This method is as close to a silver bullet as it gets when it comes to advertising books on Amazon. Using it, I’ve sold over 25,000 copies of my books since September 2016 and over 45,000 copies of my customers’ books since June 2017. With profit, of course.
It works better for nonfiction than for fiction. It’s not infallible, but it works more often than not. And it’s very, very hard to lose money with this method.
Oh, the average ROI throughout the years was about 100%. Let it sink: thanks to this method I made $2,000 for every $1,000 I spent on ads.
Do I have your attention? Great, let’s roll.
I started my first ad on Amazon on the 1st of September 2016. I did everything that Derek Doepker taught me: I carefully researched phrases, popular books in my genre, and books by other authors that were often bought with my books. It took some precious hours of my time.
The results weren’t especially encouraging. My sales jumped a bit, which was good—they had been at their lowest point since January 2015. But I was only breaking even on ads.
I had created five more ads in the next nine days, and none of them was very impressive.
I analyzed the campaigns and discovered a couple of things:
a) Some obvious keywords weren’t used by Amazon at all.
The first book I advertised was The Art of Persistence. I got some nice results for the keyword “persistence” but almost nothing for “perseverance.”
WTF?!? Similarly, the title of my other book: 99 Perseverance Success Stories got one impression. ONE! The same author, the same topic, and Amazon didn’t think it was a good fit. Sheeeesh!
b) Some weird keywords got traction when it made little to no sense.
For example “the psychology of persuasion” or “launch” sold some copies of my book. Yes, those are nonfiction books’ titles, but it is as close as it comes to relevancy. Launch by Jeff Walker was especially puzzling for me. Look at the headline for this book:
“Launch will build your business—fast.”
Heck, what does that have to do with persistence? 😀
So, after several days of running ads and analyzing my data, I knew two things:
a) I can spend a lot of time chiseling my keyword list and Amazon will ignore most of them anyway.
b) I will never guess some broad matches on Amazon, not even in a million years of running ads.
And then I created another ad campaign for my book. This time, I used the most popular words in English and I bid just three cents for those.
The results blew my mind. This puny ad generated five times more impressions than my carefully chiseled previous campaigns had. With this volume, even though the audience wasn’t well targeted, I sold twice as many copies of my book and paid 50% less for all the clicks.
Needless to say, I never looked back.
Of course, in 2016 the market was nowhere as competitive as today, so it was easier to get traction. Unfortunately, I was battling with depression at that time, so I did not launch enough campaigns.
I created a few ads per book and was happy that my book sales doubled and tripled. Whenever the royalties started decreasing, I came up with a new idea for popular words, slapped together a few campaigns per book, and boosted my sales again.
So, why does this method even work? There is a one-word answer to that question:
Periodically, I type into Google two words: “success” and “perseverance.” As of today, they get 3.3 billion results versus 50 million results. The ratio between those numbers has remained fairly stable over the last seven years. “Perseverance” is not popular—suck it, Michal.
You see, you may very carefully target very relevant keywords for your book, but if people don’t search for those keywords, you won’t sell anything. You may target books that are very similar to your book, but if they all have the bestseller rank around #1 million, it means only a few people per month ever visit their pages.
With my method, I brought people who were looking for something remotely connected with my books’ topics and showed them my ads.
I targeted words that weren’t a fit at all, but they were insanely popular. For the first two years, the keyword “book” was my best keyword for ALL the books I advertised. Why? Because all the people who want to buy a book on Amazon look for a book: a book like…, a book similar to…, bestselling books in 2019, and so on.
The best universal keywords I’m using and how I harvested them
Some of the keyword lists I use have truly crazy stories behind them. The point is, all of them worked for me because they were using popular searches.
1. Most popular English words
You know, words like every single one used in this sentence:
“you” “know” “words” “like” “every” “single” “one” “used” “in” “this” “sentence”
I googled “the most popular English words” and ended up with about 3-4 thousand keywords that worked remarkably well. Take the word “and” for example. When Amazon employs a broad search, it can lead to anything: “and romance,” “and fiction,” “and perseverance,” “and success.” Anything! The same is true for all adverbs and pronouns. The most popular nouns and verbs have been doing pretty well too.
That was a neat idea. Every single author has a first name and a surname, don’t they? Google provided a nice long list of the most popular names in the US and the UK. I found a list of the most popular American surnames from some census.
3. Letters and numbers
Those lists’ successes really took me by surprise. I put all the letters of the alphabet and the 10 single digits into Publisher Rocket and got a bit over 2,000 results. I created three keyword lists within an hour. They have sold hundreds of my books and my customers’ books ever since.
