Book Marketing by the Numbers

Two Valuable Book Marketing Statistics

Consider the following two numbers:

  • 1 out of 1000. That’s a rough estimate of how many strangers will click on a typical link to an Amazon product page.
  • 1 out 40. That’s a rough estimate of how many strangers who visit a product page for a book will purchase the book.

First, we’ll discuss these rates, and then we’ll discuss them in relation to book marketing.

Click-through Rate

The first figure, 1 out of 1000, is called a click-through rate (ctr).

A ctr of 0.1% (which equates to 1 out of 1000) is typical of internet advertising.

I’ve placed over 100 ads for a variety of books under multiple pen names on Amazon itself using Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), and most of my ctr’s fall in the range 0.05% to 0.2% (varying from 1 in 2000 to 1 in 500).

Some books get better ctr’s than others. Here are a few factors that affect the ctr:

  • compelling book cover (if the cover is seen with the link, this can be a strong factor)
  • effective title (conveys content clearly, reinforces cover, concise, and/or catchy)
  • effective branding (recognition of the author name, title, or series, for example)
  • audience targeting (the book appears to be highly relevant to the people who see the link)

Conversion Rate

The conversion rate is the percentage of people who purchase a product after visiting the Amazon product page.

A conversion rate of 2% to 4% (1 out of 50 to 1 out of 25) is relatively common. However, the conversion rate can vary considerably. A few books command conversion rates of 10% (1 out of 10) or more, but there are also a significant number of books with conversion rates well below 1% (1 out of 100).

Some books’ Amazon product pages get better conversion rates than others. Here are a few factors that affect the conversion rate:

  • compelling book cover (draws visual interest)
  • compelling description (arouses curiosity, creates suspense, promises desirable information, and/or reads well)
  • compelling Look Inside (professional appearance, fantastic start to the story, reads well)
  • audience targeting (the description and Look Inside reinforce expectations created by the cover or the information available with the link that brought the customers to the product page)
  • other factors such as customer reviews, author photo, author biography, etc.

Illuminating Example

Consider a book where the author does no marketing whatsoever: The only people discovering the book are shopping on Amazon. In this extreme example, the author didn’t even tell a friend or family member about the book.

The book does get discovered. Maybe the cover and title show up in an occasional keyword search, or maybe a customer discovers it browsing in a subcategory (perhaps using a Last 90 Days search filter). Once the book sells enough, it may also be visible on other books’ customers-also-bought lists.

Let’s suppose that the book sells 1 copy per day on average. Obviously, this number can be much more or much less, but the math is very simple with 1, so it’s a good place to start.

Let’s also go with the rough averages: 1 out of 1000 people who see the cover and title on Amazon click on the link to visit the product page, and 1 out 40 of the people who visit the product page purchase the book.

Wow! With these “rough” averages, there are 40,000 people visiting that book’s product page every day.

But only 1 out of 40,000 who saw the book cover and title actually purchased the book. Another wow!

This number isn’t far-fetched. It’s actually pretty common.

I have much experience advertising books on Amazon through AMS (over 100 ads on a variety of books in multiple pen names), and have discussed advertising statistics with several other authors. Many of the ads show in keyword search results, and others ads show on other books’ product pages. Advertising increases the overall number of impressions (the number of times that customers see the cover and title), but the ctr’s and conversion rates are typical of ordinary customer searches. A ctr of 0.1% (1 out of 1000) and a conversion rate of 2% to 4% (1 out of 50 to 1 out of 25) are rather common.

(I have over 25 ads that individually made over 1,000,000 impressions, so I have plenty of my own data to analyze, but I also interact with many different authors and discuss advertising with some of them.)

There is significant traffic on Amazon. There are millions and millions of customers. And they are seeing covers and titles of many different products. Obviously, the top sellers are seen millions of times per day, but even products that sell once a week are seen roughly 10,000 times per day.

Here is another way to look at this number: For every sale that you get from a complete stranger, roughly 40,000 people saw your cover and title, and roughly 40 people visited your product page. (But it’s a rough estimate. Maybe 100 people visited your product page.)

How to Improve Your Sales

There are two ways to go about this:

  • Work hard to get more impressions (to get more people to see your cover and title).
  • Make your product page more compelling (cover, description, Look Inside, beginning of story, author photo, author biography, etc.).

The first point is saying, if you can get 400,000 impressions per day on average instead of 40,000 impressions per day, you can sell 10 times as many books.

The second point is saying, if you can get 1 out 10,000 people who see your cover and title to buy your book instead of 1 out of 100,000 people, you can sell 10 times as many books.

