Amazon’s A9 algorithm, dispelling a myth and the future…

Amazon-A9

In most of my posts, I ramble away in an unplanned manner, eventually making sense of, or come to a conclusion, about whatever topic is being discussed.

I tend to stay clear of jargon and try not to get too bogged down with the technical aspect of… stuff.

I have tried to do the same here; if you really want to get all techy and scientific you’ll need to undertake some research of your own.

Otherwise, please read on, some explanations, tips, and links are included.


‘A9’ is the proprietary search algorithm developed by Amazon. It is named after the company’s subsidiary which handles SEO

It has one job, to answer customer’s purchasing queries.

Please note, it is NOT Google.

Amazon is the primary destination for book searches, so understanding A9 is critical to your author success on this platform.

Amazon is happy to let A9 fly under the radar, even with A9 being somewhat revolutionary, to say the least.

We all love how Google seamlessly adapts its SERPs to your browsing habits, but A9 floated this idea successfully way back in 2004. A9 also pioneered visual street views long before Google Maps was a thing. The point is, despite being the most valuable company in the world, Amazon isn’t keen on pushing A9 through as a wide-lens search engine. In fact, you won’t find many people who have heard of the A9 algorithm.

The simple reason is, as I said above, it is NOT Google.

Amazon is not in the Searcher Intent business. Searcher intent is simply the type of request or query a specific user is looking for. For example, searcher intent is extremely obvious when terminology such as “buy” or “sell” is used. This is 100% commercial intent. E.G. “buy shoes” “sell my car” etc.

Whereas other intents, such as informational, e.g. “how-to” is also searched by users in YouTube, Google and other major search engines.

Amazon though, being a product-based search engine, doesn’t have this issue. That’s because people coming to Amazon are looking to do one and one thing only: Buy Stuff, like YOUR books. Unlike a traditional search engine, A9 does not need to consider whether someone searching for say, ‘Stephen King’ wants to learn more about the author or if they want to buy his books, Amazon it ‘knows’ they want to buy his books… and this is the most important factor. It is what shapes the way you need to work with A9 to gain higher rankings on the platform.

To place your book in a ‘high’ and visible position the A9 algorithm needs to consider factors such as degree of text match, price, availability, selection, and sales history.

Therefore, optimizing your books potential rating on Amazon begins before your listing goes live. There are several optimization elements you have control over and need to address before you sell even a single book.

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1, Book Title and Brand Name, (if any)

The most relevant keywords will be the title and subtitle (if any) of your book. As with Electric Eclectic branded books, the brand name is used as, or as part of, the subtitle.

This allows people optional and assorted methods of searching for your book. They can key in your book title if they know it or remember it, or at least search for something similar. Alternatively, they can use your author name, or simply type in the brand.

For example, when you enter ‘Electric Eclectic books’ into your Amazon search bar you will be presented with a list of all the titles, from authors who have written under the Electric Eclectic brand.

Check out Electric Eclectic at https://electriceclecticsblog.wordpress.com/about/

 

2, Book Description

While it is clearly important to write a compelling description to entice the person browsing to buy your book, consider using three to four ‘bullet point’ at the top of your description, such as, ‘Fast-paced Thriller’ or ‘Romantic Fantasy’, to clarify the genre of the book.

Bullets naturally stand out and make content easier to read than a block of text and help increases conversion rates.

Other bullet point options are such things as ‘Revised Edition’, ‘Prequal to ….’ and so forth. Not only does this help your potential buyers to decide, but it also reduces the risk of bad reviews due to a purchaser buying a book outside their regular choice/comfort zone.

A9 will also pick up on the words used, helping to target your book towards those who will enjoy your story.

TIP: Try by selecting three top-ranked competitors, (Mainstream publisher/agent listings are great for this) chose ones which boast the greatest number of reviews.

With the list of keywords in hand, remove those that aren’t relevant. As easy as that, you’ve got a handy list of keywords in your arsenal

In most cases, data from 3 or 4 competitors is enough to get started.

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3, Pricing

Your books must be strategically and competitively priced. If they are your conversion rate will benefit.  Analyse the book pricing of those with high volume sale in your book’s genre, ensuring they are of similar page count/format. Find the ‘sweet spot’ price points, both on and off Amazon and price your book accordingly. Do not overprice or under-price, doing either will reduce your potential sales.

A9 takes pricing into consideration as it is in Amazon’s best interest to prioritise products (books) that sell.  To better your chance of being listed next to, or in the proximity of a ‘Best Seller’, you need to be thereabouts.

