Everyone always talks about The Algorithm, specifically, the one that Amazon uses. So what is it exactly?

In laymen’s terms, it’s a set of rules that Amazon applies to products in its store to determine where that product lands in search results. So if I were to search for “Space Pirates,” Amazon would seek out all items in the store with that term associated with it, and then apply a set of other rules (number of reviews, recent activity, number of times that term exists in the product description) to set the search results order.

Indie Authors need to understand the algorithm if they want their books to be discovered. Indie authors need to understand the algorithm if they want their books to be discoverable amongst all the other books out there. There are some things that we can change about it, such as maximizing the product description by adding your key words. There are also things out of our control.

What Can I Not Control?

The number one way to get your book higher on the algorithm search results is to sell a lot of books. We recognize this is a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario, so we stuck it under things you can’t control.

Next, get a bunch of reviews. Again, there are ways you can fight this battle. At the end of the day, it’s up to your reviewers to post their comments.

The other thing, and this one is debatable on control, is to add your book to KDP Select. There are many authors who swear by KDP-S and say that having their book in Kindle Unlimited brings them plenty of reads and income. There are others, present company included, who have seen little to no page reads on several different kinds of books. This is one of those questions that each author will have to answer for themselves and their books.

What Can I Control?

You can't expect to have a best-selling book that's riddled with typos and has a cover made in MS Paint.The number one way to maximize your Amazon ranking is to have a well-written, professionally-presented book (hey, we didn’t say it was going to be easy). Reach outside your circle of friends to get feedback. Hire a cover designer that helps your book stand out. Utilize editing services (which, obtw, we offer). You can’t expect to have a best-selling book that’s riddled with typos and has a cover made in MS Paint.

The second thing is to check out Amazon’s handy keyword guide. Ever wonder how someone’s book falls into the obscure categories? Authors can add granularity beyond the BISAC codes which are standard for all books and align it to Amazon’s unique product categories. You get seven keywords per book.

You can also add those same keywords to your product descriptions, but be careful. Amazon does not rank keyword density (that is, the number of times a keyword appears) like Google. If a keyword is added too many times, it can lower your search ranking. As well, if you add the keyword to your book title (“Double Life (Space Pirates Space Opera Bounty Hunter), Razia #1”), it can come across hokey and desperate. Readers may find your book, but they won’t buy it.

In Summary

The most important thing you can do is to utilize tools outside of Amazon to bring in sales. Relying solely on the algorithm to sell your books means you’re at the whim of the tweaks and adjustments that they make. Data Guy, from Author Earnings Report, said in October 2016:

Amazon tweaks and optimizes their retail website, merchandising algorithms, and nightly recommendation emails on a continuous basis. Perhaps they’ve recently adjusted one or more of those in a direction that gives higher visibility to paid-for publisher featuring of traditionally-published ebooks?

Such changes to retailer merchandising prioritization of books would not be unprecedented (*2). And they would be largely invisible; at Author Earnings, we would only be able to observe their downstream effect on sales and market share. For example, if Amazon’s nightly email recommendations to ebook consumers had recently been tweaked to given more emphasis to paid-for publisher featured books, that could very well drive this type of shift. But we have no real way of knowing.

Momma always said not to put all your eggs in one basket. When it comes to eBook marketing, that still rings true.

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