Tim Lewis: You’re probably most familiar, those of you who’ve heard of Mark Dawson before, with the fact that he’s a really quite successful thriller author, and he also runs a number of self-publishing courses and advertising courses for authors.
He’s most well-known for Facebook advertising, but obviously we’ve done quite a lot of Facebook advertising stuff on this show already, so I didn’t really want to have him on to talk about that. He recently branched out into Amazon advertising and Bookbub advertising, and I couldn’t think of anybody better to have on the show to talk about those, especially as he’s now opening up his advertising course for authors again. Now, over to the interview. Hi, Mark. Welcome to the show.
Mark Dawson: Hi, Tim. Thanks for having me.
Introduction to Amazon Ads
Tim Lewis: Okay, so what kind of adverts can an author run on Amazon?
Mark Dawson: Well, there are two main kinds of ads through the AMS platform. We’ve got sponsored keyword ads and product display ads. They are similar in some ways, but different in others. So taking the sponsored keyword ads first. What you’re doing with those is more akin to Google ads, where you’re basically bidding on the search terms that people are putting into the search engine to find what they’re looking for.
What you’re trying to do with these Amazon ads is to pick out the words that people are looking and searching for, to try and end up with a book that might be quite like yours. Your book shows up when someone searches on that term, and the results for a sponsored keyword ads appear in the search results themselves.
They can also appear on the product pages beneath the also-boughts in the carousel. The most useful places are actually in those search results. So, if you go into Amazon and you type in any kind of search phrase. If you then scroll down towards the bottom of the page of the search results, you’ll see three or sometimes four keyword ads, so that’s keyword ads.
The other one is product display ads. In this kind of ad, what you’re doing is usually targeting … Well two things you’re targeting. You’re either targeting the book itself, so, as Amazon calls it an ASIN, which I think is Amazon’s standard identification number. You can put in a list of books that are quite like your books. So, I might for example put in all of the Jack Reacher series, because I know there’s a bit of synergy between the Reacher books and my Milton books. And if I win the auction for people who try to get placement on those book pages, then my ads can show up on the pages, and usually just below the buy button. So, pretty good real estate to get your ad on.
The other variation of the product display ad is an interest ad. So you go into the dashboard again, and this time instead of putting in ASINs, you’re actually going to put in a kind of browse category that you’re trying to get people to … You try to find people that are looking for that kind of category. So for me, it could be Thrillers, Action and Adventure, Conspiracy, anything like that just to try and get people to see my ad when they search for that particular category on Amazon.
How many Ads to run?
Tim Lewis: Okay, you covered a little bit on the Amazon keywords, so I’ll just ask you a slight follow-up question to that. How many keywords should people be putting in for those keyword searches. Should I just be using like one, or two, or three, or does it actually work with longer keywords? And could you give the audience examples? At least the people will know what kind of examples in terms of keywords people could do ads on.
Mark Dawson: Yeah you can, in terms of the number, you can have up to a thousand per ad. I’m running at the moment about 410 variations of ads, different kinds of ads across books on my catalogue, and some of those keyword ads will have up to a thousand keywords. And they’ve worked quite well. Some of them have been running successfully for four or five months. The alternative is to go for something a bit more focused and targeted, so you might have, let’s say 25 or 30 books or keywords that you’re targeting.
The main take away from this, as is the case with all advertising that authors can do is that it’s generally necessary to test quite a lot to make sure, just to find out what works best for you. It could be that you do really well with a 500 keyword ad, or maybe you’ll do better with just 20 that are much more focused. The only way you would know is to test.
Tim Lewis: Okay, so is that basically one ad with like a thousand keywords in it, or is that a separate thousand ads with separate keywords? And is it kind of like it’s letting you search on any of those keywords. It’s basically good enough.
Mark Dawson: If you have a listing of one ad, one keyword ad … As I said you can have up to a thousand keywords on that ad, so you might have … Obviously, if you have a thousand they are going to be much less targeted as you get further down the chain, but what it will then do is that your ad will go into the auction for anyone who’s bidding on those particular keywords.