 

4, Cover Images

Although images are not a direct, performance-related Amazon ranking factor, they play a critical role in both your click-through and conversion rates.

While cover images are not factors A9 specifically evaluates, (presently) They are very important for your potential customers and can have an impact on your sales.

High-quality images which view clearly when enlarged can increase sales by as much as 10%, according to Amazon, and the A9 algorithm rewards products that sell well.signature

Are you looking for a bespoke cover? Email Peejay Designs at PeeJaydesigns@mail.com

 

5, Customer Reviews

Genuine, unsolicited, un-incentivised reviews are an ‘indirect factor’ which may impact your product’s rank on Amazon. Customer reviews can significantly influence the conversion rate, demonstrating their role in Amazon SEO. Books with strong ratings (four stars or higher) are more likely to rank higher in Amazon search results than those with less than four stars.

Although your Amazon ranking, as discussed, is dependent on many other factors; so often a two-star review rated book will show next to four and five star reviewed books. This could simply be because it is a new book is without enough reviews to give a true indication but more often it is because the author simply got everything else perfectly set up for A9, so the book appears higher on the pages.

You should constantly monitor your reviews to ensure customers do not abandon their potential purchase due to a negative review.

By responding to negative reviews in a timely fashion, you are showing your prospective customers you hold a value of their comments. This helps maintain positive overall customer experience.

You will notice at the start of this section I used the wording ‘Genuine, unsolicited, un-incentivised reviews’. This is because these are the ONLY reviews that Amazon A9 is concerned with.

Many authors believe that paid for, swapped, coerced or otherwise incentivised reviews help with Amazon rankings. Well, maybe they once did, but Amazon has been working extremely hard and are finding ways to validate every review.

Amazon uses a number of various systems to log everything… the numbers, the names, usernames, associated usernames (friends of), web locations, physical locations, device ID’s of reviewers, ISP addresses associated with reviews and many more data points.

This information is used to monitor the posting of fake and incentivised reviews, along with authors and businesses linked to enticing fake reviews. You may get away with one or two, but that’s about it, many more and A9 will flag your account(s). This may mean the reviews will be deleted, your account may be suspended or closed, just as those posting the reviews.

As A9 and its associated crawlers and bots develop and gather more information about each author/users’ actions and their algorithms enhanced, Amazon has vowed to clear all fake and incentivised reviews from the platform to improve quality.

Read more… https://wp.me/p5nj7r-1kR

 

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6, Sales

The most important thing to remember about the A9 algorithm, and what differentiates it from traditional search engines, is that it exists to facilitate one thing: sales.

A9 looks at your title, product descriptions and the price you set to determine relevance. Together, these factors create a flywheel effect where improving one element of your product marketing also increases sales velocity which, in turn, improves your listing’s visibility.

Higher A9 ranking means more targeted exposure by Amazon, such as showing on ‘Also bought’, ‘Also viewed’ and ‘Frequently bought together’ directed to a relevant audience.

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7, The Future for A9

Looking at how Google evolved over the years gives us a look into how we believe Amazon is expected to change.

Amazon’s A9 algorithm will follow a similar trajectory, albeit more slowly and less aggressively (remember, as effective as it is, A9 is not one of Amazon’s most important ‘products’).

Amazon is working to fix many problems: low-quality listings, broken English, higher return rates and how people generate reviews (fake reviews, for example). Amazon has aggressively targeted fake reviews in the past few years, going so far as suing Fiverr directly.

In February 2011, Google released an update called Panda.

Despite its tame name, this update wiped out millions in affiliate marketer & SEO consultant earnings. Superficially speaking, the update itself was aimed at low-quality sites from a content point of view. Copied, scraped and poorly created content was the chief target, meaning that millions of low-quality sites were hit very hard and de-indexed. 95+% of traffic and all the income associated with it, poof, GONE.

Amazon is looking to publish a similar update; the goal to have listings that read well and avoid broken English, duplicate content and generally poor optimization overall, instead of just basing the majority of factors on sales directly.

One of the reasons this makes sense from a business point of view is to reduce the number of low-quality Chinese sellers driving out genuine, quality-focused businesses. (Think future competition, think Alibaba).

There are multiple other reasons it makes sense to Amazon’s business model.

This ‘Amazon Panda’, or whatever they may call it, will change the game, but what will ultimately turn Amazon SEO services & marketing agencies on its head would be an algorithm update similar to Google’s ‘Penguin’ update.