4. Most popular books
I did a similar exercise with the top 100 bestsellers on Amazon in the self-help and business categories. Most of those books stayed on the bestseller list forever, and they got a disproportionate number of eyeballs. Even though my ads were displayed on the 30th or 50th page of ads, they still got plenty of impressions.
5. Common phrases
My best universal lists are those curated from the manuscripts. At the beginning, they were solely my manuscripts. My thinking was:
“If the most popular keywords are getting a lot of impressions, the common phrases will get them too and the Amazon algorithm may even consider them more relevant.”
It was probably true.
I asked my friend who is a software developer, and he wrote me a simple tool that vivisects a TXT manuscript and divides it into three files: all unique single words, all unique pairs of words, and all unique triads of words that were next to themselves in the text.
At least half of them were gibberish and a good percentage of the rest were irrelevant. For example, a pair of words made from a name and a single other word (“George shrugged”) rarely makes a popular phrase.
But the remaining 20% of results? They were golden. They sold thousands of copies.
6. Author names
It’s not available anymore, but once upon a time a few backdoor clicks could lead you to the complete list of authors in a specific Amazon category. I learned this trick from Dave Chesson, the owner of Kindlepreneur. Anyway, once upon a time, I copied about 15,000 authors’ names from Amazon. It was during my depression period, so now I’m kicking myself for not digging into more categories.
I tested those names and ended up with almost 2,000 quite popular author names. I don’t care if they write in my genre or not. Amazon knows this and will display my ads or not.
Those keywords weren’t as effective money-making machines as others, but they made some money nonetheless. Their advantage is that they work universally well for every genre because they are authors from every genre.
7. Famous people, places, and events
I didn’t gather them purposefully, but I noticed that they made quite an impact among the words I harvested. For example, among the authors’ names I got a handful of great politicians (Churchill, Lincoln) or ancient philosophers (Seneca, Aristotle). Another example: one of my customers’ books got an insane amount of impressions and clicks for the keyword “Paris.”
In hindsight, it would have been easier to search for such keywords on the internet. Typing famous generals or list of biggest rock stars into Google would’ve been much faster than mining for authors’ names or through my manuscripts for keywords.
Advantages of the high-volume keywords method:
It took me usually a fraction of the time needed for thorough research to obtain my keywords. Copy-paste from a webpage is much faster even than using Publisher Rocket. It was definitely MUCH faster than clicking through pages and pages of books on Amazon in the search for relevant keywords (which is the method recommended by every AMS course I ever went through).
It’s half of the workload benefit. The other half lies in reusing those keywords again and again. When you start advertising a new book, you simply bypass the research phase. You take your well-tested keywords list and use them again and again.
I saved thousands of man-hours with this method.
2. You can guess what Amazon thinks about your book.
I was often puzzled about why a perfectly good book didn’t get traction when some botch with a few to several reviews was showered with millions of impressions.
Advertising well over 100 books, I found out that Amazon has its whims. It was clear even with a sample of my own 10 books. Some of them got more impressions than others with the same universal keywords.
And no, it doesn’t mean that the keywords were a wrong fit. It might’ve been true with a single keyword list or a few. But with 60,000 universal keywords—common words, names, author names, common phrases, and top bestsellers—it’s not a matter of relevancy; it’s a pattern.
Some books got an insane amount of impressions and some barely a handful.
It wasn’t a case of marketing potential, author, reviews, or conversion rates. Yes, I saw that books written by serial authors and with many reviews got a marginal preference from Amazon. But not always. And I’ve seen total underdogs (a newbie author, a few reviews, an exotic subject) getting a s*itload of impressions with the same bids and the same keywords.
So, with time and practice I can guess what Amazon thinks about the book from an advertising standpoint within the first three days of running my ads. It’s almost like having your own magic crystal ball.
Again, it saved a lot of time. Normally, you spend a few months on researching keywords, creating ads, and tweaking campaigns before you can conclude the whole process leads you nowhere. With my method, it takes just a few days and you get data that will tell you to ditch or double down on a book.
3. (Un)reliable numbers
Well, if you have run a few campaigns, you know how overall wonky the AMS system is. You cannot even tell if the orders indicated in the dashboard are for sure orders for your own books! Still, it beats everything else on the whole planet when it comes to selling on Amazon.
Yet, you get some data about conversion rates that are simply unavailable with anything outside Amazon. Your FB ads or BookBub ads can tell you how many people they sent to your book page, but you can guess conversion rates only by the number of sales in your KDP dashboard.