Really, you want to do both things. If you can make your product page more compelling, it will make all of your book marketing more effective. It’s too common for a book’s Amazon product page to have some kind of deterrent such that only 1 out 100,000 (or worse!) customers who see the cover and title purchase the book. It just takes a few too many typos in the description or first chapter, or a cover or description that is bland, or a description that doesn’t set clear expectations to significantly deter sales.

One little detail can persuade customers to walk away. It takes strong appeal all around to command a killer success rate of 1 out 10,000 or less (customers who see your cover and title and then purchase your book), and this is quite rare. (This figure combines both the ctr and conversion rate together.)

Book marketing is important, too. It starts out slow because you can’t get tens of thousands of people to discover your book every day when you first begin to market your book. You have to start a blog with content that people may search for in the future, set up social media and interact online, find your target audience both online and offline, publish additional books, and look for other ways to get your cover and title out there (local newspaper, guest post on a blog, write an article for a website, podcast, local radio, conference, seminar, etc.) so that you can gradually grow the number of people who discover your book each day.

Another way that book marketing is important is that it can improve your conversion rate. When you have a positive interaction with your target audience (online or in person), those potential customers are more likely to purchase your book, review your book, or ignore reviews already showing on your product page.

On Amazon, only 1 out of 40,000 complete strangers who see your book may purchase it.

When you create positive interactions with your target audience in person, you might sell books to 1 out of 10 potential customers (or better), if you succeed in coming across as knowledgeable, or if you succeed in creating interest in your book or yourself.

When you create positive interactions with your target audience online, it’s probably not as effective as interacting in person, but you can reach many more people online, and online interactions are probably much more effective than marketing to complete strangers on Amazon.

Branding. Branding. Branding.

If 40,000 see your cover and title today, but only 1 of those people actually purchases your book, all is not lost. There is still branding.

39,999 other people who saw your cover, read your title, and saw your author name are potentially “branded” to some degree. These represent potential sales at a future date.

Branding is a very important part of book marketing (and all forms of advertising and marketing).

Your book cover is a visual brand. Your book title is another brand. Even your author name is a brand.

A brand is anything that customers come to recognize through repetition. In general, very few people purchase a product when they first discover it. Most people make a purchase after branding has occurred.

When you see a commercial on t.v., do you hop in the car, drive straight to the store, and purchase the product? If you watch t.v. for a few hours, you probably don’t buy the 100 different products that you saw the same day, right?

But when most people are purchasing a product, whether it’s a toothbrush or toilet paper, they usually prefer a “brand” that they recognize.

Branding is another reason that you should look for effective ways to market your book long-term.

The best brand is one that customers recommend to other people. When you write a book that is so compelling (or a nonfiction book where the information is so helpful), for example, that it generates significant offline recommendations (in addition to online reviews), this can really help your sales soar.

Three Kinds of Marketing Traffic

It’s important to realize that there are three kinds of traffic relevant to book marketing:

  • Shoppers at Amazon.com who happen to see your cover and title (in keyword searches, in subcategory searches, customers-also-bought lists, or ads placed with AMS, for example).
  • People who discover your book off Amazon (blog posts, social media, advertisements, Goodreads, business cards, and any of your other online or offline marketing endeavors).
  • When customers recommend your book to their friends, family members, coworkers, or acquaintances. It takes an exceptional book to garner significant recommendations, but books that achieve this can have their sales really take off.

If your book isn’t selling well enough to strangers at Amazon, your alternative is to try to get people to discover your book elsewhere (both online and offline). Ideally, you want both types of traffic to be significant.

Amazon Measures Your Click-through and Conversion Rates

The algorithm at Amazon knows which books are more likely to lead to clicks and purchases.

Suppose book A and book B are very similar, and suppose that the algorithm knows that 1 out of 500 customers who see book A’s cover will click on it, but 1 out of 2000 customers who see book B’s cover will click on it. Or suppose that 1 out of 20 people who visit book A’s product page will purchase it, but 1 out of 80 people who visit book B’s product page will purchase it.

Which book do you think is likely to display more prominently in customer searches (all else being equal)?

This is one more reason to make your product page as compelling as possible. Improve your cover, iron out your description, perfect your Look Inside, and write a quality book that exceeds the customers’ expectations. If you can improve your ctr and conversion rate, not only will you get more sales from the traffic you already have, but you might also get much more traffic.

Improved sales can also get additional exposure through customers-also-bought lists. Amazon’s system tends to reward authors who scrupulously help themselves (by making a more compelling product page, publishing a compelling book, or who generate sales through their own marketing).

You Should Also Measure Your Ctr and Conversion Rate

Amazon’s algorithm knows what your ctr and conversion rate are.

