Amazon, like Google, Facebook and other online powerhouses, guards the exact nature of these algorithms carefully so that most of what we know about them is based on observation and educated guesswork, combined with the occasional snippet of guidance from Amazon. They’re also subject to change, so what’s worked in the past is no guarantee of future success.
In this section, we take a look at two of the most important algorithms on Amazon.com — Amazon Best Sellers Rank and Amazon Search — and one of their most important drivers.
The importance of picking the right categories
Categories aren’t an algorithm — you set categories when you upload your ebook file. But they play an important role in influencing algorithms.
Amazon lets you choose up to five categories (two categories by default if you’re a self-publisher). Categories dictate where your book appears on the Amazon site when users browse by Department.
You might be tempted to pick the biggest and most popular categories to list your book under in the hope of reaching the most people browsing the listings. But they’ll also be the most competitive, while smaller, more targeted categories will give you a better chance of getting a place on the all-important best seller lists.
Example: On a recent day, in the Biographies & Memoirs category, Amazon listed:
- 12,263 Kindle ebooks in Biographies & Memoirs > Memoirs, of which 439 were new in the past 30 days
- 1,733 Kindle ebooks in Biographies & Memoirs > Ethnic & National, of which 46 were published in the past month (and 2 in Coming soon)
So if a book could fit into either classification, it would stand a better chance of making the best seller lists in the Ethnic & National category. And this would, it seems, provide a similar promotional uplift to winning in a bigger category — in other words, if a book is relevant to the customer, Amazon doesn’t appear to discount its success just because it’s in a smaller category.
Amazon Best Sellers Rank
As well as being of interest to consumers, Amazon’s Best Seller rankings are among the most powerful drivers of sales once you’ve got a Top 100 slot. At the bottom of the Product Details section, under yet another iteration of the all-important customer star-rating, you’ll find the Amazon Best Sellers Rank. This number — often in the hundreds of thousands — shows where a book’s sales rank relative to other titles.
Amazon also uses categories to break out best seller lists for each category. If a book is performing well in one or more of its categories, Amazon will list its category sales rank.
Getting on to one of these lists can lead to a big sales boost. As well as endorsing a book’s value in the eyes of potential buyers, best seller lists feed into algorithms that drive Amazon’s recommendations engine and search results. The higher a book gets — and the longer it stays there — the more it will appear to visitors in those key places.
Comparing sales rank to sales
A book’s Amazon sales rank gives a clue about its likely sales – but only a clue since Amazon doesn’t disclose the actual sales-rank-to-sales ratio. It will change anyway over time (hourly, daily, monthly), and it looks like it’s influenced by where a book is in its sales lifecycle – it treats the same daily sales from a new book differently from sales of a perennial seller.
Tracking sales rankings
There are several online sales tracking tools that let you track the sales rank performance of your book or competitors. Some also try to estimate actual sales though these estimates should be treated as educated guesses at best.
Examples of tracking services are:
- NovelRank (novelrank.com)
- RankForest (rankforest.com)
- RankTracer (ranktracer.com)
- Sales Rank Express (salesrankexpress.com)
All of these offer free tracking and some offer additional services or reports for a fee.
Amazon search: How to rank higher in search results
Just as you can optimize your website to appear higher on Google’s search pages, so you can optimize your book to perform better on Amazon’s own site search.
Here are a few things that will help your books rank higher in those important search results.
For a more detailed look at some of the issues touched on here, I highly recommend two articles from social media consultant Carolyn McCray:
- Maximizing Digital Book Sales: Part 1 (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/maximizing-digital-book-sales)
- Maximizing Digital Book Sales: Part 2 (http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2011/maximizing-digital-book-sales-part-2)
Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.