Oh, scratch that! While writing this article (it took me more than a few days) I confirmed that the only way you can be 100% sure of how your ads work is to measure your KDP sales as well. Everything on the income side in the AMS dashboard—Orders and Sales—is pure BS too.
So, to get to know your conversion rates, the best way is to apply ads to the dead book and compare AMS clicks with the KDP sales.
Once you run a lot of keyword-filled campaigns for a particular book, you can download the campaigns’ data and extract the high-performance keywords. Then, you create new ads using only those keywords.
It eliminates 80% of the keywords that do you no good and decreases the workload of campaign creation and maintenance by at least five times. Your sales will be probably be cut by about 20% because you’ll lose some of the longtail sales.
This is the Pareto rule at work. You do five times less work and earn only 20% less money. You can dedicate the time you saved to testing more keywords.
Disadvantages of the high-volume keywords method:
1. You confuse the Amazon algorithm.
Common wisdom says that the mysterious Amazon advertising algorithm wants to learn who your book’s target audience is. It makes complete sense. Amazon wants to show your book to the people who are interested in your genre.
It also wants to avoid situations in which the ads are displayed to people who have zero interest in your work. A nonfiction book’s ad in a row of romance books is out of place and probably won’t generate many sales.
So, if you address your ads not to a specific audience, but to the whole crowd on Amazon using common words that can be connected to practically any search in the store, the algorithm cannot figure out who really buys your book. You confuse, you lose. Your CTR rates are meager, so Amazon advertises your book less and less, preferring books of your competitors who are smarter with their advertising and target their audience very carefully.
It’s all well and good, but it’s not congruent with my experience. I’ve been advertising my books with this method for three years. They still sell pretty consistently. Their sales decline a bit, but I very much doubt that there is any book on Amazon whose performance hasn’t suffered with growing competition in the last three years.
I know authors who successfully targeted their audience with ads and got a very handsome ROI. But I also know authors who spent thousands of dollars trying to teach the algorithm whom it should try to target, but got meager results.
I definitely prefer confusing the algorithm and selling tens of thousands of books over teaching it to create a perfect fit while losing tens of thousands of dollars.
I don’t have time or resources for this BS. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. Most authors are overloaded with tasks and are dirt poor. Teaching the algorithm is for rich folks. The common-words method works, and works well enough, with a two-dollar daily budget.
So, I take the risk of confusing the algorithm. It is what it is. However, you can work around the other disadvantages.
2. You confuse readers.
If your nonfiction book’s ad is displayed among thrillers or your romance book shows up under a how-to book, you are screwed, aren’t you? Those people are seeking something else and they won’t even click on your ad. Or they will click out of curiosity and skip the purchase.
Well, if nobody clicks on such an ad, it’s a good thing. You pay for clicks, not impressions. To avoid “empty clicks” all you need to do is make your ad’s blurb crystal clear about the book. Or just clear enough.
You see, those aren’t “typical romance readers” who browse for books on Amazon. They are real people with real complex motivations and interests. If I browse for a good fiction book and I see an ad for an interesting nonfiction book, I will click on it. A gal who browses for the next romance book may be interested in my guide to overcoming shyness. You never know.
Stating clearly in the blurb what the book is about, helps you to reach people who have broad interests or simply are at the point in their life when they can make use of your book.
3. You are wasting money.
When you address the wrong crowd, you can lose a lot of money on your ads. Romance readers interested in overcoming shyness is a nice theory, but it may not prove right in practice.
Workaround: use low bids.
Don’t bid $1 on keywords completely unrelated to your book. You don’t know if people typing “chair” into a search bar may be interested in your book about minimalism! Some of them may be, but don’t bet your life on it. Your max bid should be at least 20 times lower than royalties from a copy of your Kindle book. So, if you earn $2 for your $2.99 book, use 10-cent bids.
In fact, you should bid low enough to be ahead of your conversion ratio every single time. So, if you don’t know the conversion rate, assume 30:1 or even 40:1; then make 7-cent or 5-cent bids.
The point of bidding conservatively is to stay in the game. It’s nice to sell a lot of books, and have a lot of impressions and clicks, but it’s pointless if you are going broke along the way. Being in the green from the very beginning guarantees that you won’t be prematurely out of the game when your budget depletes.
This method works. It’s working better on young markets, like Canada, where Amazon algorithms are still learning what converts and whatnot. But it still works in the US. I estimate my current ROI in the USA at 64%. This is a monthly ROI! It gives 768% yearly ROI even without taking the compound effect into account. That’s good enough for me.
Will it work in the coming months? Time will tell. There are no guarantees. However, I generated over 70,000 sales using this method in the last few years. I’m not abandoning it before I see the hard data indicating it’s over.