You should figure these rates out, too.

Once you see where you stand, you will have a better idea for how much room you have to improve them.

For example, if you knew that 200 people clicked on a link to your book, but only 1 person purchased your book, you would know that your conversion rate is very low (0.5% in this example).

How are you going to figure these rates out? Amazon doesn’t tell you in your reports, right?

Actually, there is a way. If you advertise a book with Amazon Marketing Services (AMS), the report for your ad campaign will show you the number of impressions, the number of clicks, and the estimated sales for the ad. If you publish a Kindle e-book with Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), you can advertise on AMS via KDP. (Your book no longer has to be in KDP Select in order to take advantage of this.)

Note that advertising carries a risk. The royalties that you earn from your ad might amount to much less than the cost of the ad. Monitor your ad report daily so that you can pause or terminate your campaign if it doesn’t seem to be performing well enough. Although there is a minimum budget of $100 to advertise with AMS, you’re not obligated to spend your entire budget: You can pause or terminate your ad campaign at any time. However, note there are sometimes reporting delays, such that the ad report may continue to accumulate impressions and clicks for a few days after you stop your ad campaign.

If you can afford it, ideally you would like to hundreds of clicks to obtain meaningful results. Note that this data may come at a significant cost, especially if you place a high bid for your ad. For example, if you bid $0.25 per click, it may cost up to $50 to obtain 200 clicks worth of data.

To determine your ctr, divide the number of clicks by the number of impressions. To express this as a percentage, multiply by 100%. For example, if your ad has 100,000 impressions and 120 clicks, your ctr is 0.12%.

Another way to look at it is to divide the number of impressions by the number of clicks. In my example, you would get 833, meaning that on average 1 out of 833 people who saw the book cover and title clicked on the link to visit the Amazon product page.

To estimate your closing rate, you must first estimate the number of sales. The AMS report instead shows your sales as a dollar amount. If you didn’t adjust your list price during your ad campaign, divide the sales amount by your list price to estimate the number of sales. For example, if your list price is $2.99 and your sales column shows $14.95, you had approximately 5 sales during the ad campaign.

To estimate your closing rate, divide the number of sales by the number of clicks. To express this as a percentage, multiply by 100%. In my example, there were 5 sales and 120 clicks, so the closing rate is 4.2%.

Another way to look at it is to divide the number of clicks by the number of sales. In my example, you would get 24, meaning that on average 1 out of 24 people who visited the Amazon product page proceeded to purchase the book.

I like to combine the ctr and closing rate together. Specifically, divide the number of impressions by the estimated number of sales. In my example, there were 100,000 impressions and 5 sales, which means that 1 out 20,000 strangers who saw the ad ultimately purchased the book.

A killer conversion rate (number of sales divided by clicks times 100) is 10% or more. It happens occasionally, but it is quite rare. However, such books tend to sell very well on their own. A conversion rate of 10% or more is something to strive toward. If your conversion rate is 2% or less, your product page has significant room for improvement. Your product page isn’t as effective as it could be. Give your cover, description, Look Inside, and first chapter a close inspection.

Click this link to learn more about advertising on Amazon.

Imagine a mere 1 out of 1000 people who reached the bottom of this article proceeding to click the above helpful link. Well, hopefully the ctr will be better than that for my blog. 😉

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2017

Click here to view my Amazon author page.

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Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

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24 comments on “Book Marketing by the Numbers

  1. Chris, this is very insightful. Thank you! I’ve been testing Amazon ads for my three supernatural mystery novels and getting mixed results. Out of my 4 ad campaigns, only 1 was moderately successful and I spent hundreds of dollars. I’m on my 5th ad campaign now. What strikes me is that there is good exposure and discoverability with Amazon ad campaigns, especially over time. My current campaign (3 weeks running) has not achieved any sales yet, but impressions are at 97,000 and clicks at 44. And I’ve only spent $8.00. I do see book sales on my main results page, but not recorded on the ad campaign results page. So something is happening to increase sales of all my books. Do you think that Amazon ads–even if no sales happen directly from clicks–are worthy for discoverability and exposure? I’m thinking yes. Where else can you get tens of thousands of impressions for readers to see your book for under $10 over 3 weeks’ time? Your thoughts?

    • Thank you for sharing your experience with Amazon ads. I think it’s worth a small expense over a short period, as you get exposure and valuable feedback (ctr and conversion rate). To run an ad long term or to invest hundreds in the ad, it really needs to pay for itself—it does for some books, but not for others. If you have a series or several related books, you might be able to let an ad run at a loss, if you can make up the difference by add-on sales of your other books. Good luck with your books.

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