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All About Amazon, Part Three: Recommendations

Amazon is an online store, search engine, and recommendation system all wrapped into one.

There is so much more to Amazon than simply listing your book; if nobody can find it – or the right readers aren’t finding it – then your book will get lost in all the noise. Where readers discover new books is changing, but it’s also important to keep pace with how readers discover new books, especially in the world of All Things Amazon.

Understanding Amazon Recommendations

Amazon has a behind-the-scenes system making recommendations to readers. We all know we are more inclined to purchase a book recommended to us by a friend, especially one who knows our tastes. Amazon’s recommendation system may feel complex, but its function is essentially the same: Amazon gets to know its users by the searches they perform, the items they purchase, etc., and it makes recommendations based on the cumulative data it collects on every user.

Those Amazon emails you get that are chock-full of book recommendations? That is the Amazon algorithm at work. These recommendations are the number one thing that sells books.

Of course, the logical first question is: how do I get featured in one of Amazon’s recommendation emails? It’s impossible to fully explain (or understand, even) all that goes on behind-the-scenes to create these recommendations, but what we do know are the two main factors that play into Amazon's recommendation algorithms:

Your sales. Everything builds from sales. Your book will only get featured if Amazon sees it doing well already.

Your “Also Boughts.” These are the books that show up in the section called “Customers who bought this item also bought…” on your Amazon book page.

Remember: Amazon’s primary goal is to sell as many books as possible. So what the algorithm is looking to do is promote hot books (sales) to the right audiences (Also Boughts). 

To understand the importance of Also Boughts, just witness what happens when you don’t have any — or when the ones you have aren’t really related to your book.

All About 'Also Boughts'

If your book doesn’t have any Also Boughts, then it’s obvious Amazon doesn’t know whom to recommend your book to, so it just won’t recommend it. Sounds horrible, right? Well, it’s what happens whenever you launch a book. Everyone starts from the same place: zero Also Boughts. The trick is to build them so that the right people are finding your book.

Here is what happens if you have the wrong Also Boughts:

Let’s say you have listed a historical romance book that is listed in the “historical romance” category, is selling well, and has a bunch of reviews. The book’s Also Boughts are also in good shape: the titles are all related, and in your genre. You decide to expand your audience, so you try the “Historical Fiction” category as well (because, after all, your book is based on well researched historical facts).

Initially, your sales soar! It hits #1 in all its categories, and you go to bed happy. When you wake up, though, you notice that your Also Boughts are full of dry, factual history texts. You think: “Hmm, that’s weird. But who cares, right? I’m selling books!”

After a few days, your sales decline rapidly — and a month or two later, your book is barely selling a few copies a day. What happened? You messed up your Also Boughts.

When Amazon’s algorithm detected that your book was selling like hot cakes, it bumped up your book on its priority list. It started emailing readers of the other books in your Also Boughts to give them a heads-up about your book.

Amazon is nothing if not clever, though. It won’t spam millions of readers without knowing for sure that they’ll like your book. So, it’s going to test your book first. It will start by recommending it to 1,000 readers or so — all based on your Also Boughts. But guess what? You've messed up your Also Boughts. These historical fiction readers are going to check out your book, see that it’s more of a romance book, and leave. Amazon’s algorithm is going to decide your book wasn’t the winner it thought it was and stop recommending it to readers.

Getting out of a situation like this is very difficult. Cleaning up wrong Also Boughts can take months. 

What’s the message in all this? Take great care of your Also Boughts! Make sure you only list your book in categories that it 100% fits in. Don’t promote it to readers who aren’t your target audience. Don’t accept if an author writing in an unrelated genre offers to recommend it to their list.

When it comes to Amazon, selling your book to the wrong people can be more detrimental in the long-term than not selling it at all.


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