Wondering why a steamy romance novel keeps popping up in the margins of that cookbook you were checking out on Amazon? Here’s three letters for you: AMS, aka Amazon Marketing Solutions, aka one of the best promotional avenues for self-published authors.
Now, navigating AMS isn’t a total breeze. You’ll find it to be an extensive trial and error process. But compared to other platforms, it’s less complex, and, if you put in time, it yields big results.
But before all that...
You may notice a little blurb beneath the “Add to Cart” button, or books in your search results with a small “Sponsored” banner above them. These are examples of the two types of Amazon ads: Product Display and Sponsored Product.
Product Display ads are attached to specific products and appear by their description. They can be precisely targeted. (If your book similar to The Great Gatsby, it makes sense to show it on the same page!) But it’s worth noting that many authors prefer Sponsored Product ads.
Why? Maybe because Sponsored Product spots hardly look like ads. They show up directly in search result listings (or in related items), and the only thing setting them apart is a discreet banner. So, you’re essentially paying for your product to appear in customer searches.
To reap the rewards of either option, first make sure your ad itself is perfect.
On Amazon, your ad is basically just your book’s listing. This is great for buyers — they never have to leave the site. But all it leaves you is your cover and title (plus a slim copy allocation) to impress. So make sure you’ve already optimized your cover design to catch readers’ eyes before throwing money into advertising!
Next thing to do is set a budget. This is the maximum amount you’re willing to spend on your campaign per day… but here’s the catch. You only pay Amazon when someone clicks on your book — so if nobody's interested in your ad, you don't have to pay a cent. Your main concern will be getting enough clicks (and conversions) to make the campaign worth your time.
Once you’ve decided on either a Sponsored or Product Display ad, customized it, and set a budget, you have another choice to make: Manual or Automatic Targeting.
With Automatic Targeting, Amazon chooses who your ad appears to. Obviously, Amazon has plenty of user data to use. However, it is reportedly less effective in fiction genres. If your book occupies a defined nonfiction niche and has great metadata, Automatic Targeting is a good bet. Otherwise, you’ll have better luck with Manual Targeting, where you select as many keywords as you like.
Now that you’ve targeted an audience, the only thing left to do is set your bid. This is different than your budget. Your bid is how much you’re willing to pay Amazon per click. You’re bidding against other advertisers targeting the same keyword. If you bid too low, your ads will never show up, so the best idea when starting out is to bid high.
Think of this as a test run. Whether you bid $1 or $2, you’re never going to be paying that much for a click. You’ll likely pay around $0.30 or $0.40 max (remember, the hardest part is meeting your budget). Bidding high in the beginning simply gathers as much data as possible — you won’t get any if your ads never show up! Once you’ve worked out which copy and keywords work best, reduce your bid and leave the campaign running.
One of the benefits of AMS is a built-in chart for monitoring how well your advertisements are performing. The chart breaks down five factors.
1. Impressions: How often your advertisement shows up in searches. The higher, the better.
2. Clicks: How often a consumer clicks on your ad. Remember, you pay Amazon per click. More is good... if they’re converting into sales!
3. Spend: The money you’ve spent on the campaign.
4. Sales: The money you’ve made off the campaign.
5. ACoS: Advertising Cost of Sale
To best take advantage of this, pay attention to the last. ACoS is a percentage: total advertising spent out of total sales. Essentially, it tells you if you’re getting your money’s worth. Remember how perfecting AMS is a test? ACoS is the factor you’re testing for.
If your ACoS is over 100, this means you’re spending over 100% of the money you’re making, so you’re losing money. An ideal ACoS would be around 20-25%. If it’s higher, it’s not the end of the world. It just means you should look for ways to better optimize your campaign.
We’ve covered the ingredients that go into an AMS ad. But what does it take to perform well?
The truth is that most authors who use the platform struggle to get enough clicks and conversions to make it worth the effort. Here are a few actions you can take to increase your chances of success.
If you choose Manual Targeting, the keywords you choose will make or break you. Most authors will only include a couple dozen keywords. This will limit their reach. Instead, test upwards of 300, and aim to find at least 50 that work for you.
To get started, target:
1. Book Titles,
2. Author Names, and
3. Genres & Subgenres.
When choosing keywords, try to think like your reader. Just because a golden sword features prominently into your story, a customer searching for “golden sword” probably doesn’t want a book. Instead, use similar titles (“Game of Thrones,” “Lord of the Rings”), author names (“George R. R. Martin,” “J.R.R. Tolkien”), or relevant genres (“high fantasy”).
Because you only pay per click, you can afford to go broad with your keyword targeting — if a keyword isn’t relevant, people won’t click on your ad, so you won’t pay anyway. Manual targeting is the trickiest part of AMS, but cast a wide enough net and you’re sure to reel someone in.
Amazon provides a few metrics for monitoring your ad, but even with the ACoS chart, it’s worth tracking your Conversion Rates. This tells you what proportion of your ad views lead to sales. Two useful metrics for this are click-through-rate (measuring clicks to impressions) and click-to-sale rate (measuring the money from sales against clicks.)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, you need to test AMS constantly to make it work for you — and to get good results you need data. So, use a spreadsheet to keep track of all your keywords and their conversion stats.
Amazon takes 7 days to attribute a sale to your ads, which means your campaign has to run for a week before you even start to get results. So, be patient! Once the sales start to come in:
1. Find keywords that work,
2. Create different campaigns for them, then
3. Kill your big test campaign.
I know, I know — it sounds like a lot. To be honest, it is.
It’s often hard to make AMS work, but with a lot (yes, a lot) of testing, you can identify what works, scale it up, and start getting a positive return on your investment each month.
Casimir Stone is a writer for Reedsy, the world's largest marketplace of professional editors, book designers and ghostwriters. He also curates a series of free webinars and online courses designed to teach writers how to create and publish better books.