days worth of data to identify trends and patterns).
I know, from my own experiences, that it’s incredibly tough not to worry about the seemingly random peaks and troughs in your book sales, but honestly, trust in the process, pay attention to the law of averages, and always play the long game; don’t look for short term wins, look for long-term gains; that’s how you win, by playing the long game.
Tip #5: Protect Your Brand
Protecting your Author Brand on Amazon may sound counter-intuitive and many authors consider it to be a complete and utter waste of money.
My answer to this…
In fact, it’s arguably some of the best money you can spend on Amazon Ads, especially when you are a prolific author and have a lot of readers coming to Amazon to specifically look for your books.
As proof, here’s a screenshot of just ONE of the Brand Protection Campaigns I run for my wife’s books, which has been running for about 11 months, at the time of writing:
If you’re not protecting your Author Brand on Amazon with Amazon Ads, you’re leaving a lot of money on the table, guaranteed.
The reason being that if a reader comes to Amazon to search for YOUR books, if you’re not running a Brand Protection Campaign, books by OTHER AUTHORS will appear above your organic listing on the search results pages, if they are targeting you and your books.
Ads now appear above organic listings on the Amazon Search Results; so other authors will be stealing Sales and Page Reads away from you if you’re not running these Brand Protection Campaigns.
So, what should you be targeting with these Campaigns? For me, here’s what I recommend:
- Your Author Name
- Your Book Titles
- Your Series Titles
- Your ASINs
By doing this, providing you’re bidding high enough (though you will find that targeting your own Keywords and ASINs is relatively cheap in the main), you’ll have peace of mind that whenever a reader comes to Amazon in search of your books, you’ll be positioning yourself right in front of them.
And because the intention behind readers who come to Amazon searching for your books is so strong, the conversion rate of these Campaigns is often 20% on the low end, 80% on the high end, which is an incredible conversion rate.
BONUS Insight #1: Optimize and Track Weekly
Back in the day, when I was just getting started with Amazon Ads, I was tinkering with the Ads every day of the week.
I just wasn’t giving the Amazon algorithm the opportunity to optimize the Campaigns and to work its magic.
Today, I spend 60-90 minutes per week optimizing my Amazon Ads and I have a set list of tasks that I run through each week:
- Negate irrelevant/poor-performing targets
- Optimize bids and placements
- Adjust budgets
- Test new ideas
- Track Results
Now, I don’t just let things run from week-to-week without checking in on the Ads.
So, I spend 5-10 minutes per day (maximum) just looking at the high-level metrics of the Campaigns, Ad Spend, Sales, Page Reads, etc, to get a feel for how things are performing. During these sessions, I am NOT making any changes to the Campaigns.
The only time I will make changes in these daily check-ins is if I spot a serious red flag situation, that needs my attention there and then. Otherwise, I just let the Campaigns run.
In the beginning stages of a new Campaign, things will be slow to get moving, frustratingly slow, at times.
There can also be a 12-24 hour delay in the Sales and Page Reads attributing to the Campaigns in your Account, so keep this in mind and give your Ads the time they need.
I recommend letting new Campaigns run for 2-4 weeks before optimizing, depending on your budget (the smaller the budget, the longer to leave the campaigns to run to gather data).
After this initial period, then come in and optimize things once per week.
BONUS Insight #2: Look At The Big Picture
Perhaps one of the most important and crucial lessons I’ve learned about Amazon Ads, which I know many authors struggle with, is looking at The Big Picture.
By this, I mean don’t look at your Amazon Ads in isolation. Never.
Amazon Ads are just a small part of a much bigger pie.
Every Sale and Borrow generated by your Amazon Ads will have an impact on your Bestseller Rank. A better rank means more organic visibility, sales and borrows.
Your Amazon Ads may look like they’re not performing or are losing you money hand over fist, but that’s if you’re looking at things in isolation and not paying attention to The Big Picture.
Also keep in mind that the Sales number reported in your Amazon Ads Dashboard is based on the Sale price of your book, NOT the Royalties you’ve received.
Remember, if you’re just advertising Book 1 of a 10 book series with Amazon Ads, for example, the only Sales and Page Reads attributable to the Amazon Ads are for Book 1. All the Sales and Page Reads of Books 2-10 in this case, that have come as a result of Book 1 being sold through the Amazon Ads, won’t even get a mention in your Amazon Ads data.
This is why I ALWAYS explain to authors that they should be looking at The Big Picture and NEVER look at their Amazon Ads inside a vacuum.
What does this mean in practice though? How do you look at The Big Picture?
Simply put, look at your KDP Reports. Specifically:
- Total Royalties
- Total Orders
- Total KENP Read (Page Reads)
To work out your profit, you compare how much you’ve spent on Ads and how much you’ve earned in Royalties.
To put this into some form of context, only around 25% of my wife’s Sales and Page Reads come from Ads today; 75% of them are organic, purely because of the rank the books have achieved.
The books wouldn’t have achieved this rank however, without the Ads.
And that is the ultimate aim of running Ads…
To tickle Amazon’s algorithm enough for them to take notice and start selling your books for you, through the millions of daily emails they send to readers, and all the visibility they will give your books once you start ranking well.
We’ve covered quite a few different Amazon Ads topics in this article, all of which I’ve learned from investing time and money into Amazon Ads.
My ultimate hope is that what you’ve learned today will help you see better results from your Amazon Ads and to avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve been through.