And just to give you an example, I’ve … It sounds quite daunting to think how are you going to get a thousand keywords? And it would be if you were doing it manually, but there are some tips and tricks you can use, some stuff that you can use to make those lists a little bit easier to assemble.
And when I started testing these, I used Google Adword Planner, and I put together a list of what I thought were reasonably relevant keywords. I didn’t check all of them, and as I ran the ad I started looking to how it was performing. The keyword that was doing best for my Milton books was the word God, which was really weird because it has nothing at all to do … I don’t write Christian books.
They aren’t religious in any way, really. But it was people who was searching for God then attempted to buy one of my books. The only thing I can think of is that one of my books is called The Sword of God, so it could possibly be that they were actually searching for that, and then saw an ad for that too, but it’s a bit tenuous. It just goes to show that there is a lot of lack of logics in terms of how these ads perform. It is just by testing them and finding the right variations and combinations that you’ll get the successful ones.
How to succeed with Amazon Ads
Tim Lewis: Okay, so I’ve kind of got my next scheduled question, which I think you’ve covered a little bit, but you can go over the same ground.
What is the most common reason why people are not having success with Amazon ads, in your opinion?
Mark Dawson: There is tonnes of reasons. I don’t think there is any one in particular? There are a few that come to mind. People who are very hasty sometimes to switch the ads off. So they might run the ads for a couple of days, see they haven’t gotten any sales and then just give up and switch the ads off. The problem with that is that Amazon’s reporting is kind a bit of a dichotomy. You’ll get the ad reports on the impressions or the number of times your ad was shown to people. That is reasonably contemporaneous.
The actual sales is around about three days later than that. So if you see that your ad is getting lots of impressions, but it’s not getting sales in the first three days, and you get an itchy trigger finger and switch the ad off. What you might then find, is that five or six days later, if you go back and check, that ad has actually shown sales. So, people can get a little bit impatient about that. You tend to have to leave them. Sometimes you have to leave them for several weeks before they start to perform fully.
And then, other things that are kind of a little traditional thoughts that you see with ads so they’ll be back in there too, so that copy that hasn’t been tested sufficiently won’t convert very well. And then, assuming that your copy is good, and the ad is targeted to the right people, and people are clicking, perhaps there’s a problem with your landing page or your Amazon product page.
It could be that you don’t have good enough reviews. It could be that there’s a typo in your blurb. Maybe your cover’s not good enough. Maybe there’s a problem, they look inside it. Any of the kinds of things I typically teach people to improve their product pages. If you get any of those things wrong, it can create a kind of disjunctive experience for people who are trying to see what the actual book is about. It’s important to be really focused on that.
Your reviews is important, that is reviews that actually show up in the ad itself, so both the sponsored keyword, and the product display ads will actually show the number of reviews, so if you’ve just got a handful, you probably need to think about ways in adding a few more because the more you have … I’m not saying thousands, but the more you have, the more social proof you have on those particular ads.
And then, just finally, sometimes people just don’t understand the steps that Amazon presents to you by way of the dashboard. And if you compare it with Facebook, which is a much more mature ads platform, the stats that Facebook give you can be almost too much in some ways, that you can find out all kinds of information about your ads.
With the Amazon ads, it’s much more … How can I put it? It’s just not that mature right now, so the dashboard doesn’t show you daily steps, for example, so that’s quite unhelpful. I have to go through a process where I download the ads every day and then run them through a spreadsheet to find what the daily effect of the ads has been.
Amazon should do that, but it doesn’t, and if people aren’t prepared to put just a little bit of work, it doesn’t have to be tonnes of work in analysing these ads to see how they’re performing. Then you sometimes miss the patterns, and as a result you maybe would switch off an ad that isn’t working, or that is actually working, or you might persevere with an ad for too long when it’s costing you money, but it’s not actually getting you any sales.
Amazon Advertising Budgets
Tim Lewis: Okay, that brings me onto the next question which is, what sort of money should people be spending on these Amazon ads? I mean what kind of a level of budget is the normal effective level, so to speak?
Mark Dawson: There isn’t really a kind of an average level. The issue with Amazon ads is pretty weird, is that generally you can’t spend enough. So with Facebook. Facebook is very, very good at taking your money. If you say to Facebook I want to spend 100 quid on this ad tomorrow, Facebook will take every last penny of that, most of the time.