The Panda update in 2011 was big but the Penguin update actually changed the SEO game forever. Released on 24th April 2012 (version 1) it impacted close to 3.1% of search queries. If you’ve ever implemented an SEO campaign, you’ll know it’s a massive amount of organic search results.

In short, this update aimed to remove link spam. Any site which was using questionable link building tactics was hit and penalised. Organic traffic for some companies went to zero and some never recovered.

Amazon’s ‘Penguin’ update, a form of which is under construction (I have been told), will involve targeting elements such as sales manipulation, discounted product giveaways, which they are already combating, and overall search engine manipulation.

Other trust signals will become more and more important.

Industry chatter tells me that generating more than 3 reviews per day is a signal that Amazon uses to identify review manipulation. Other tools such as Fakespot or Reviewmeta are also very common for spotting fake reviews.

Third parties are building tools that identify fake reviews. Amazon has signals and software to reduce the amount of review spam on their platform.

The end result is if you want to stay 100% safe, ensure you stay within Amazon’s terms of service and avoid any algorithm manipulation

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 One final ‘thing’  to end this post..

Myth: Discounted books and Giveaways Still Work.

NO, they don’t.

This is an Amazon SEO myth we have to cover… discounted and book giveaways. They just don’t work anymore.

This was a very sharp change Amazon made almost 2 years ago now. The main tweak involved how Amazon weighted the ranking signal for discounted product sales.

Previously Amazon weighted discounted products (80%+) still relatively heavily. So, a small amount of discounted product giveaways resulted in large organic ranking movements.

The tweak Amazon added downgraded the weighting used. With this in place, running discounted giveaways just doesn’t make economic sense anymore.

Read more… https://wp.me/p5nj7r-1fn

reflection

Bucking the trend (or one reason why you are not making money)

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Unlike many of my Ramblings, this post is written in a far more focused manner, giving a clue to the importance I place on this content.

I think, ALL indie authors NEED to read the following, in full.


 

Recently I have seen a large number of indie authors discounting their books, or giving them away freely, offering a plethora of ‘giveaways’, from the humble bookmark to expensive looking jewellery, even a combination of all the above.

Whilst this form of promotion is not unusual by itself, the number of offers has increased to such a degree, that it seems no one is selling a book at full value price.

In fact, a quick scan of the internet shows very few books, (in relative context), for sale above zero, naught, nil, zilch, nothing.

This is excellent if you are a reader. You have the largest and widest choice of reading material ever produced in the history of human life, being offer to you at no cost; even incentivised, bribed, to take up such offers, by the additional giving of gifts.

Life has never been so cosy.

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This recent explosion of free books has been boosted by the hundreds of book promotion sites, offering authors the service of marketing their works to millions of potential readers, for a small fee.

The sales gist of this is, should the author give away books, each person receiving a free book may like it so much, they will buy more of that authors works.

This seems a viable strategy… in principle.

BUT… there is always a but!

This form of book marketing was, for want of a better word, pioneered by Amazon when they were quite a young organisation selling only books.

At that time, the indie authors publishing phenomenon had not established, making it a very different market place; one where the novelty of being offered a free book was the exception not the rule.

Furthermore, add this marketing fee to the cost of production, editing, proofreading, formatting, cover designer, advertising, etc. Now, work out your royalties per-sale, because that is what must pay for your books production costs.

From this simple equation, you will see how many books you must sell to break even.

NOTE: This figure is cost based only. It does not include a budget for your time, your internet bill, your software licence fees, office space offsets (even if ‘the office’ is a table in your lounge) and other associated costs, which as a business person you need to consider. If you do not, whatever monies you think you have made form that book, will be demanded from you by those wonderful, friendly folks at the Inland Revenue.

So…how much do your royalties add up too…oh, nothing… because you gave it all away, with the bookmarks and coasters you paid for to boost your sales.

Not very business minded, are you?

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Let’s fast forward to today.

The indie publishing business is a global industry, with hundreds of thousands of books being self-published each month, in every country and every language on earth.

This is a world where an adage I loth, ‘A victim of our own success’, has the hollow ring of truth.

Because computer technology has allowed the growth of, what was once referred to as ‘desk top publishing’ to grow in such an unprecedented way, the competition in the indie publishing scene is immense.

However,… there is always a however, too!

While the market place for book sales has undergone change akin to continental drift, the methods used by indie authors is still as primitive as the those used in the embryonic days of Amazon’s birth.