Now, that isn’t to say that you won’t experience your own challenges and obstacles; I’m 100% certain that you will because that’s just the nature of learning something new – especially when there is an investment of money involved.
However, you’ll come out the other side of these challenges and obstacles as a more knowledgeable, more capable, and more confident advertiser, with your own unique skill set.
The biggest takeaway I have for you, aside from everything else above and what we’ve covered today, is this…
It’s all well and good learning about Amazon Ads, but until you take the time and invest the money in implementing what you learn, you’re no further forward than you were when you started.
As the infamous saying goes…
“An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory.”
And to that end, I wish you all the very best with your Amazon Ads and thank you so much for investing your time in letting me share my learnings with you.
If running your own ads isn’t up your alley or just want to see how someone else can do with your books, check out Written Word Media’s Reader Reach Ads on Amazon and Facebook.
Matt Holmes helps self-published authors bring their work into the world through intentional and strategic marketing.
He writes a free book marketing newsletter received by more than 2,100 authors, called The Saturday Self-Published Author. You can learn more and sign up for FREE here.
On top of this, he offers a few different online courses focused on Facebook Ads and Amazon Ads, which you can check out here, as well as a FREE email course, 7 Days To Author Ads Success.
On a personal note, Matt lives in the UK with his wife, Lori, an author of fantasy novels, (which is how Matt got started in the world of self-publishing in the first place!) their 3 children, Jacob, Caleb and Jonathan and their 2 dogs, Freya and Loki – yes, it’s a busy house!
If you want to find out more about Matt and his work, it’s all available at www.matthewjholmes.com.
14 comments on “5 Amazon Ads Tips To Improve Your Book Sales”
A Request–Do you do this advertising service for others, as well? I just have one book The Ordinary and the Almighty, a devotional. How much would you charge if you do have a service like this?
Hey Debora, you can find out more about Matt’s services here. Or visit this page for info on running ads with Written Word Media.
What great advice. Here’s a question I’d really appreciate the answer to. What would you say would be a minimum budget to get your ads running effectively.
Hey Tahlia, there’s no hard and fast rule for this, but we recommend starting with at least $5/ day if you can.
Thanks for this informative article, Matt.
I only have one book published so far (unless you include a short story collection that I produced to use as a reader magnet)
I ran some Amazon (and even FaceBook) ads not long after publication just to test the waters. They broke even. I considered that a win. After all, I got my work in front of a lot of eyes and it cost me virtually nothing. However, I decided to wait and try again when Book 2 was released so I can hopefully get some read-through.
I’m in the final edit stage and plan to publish this book soon. My biggest problem is finding the time to set up my ads properly. (I’ve also forgotten most of what I knew back then so the learning curve starts anew. LOL)
Your advice will help me with this, I’m sure.
Thank you for this useful article. I’ve done some Amazon advertising over the years, mainly using the automatic targeting system and had a fair bit of success so I’ll probably go on that way. However, it would be interesting to try one of your reader reach campaigns on Facebook. My mystery series has 12 books in it now and my question before booking is do you think it would be better to advertise the first book, published in 2016, or the most recent which came out last November? I think the books work as standalone stories, at least readers tell me so. I’d be most grateful for your advice. I’d probably set the price at 99c not do a freebie.
Harriet (Author of the Inspector de Silva mysteries – https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B0753H3711?ref_=dbs_p_mng_rwt_ser_shvlr&storeType=ebooks)
For running a Reader Reach Ads Campaign with Written Word Media we would recommend advertising the first in series and dropping the price like you mentioned. If the most recent book has a higher quality cover you could consider doing that, but generally book one will do best at encouraging read-through.
For Matt’s services, you can check out his website here and inquire further!
Thank you for the advice. Harriet
Just setting up a brand ad and I have one question. I am mostly self-pubbed, but I have a publisher for a recent 5-book series, 4 books already pubbed. I know the publisher runs AMS ads for Book 1 in that series. Should I put these trad-pubbed titles and ASINs in my author brand ad or will that be bidding against the publisher? Thank you in advance for your response.
I doubt your publisher is targeting you, but see if you search your name, book, etc. and who comes up before you in paid ads. If your publisher is targeting you, then you’ll see those ads. If not, target yourself. 🙂
I love Matt Holmes. His concise advice is as good as it gets for authors dog-paddling up the Amazon River. I highly recommend signing onto his newsletter. Thanks for this useful piece!
I’d be lying if I said that I understood everything that I just read. But I’m going to keep trying!
This article was the most useful I’ve read. Thank you.
I am, currently working on several projects and have more ideas than I will ever have time to create. I am certain that the learning curve here is very steep for me as I am not a math wizard and selling has never been a talent I have, I can sell extremely well only wen I really believe in the product. Anybody can do that. I expect that since I write fast and generally have to do little rewrite, I will make more money for myself writing than I would selling my work. My now deceased friend taught me one very important thing I will never forget. It is this: If you have time and NO money you have to try to save anyway you can. However, IF you spend your time saving less than you can earn doing what you live you are a fool. I really like your idseas, and I hope that I can afford your service even though I am currently living below the poverty line. I have been teaching EFL/WSL for years and paying special attentnion to teaching writing at all levels of a; types. I know I can write and now is the time to do that, since the pandemic cost me most of my students and Xi Zhinping has relieved thousands from their online teaching jobs and they are all now competing with me. THank you for your very honest and valuable information. Karena