Despite many educated guesses that seem to have passed into urban legend in self-publishing communities online, there are no secrets to the Amazon ranking system.
I have spent the last few months tracking down programmers, algorithm experts, and reading technical documentation about Amazon’s algorithm, and the documentation that is provided online by Amazon at Amazon Seller Central and KDP. What I didn’t do was talk to any authors or bloggers, because that seems to be where the myths are coming from.
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MYTH 1 – Nobody knows how the Amazon Algorithm Works
TRUTH – Yes they do.
The Amazon Algorithm is an A9 algorithm, a pretty run-of-the-mill product search engine with a personalization built in. A9 is a company in Palo Alto that creates product algorithms, code that tells Amazon’s website how to sort and load product lists for each customer’s experience. Anyone who wants to read about how this algorithm works has to do nothing more than search for information online and read the manuals, forums, science articles, and a myriad of other documents that tell you EXACTLY how it works. You can even see samples of the code that makes it work if you look!
This sort of algorithm is an item to item collaborative algorithm. This means it works on a node system. What’s that? It’s like a tree of products, or a catalogue, put in order of hierarchy. That means the information Amazon uses to suggest and deliver products to you when you search for them is based on the finite terms used to describe products entered into its catalogue. The fact it is collaborative means it bases results on factors pertaining to the signed in customer only, factors surrounding that customer’s behavior on Amazon and online, and what is popular that day. It also learns about you, and retains those learnings for search and suggestions.
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MYTH 2 – Amazon has secret ways of ranking books
TRUTH – None of it is secret.
It works according to the algorithm. The factors are already written into the algorithm, which has to be a clear-cut set of commands. There’s no magic here, and it’s simply a case of knowing what factors are used in this sort of algorithm. It’s true that A9 will not be interviewed by the media because of a competitor clause they have with Amazon, but that’s not the same as being magical and clandestine.
Of course, the one part of Amazon’s product promotion that is always going to be confidential is its preferences for pushing certain big-selling products on certain schedules according to publishers and their own agendas. These products, however, still fit into the algorithm and run quite nicely inside its parameters. Products like these are simply put on the site in clear view in ad boxes (such as Easter products over Easter) to push them, which works.
Ranking is influenced by factors that anyone can look up in Amazon documentation (we will discuss in detail):
- A product that is priced well in relation to similar products, but that is priced in a way that will turn the best profit in relation to its competitor
- A product that offers a description that gives bullet points or features that the algorithm will recognize in terms of keyword
- A strong keyword in the title that will help categorize the product (I suggest a subtitle to deal with this)
- Sales in each session period, which is 24 hours, compared to others in your category
- How many times someone clicked on your listing to your product, known as Click Through Rate (CTR)
- Spelling, grammar, editing, and quality of your interior, and also the quality of the cover
- Number of verified reviews, helpful reviews and new reviews –outside of this, unverified reviews do not count towards ranking but do count towards social proof and CTRs (see below)
- Product page is complete in all sections and meets Amazon Guidelines on word count, layout, and image size and quality used.
The MAMM Factor – Amazon’s Objective
Amazon has one objective for its sellers to bear in mind: Make Amazon the Most Money. Amazon expert James Amazio says, “Make Amazon the Most Money in 24 hours by letting them let your product be ranked higher than the other guys. Total Revenue = Number of Products Sold x Sales Price.” That means that each 24 hours counts, so doing a giveaway over three days isn’t going to help Amazon make money, so this doesn’t help ranking or exposure much at all.
Sales and Rank
Sales are not straightforward numbers either. What Amazon looks for is the number of sales for a product with the best profit in its category (Remember MAMM?). So if your book is 99 cents, but another book is selling at $2.99 but not as many as you, it’s likely Amazon will recognize the $2.99 book higher in rank because it makes Amazon more money. This means you need to do some research on what is selling in your potential category before choosing one, and also before choosing your price. 99 cent books may do well in Romance, for example, but maybe in another category you’re pricing too low to show Amazon a good profit margin.
This is also true of certain “publishers” that force authors to price at $16 or more. While this might be their own profit margin covered, it leaves little room for Amazon to make money if the other books are $3.99 in that category, and it’s going to take a lot of sales to convince the algorithm to prioritize your book in ranking if the chances are poor for Amazon sales. It’s not a case of “less sales for more profit.” It’s a case of “what books sell better relative to other books in that category.”
CTR – Click Through Rates – Book Covers DO matter
If you have a high amount of clicks from the Amazon search list generated to your book page, this counts towards ranking. This means your book cover has to be amazing. It has to stand out.
After They Click – Zoning
Amazon, like most websites, charts where people click on a page. If you hover over buy boxes on pages, this may count towards ranking/inform Amazon about that customer’s preferences for their next search. This means that advice pertaining to what matters on a page really can be burned down to one piece of advice: Make sure every section above the fold on Amazon book pages gets filled out according to Amazon’s guidelines.
If zoning counts, everything you can see without scrolling down, and that includes the number of Customer Reviews shown, matters. We’ve been saying for years that having decent copy and Editorial Reviews matters, and it does. Content of Customer Reviews? Not so much. To see how readers look at reviews on Amazon, check out our eyetracking results report here.
What does count is that if someone goes to your page, you need them to buy your book and convert into a sale. By having a properly filled out Book Page you are increasing your chances of that happening. Conversion rate is measured by amount of clicks through against how many sales are made.