You see, Amazon has outgrown the indie author world. It has outgrown many, if not all the established mainstream publishing companies and, by doing so, has irrevocably altered the landscape of publishing in general.

Neither is this giant called Amazon about to offer indie authors a helping hand.

It does not have to and does not want to. Not only has it outgrown the publishers, but it has established itself as the master of sales opportunities. Basically, as an independent writer, if you want to sell a lot of books you must factor Amazon into your marketing mix. What is more, Amazon will need to be your prime ingredient in the clear majority of cases.

Which brings us back to the reader, those illusive, almost mythical creatures who may, one day, if you are extremely lucky, buy one of your books.

BUT… yes another but!

BUT… it is getting less and less likely any reader will put their hand into their pocket and pull out some money, simply to get hold of a copy of your book.

You see, they don’t have too.

There are hundreds and thousands of books available for free. The reader can order any of these, or simply download an eBook version, which they can add to the hundred unread books waiting on their Kindles and E-readers, without ever spending a single penny.

Oh, that fleeting promise of maybe’s, the one the book marketing sites sold you, you know, the one that goes… “if they like your style they will buy the rest of your series/books….”

You didn’t fall for that old spangle, did you? 

Because they will not.

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Please do not dismiss the reader thus. Like all of us, our readers must be canny when it comes to spending, whether buying packet of sausages in a supermarket, or buying a good book to curl up with in front of the fire.

These folks will:

A, wait until another of your series is offered for free.

B, read another free book. (They may enjoy it better than yours.)

C, Both, of the above.

This is a reader’s market. It has got this way because of several factors, but (another but!), it is you, the indie author who has brought this situation upon yourself.

By publishing your book at a ridiculous low price, then lowering that price and eventually giving your book away, you are part of the overall problem affecting many, if not most indie authors.

You are simply adding to the situation you are moaning about. You know the one, about having too many free books on Amazon. That the competition is too great, because the market is flooded with cheap books, 99 cents and below.

This WILL NOT CHANGE until you…yes, YOU do something about it.

Ideally, for me. As of tomorrow morning, there would not be one book, not a single novelette being given away.

Novella’s and the such would be priced at around £2.00/$2.40 for the shortest book and escalating up from there.

Novels would kick in at a minimum of £10.00. Book prices would be back to a decent level, a level not too dissimilar to that before Amazon muscled in.

We all, from time to time, often with good reason, knock the major publishing houses who controlled publishing, much as DeBeers control the diamond market. Yet they ensured authors got a fair return for the time and effort involved in creating a book.

That cannot be said of Amazon, or any book promotion site encouraging free and 99c priced book sales.

I know there is a movement within the indie community, one which is trying to discourage the giving away of books.

I am part of that movement.

I believe, if ALL indie authors removed ALL free books, re-priced their books to reflect true value for authors, we would see a major shift change within the industry almost overnight.

Don’t worry.

People will not stop reading.

They never have and they never will. They shall simply be paying a fair price for the goods they receive.

Authors will start earning a fair return for their creativity, effort and investment. The quality of books will increase.

The world will be full, once again, of wild unicorns running free in green woodlands full of Tinkerbelle fairies… well, I may be pushing it a bit too far now; but the facts are, indie authors will be better served without cheap and free books…. FACT.

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Which brings me to the title of this post, ‘ Bucking the trend’

What give me the right to state such?

Firstly, this is not me simply making a vortex of hot air.

I stand by my convictions. I do not have any FREE books. I shall not be giving any books away. I do not have gifts of incentives. I have no bookmarks or jewellery.

In fact, I am deliberately ‘Bucking the trend‘.

Recently, I have increased the price of all my books, both Paperback and eBook/Kindle formats.

One of which, is an Amazon No.1 bestseller.

The coveted No1 position, is something I doubt would have occurred, if the book was priced undervalue.

You see, perception plays a large part in decision making.

What value you initially consider an item, is easily disputed once furnished with a low price. Hence altering perception.

With that in mind, a low cost, or free book will hold little or no perceived value to the reader.

If the same book is viewed at a higher price, the value is assumed to be greater.

In association, the assumption of quality is also presumed higher or lower in direct proportion the estimated value implicit.

This is my view and the principles I adhere too.

I shall charge a fair price for my books. Not a penny less.

Readers can buy them, or not.

BUT…. (The last one I promise), consider this:

Should I just sell one copy of one of my books this year, I would have made more money than you, giving a thousand copies away.

I’ll leave you to muse over this.

Sleep tight, 

Paul

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