With Amazon, you can say you’ve got $100 to spend on this ad and it will spend $.50, potentially, so it isn’t that you’re going to spend too much money. It’s typically that you can’t spend enough, and it’s very frustrating when, well, let’s see, today I think I made about 200% return on investments, so in other words I spent $1 and made $3 back, so that’s remarkable. If you do that every day that’d be great, but at those low levels it’s, even if you had $3. I’m sorry, I’m using that for an example, I think I made $50 today. I spent $20, and made $50. Something along those lines. I’d love to spend $200 and make $5000, I’d like to scale that up, but it’s quite difficult to do that.
So yeah, that’s kind of reverse of your question. It isn’t that you’re going to spend too much. It’s finding ways to spend more because the ads typically, if you do them right, they do tend to be quite effective.
Tim Lewis: Okay, so, do you think these adverts Amazon provide in the moment, do you think that they are something that are gonna keep working, in terms of their effectiveness, for the next year or so? Or is this something that’s like six months or so everybody will be jumping on, and then will sort of become less effective in the same way that some of the other advertising platforms have?
Mark Dawson: No, I don’t think they’ll become less effective. The thing with these ads is, we’ve only got them reasonably recently, and so Amazon has been offering this kind of advertising platform to vendors who are selling other things on the platform for a lot longer than we’ve had them for, so they are something that Amazon will continue to integrate. They’re getting better.
I know that they’re making backend changes at the moment. I’ve got a very good contact at Amazon. He tells me, he’s actually on the AMS team, so I know that these ads are always being improved. It is true that, I think, as they are more expensive to run, because there’ll be more competition for those eyeballs, but even with that, it’s a massive platform. There’s more than enough readers to go around.
Right now, even though people listen to this podcast, the thing that they need to realise is that probably, the fact that they’re listening to a podcast like this puts them in the top 1% of authors who are interested in selling more books. 99% of authors behind us, it’s easy to miss this point.
They doesn’t know anything about this platform, so it is a really good time to be getting into these right now. It will still be a good time next year. I think the platform will be more mature and more effective. More competition, but I think that there are other ways that you can get these ads served, so it’s not going away. This is a prime marketplace for authors to be advertising on, and strong advice for all authors really is to look into this and to start testing them out.
Keywords or Placements
Tim Lewis: Okay, so we’ve talked about the keywords, but what about the product placement ads? Do you think that they are effective as well, or are you more biased towards the keywords?
Mark Dawson: I was more biased towards keywords. I, when I started doing this, really for about six months or so, I had been constrained almost exclusively on the keyword ads, because I found they worked very well, so you know I tend to … My philosophy usually is do more of what’s working, and less of what isn’t working. I ended up speaking to a few authors who were doing very well in the U.K. and U.S. with the product display ads, and I’ve been testing those extensively over the last couple of months, and they’re working very well too.
So the difference with the product display ads is, it’s easier to get more impressions, so using those interest ads, it’s easier to show your ad more often. And again, this is something that it’s easy to forget. That in itself is a benefit, so the fact that you’re showing your ad on targeted pages to readers who you can be pretty confident will also buy your book. That is a benefit and 50 years ago, that was what the advertising industry was all about. It was about educating people into new books or new products that they might be interested in. The fact that we can also sell these books closer to the buying decision, is a massive benefit, but it’s not the only benefit to what these ads can do.
So, yeah, I’m running these ads quite a lot. I tend to do low bids on the product display ads, so you bid per 1,000 impressions, so I will often bid pretty low. Maybe $.10 per click, that kind of thing would be the kind of level that I’m looking at. I know I said you bid on impressions, you’re actually bidding on the clicks, so I’ve got ads that are running, bidding $.05 a click, $.10 a click, $.11.
Often the actual, to win the bid will be less than that. And you’re getting maybe 10, 20, 30,000 impressions every day, and if you have 10 of those, then maybe you can get 300 impressions a day. And you will get sales if you’re showing the ads in that kind of volume. So yeah, they’re quite something. I’m certainly, I’m changing my view on how effective they are.
