Keyword Selection and Bidding Strategies for Amazon Ads

After self-publishing my first book earlier this year, I was a bit reticent to delve into the world of Amazon advertising, as it seemed a bit overwhelming.  A fellow self-published author urged me to give it a try, so I decided to go for it.  

The ad campaign for the first book ended up being very successful, and I'm getting close to $2000 in sales.  I released a second book in September, and the response to the ad campaign for that book has been lukewarm.  I've learned a lot along the way from both the ups and downs.

Selecting Keywords

To generate sales, you need to find the right keywords.  Amazon will automatically select keywords for you, but I found that it didn't make good choices for my books.  Keywords need to be common enough that people are actually searching for them, but not so common that you're competing against a whole slew of other books.  

Keywords should also be specific enough that a significant portion of people searching for those terms are going to be looking for a book like yours.  With non-specific keywords, you run the risk that people will click on your ad and then realize your book is not at all what they were looking for, and that costs you money.

Specificity is something I've struggled with in advertising my second book.  It's called Making Sense of Psychiatric Diagnosis, and it explains what's actually involved in different psychiatric diagnoses that are listed in the DSM-5, the "bible" of psychiatry.  The target audience is laypeople rather than mental health professionals.  The problem is, the keywords that are relevant to my book are the same keywords that are used for books aimed at mental health professionals.  There were also a lot of competing books for those keywords, which drove up the price of ads.   

My first book, Psych Meds Made Simple, also had keyword overlap with reference-type books, but the subject matter was narrow enough that I still managed to do well with those keywords and they weren't that expensive to bid for.

Amazon allows you to see how many impressions your ad is getting for each keyword.  If a keyword is getting a lot of impressions but no clicks, it may be that the keyword isn't a good fit for your book.  If your ad is getting a lot of clicks but no sales, that can be another indicator that it's not the right keyword for your book.

Bidding Strategy

Amazon ads are cost-per-click (CPC).  Each time ads are displayed, Amazon holds a virtual auction.  The highest bidders get their ads shown, and you only pay if people click on your ad.

For each keyword, Amazon will give you a suggested bid and a suggested range of bids that are likely to be successful.  Amazon may not have enough data to give these suggestions for keywords that aren't commonly used.  Bidding lower than the suggested range doesn't necessarily mean that your ad won't get displayed, so treat these as suggestions rather than gospel.

Once you start generating sales, Amazon will give you ACOS figures, which represent the average cost of a sale.  It's calculated from advertising costs divided by book sales, and it's expressed as a percentage.  

What's worked best for me is to start with low-end bids and gradually increase, aiming for an ACOS of 15-20%.  I'm very proactive with my bidding strategy – I look at my stats daily and make minor adjustments.  If a keyword has a low ACOS, I might bump up my bid to see if I can bring in even more sales.  If a term's ACOS is getting high, I'll decrease my bid. 

With my second book, I decided to try to establish some sales early on and hone in on the best keywords.  I bid high, and I set a high daily spend value.  I ended up getting sales, but it was costing me more money than I was bringing in.  Once I backed off on my bids, though, my sales dwindled to a trickle.  This was definitely a lesson learned that I should stick with what worked for my first book – start low, and go slow.

Making the Leap

Advertising with Amazon can be a bit intimidating at first, and there's a lot to learn.  However, it can be a really good way to continue bringing in book sales once the shiny new release factor has worn off.  It doesn't have to be expensive; your daily maximum can be as low as $1, and just because Amazon sends you emails suggesting you raise your daily maximum doesn't mean that you should.  

Given my own experience, I would say advertising with Amazon is at least worth a try for an self-published author.


You can find me on my website Mental Health @ Home

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