Other Advertising Options
Tim Lewis: Okay, so I think you’re gonna be reopening advertising course for authors soon. What other kinds of advertising are you having success with at the moment?
Mark Dawson: Well, lots really. I mean, I’m still massive on Facebook. I love the Facebook platform. It is quite funny here, I posted something on K Boards the other day about, I did a monthly income report showing how much I spend, and how much I make for my advertising. So, I did this, and went into the, to the last cent really, and was able to show the Facebook ads I’m running at the moment. I’m making a return of between 100 and 200% every day.
So one of the benefits I have is I’ve got quite a large catalogue, so I know that if I sell one copy of book one, I can work out reasonably accurately how many books that the typical reader will tend to go on to read. Maybe it’s four or five books, rather just the one book. So once you have that piece of information, you can add that in and work out exactly what the return is. So those ads are working superbly well right now.
We’re also just getting to the CPM ads, so not the featured deals. Not the e-mails that you get every day, but at the bottom of those emails, authors now have the chance to bid, to have their ads shown at the bottom of those e-mails, and we’re finding quite a lot of success with those ads. Not to Amazon, and not on big names, because those tend to be quite competitive and it’s quite expensive to show those ads in those particular e-mails.
What we’re having tonnes of success with right now is finding Indie authors or mid list authors, mid list traditional authors, and not sending the traffic to Amazon but sending it to all of the other vendors, so Kobo, Barnes & Noble. Google as well.
Google especially in some ways, and different stores around the world. And by running those ads, they’re quite cheap, I’ve found I’ve been able to really boost the sales of my books on the other vendors, which is something that can be a bit more difficult with Facebook ads, so that’s been really eye-opening too.
We’re doing a module actually in the course. Adam Croft, who is one of our most successful alumni from the ads course. He’s actually pioneering his work on the Bookbub side of things, so we’ve got a module that Adam is presenting for us when we go live again.
Tim Lewis: Okay, so how do you actually do the Bookbub adverts? You go to their site and then you find there’s an advertising section, is that kind of the way it works?
Mark Dawson: Yes, yeah, it’s kind of still in beater, it’s been in beater for ages and ages, well over a year, and not everyone has got it yet. Most people probably have, and if you don’t, it probably won’t do you any harm just to drop Bookbub a line and say that you’d like to get access to their Platform.
They’re pretty good at getting people on, and once you’re on there it’s a nice platform to use. It’s very, it’s well-designed. It’s quite easy. It will even generate your ad image for you. You basically pull your book cover and put it into an ad that you then add the copy to.
You can also, and I recommend this, you can also do your own image yourself, put the ad together to be more original, but you don’t even need to do that. So yeah, it’s an interesting platform that I had neglected until I saw how well Adam was doing on it. Since then, I’ve been experimenting quite extensively myself, and have had really good results.
About Mark Dawson
Tim Lewis: Okay, so I think that just about wraps up the questions on Amazon and Bookbub advertising. How can people find out about Mark Dawson, your advertising course, and the things that you do?
Mark Dawson: Yeah, there’s a couple of places that you can get me. If you’re an author and you’re interested in learning about advertising, or in fact about self-publishing generally. We’ve got a couple of courses that we release at .
That we each release twice a year, and the next time we’re opening is for the ads course that we’ve been mentioning. That goes live on the first of November, which I think is possibly when this podcast goes out. The best place to find information about that is selfpublishingformula.com.
We’ve also got some free courses and about eight or nine possibly free books, we’ve got on things like Amazon advertising, Facebook advertising, and other bits and pieces, and a weekly podcast that we do, which has been really good fun. And then, if people are interested in my books, you can visit me at MarkJDawson.com, and I’m on all of the searching channels, and Facebook, Twitter, all the usual suspects. You can get me pretty much anywhere.
Tim Lewis: You’re like Paperback Writer (it’s actually PBackWriter) or something on Twitter, aren’t you?
Mark Dawson: Yes, I managed to snag that one up. I was on Twitter reasonably early, and so I was able to pick that one up.
Tim Lewis: Okay, well thanks very much for being on the show today, Mark.
Mark Dawson: Thanks for having me Tim.